The Travel Episodes


Welcome to Somalia

Somaliland. A forlorn place, so it seems. Johannes Klaus and Alex The Swede embark on a journey to a country that officially doesn’t exist. A travelogue in six chapters.

‘Is that Hashish?’, asks the Somali border official while I’m waiting for my passport and rolling a cigarette.

‘Oh…no! Only tobacco’, I reply cautiously.

‘Too bad…’, the man mumbles, disappointed. In his left cheek, a lump of the intoxicating khat leaves becomes apparent, which he now shoves to the right side of his mouth. He turns to the bundle of twigs that lie next to him and picks off a few young leaves. I laugh.

‘Anyway, guys… welcome to Somalia!’

Wajaale is a minor, dusty border crossing. Small houses and barracks line the stony road that connects Ethiopia with Somalia. Colorfully painted trucks stand at the roadside, waiting to be allowed to cross the border or to be loaded with building materials, groceries and all sorts of merchandise. In the shade under the trucks, goats are chewing on rotten melon rinds, the sun, without mercy, burns from a cloudless sky.

The end of the world; this is what it must look like, I think, as I cross the bridge that spans a desiccated riverbed. This is the no man’s land in between two poor states. But it is full. Full of the plastic waste of the people who live on either side of the border. No one deals with its disposal.

A string stretches across the street. I lift it – and am in Somalia.


Somalia? Somaliland?

The political situation is quite confusing. During the colonial era, Somalia was split: the southern part, which was ruled by Italy, formed the so-called Italian Somaliland. Its capital being Mogadishu. In the smaller northern part, at the border to Ethiopia, the British established themselves and made Hargeisa their headquarters.

In 1960, both parts of Somalia became independent. After a short period, they agreed to become a united Somalia.

Nine years later, after a coup d'état, officer Siad Barre came to power and built a regime that was strongly guided – and also supported – by the Soviet Union.

In the 80s, the Barre government increasingly lost its support in the population. The more people revolted against Siad Barre, the bloodier the regime persecuted its opponents. In 1991, rebel groups overthrew the dictatorial ruler.

The land disintegrated into several embattled territories. The northern part, Somaliland, declared itself independent from the rest of Somalia. The civil war raged until 1996.

The conflict between the North and South nearly destroyed the two largest cities in Somaliland. Finally, after 5 years of war, peace came to Somaliland while the rest of Somalia was still stricken by terror and war.

To this day, Somaliland is internationally not recognized and remains part of Somalia according to international law.

Today, however, the Somalilanders enjoy a stable governmental and legal system and fairly steady peace. Along with a small fighter jet, which was shot down and erected as a memorial at a junction in their sandy capital Hargeisa. But why is Somaliland not recognized as an independent state? There could be several reasons, for example, the fear of imitators from other African states which were randomly merged by their former colonial powers. Or the hope that the brittle stability might spread to other parts of Somalia. Or perhaps that there are no relevant resources to be exploited in Somaliland.

At any rate – the people of Somaliland therefore suffer many disadvantages. Be it state development aid, loans, insurance contributions or tourism: it is probably the most unfavorable situation possible to officially be part of Somalia, but, in fact, to be cut off from all payments to Somalia. Without the attention that one receives as a member of the United Nations, Somaliland won’t be able to further develop.

I am not alone in this forgotten area. Alex the Swede is accompanying me. We met in Montenegro where we were each mistaken for the other by a saleswoman at a mini market although we don’t remotely resemble each other. Of course, we became best friends. We make a good team at exploring remote areas together.

The Horn of Africa: Somalia is bordering Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti

The Horn of Africa: Somalia is bordering Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti

We start our journey in Ethiopia, in Wajaale we cross the border to Somaliland.

We start our journey in Ethiopia, in Wajaale we cross the border to Somaliland.

With a little backpack as our only luggage, we travelled from place to place using the local public transport. We would play some or other song on our ukuleles, for our own amusement and to the astonishment of the people we met…

With a little backpack as our only luggage, we travelled from place to place using the local public transport. We would play some or other song on our ukuleles, for our own amusement and to the astonishment of the people we met…

In Good Spirits

For travelers, there are a few five-seat Toyota station wagons from the 70s and 80s available, which are the customary means of transportation in Somaliland.

Here and there, people are lying in the shade of small houses and old trees, a little further away a few men are standing by their cars, waving. We hoist our backpacks on our shoulders and stumble towards them over the dusty stony ground. The elderly, nearly toothless man smiles as he and his wife move closer together to make room in the trunk for us.

With us, the taxi’s passenger cargo is complete: 12 people, stuffed on five seats and in the trunk, will spend the next hours relishing each other’s humid body heat while leaving the border station and rumbling towards Hargeisa.

But, hurry not, my friend! Unmotivated, we wait half an hour for nothing.

Then, when our hope has nearly vanished, we set into motion. Unfortunately, only two minutes later we stop because now it’s time to get gas, adjust the tire pressure and have a chat. But then, off we are! And how! Apparently, the young driver wants to prove to us that he could win the Paris-Dakar rally hands-down, cigarette butt in the corner of his mouth. I, for my part, have no doubt he would.

Our neighbor, the elderly Somali, obviously pities me. I must look a little pale in the face. He hands me a few twigs with khat leaves. Softly and insistently he encourages me to chew.

Khat? I already know this bush from Ethiopia, which has the largest growing area.

The young twigs are cut and sold in bunches. In Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia this is the drug of choice for men – the juice of the leaves is absorbed through the buccal mucosa and has an effect that can be best compared to that of marihuana. At least, that was what I had heard.

I pick off a few leaves and excitedly start to chew. How does it taste, asks the curious reader?

I shove the leaf mush from one corner of my mouth to the other and differentiate the nuances: red fruity aroma in play with floral appeal, notes of mocha and a hint of vanilla, balanced and juicy at the palate, with a tangy final note…

Nonsense: it tastes as if one were nibbling on a few juicy birch twigs or went munching on a hazel bush. Not good. Like green leaves (not that that’s something I do regularly, the chewing of leaves back home in the uplands).

Back to the taste. It is exactly this, which I’m soon no longer aware of because my oral cavity is going numb as if I were about to get a root canal treatment by my trusted dentist. Because there’s nothing for me to do in this narrow trunk, I continue.

All of a sudden, we lurch to a halt. A few houses stand along the road, the driver wants to take a lunch break. Our destination can’t be far, but apparently no one seems to care. The driver of a taxi, bus, truck or other motorized vehicle (and any vehicle here is capable of conveying people) holds the absolute power in East Africa. No matter what he does, rarely does one hear objections from the passengers. They patiently and obediently endure all of his moods.

To drive a vehicle is to wield real power.

Cautiously, I approach the food stand. There is spaghetti and a few pieces of mutton, which are simmering listlessly in a brown sauce. Next to the pot with the meat, the rest of the animal hangs in the sun. A swarm of black flies is certainly attracted. Me, not so much.


Nonetheless, I get myself a helping because I am really hungry! I’m also given a fork although the other guests are exclusively using their hands. A few tables are standing in the shade of the canopy, I take a seat on one of the plastic chairs. Carefully, I pick out a piece of meat and smell it. Whoa! I decide to stick with the noodles.

Shortly after we take off again, we reach the first suburbs of the capital. At a small square full of cars, buses, animals and small market stands we are let out without comment – without having the slightest clue as to where we are. It’s a pretty dumb situation because the basis for negotiation concerning a taxi fee is disastrous. In a situation like this, I usually remove myself from the hassle and take a minute to orientate myself.

Unfortunately, the use of khat leaves wasn’t beneficial in terms of achieving maximal mental performance. All the same, by actively asking around we are able to get a vague idea in which direction to move.

And so we start to trudge. Deeper and deeper into the capital of a country that doesn’t exist.


* * *

Chapter 2

A capital, or something like that

What student Amina thinks about equal opportunities for women. And why the dean is happy.

The Oriental Hotel is an institution. Not more and not less. Already during the colonial era, it was marked on the British maps. It is still here, serene and grounded, as befits a venerable hotel with a history.

Of course, times have changed and there are more expensive and bigger hotels than the Oriental in Hargeisa –but none of them are as centrally located and inexpensive at the same time. A room costs fifteen dollars – without air-conditioning, of course, but with a view of the street. And there’s much to see. The money changers are an astonishing sight: bunch over bunch, the Somaliland shilling bills pile up before them, stacked into thick little walls! The 500 shilling bills are the most common, even if one bill isn’t even worth 8 euro cents, it is still an enormous amount of money lying here on the street. Behind the money walls, the changers lounge on small carpets, doze in the shade of umbrellas or chat with their friends. Of course, everyone’s chewing khat.

I’d like to change 100 US dollars.

Close to 2,000 bills. That’s what I get for my one bill – an impressive stack of money! Naturally, there’s a plastic bag available, in which I can carry my new fortune back to the hotel. I ask the changer if he’s not afraid someone is going to steal his money, which lies here in the middle of the street. ‘No!’, he laughs. ‘Here everything’s safe.’ He looks convinced.


The very latest Jihad

Several women pass, burdened with bags full of purchases. Following Muslim tradition, they all keep their hair covered, and except for their hands and faces, no skin is visible. Some are dressed in colorful burkas, others wear a headscarf.

A few meters away a man is yelling. Armed with a frightening sword, which he wildly waves around, he blares the very latest Jihad. I prefer to keep a distance. Who knows. Maybe he just thinks his watermelons are especially worth buying.

As suits an almost real capital, there is also lots of traffic.

At a crossing of the centrally located Independence Avenue, Somaliland’s first traffic light was erected. It may not be surprising that we found it far removed from any functionality, as far from it as a traffic light could only be. Admittedly, the idea is yet charming…


Amina, Asad and Zaynab

More and more people are moving to Somaliland’s largest city. According to estimates, it is already two or three million who seek their luck in the capital. And so it steadily spreads over the dry hills of the urban hinterland, the sea of huts and houses. Too hard the life as a nomad, too tempting the alleged opportunities in the city. One of the best ones being a higher education.

Alex and I try our luck and take a taxi to the university, which is located on the outskirts on a hill. We hope we’ll get a chance to talk to some students there, in order to learn more about life in Somaliland. It is semester break and only a few students are sitting in the library. Most of them in front of a few computers, where they are hanging around on Facebook. One guy employs the Google image search to show him a few titty pictures and hastily opens a Word document when he sees us. Too bad the computer isn’t the fastest.

Three female students and a fellow student have time to talk to us. Amina is the first one to come sit with us. She wears a blue headscarf, has soft features and big, bright eyes. Amina is not opposed to talking to us, and that is a great boon, as most women have avoided us so far. Alex asks her about her wishes for the future.

On our way out of the library we encounter a white-haired, clean-shaven man who beams at us. ‘Hello! I’m the dean!’. He is the dean of the school of medicine, and is simply called ‘Dean’ by everybody – we never learn his real name. He leads us to his office. The walls are painted a pale pink, a skeleton stands in the corner, next to it an old computer. Books are lying around everywhere. When he hears that I am German he excitedly bursts out ‘I’ve also been to Germany, to the DDR, for one year! A great country, I saw so many cities: Schwerin, Dresden, Leipzig, Halle… unfortunately, I’m no longer in touch with anyone.’

He proudly shows us his small department library. He seems like a person who has seen and experienced a lot, and has still kept a positive attitude towards life. We want to learn more.

‘What matters to you in life?’

This he finds most important: no hate, no greed. The dean has impressed me, not only because of his words of wisdom; his entire being radiates this attitude. To strive for ideas, not prosperity. To assign higher value to content than to tangibles. And to always keep a kind heart – that makes him a big role model.


* * *

Chapter Three

Las Geel

How we find great art in the desert. And how, at last, the somali women in the trunk will dampen Alex’s good mood.

We leave Hargeisa the following day. On the road to Berbera, only 50 kilometers to the north-east, we come to a junction. A stony track leads to Las Geel. Here we are supposed to find one of Somaliland’s main attractions. It is said that it would have long been protected by the UNESCO if the political situation had allowed it. ‘Las Geel actually means camel water’, explains our driver while he steers the car with his left hand and his right hand shoves a few khat leaves into his mouth. ‘Apparently, this used to be a watering place where the herds were watered.’

