Over the weekend, I visited Berbera for the first time. It’s not a particularly large city; it’s only the fourth city in Somaliland, after Hargeisa (the capital), Burco, and Borama. But it’s the closest it gets to a holiday destination Somaliland, and is therefore a popular weekend destination for people who live and work in Hargeisa. I actually went with several backpackers (yes, backpackers – they are few and far between in Somaliland, but they do appear occasionally). Berbera is probably the only place firmly on the “tourist trail” in Somaliland (to use that term liberally).
But once you get there, you see why it is talked about so much. Berbera is a port city, on the Gulf of Aden, and it has its own distinct feel which is very different from Hargeisa. Most of the city centre is in a state of advanced decay. It has a spectacularly dilapidated, crumbling aura that conjures up the feeling of an abandoned city lost in time.
The streets in the “old town” (if it can be called that) are lined with trees (a rare sight in Hargeisa) and are mostly pedestrian, with cars replaced by frolicking children. This gives the neighborhood a wonderfully lazy feel, characterized by a perpetual late afternoon lethargy. The only movement is the slow gait of a woman meandering down the street, and the only sound is the cawing of the many crows on the power lines overhead.
But the real highlight of Berbera is the beach. In hot and dusty inland Hargeisa, we are far from any body of water (and in such a drought-prone country, pools of course don’t exist). The beach in Berbera is completely natural and entirely undeveloped. The closest thing to commercialization is a seaside hotel, set a fair distance back from the coast line. The beach itself remains untouched.
There were a sprinkling of local people hanging out on the beach, but we only had to walk 15 minutes to reach a completely desolate strip of sand, populated only by camels. I can’t tell you how good it felt to rip off my shawl, headscarf, and direh dress and plunge into the warm water in my bikini. I think I screamed with joy.