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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Las Geel

SOMALIA | Monday, 11 March 2013 | Views [1424]

As I hitchhiked from Berbera I was picked up quickly and asked to be dropped off in Dhubato so I could go to Las Geel. It was still early, and even though it was 6 km down a dirt road I felt confident I could walk there. The only problem was that I had to carry all of my gear. I thought of leaving it under a tree or behind a rock but who knows if it would have been there when I returned. The sun was out and I walked beneath it with my 25+ kg of gear; in doing so I walked relentlessly. As I gazed at the landscape I thought it would have been marvelous to camp here. I would have had a view of a million stars and nothing else around me! Not far from the main road there are several makeshift yurt-style homes. When I said "Las Geel" to a local he pointed straight ahead as if "keep going my friend." Most people come here with a guide and vehicle but, thinking of Semuc Champey, I opted to do it the hard way. When I came upon a police checkpoint there was nobody there so I continued on ahead. Off in the distance I could see a distinct outcropping that I suspected was Las Geel.

It took me only 45 minutes to walk 6 km. I walked past a small building and some toilets and then went up some concrete steps to have a view of some extraordinary cave paintings. Las Geel is considered Somaliland's (as a de facto country) masterpiece; just as the Colosseum is to Rome. And it was only discovered in 2003 but they're believed to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. Archaeologists are unsure who painted them but they were known to the area's previous inhabits even before they were discovered 10 years ago. These are some really beautiful cave paintings, including one of a pregnant cow. As I sat for a breather high up on the outcropping I could see two men approaching.

I wasn't sure if they were coming to me or to the paintings, but they came up to me and started speaking in Somali. One man was in his 40's and had a small axe and the other was about my age and had a cane over his shoulder. The sight of the axe made me nervous and they seemed to be upset. I was scared because I didn't know if these guys wanted to rob me or kill me or whatever. Neither spoke English and the area was likely out of mobile phone range so they couldn't call for an interpreter. When I tried to walk past them the older man blocked my path. I was shaking because I wasn't sure if he was going to take a swing at me with the axe. The younger man seemed to say that I was scared of the axe and he tossed it on the ground, but they still wouldn't let me leave. I didn't know what these guys wanted! Part of me felt like running as fast as I could but I knew it wouldn't do any good because it would necessitate me dropping all of my stuff and I wasn't even sure if it was a life-threatening situation. The older man gestured like he wanted to write something so I pulled a pen out of my bag and a page out of my notebook, and he didn't want that. Then I pulled out a bundle of qat, and they didn't want that. Then I thought "maybe they want something to eat" and I pulled out some cereal and crackers; they didn't want that. Then I pulled out a wad of Somaliland shillings, and they didn't seem to want that! Suddenly the younger guy said "$25" and I thought "OK, if I can give these guys $25 and let me get out of here with my life, then so be it." I pulled out a $20 note and gave him $5 worth of shillings (35,000 Somaliland shillings). After he counted out the shillings he motioned that I could go back up to the cave paintings but I was thinking "they might just axe me to death up there" and after he patted me on the back I walked as fast as I could. The sun was directly overhead, it was hot, I was out of water, and I was thinking "these guys could axe me to death up there!" The older man patted me on the back and then I just walked as fast as I could back! I must've walked 6 km in about a half hour. As I approached the main road there was a man with a Kalashnikov. He said something to me and I just said "Las Geel" and hurried to the road. Oh my god, I felt ready to leave Somaliland after that past few days. By the time I made it back to Dhubato it felt like I was on the verge of collapse due to dehydration. I filled up my water filter as fast as possible and sipped a glass of Somali tea. When I hitchhiked back to Hargeisa I was picked up by some Somaliland soldiers, whom I gave that bundle of qat to. At the Oriental Hotel I stopped to get the stuff I had left yesterday, and I saw on a brochure that there's a $25 entrance fee to Las Geel. I felt a sense of relief and felt bad at the same time; I was like "those guys weren't out to kill me, they were just trying to collect the entrance fee." I wish I could go back and apologize and explain that I just didn't know. Las Geel isn't a tourist trap or a Unesco World Heritage Site...yet. It's a special place and I wish I could have done it differently. Someday I shall see these magnificent cave paintings again, and next time I shall greet those guys with a great big smile!

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