Of which nothing can be seen as the rattling car lurches to a halt in front of a few stony hills. A sandy, desiccated riverbed bears witness to the fact that there must be precipitation in the rainfall period – but now it is as dry as bone. So far, it is a rather unspectacular area. A plain hut has been erected behind the riverbed, in the shade of the bare porch, a man lies on the concrete floor. He is wearing traditional work clothing made of an airy, light blue fabric, a long dagger with a haft made of horn hangs by his side. He doesn’t move until we have almost reached him. Tediously, he lifts his head to let it sink again. It isn’t all that hot, but he is completely overcome by lethargy.

After a few moments of composing himself, another movement: his right arm languidly reaches out and I press the envelope with the license from the Ministry of Tourism into his hand. The hotel manager of the Oriental Hotel organized it for us and got a few dollars off us – but one needs this scrap of paper in order to visit Las Geel. But he is not further interested in what is inside the envelope and, without comment, closes his eyes. Like in slow-motion, his arm sinks to the ground.




Behind the hut, a few rocky hills rise from the savanna-like plain. We climb up the smaller and bigger rocks; there are no trails nor even signposts. On one of the opposite hills, a boy is standing on its plateau and blandly watches us while his goats eagerly nibble off the few leaves of the thorny bushes. When I step past a ledge, I finally see why we have gone through the trouble of coming here.

I am impressed: The style of drawing could also have come from the hand of a contemporary illustrator.

It is amazing that these, many thousands of years old works of art are still perfectly preserved.

Unimpressed and almost without any protection at all, they withstand the semi-desert’s adversities; where goats are bopping around and every few weeks a tourist. I feel very privileged to be able to experience this mystical place in the middle of nowhere.


The road to Berbera

The landscape becomes more and more surreal as we continue our drive to Berbera, towards the coast.

The bushes give way to a barren rocky desert, several perfectly cone-shaped mountains rise a few hundred meters above the flat plain. So far, we have been the only passengers. But after a short while, seven more passengers, who are also coast-bound, board at the roadside of a small town. That means:

moving together!

This time we’re lucky enough to find some room on the rear seats, while two fully veiled ladies and an elderly man are less fortunate and have to get comfy in the trunk. The closer we move towards the coast, the hotter and hazier it gets; we are all covered by a fine layer of dust.

Mohamad, a young man, who was also lucky and is now nestling against Alex, comes from Mogadishu.

For him, it is still a long way back home. Now that the fighting has abated, he wants to return to his family. It will take him approximately four days to make the 800 kilometers home. His English is good and he wears an orange polo-shirt over his muscular body. Suddenly, he hastily demands a bag from the driver, which he then hands to the back. Both women are loudly moaning and wailing.

* * *

Chapter four

Bay of Berbera

The unbearable heat. A ramshackle city. And how we put ourselves in the hands of pirates.

With gloomy eyes, a man absently looks into the distance. He is leaning against a crumbling pillar of an old villa from the era of the Ottoman rule, which lasted until the end of the 19th century.

The edifice caught our attention. As most of the houses of the old town are single-storied, white plastered buildings – charming, but simple. Located on a small hill, with a wooden veranda and surrounded by plenty of space, this villa greatly stood out, so we wanted to get a closer look. Here, we meet Ahmed.

Ahmed is probably in his late twenties and is wearing a sleeveless shirt. He cordially greets us in broken English. We go stand by him in the shade of the patio and converse, as best we can.


His wife is inside preparing food. ‘We don’t have children, yet’ he says in a low voice. ‘Our first child died at birth.’ Despondently, he pauses. Then his face brightens up. ‘But now, my wife is pregnant again.’ He smiles shyly. Both are from Hargeisa, but here in Berbera he found work at the port. They have made their quarters in the old villa. Like many of the beautiful old buildings, it desperately needs remodeling. But it lacks of nearly everything, most of all money. And he’d much rather move back to the capital: he finds it way too hot here at the coast!

And it is hot, hallelujah.
Sultry 47 degrees!

On arriving in Berbera the previous day, we were rather taken by surprise to be immediately turned down by every single one of the few hotels: fully booked! We never quite understood why this place was so popular a destination for a weekend trip that all the hotels were booked out, considering that every step becomes a torture in this sweltering heat.


The evening was drawing to a close and we were slowly getting nervous. A night without accommodation, in a foreign city on the Somali coast – that was not what we had anticipated! Our expectations for our room rapidly sank. Yet everything we heard was ‘Sorry, we are full!’. Then, at last: narrow-spaced, unplastered barracks in a yard. We get a windowless room, with two rickety beds. The gaps in the wall are patched-up with cardboard. The highlight is a rattly air-conditioner – a godsend, considering the temperatures. 25 US dollars per night. Thank you and good night.



In the morning, already at sunrise, we go out to explore the area. Like a heater fan, a hot and heavy wind is blowing at dawn, across the wide, unpaved roads of the old town, and I become aware that in just a few hours, the temperatures will be beyond all endurance.

As it is still too windy for the small boats to be put out to sea, other work is being accomplished in the meantime: most of the men are sitting on the ground next to the giant nets and are mending the holes by knotting new ropes into the net, replacing the ones that had torn.

Approximately a hundred meters away from the shore, three gigantic shipwrecks are halfway sunk into the bay.

These freighters were probably sunk in the course of the 90s‘ bombings, but no one can or wants to provide me with any information. Now they picturesquely rust away, waves wash over the decks and crash against the slowly corroding ship walls. It seems so unreal, like a Hollywood set, that a somewhat unimaginative set constructor developed for a civil war movie in Somalia. But it’s real. Crazy.

As if this scenery wasn’t bizarre enough, a few meters away from the wrecks, groups of children, fully dressed women and several shaggy dogs enjoy themselves in the shallow sea while the low tide is setting in. They are screaming and playing in the waves or standing motionlessly in the water in order to better endure the heat. In the washed-up garbage, flocks of crows plunge into anything that somewhat resembles food. A few of them rejoice in bothering a dog. By hopping on his hindquarters and then flying out of reach again, they mockingly screech as it tries to lunge at them.

The beach is so polluted that, in some places, the sand entirely disappears under a layer of blueish shimmering plastic bottles. In the North, the loading cranes of the deepwater port, which has meanwhile become the most important employer for the men in Berbera, are visible in the mist.

‘Food is ready!’, Ahmed’s wife calls from the house, and we say good-bye. It’s late in the morning and the heat is getting absolutely unbearable; we have grown very fond of our stinking air conditioning. ‘You are always more than welcome,’ he says with a firm handshake. ‘And one last thing: please say ‘hi’ to the people in Germany for me!’


Maybe They’re The Pirates

There are supposed to be gorgeous reefs at the Somali coast, where one can go snorkeling and diving – but without any tourist infrastructure this is difficult. We want to try it anyway. We ask the hotel manager if he can find someone who can take us out on a boat. There are no explanations, maps or documents where one can find good reefs here. We wait for one day. The following afternoon, a boy knocks on our door: we should go to the beach…

When I climb on board again I’m glad. Glad that both fishermen with their boat are still here. Glad that they aren’t pirates and don’t want to exchange us for ransom. And glad that we took this little adventure – because Somalia’s underwater world is beautiful.


* * *

Chapter Five

Erection problems

Musicians play music, chew khat and recount the herb’s implications. Not pretty.

Let’s talk about music. A very difficult subject here. As I walk through the streets, passing shops, small market stands and waiting taxis, there’s much to hear. People are talking, praising their goods; donkeys are screeching and hens clucking, motors are stuttering and drivers honking; the muezzins sing at prayer time from the minarets of the countless mosques.

This much I hear – but no music. No radio blaring away. Only when entering a taxi, is it on. But even in the car: instead of vocals and instruments one hears male voices reciting the suras of the Koran.

Music, be it traditional or modern, is oddly frowned upon. I find that really strange. The strict Islamic majority of Somali society seems to pursue a philosophy that is very hostile to entertainment – at least concerning things that are usually considered ‘fun’ in Western societies. Pretty much everything (except for the intoxicating khat leaves) is at least hidden from the public eye: dancing, music, alcohol.

But by no means does that mean all people abstain from it. No; this aspect of life belongs to the private sphere, where one can sit with the like-minded and relax.


In a café, we get to talking with a man, he’s a musician and his name is Al-Dawid. He invites us to his place for the afternoon where he wants to play us his music. We won’t miss this opportunity in this music-hostile environment! A few hours later, we knock on the door of his rather big house. For a gift, we brought two bags full of khat twigs. Our host opens and leads us into his living-room. There’s not much here, a few carpets and pillows on a tile floor, a bare, energy-saving light bulb hangs from the ceiling and radiates a cold light. But it is pleasantly cool here. Four young men are lying on the floor and warmly greet us. They are already chewing khat by the bunches, several Coke bottles are standing around, cigarettes are being smoked.

It doesn’t take long until the first song is played. For that, Al-Dawid uses a large stringed instrument.

And he knows how to play it! After a few minutes everyone is starting to sing unfamiliar melodies, polyphonic. One of his friends is holding a cell phone in the air and recording the performance.

After a few songs, the khat also starts to unfold its relaxing effect, and the conversations certainly get downright. This time, we let them chew alone – my first encounter in the taxi was sufficient… We are interested, however, in what effects the leaves have in the long-run. Are they addictive?

‘That doesn’t sound like too much fun if it causes so many problems!’, Alex reflects on the newly gained insights. They nod avidly.

Alex and I get out our ukuleles and sing ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, in a rough-and-ready way. This is also recorded by the cell phone – might we soon be Somaliland’s secret Youtube stars? Our performance is a raving success! Obviously, khat also dramatically limits one’s ability to judge.

Great stuff, these leaves.


* * *

Chapter Six

A verbal permission

How we escaped our unwelcome guardian angel and our trick comes to a bad end.

When foreigners travel from city to city in Somaliland, they have to be accompanied by a police man from the so-called ‘Special Protection Unit’, short ‘SPU’. We had already experienced this on our route from Hargeisa to Las Geel and Berbera: bored, the police man sat down next to our driver, chewed khat and got all grouchy when we’d stop to take a picture or to take a look around. That was kind of a drag.

But such a police man comes in awfully handy when it’s about passing road blocks, which occur every few kilometers and are occupied by soldiers that are just as bored. That’s quite useful.

By word of mouth, we had heard that one can get a letter issued by the police in their headquarters in Hargeisa, which permits traveling without this said police man. And, as a matter of fact: when we asked for such a permit there, it was granted to us outright – it would be absolutely safe for foreigners to travel on the roads connecting the cities was what the man in charge told us. But with one constraint: the Chief of Police didn’t get along with the Minister for Tourism. And he was the one who insisted that a security official came along! In order to avoid that the argument escalate, the Chief of Police would therefore only give his verbal permission for traveling alone.

Obviously, that’s a problem.

Here, having a verbal permit is worth as much as… having none at all; as the soldiers at the checkpoints mostly don’t speak a word of English and many can’t read either. Bored, they wait at their stations for anything (!) to happen, and that’s when a bunch of foreigners come in handy! If you can’t stick an official-looking document in front of their noses, it gets very complicated.

Now in Berbera, Alex has a good idea. ‘How ‚bout we write down the verbal permit and print it out, without changing its content?’, he says to me. And, of course, without forging a signature or stamp – simply documenting what we were told. I like the plan. No sooner said than done. A Word document is quickly produced, we add our passport numbers and are able to print the document in a copy shop. It doesn’t look very official, but we are hoping that the simple fact that it is printed will make enough of an impression.




The hotel manager finds us a driver, and we head out the following morning – slightly nervous – to start our last trip through Somaliland. We’ve planned to go up through the mountains, then to Hargeisa and back to the border with Ethiopia. Will the soldiers accept our permit or will they send us straight back to Berbera?
Excited, we leave. It is a real pleasure when we are waved through at the first checkpoints! Every time, the bar goes up and we are allowed to pass – but only after we have shown our piece of paper. How cunning we feel! We go up into the mountains, then down to the plain, back to the capital. Bar after bar goes up, and we are mighty happy. Yes, we even get a little boisterous!

Had we known what awaited us, we would probably have been a bit more cautious.

