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Archive for March 2017

Somalia/Somaliland, last week

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I have been trying to write this post for two days now, about my recent trip to Somalia and Somaliland (which was, from my perspective, great), and how I’m now reading Nadifa Mohamed’s Orchard of Lost Souls, which is set in Hargeisa in the late 1980s, and how the Horn of Africa is currently experiencing the worst drought in several years and a boat full of Somali refugees was recently fired upon by a helicopter in the Gulf of Aden and and and, but I can’t stitch it together into a coherent narrative. So I’m just going to post some pictures instead.

View from the tea shack

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The view from the tea shack at Conoco Airstrip, where flights land for Garowe as they’ve been upgrading their airport for about nine months now. Garowe was hot and windy and bright, and I very much missed the swank sunglasses I bought last year and then lost in the workings of my seat the one time I was upgraded on Kenya Airways.

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I think I have said before that one of my favourite things about Somalia and Somaliland is the paintings you find on shops and hotels and restaurants, usually advertising their wares, but in this case exhorting people to comply with security restrictions. (This was at the City Plaza Hotel in Burao, where we also met – briefly – eminent Somali poet Hadrawi.)

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The road between Berbera and Burao starts out flat and dusty, and then suddenly you are coiling up into the Golis Mountains and the temperature drops and you get vistas like this.

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The beach at Berbera is beautiful and I wanted to swim but the sea was rough and the sand turns to rock as soon as you’re up to your ankles and women swimming in Somaliland is a vexed issue anyway and as such I was fully covered and had nonetheless sparked consternation and mild alarm among the hotel staff when I walked down to the beach, so I had to content myself with an aggressive paddle.

Misty morning between Berbera and Hargeisa

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We left early from Berbera to head back to Hargeisa in time for our flight, and were very surprised to find the road covered in heavy mist rising off the desert and clinging to the base of the mountains.


Written by Jess

March 25, 2017 at 4:36 pm

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Some places I’ve been; some books I’ve read

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In early December, Clare and I went to Iceland with a small list of things that we wanted to achieve: 1. Dive Silfra; 2. Visit Jökulsárlón (something that’s been on my List for years); 3. Visit an ice cave (and lick it, though we didn’t know we would want to do the latter until we were actually inside); 4. See the northern lights. The entire trip was a crashing success, with items one through three achieved in good time, as well as achieving various other goals that we didn’t even know we would want to do until we did them (hammer a nail into a canvas at a Yoko Ono exhibition! Eat putrefied shark and then a massive pot of fondue to get rid of the taste! Touch a very fluffy Icelandic horse! See a lunar rainbow!) AND THEN as we were congratulating ourselves for an A+ trip, with the ever-unreliable northern lights as our only failure (and not through want of trying), our flight back to the UK was delayed by just enough time for the sky to clear and the northern lights to announce themselves about half an hour into the flight, whereupon EasyJet dimmed the cabin lights and everyone rushed over to the lefthand side of the plane with their noses pressed to the windows and a temporary but beatific sense of aurora-based camaraderie spread through the plane. ICELAND YOU ARE MAGNIFICENT.

On our last night we pushed the metaphorical boat out and booked into the Silica Hotel near the Blue Lagoon. Silica has its own private lagoon, which is open until midnight, which means that when we arrived, after an epic journey from the southeast of the country and fresh from licking glaciers, at 10pm, we were able to get changed and immerse ourselves immediately. One of my happiest memories of the trip is of floating on an inflatable ring in the milky water under a light rain, reading Sjón’s From the Mouth of the Whale by Kindlelight. (Good, but not as good as The Blue Fox, which is gorgeous.)


The happiest person to ever enter an ice cave 




Putrefied shark, which I am mostly glad to never have to try again. Sorry, vikings. 


At the end of December, I went to the end of the train line in rural Belgium for a new year’s eve wedding. It was minus five degrees but the air was clear as a bell and we were staying in an old monastery with an enormous fireplace that powered all the heating and hot water. On the morning of the wedding, which was also the final day of the year, I went outside for a wander in nothing but a dress, no coat, cup of coffee in my hands; everything was bright and frozen, as if the whole world was suspended.




We piled into a fleet of cars to drive into France for the wedding ceremony, in a tiny village where the bride’s uncle was the mayor. As soon as we crossed the border the mist rolled in and when we had photos taken in the village green the leaves underfoot were crisp with frost. I read Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora by fires, on trains, in bed with the lights out.



In late January I went to Sierra Leone for one of the more stressful work weeks of my life. I barely read, but when I did it was Kenji Yoshino’s Covering, which had been recommended to me in Boston late last year. I walked on the beach and drank Star beer with friends and colleagues and lost my lovely replacement Mille Collines cardigan thing, exactly a year from when I lost the first one, also in Freetown. I passed by Paris on my way home, and had a single morning of sight-seeing, which I spent lurking like a goddamn gothic in Montparnasse Cemetery.

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In late February I had a work-related delay which meant I had an unexpected piece of dead time and so I looked for places that I could go that a) were one (inexpensive) flight from the UK, b) didn’t require a visa to be arranged in advance, and c) I hadn’t been to before. Thus: six days in Cape Verde, serendipitously arriving for Carnival. I bounced between the islands of Sal, São Vicente and Santo Antão, went for four dives and saw my first shark, hiked down from a volcanic crater through heavy mist, ate plenty of delicious food, watched various Carnival shenanigans, listened to live music, read the entirety of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh books, and got mugged once, but that was a small price to pay.


First night in Santa Maria


Watching the Carnival parade, Mindelo


‘Mandinga’, Mindelo Carnival


Hiking from Cova Crater with Edison


Boats at Ponta do Sol


Looking west from Ponta do Sol


Clouds on the volcano


Mystery white-clad woman on the pier, Santa Maria

Written by Jess

March 10, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized