It really felt like we were being smuggled into a country territory that is deeply misunderstood by the entire world. We left Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, at a shockingly good time (at 5.28, roughly 2 minutes before we had to leave at 5.30). What was even funnier is the advertisement on the bus that said “Young Man Bus, German Technology, Chinese Price” which sounds about right in this part of the world.
It was a refreshing change of pace after getting used to the wonderful delays with African transportation. Even when I flew from Madagascar I was able to win a bet because I was the only one that knew that we weren’t leaving on time. A 6 hour layover turned into a 2 layover because the plane was “surprisingly” late.
Luckily, Kenya Airways was nice enough to give us sandwiches, a bread sandwich to be exact.
We arrived at the bus station, better known as the side of the road, in Jijiga, Ethiopia at roughly 4pm. I was able to find the best hotel in the city through a contact for the expensive price of $20 a room. Being a Muslim hotel, we were informed of their #1 rule, a marriage certificate is required for couples staying in the same room. I was fortunately traveling with another straight man so the only documentation we had to provide were our passports. I wonder if the same rule would have applied if we told them we were actually gay and happened to be partners.
Who doesn’t love Cher anyway?
After we befriended some locals and ate at a local restaurant we laid on our beds at the Hamdu hotel which felt like the floor of a wrestling ring. The mattresses were stiffer than the day after bread in Europe. For those of you that haven’t been to Europe, bread is made fresh daily and if you don’t eat it the same day it turns into a rock due to the lack of preservatives.
We were eating at the hotel restaurant when it happened. The man sitting across from us was clearly Somali by the looks of the bottom part of his goatee. He corrected us when we tried to order a Coke and say thank you and as the conversation continued he invited us to his table.
Later we realized we were talking to the personal advisor to the Somaliland president and one of the men that engineered the Somaliland revolution. We spoke for roughly 20 minutes before being thrown out of the restaurant. I tried to pay for the meal but they informed us it was already paid for by the man with the awesome beard.
After meeting a few Somali’s Somalilanders, I have started to realize that they are as polite and inviting as Colombians, Israelis, and Zambians. After waking up the next day we were very excited to encounter our adventure crossing into no man’s land. The self declared state of Somaliland isn’t recognized by anyone in the world but many countries are ready to recognize the new state Israel, Kenya, Ethiopia have all stated this publicly).
We found a small cafe in the hotel compound and sat down to have some of the best coffee in the world. Ironically, the same Somalilander man that we met the night before walks up to the cafe.
We invite him to sit with us and insist on buying his coffee since he paid for our dinner the night before. We have a great conversation with him and he writes down some Somali Arabic phrases for us to remember. As the conversation continued he invited us to ride with him. Since the cars were full we rode in the very back of the 4×4, after making a nice castle of luggage we eventually felt like we were being smuggled in to the country.
We passed 3 checkpoints before arriving to the Ethiopian border and the faces of the security personnel were priceless. It’s as if they expected to see us sitting in the front of vehicle and everyone else in the back. It was a great experience that would lead into one of many unique experiences in the territory of Somaliland. After we were dropped off we looked at each other and said, “we were just smuggled into the country by the president’s personal advisor”, what a great way to start the trip.