We are about to start our last leg from Hargeisa back to the border when our Toyota station wagon, packed with eleven passengers, is waved to the side and painstakingly inspected. We are unconcerned as one normally doesn’t need an extra escort as a foreigner on the way back to the border. But all of a sudden, the inspecting police man changes his mind! We have to bring along a SPU! As we routinely pull out our note in order to solve the problem, the situation escalates. The eager police man storms away, gets his supervisor. An elderly man with a white beard and a little paunch comes our way and nervously orders us to get out. The driver of the taxi tries to talk to him, and is also ordered to come along. Together, we get into the rattly police car and rumble over the sandy roads to the headquarters of the Somaliland police. It’s a bit outside of town, and we already know it, because that’s were we’d gotten our verbal permit. I’m a bit nervous now because we have to catch our flight in Ethiopia the next day! What if we are kept here due to this matter?

After waiting for a short time, we are shown to the commander. Several police men are sitting in his office, awaiting his orders. He is wearing a military uniform, dark glasses and frowns at us. ‘What was all that about?’, he barked. We cast our eyes to the floor. ‘We thought..we didn’t know..we’re sorry!’, we mumble.

„Don’t do that again! Goodbye!“

He turns back to his subordinates.

Covertly, we look at each other. We don’t let on our relief. The police man leads us back to the police car. ‘Phew,’ I say to Alex, ‘that was a close call…’ We both laugh with relief. What an endeavor! That could have gone pretty wrong.

Back at the taxi, we get back in with the other eight passengers, which had to wait for us for nearly to two hours. However, waiting is normal here and is nothing anyone would complain about. The elderly police man amicably smiles at us and says goodbye.

‘Happy travels! See you again soon!’

He gushingly waves us off as we slowly jolt towards the border.

When I cross the bridge – the no man’s land between Somaliland and Ethiopia – I am glad. Somaliland hasn’t made things easy for us. It is hard to even come close to understanding a country that is so far from anything familiar in just a few weeks. Which keeps so many aspects of life hidden from the public eye. It was very exhausting to travel here, the heat and the uncomfortable rides got to us. Some reactions on the street were gruff or defensive, and with our slight arrogance to self-compose a permit we ultimately didn’t succeed.

But when we were able to get into a conversation with someone, amiable people like student Amina, musician Al-Dawid or shy Ahmed let us peek a little into the thoughts and dreams of the Somali. No trace of hostility towards us or the West, but the desire to approaching each other, to lead a better, less restricted life without losing one’s own identity. Developments such as the increasing number of female students at the university raise one’s hopes that Somaliland will make a still better and peaceful life possible for its inhabitants, despite the disregard by the rest of the world.
And someday it might also need working traffic lights. And I will come back to see those.

I promise.

Translation by Kate Weyerer.

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Johannes Klaus

Blogger, Graphic Designer, Traveler. In 2011, his blog Reisedepesche won the Grimme Online Award. Since 2013, Johannes Klaus has been the editor of Reisedepeschen, a leading portal for travel stories. The Travel Episodes is his new baby. He likes German Apple Spritzer (apple juice with sparkling water) in 0.5 l bottles and lives in Berlin.

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  • Marianna on 9. November 2014

    Ich liebe es <3

  • Nico on 9. November 2014

    Wow, Respekt. Das ist mal ein Prachtstück eines Berichtes. Chapeau!
    Gruß Nico, und weiter so.

  • Kirsten on 9. November 2014

    <3 lichen Glückwunsch!!
    Was für ein Erlebnis, auf diese Art ein bisschen mitreisen zu dürfen! Ich freue mich schon auf die nächste Episode!

  • Oli on 9. November 2014

    Xanadu…? So geil! :)

  • Claudi on 9. November 2014

    Wow … super geworden! Großes Kino, im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes.
    Mich habt ihr schon sowas von an der Backe ; )

    Grüße aus dem Schwarzwald,

  • Hubert on 9. November 2014

    Alter Schwede, ich bin begeistert! Super Sache, die Du da aus dem Boden gestampft hast, gratuliere!

    Und mir wurde wieder klar, wie das schnell geht mit Vorurteilen – hätte nicht gedacht, dass dort so gut Englisch gesprochen wird, wie es in den Videos zu hören ist.

  • Stefan on 9. November 2014

    Wow, was für eine tolle Idee und was für ein toller Reisebericht über Somalia. Danke dafür! Ich freue mich schon wie Bolle, auf die nächsten Ausgaben!!!

  • Sarah Althaus on 9. November 2014

    Super spannend und schön gemacht! Eine tolle Idee und Umsetzung, ich gratuliere. Weiter so, ich freu mich schon sehr auf den nächsten Bericht!

  • Annika Ziehen on 9. November 2014

    I love it too! Ich weiss nicht, ob ich es mich getraut hätte, aber es war super interessant you zu folgen und ich mag das Format der Travel Episodes!

  • Liane on 9. November 2014

    Great project! Congratulations! Cool videos and animations. And a worth reading story! Good luck! Keep on posting and safe travels!

  • Lorenzo on 9. November 2014

    So ein toller Bericht! Ich habe es genossen! Danke!

  • Marco on 9. November 2014

    Fantastisch! Ich glaube ich bin soeben Zeuge davon geworden, wie man in der Zukunft Geschichten erzählen wird!

    • Johannes Klaus on 10. November 2014

      Marco, das würde deinen Geschichten bestimmt auch gut stehen… : )

  • Heiko on 9. November 2014

    Hallo Johannes,

    sehr schöne Idee und multimedial toll umgesetzt. Ich werde Stammleser : )

    Viele Grüße und alles Gute,

    • Johannes Klaus on 10. November 2014

      Heiko, du bist damit der erste erklärte Stammleser! Herzlich Willkommen! ; )

  • Frau K. on 9. November 2014

    Tolles Format. Etwas ruckelig auf meinem Rechner – er scheint der Datenmenge nicht gewachsen zu sein. Trotzdem bin ich bis zum Ende dran geblieben. Mein Favorit war ganz klar euer Ukulelenspiel. Wenn ich 25 Jahre jünger wäre würde ich meine Blockflöte einpacken und mit euch reisen ; )

    Ein lieber Gruß von Frau K.

    • Johannes Klaus on 10. November 2014

      Frau K., schön, dass du durchgehalten hast. Die Seite ist wirklich anspruchsvoll für das Gerät… Liebe Grüße!

  • Ulla on 9. November 2014

    HERZLICHEN GLÜCKWUNSCH – wunderbar gestaltet…inhaltsreich, humorvoll, geistreich, spannend – eine echte Freude, euch auf dieser sehr besonderen Reise begleiten zu dürfen…! Ein wirkliches Erlebnis!!!

  • JMS on 10. November 2014

    si wanaagsan la sameeyey!!

  • Matt on 10. November 2014

    Hallo Johannes,

    Diese Art der Webseitengestaltung ist eine fantastische Erzählform! Chapeau!
    Wir freuen uns schon auf deine nächsten Travel Episoden!

    Halt‘ dich munter,

  • Geertje on 10. November 2014

    Wie ein richtig gutes Reisebuch – verführerisch. Danke für die Reise nach Somalia.

  • uschi on 10. November 2014

    ich finde deinen blog, den günter exel auf fb empfohlen hatte, ganz toll gemacht, aber er verbraucht extrem viel resourcen.

    ich habe einen nagelneuen, leistungsstarken laptop und upc breitband und trotzdem fängt bei mir sofort der ventilator laut zu laufen an. so laut wie sonst bei keiner seite und ich bin sehr viel im web unterwegs …

    günter meinte ich soll dir dieses feedback schicken … here you are : )

    alles gute für dein projekt, uschi

    • Johannes Klaus on 10. November 2014

      Hi Uschi, ich hoffe, dass du trotz Ventilatorrauschen noch die Videos verstehen konntest! : )

  • Susi / Black Dots White Spots on 10. November 2014

    Wunderbar geworden, ich mag es sehr, diese Mischung aus Reisegeschichten erzählen und Multimedia.

    Danke auch für die Einblicke ins Reisen durch Somaliland. Was muss das für eine verrückte Reise gewesen sein?? Sehr schön auch die Sache mit dem Khat, der illustre Reisegefährte Alex der Schwede und die selbst ausgestellte Durchreisegenehmigung! ;-)

    Weiter so, freue mich schon auf die nächste!

  • Hari on 10. November 2014

    Danke für diese Story. So sieht die Zukunft des Reisebloggens aus.

    • Johannes Klaus on 10. November 2014

      Das würde mich freuen, Hari! :)

  • Jasmin on 10. November 2014

    Wow, wie gut ist denn dieser Artikel bitte?!
    Ich freue mich auf mehr! :)

  • Patric on 11. November 2014

    Geil gemacht! So macht „Reisenden-Zuschauen“ Spass :-) Grüsse

    • Johannes on 11. November 2014

      Merci, Patric!!

  • Alexandros Tsachouridis on 11. November 2014

    WOW. Einfach nur Wow. Mehr feedback folgt, wenn ich erst einmal tief Luft geholt habe… Respekt !

    Alexandros Tsachouridis und danke an Marianna fürs Teilen auf twitter !

    • Johannes Klaus on 11. November 2014

      Dankeschön, Alexandros! Schön durchatmen :)

  • claudia on 12. November 2014

    Phantastisch! Ein Gesamtkunstwerk! Ich freu‘ mich über den Beweis, dass Reisen, Gestalten und Berichten ein Lebensinhalt und Verdienst sein können. Alles Gute und weiter so, claudia

    • Johannes Klaus on 12. November 2014

      Hallo Claudia, herzlichen Dank!!

  • Jürgen Drensek on 12. November 2014

    Lieber Johannes,
    Hut ab! Sehr stimmungsvoll. Ein wirklich gelungenes Experiment, Reiseberichte im Web anders aufzubereiten mit dem Besten aus fast allen Welten..: Print und Bild und Film (Sound-Bilder könnten vielleicht auch noch dazukommen…)
    Habe mich gerne verführen lassen, weil ich zum Glück heute Muße hatte am Vormittag.. Das ist vielleicht der einzige Wehmutstropfen in unserer heutigen, so schnelllebigen Zeit. Man muss sich bei dieser Erzählform die Ruhe gönnen können.
    Aber Glückwunsch zu diesem Blog 3.0! An so einem Beispiel dürfte die manchmal von Journalistenseite geäußerte Kritik wegen der Leichtgewichtigkeit und Kritiklosigkeit mancher Blogs ad absurdum geführt werden.
    Ich werde dich gerne in der nächsten Ausgabe von http://www.wasmitreisen.de zum Fachpublikum verlinken :-)

    • Johannes Klaus on 12. November 2014

      Lieber Jürgen, vielen Dank. Dein Lob freut mich sehr.

  • Gesa on 12. November 2014

    Johannes, es muss an dieser Stelle noch mal mit aller Deutlichkeit gesagt werden: Was du hier gemacht hast, ist ganz großes Kino.

    Ja, es ist viel Inhalt. Aber tatsächlich geht die Rechnung mit den Kapiteln für mich ganz wunderbar auf. Ich muss nicht alles auf einmal lesen, ich kann einen Knick in die Seite machen und später wiederkommen. Und das habe ich in den letzten Tagen auch immer wieder gemacht.

    Du hast hier einen Ort im Netz geschaffen, wo wirklich mal etwas Ruhe einkehrt – und gleichzeitig so viel passiert. Das ist für mich das Bemerkenswerte an diesem Projekt.
    Ich könnte mich seitenweise darüber auslassen, was ich noch alles toll finde. Aber ich lasse das einfach mal so stehen: Ganz. Großes. Kino. Danke.

    • Johannes Klaus on 13. November 2014

      Liebe Gesa,

      das freut mich sehr! Vielen herzlichen Dank!!

  • Gudrun on 13. November 2014

    Ich bin sehr misstrauisch. Wenn mir 10 oder mehr Leute sagen, ich solle mir etwas ansehen, mache ich es garantiert nicht. Zum Glück war ich zu neugierig, zum Glück! Es ist toll geworden, dabei bin ich erst beim dritten Kapitel. Die restlichen Kapitel hebe ich mir für morgen auf, oder für übermorgen. Und dann beginne ich von vorne. Es ist wie ein gutes Buch, dass man immer und immer wieder lesen möchte…

    • Johannes Klaus on 14. November 2014

      Gudrun, danke! Es ist großartig, wenn so ein Herzensprojekt wertgeschätzt wird! Merci!

  • Katrin on 15. November 2014

    Wow! Respekt! Ich verneige mich vor euch und dieser Reise. Danke fürs teilhaben lassen. Ich „befürchte“ der nächste Online-Grimme Preis steht somit an…gibt schlimmeres. Ein neues Level des Storytellings – ihr habs geschafft. Geil ich bin geflasht!
    LG Katrin

    • Johannes Klaus on 15. November 2014

      Liebe Katrin, vielen Dank für dieses riesige Lob!! Ich freu mich!

  • Steffi on 15. November 2014

    Wirklich toll geworden dein neues Baby, Johannes! Besonders die „Dream a Little Dream of me“-Einlage ist sehr erheiternd in einer so tristen Herbststimmung wie heute…
    Travel Episodes wird auf alle Fälle Teil meiner Wochenend-Lektüre werden! Freue mich auf Vietnam!
    Sende viele Grüße nach Berlin!

    • Johannes Klaus on 15. November 2014

      Herzlichen Dank, Steffi!! Liebe Grüße zurück!

  • Madlen on 19. November 2014

    Die Bildergewalt der Worte auf reisedepeschen wird hier noch durch die unheimlich intensiven Videosequenzen getoppt. Wunderbar! Vor allem auch großartig, dass Du mit einem Land startest, das eher weniger zum Reisen einlädt und uns an Deinen Bildern und Geschichten teilhaben lässt.

  • Manuel on 22. November 2014

    Wirklich klasse!
    Ich bin durch deine Ankündigung auf Reisedepesche auf diese Projekt von dir gestoßen und ich muss dir wirklich recht geben, dieses Format bietet sich für Reiseberichte grade zu an. Wo Texte, Videos oder Bilder alleine immer nur einen Teileindruck geben, fügst du hier alles zusammen :). Die Kombi Bilder und Text sind da ja nichts neues, aber grade die Videos machen den Bericht noch lebendiger. Sehr toll gemacht und danke für die harte Arbeit (denn die steckt hier zweifellos drin)

    Gruß Manuel

    • Johannes on 22. November 2014

      Hey Manuel, vielen Dank für die tolle Rückmeldung!

  • Pia on 25. November 2014

    Mir fällt nur ein Wort ein und zwar „atemberaubend“, Ich habe zuvor noch nie eine so schöne Art gesehen Geschichten zu erzählen. Einmal angefangen, musste ich eure gesamte Story einfach nur verschlingen und ich bin jetzt schon unheimlich gespannt auf das, was noch alles kommen wird. Die Mischung aus Text, Fotos und Filmen ist einfach nur genial. Ein riesen Dankeschön das ihr eure Geschichten auf dies Art mit uns teilt.

  • Moritz on 25. November 2014

    Das ist tatsächlich überragend, und das ideale Format um Reisegeschichten zu erzählen. Wenn ich technisch ein bisschen versierter wäre, würde ich gleich auch so ein Ding aufsetzen. Bin begeistert und werde weiter mitlesen!

  • horst on 26. November 2014

    Genau, das ist es! Da machen doch Reiseberichte wieder richtig Spaß! Hätte nicht gedacht, dass sich so etwas Tolles vor mit auftun wird, als ich aus reiner Neugier bloß mal eben reinschauen wollte, was das denn so ist, das da so großmundig bekanntgemacht wurde. Tatsächlich, das ist ein Erlebnis, man ist – ich bin mit auf der Reise und mittendrin … Werde morgen wieder reinklicken und weiterschauen und -lesen … Mehr davon!

    • Johannes Klaus on 27. November 2014

      Danke, Horst!! Ganz lieben Dank!

  • Andreas on 27. November 2014

    Hallo Johannes,

    ich hab auf deinem Blog viel mehr über Somalia erfahren als in mancher Nachrichtensendung. persönliche Erfahrungen, Lifecharakter und nah am Thema dran. Sehr schön. Nach unten scrollen, Text, Bild und Video-Episoden untereinander anzuordnen, ist einfach zu bedienen und die Geschichten dahinter sind spannend zu lesen. Ich finde es ganz toll was ihr zeigt. Super!!


    • Johannes Klaus on 27. November 2014

      Lieber Andreas, das ist genau das, was ich erreichen wollte. Vielen Dank für die Rückmeldung!

  • Johannes Hehlmann on 30. November 2014

    Wie schon alle gesagt haben, ich finde es auch absolut genial. Erst einen Text im eigenen Tempo zu lesen, nachzudenken, eigene Fantasien zu entwickeln und dann ein Video zu sehen, wie es tatsächlich war fand ich total faszinierend und noch besser, als wenn Johannes oder Alex im Off gesprochen hätten wenn man das ganze als ein großes Video gemacht hätte.

    • Johannes Klaus on 2. Dezember 2014

      Sehr wichtiger Aspekt! Danke, Johannes!!

  • Tanja on 3. Dezember 2014

    Tolle Idee, wundervoll umgesetzt – bitte mehr davon (:

  • Kris on 5. Dezember 2014

    Richtig gut! Es gibt ja Millionen Reiseberichte, aber dieser macht richtig Spaß. Die Abwechslung von Text, Video, Fotos, Graphiken … total genial: es wird einem bis zum Schluss nicht langweilig. Und so super einfach im Handling, ohne Hin und Her-Geklicke! Macht richtig Spaß :D
    Liegt natürlich auch daran, dass ihr zwei sympathische Typen seit, die verrückte Sachen machen.
    Ich will mehr davon. Gibt es einen Newsletter zum anmelden?!
    Lieben Gruß und viel Spaß!

  • Julia on 5. Dezember 2014

    Das ist ja mal wirklich richtig gut geworden! Persönlich, informativ, kurzweilig und einzigartig. Ich bin eigentlich kein Videofan, aber die Mischung ist einfach perfekt. Man merkt das Herzblut dahinter und das hat mal richtigen Mehrwert. Großes Lob!

  • Xander Rose on 6. Dezember 2014

    WOW! Ich wusste es gibt eine gesunde Mischung aus Tex, Foto und Video… aber dass sie so gut ist… :)
    Aber mal abgesehen davon, war die Reise jawohl einfach der Hammer!! Hätte mir die Konsequenzen nicht ausmalen wollen, wenn sie euch mit der selbstgedruckten Genehmigung nicht weiterziehen lassen hätten…

  • Renartis on 10. Dezember 2014

    Es wurde bereits alles gesagt!

  • Christian on 12. Dezember 2014

    Ich bin gerade durch Zufall auf die Seite gelangt und über diese Geschichte gestolpert. Diese hat mich so gefesselt, dass ich gar nicht aufhören konnte zu lesen. Die Videos, dann das Format der Website, das passt alles – vielen Dank!

    • Johannes Klaus on 14. Dezember 2014

      Hi Christian, schön, dass es dir gefällt!!

  • Oliver on 14. Dezember 2014

    Wow, den vorhergegangenen Kommentaren kann man ja eigentlich nichts mehr hinzufügen. Perfekte Umsetzung und ich freue mich absolut auf weitere Episoden!

    Vielen Dank dafür.

  • Matthias on 4. Januar 2015

    Ich bin begeistert von deinem Reisebericht und deinen wunderschönen Fotos und Filmen. Dein neues Konzept: Text mit Bildern und Videos zu verbinden ist genial und gibt dem Leser das Gefühl mit auf der Reise dabei zu sein. Mach weiter so!

    Ich habe mich gefragt, mit welcher Kamera du die Videoaufnahmen gefilmt hast und mit welcher Software du die Filme schneidest?

    Gruß, Matthias

    • Johannes Klaus on 5. Januar 2015

      Hi Matthias, vielen Dank! Die Aufnahmen hier wurden mit einer Panasonic GH2 gemacht, mittlerweile filme ich mit einer GH4. Der Schnitt passiert in Premiere Pro CS6.
      Liebe Grüße aus Bangladesch!

  • Susanne on 5. Januar 2015

    Das war ein super Reisebericht – ich selber habe vor langer Zeit einmal in Ost-Afrika gelebt und kann mir daher wirklich gut vorstellen, wie das so war. Obwohl Somaliland auch in Afrika wohl schon ziemlich speziell ist.
    Irre fand ich die Elektrizitäts-Kabel, ein total verhedderter Knoten, ein Wunder, dass da irgendetwas läuft….und dass die Zeit dort anders zu ticken scheint…

    Ich freue mich auf den nächsten Blogg!

    • Johannes Klaus on 6. Januar 2015

      Liebe Susanne, dankeschön! Es werden noch viele Travel Episodes kommen!

  • Chris on 17. Mai 2015

    Die Idee, Artikel mit Bild, Ton und Video zu gestalten ist wirklich top. Es ist wie eine Reportage, nur ausführlicher. Und das über ein so ungewöhnliches Reiseziel ist wirklich der Hammer. Es zeigt eben mal wieder, wie an jedem Flecken unserer Erde mehr gute als böse Menschen leben. Auch wenn es nicht ungefährlich war – die Erfahrung war es bestimmt wert ;)

    • Johannes Klaus on 17. Mai 2015

      Danke, Chris! Ja, ich würde Somalia den meisten Menschen nicht als Reiseziel empfehlen… aber es war ein spannendes Erlebnis!

  • Ubah on 26. Dezember 2015

    Wow I think we were in Hargeysa/Berbera around the same time! I enjoyed myself there like always, I think I might have underestimated the difficulties white foreigners may face. You might get treated a differently when you´re from a different place, for better or for worse. I enjoyed your perspective. It would have been much funner and more enjoyable if you guys linked up with diaspora youth. Perhaps next time!

    Love from a Norwegian-Somali

    • Johannes Klaus on 28. Dezember 2015

      Hi Ubah, yes, you’re probably right! Next time we definitely get in touch… happy new year! Johannes

  • Barry Scowen on 31. Dezember 2015

    I really enjoyed you Somaliland adventure, As a boy I lived in Somaliland and Berbera was my favourite town out of numerous places I had lived,as a boy of about 12 from England it was also a great adventure.With my parents I lived in Berbera some 18 months we left in 1960 as independance came about.oh yes we had no air con in those days,you do get used to the heat.
    Thanks again.

    • Johannes Klaus on 31. Dezember 2015

      Hi Barry, thanks for your comment! Good to know, that you can adjust to the heat :) Happy new year!

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  • gabriele on 29. Dezember 2016

    das ist ein ganz wunderbares format. gucken, hören und lesen, abwechselnd. und damit ist es für mich der perfekte blog um meine reisefreie zeit zu überstehen. danke euch! (auch wenn somaliland vermutlich nicht unbedingt auf meiner nächsten route liegt…)

    • Johannes Klaus on 29. Dezember 2016

      Lieben Dank! Viele Grüße vom Frankfurter Flughafen, auf dem Weg nach BKK :)

  • Monika Ranftl on 19. November 2017

    Ich bin sehr froh, dass ich auf diesen Reisebericht über Somalia gestoßen bin. Ich bin Seniorenstudentin der Afrikanistik in Wien. Ich kenne schon einige Somalierinnen, die hier in Wien leben und bin schon ziemlich neugierig auf ihre Heimat – Somaliland oder auch Somalia. Wahrscheinlich aber werde ich es nicht schaffen, dorthin zu reisen. Deshalb ein großes Dankeschön für den Bericht.

  • Studentenblog on 21. Juli 2019

    Johannes, so ein toller Bericht! Ich habe es genossen….danke

  • Wolfgang Apel on 7. Oktober 2020

    Re Somaliland. Ein ganz einfühlsamer Bericht mit realistischen Videos und Kommentaren.Es ist immer noch so, wie vor 40 Jähren. Ich war 1980 für 3 Monate im Süden von Kismayo und in Mogadischu. Wir mussten schon damals immer einen Soldaten mit uns haben. Aber die Menschen, die bei uns im Camp gearbeitet haben waren so freundlich und haben uns soviel gezeigt. Die vorgelagerten Riffs dort sind leider nicht geschlossen und wir haben vom Ufer einige Haie gesehen. Damit war baden nur möglich, wenn einer Wache hielt und ja nicht zu weit rausschwamm. Vielen Dank für diesen Bericht!

  • Stefan on 21. Januar 2021

    Bettelarme Länder aber für Militär ist immer Geld da.