Outside Terminal 2 at Dubai International Airport (DXB) at 4am on Christmas Eve ready to catch my flight to Somalia.
Some of the Somali expats at check-in for the Jubba Airways flight to Hargesia and Mogadishu. After requesting a window seat I managed to get an emergency exit seat too.
With my boarding pass in the waiting area, which was surprisingly busy for the early hour. Although I had an invitation letter for a VOA, I had no visa, but was not asked for either before boarding the flight thankfully.
Today's flight to Mogadishu was via Hargesia (DXB-HGA-MGQ), the capital of Somaliland.
About the board the Jubba Airways's 737-400, 5Y-BZL, a 25 year old plane originally bought by USAir with quite an extensive history flying subsequently for airlines in Serbia, Tajikistan, and Iraq.
Jubba Airways is a Somali airline founded by Canadian-Somali expats in 1998. The airline largely fills the niche vacated by the defunct Somali Airlines, which suspended operations in the 1990's during the Civil war.
The Dubai skyline just after take-off.
Pastries, fruit and coffee for breakfast.
Flying over the desert and mountains in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Banking left and about to land at Hargesia (HGA), with the city at middle-top.
Passengers disembarking after landing at Hargesia airport.
Taking the opportunity to stretch my legs.
Flying over the arid landscape of Somalia on the flight to Mogadishu.
Beef and rice served on the 60 minute flight.
Coming in to land at Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport. The 05 approach over the sea is always used, even in a tailwind, to avoid possible anti-aircraft fire from flying overland on the 23 approach. On the right is Halane military base, the headquarters of the African Union (AU) in Somalia. Tomorrow on Christmas day, three AU soldiers, a civilian contractor as well as five militants would be killed during an attack on the base by Al-Shabaab.
Disembarking at MGQ, with only a short walk to the terminal.
The airport is served by several airlines, including Daallo, African Express, Turkish Airlines as well as Jubba Airways.
After meeting up with Jibril, the manager of the company I organised my trip with and one of his security guard's, I lined up with my invitation letter, customs form, passport and $50 for the visa on arrival. Understandably they do not get many tourists to Mogadishu, so before they would stamp me into the country I had to have my guide with me, as well as getting the director of immigration at the airport to sign off on everything.
The airport just after getting stamped into Somalia. Very hectic!
With the security guard (left) and Jibril (right) exiting the airport.
And into a Mitsubishi double-cab for the ride to the hotel.
The view of the 5 well-armed security team in the back. I always had 4-5 security guys accompanying me whenever I left the hotel in Mogadishu.
At the hotel settling the bill for the trip with Jibril. No such thing as credit cards or ATM's here.
Although I was the only westerner at the hotel, it was a popular hang-out for local businessmen.
Room #219 for my stay in Mogadishu.
All the windows were partially bricked off for security purposes.
We then went to lunch at the hotel restaurant, with camel, goat and fish on the menu.
Despite living in the middle-east, it was my first time trying camel. Over lunch we talked with a government minister, and discussed the recent history and security situation in Somalia. At the end of our conversation he wished me luck for a hopefully safe visit to Mogadishu.
We then headed out with my driver, Jibril (right) and five armed security guards to explore Mogadishu.
Homeware and pharmacy.
First stop of the trip was Lido Beach.
A popular place for the locals to hangout and enjoy the sun, sand and water.
Enjoying the cooler December temperature.
With some of my security team.
A couple of these guys were diaspora who had returned to Somalia, and spoke perfect english with strong east london accents.
Next stop was a square in Mogadishu.
Dancing was banned when Al-Shabaab controlled Mogadishu, but it has since been revived, with people meeting weekly at the square for traditional folk dancing.
The national theatre, now in ruins after the civil war.
Outside the local fish markets.
Lots of locals buying fish.
Fresh from the Indian Ocean.
It was a bit of a challenge asking to take people's portraits, especially when you were surrounded by AK-47 toting guards, but not impossible.
An Italian colonial-era Arch.
Mogadishu Cathedral, built in 1928. After seeing lots of beautiful old churches on my recent trip to Europe, it was quite a contrast seeing a similar church now in ruins.
The Cathedral was demolished by Islamist radicals during the civil war.
The next stop was the old town district, which was also severely damaged during fighting in the civil war.
One of the landmarks of the city, Mogadishu light house.
I managed to scramble and climb up the half-destroyed stairs.
And the view from the light house.
We then went into the city to see some of the markets.
He peeled some of the fruit with a knife for me to try.
Some of my security team just behind me keeping watch.
Everything for sale from clothes, shoes to drinks and food.
Red, blue & brown.
My success rate with asking ladies for portraits wasn't high, so was great to get this one.
