I had planned to go to Las Geel and Berbera while in Somaliland. There aren’t many touristy things to do, but seeing some early signs of civilization in majestic caves and seeing some shipwrecks off the Gulf of Aden would suffice.
I had read online that I could go to Las Geel for about $80, representing $25 for the government permit and $55 to rent a car/driver/SPU. The SPU is like the tourist police, there to “protect” you from kidnapping. In reality, Somaliland is very safe, but they don’t want to tarnish their reputation if something were to happen.
I read that SPUs were no longer needed to travel to outside cities like Berbera, so I figured I could go one day to Las Geel and the following day take public transport to and from Berbera.
When I arrived I went to the ministry of tourism to get the permit and they ruined my plans. They said I needed an SPU to go anywhere in the country, limiting me to very expensive options. My hotel offered me $214 for a driver, SPU, and day trip to Las Geel and Berbera. A travel agency offered me $300 for the same plus a tour guide.
I just couldn’t stomach it. $214 is more than it cost me to visit Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat, and Cappadocia combined. You can’t put a value on what seeing a place is worth. They are all experiences, worthy in their own right. But I just couldn’t justify paying that much in one day with my budget.
So what did I do instead? I went to the camel market of course!!
The camel market is located on the outskirts of town. Getting there requires a taxi ride on several unpaved roads and you get to see life outside the center of the capital.
Upon arrival I saw dozens of camels set among several groups. I figured each owner had his camels separated, but all were marked anyway.
My first couple minutes were really funny. One camel took a particular liking to me. He approached me and kept trying to bring his face in very close to mine. I didn’t let him get too close since camels do spit and can be quite nasty, but it was really funny. The local people all around me were laughing and talking in Somali. I made a kissing noise with my lips as if to suggest the camel wants a kiss.
It was here that an older gentleman who needed the use of a cane to get around grabbed my arm and took me around. I later found out he was from Djibouti. He spoke Somali, Arabic, and French fluently, and spoke enough English that we could communicate.
He took me around and acted as an ambassador between me and the confused and curious locals who saw a long-haired, young, brown dude walking through their market. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. I took some pictures, but not too many. Somalis more than anywhere else I’ve been seemed to dislike having pictures taken of themselves or their surroundings. Any picture I have of a person from Somalia was the result of asking permission or them asking me to take their picture.
He told me that the camels cost roughly $1000 each, cows cost $300 and goats $100. It was never clear to me if he wanted a tip for taking me around. He never asked for one so he may have done it out of the kindness of his heart and a desire to show hospitality. Nevertheless, I gave him a $5 bill upon leaving and his gratitude was abundantly obvious.
While I was there I saw two camels really going at it. I don’t know what they were fighting about (probably a girl), but when camels want to be, they are very quick. We had to run out of their way a couple of times. I also never realized how ugly a camel’s tongue is. I never got a good picture, but sometimes they walk around with their tongue hanging out of their mouths and it’s really, really gross.
All in all, it was a great experience and opportunity. 🙂
I took a taxi back. The fare was $4, but I paid in local currency. It came out to 26,000 Somaliland Shillings, or 52 500-Shilling notes.