I well remember a happy midwife dancing down the corridor of Mill Road Maternity in Liverpool in the late seventies singing “Froben, Froben, Jolly Jolly Froben” after discovering flurbiprofen controlled her dysmenorrhoea. I can’t quite make the jingle work for immodium but the sentiment is the same. Of course the problem is different. I’m not sure dysmenorrhoea and traveller’s diarrhoea can be compared and I’m not in a position to tell. I guess you can get around with pelvic pain even though it’s not a happy sort of travelling. You can’t travel far with the other problem until it’s under control, that’s for sure. So here’s to the makers of immodium: Cheers! Iechyd da! And good health to me, thanks to you.
And so we survived the rigours of the road from Hargeisa to Berbera via the caves of Las Geel. We travelled in style in air-conditioned Toyota Landcruisers, ourselves and our driver in the lead and our armed SPUs in the following vehicle. The Special Police Unit escort would overtake prior to a checkpoint, clear the way for us, and we would pass through as VIPs each time. So we made unhindered progress, detouring for an hour in the middle to visit the ancient cave paintings once again. The off-road experience in the long-wheelbase Landcruisers was the highlight of the journey for me. I’ve seen the paintings before but they are very special and worth more than one visit.
We were fortunate on arriving at Maansoor Hotel – the AC was running during the daytime. The power is usually off from 7am until 6pm. The heat was like Cambodia before the rains – by 7am the perspiration is streaming, but at least one perspires – Hargeisa does not have seem to have that effect. After a reasonable night I was awakened at 5 by the sounds of the gardener collecting rocks outside in his wheelbarrow. I couldn’t understand why he had to throw them at the barrow and make such a noise at that early hour until I discovered the sounds were actually made by the crows jumping on the tin roof!
By 5.30 I was walking along the beach in a warm offshore breeze as the sun rose through the distant haze and dust. The hotel is far out of town in an area of sand dunes and scrub land. The waves lazily lapped the beach, rolling plastic cups and bottles up and the down the steeply sloping sand. Rows of conical sandcastles stood as sentinels, each one at the entrance of a crab’s burrow where the occupant disappeared in a small shower of sand as I approached. One brave soul, isolated from his hideout on land, scuttled in and out of the tide keeping ahead of my progress, constantly checking my intentions by his swivelling periscope eyes. Seawards, the featureless horizon of the gulf of Aden was unrelieved by vessel, buoy, person, windmill, shark fin, cloud or island. Lazy sea meeting hazy sky. Nothing else. Inland the beach rises to meet the dunes, small mounds of sand topped by tufts of grass and stunted shrubs, the whole liberally decorated with plastic bottles in various states of decay. No visible buildings, occasional glimpses of wall behind the shrubbery but no recognisable features or landmarks. The haze all but obscured the distant hills. This unfamiliar sameness in all directions was disorienting. I retraced my footsteps on the wet sand until they disappeared on the rocks. I don’t remember rocks when I set out. I turned landward and climbed the dunes. Nothing was recognisable. There was nothing to recognise.
A 4×4 drove by in the middle distance raising a trail of dust and I made for its tracks and followed. Within a short time I could see the low wall of the compound round the hotel grounds – I was approaching from the opposite direction, relieved to arrive in time for 7am breakfast – a long drink of cold water and a huge sigh of relief! That’s the first time I’ve been lost on a beach and the last time I’ll set off without water. Within half an hour the rising breeze was raising clouds of dust and sand as we drove beside the beach towards the town. In that visibility, I may have still been walking …