Visiting Berbera, Somalia
North of Somaliland’s capital of Hargeisa is the coastal city of Berbera and Somaliland’s largest port. For centuries this was a very important port and once even served as the regional capital for hundreds of years. I had no intentions other than seeing Berbera when I arrived here, but my visit turned out to be more of an outdoor beach trip than anything else! While the culture along Somalia’s coast obviously varies drastically from Somaliland where I was, to Puntland, and on to Mogadishu, I found things here to be relatively liberal and open. There were families along the beach, fisherman smiled and waved, and I was even able to go scuba diving. In this photo above, some young Somali kids take a swim in the Gulf of Aden.
If you read my Hargeisa page, you’ll know I was incredibly ripped off by the armed guards I had hired. By law, I had to hire one to get here from Hargeisa. Once in Berbera the guards refused to leave. Luckily I found my friends in Berbera and realized the atrocious amount of money I had been overcharged. It wasn’t much of a surprise, but it remains the most I’ve been ripped off on all my travels by far! Despite their exposure the guards still refused to accept defeat and tried to argue that they had to stay with me or I had to at least pay for their return. Someone who spoke Somali later told me the guards had actually accepted their loss but it was the crazy taxi driver who was refusing to give up. Eventually all was well, and the rest of my trip was great with nothing but positive experiences. One example is Wi-Fi was very hard to come by when I had visited. Luckily these guys in the Telesom building let me hang out and use theirs for free! The Telesom building was built in 2008 and was definitely the nicest building in Hargeisa. Below is a more humble establishment; a local restaurant.
Berbera’s population is around 200,000 people. Inside the city there wasn’t too much that caught my eye. Most of the markets seemed very similar to Hargeisa, just on a smaller scale. I still wish I had taken more photos of the city. When I first arrived to Berbera I found some random hotel that had no staff present. In my search to find them, I made it up to the rooftop where there was a young guy sleeping hard in the sun. It took more effort than you’d think the wake the guy up. I thought for a moment he might even be having a medical emergency. I didn’t end up sleeping there, but I got a reasonable view of some of the streets below that I failed to photograph. The only thing I really captured was these clock and fish towers in the city center. You can see both have the national colors of Somaliland, green, white, and red.
Above and below are two photos of Somalia’s coast. Since Berbera is located on the Somali panhandle, these waters are actually part of the Gulf of Aden which is shared with Yemen. Two of my biggest mistakes on this trip was getting lazy and not going out to some scenic coastal areas to the west. I also missed out on hiking up Somalia’s highest mountain which supposedly you can see the ocean on a clear day! While Berbera’s coastal areas weren’t mountainous, they were still beautiful. The weather felt nice, around 75F (24C), but somehow I still left with a sunburn.
Somalia’s coast is probably most famous for pirates than anything else. The pirates have largely been defeated, but at the time of my visit they were at their peak. They targeted boats as far away as 1,000 miles (600 kilometers) from the mainland! The pirate bases are in a region called Puntland which is further east from where I was. Although pirates probably would never sail in view of this beach, I was still required to hire an armed guard for my hike.
Right by the city there was a surprising number of people along the beach. Mostly there were either families or kids swimming. I even came across a group of guys having a soccer game. This walk along the beach I did was actually my second. On my first I had gone without a guard since I didn’t know I was required one. I went for a few hours the opposite direction and had the entire place to myself!
I didn’t think much of the left overs of these khat sticks when I passed them by on the beach at first. Khat is a drug similar to a powerful version of caffeine that is popular in east Africa. It’s taken by chewing on the leaves of the khat plant. When you purchase them you often get twigs that are tied together in a bundle like the left overs above. I found the culture difference between eastern Africa and the western world to be interesting. Back home in the United States you’d walk around the beach find the occasional beer can. In Somalia you’ll have the same experience, but instead of an empty beer can you’ll find an old bundle of khat.
My goal for the first hike was to get to a fishing village. While I never made it there, I got close enough that I started to see some boats like this one above. I regret turning around in hindsight. I could have met some of the locals or even gone out with them. I’d certainly be curious to see what they pulled out of the ocean.
On my original hike I went further away from the city and instead of seeing people I saw countless camels. I later heard that this region of Somalia is home to more camels than any other place on earth! The beach was no exception. These camels casually walk the beach and other than people they seem to have no natural enemies here. Enjoying the easy beach life in Somalia!
I’m not sure where the densest place in the world is for hermit crabs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is Somalia as well. It’s hard to walk for 60 seconds along the beach without seeing one. They come in all sizes and use a variety of shells here. These hermit crabs were two of dozens of others I came across on my walk.
This crab in the photo above had such great camouflage I would have missed him if he hadn’t taken off running. I also saw a gigantic crab here with a large blue claw but he disappeared into the ocean before I could get a shot of him. That’s him successfully escaping below.
While most of the beach that I walked was sandy, there were a few exceptions. Some parts were very rocky, other parts were covered in green moss and coastal sea plants. I even came across this area that had large patches of black sand.
Walking further along the beach, I saw several species of herons, or at least I think they’re herons! Above could be an egret, and below could be a black-headed heron. Obviously the bird below doesn’t have much of a black head, but I did some photos of that species online and some simply look gray.
I also came across some colorful seashells. I found plenty of other colorful ones during the walk but didn’t keep any for myself. Later on I also found the remains of this large sea turtle shell below.
I waited for days in Berbera for the ocean waters to clear up. Heavy rains for nearly a week caused run off to cloud the ocean and make diving impossible due to the lack of visibility. When it was finally time to go in, I did two shore dives. Above are some plants that were growing close to the coast, large stalks that give animals here plenty of places for cover. The photo below showed some very bright green grass along the shore as well close to the surface. It looked exactly like the kind of grass you’d see in your front yard!
I loved this piece of coral above even though it lacked spectacular colors. I called this the Ocean Tree due to its shape. I’m not sure if this species typically makes a tree like pattern or if that was just complete coincidence.
I call this the Ocean Flower, but I’m not sure what it actually is. I tried hard to find it on the internet but never had any luck. Even when I showed it to some who take diving seriously they weren’t able to recognize it. It would definitely be an amazing sight to see dozens or even hundreds of these grouped together!
I was surprised by the amount of fish in these waters. There were way more species than I would have imagined, and all of their numbers seemed to be pretty healthy. Above is a photo of a huge school of fish that passed right by me.
I came pretty close to this large school of fish above. These guys were swimming around casually when all of a sudden they went into a feeding frenzy around this coral below. I never saw exactly what they were after, but their sudden movements made assume they had discovered a tiny school of fish that went by or some type of algae that they couldn’t resist.
I’m pretty certain that this guy above is some type of grouper fish. It closely resembles a coral grouper to me, with the only difference that the one I encountered had a darker body. I’ve no idea what this strikingly blue fish below is!
Two last photos from my scuba dive, a fish relaxing at home above and a spotted sting ray below. I’m very grateful to have this camera for my dive, but I really need to invest in a high quality diving camera for the future!