This lady was happy for me to photograph her tomatoes though.
Chilli's, pepper and sweet potato's.
We then drove and stopped for afternoon prayers. Opposite the mosque was the national parliament building, partially rebuilt by the Turkish government and now guarded by AU troops. There are ~20,000 AU troops from six countries (Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Djibouti and Ethiopia) on a peacekeeping and security mission in Somalia.
Refugee camp in the middle of the city.
Donkey & cart.
Some abandoned Condor APC's left over from the first Battle of Mogadishu ('Black Hawk Down').
Some kids playing football beside a refugee camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
About to get back into the pickup for the ride back to the hotel.
Electronics. As in other African countries, shops have the goods that they sell painted on the outside.
Back at the hotel, some of the other security guys taking it easy at the end of the day and chewing some khat.
Tool of war.
Dinner of steak and pasta at the hotel.
Venturing outside after dark was too dangerous, so just relaxed at the hotel for the rest of the evening.
Porridge & tea for breakfast.
Back in the pickup to do some more exploring of Mogadishu.
We then drove outside of the city.
To a camel farm.
The camel's are used to produce both milk and meat.
The milk sells for ~$2 a litre and each camel sells for ~$1000.
Getting to try some fresh camel milk, delicious!
Next stop was a refugee camp. A water tanker being used to fill up the yellow containers.
Family. In 2010, the southern part of Somalia suffered from one of the worst famines the country had ever had, with well over a quarter-million people dying. The worst-hit areas were under Al Shabaab's control, with the jihadis curtailing the delivery of outside aid. Hence Mogadishu became home to 400,000+ refugees, living on the city's outskirts.
Latrines built by the Danish Refugee Council.
Fresh camel meat.
One of my very photogenic security guards.
We then drove back into the city, where Jibril had a quick meeting.
Pharmacist & Dentist.
My driver getting some popcorn.
We then visited the Bakara markets.
We then stopped for a break at a restaurant.
The old Parliament buildings, reduced to rubble during the 1990's civil war.
Last stop before lunch was the main Khat markets.
Khat contains an amphetamine-like stimulant, which cause's excitement, loss of appetite and euphoria.
Sorting. The leaves are chewed to enjoy the effect of Khat.
The Khat is grown in Kenya, and ~6-7 plane loads each day are flown into Mogadishu.
Stalls selling the Khat.
The price ranges from $20-45 a kilo.
Back at the hotel for Christmas day lunch of camel and goat.
The plan for after lunch was to drive down to Jazeera beach, ~30k's drive from Mogadishu.
On the drive, we stopped to see the wreckage of an Ilyushin-76, shot down in 2007 by a surface-to-air missle by Al-Shabaab.
At Jazeera beach.
The small fishing village of Jazeera.
We then drove back into Mogadishu. As we neared the airport, we had to take a diversion due to the ongoing attack by Al-Shabaab on the AU Halane military base .
We then stopped off at a photo studio, where we met Jibril's brother (centre), where we compared camera's (both Canon's).
My guide, Mustafa, then took me to a Somali wedding that was underway.
Live music with men and ladies dancing and singing.
Quite a spectacle, and was great to see the locals having a good time.
Back at the hotel for one last photo with the team.
Fish, fresh from the Indian ocean, and pasta for dinner.
Fried eggs and tea for breakfast.
I then went to the airport for one last ride with my security team in the pickup. Security at the main entrance was between two big blast walls, manned by AU troops. It felt quite tense given that they had lost 3 of their colleagues to a suicide attack the day before.
After being patted down and having my luggage x-rayed etc., I went to the main terminal to get my boarding pass. But when I got to the Jubba airways baggage check-in desk, they were surprised I didn't have one already, and told me that I had to go the airline office. Luckily the office was only ~200 metres away outside the terminal though. When I got there, they said it would cost $20 for the boarding pass. I wasn't sure if this was a 'naive foreigner tax', so after a bit of exasperation I gave up and handed over the money.
The Jubba airways flight back to Dubai was slightly longer for the return, stopping also in Djibouti on the way.
Although the scheduled departure time was 9:30am, we didn’t start boarding until just after 11am.
Bundles of fresh Khat from Kenya being unloaded from an African Express DC-9 as we taxi out to the runway.
The wreckage of an Antonov An-24 as we take-off from MGQ.
And banking sharply right soon after take-off to avoid possible anti-aircraft fire over land.
Sandwich and drink on the 60 minute flight.
Letting off passengers and picking up some more at Hargesia (HGA).
Flying over Chabelley Airport (CBA), the main base for US drone operations in the region.
On approach to Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport (JIB) for a quick stop before heading onwards to DXB.
Flying over the Rub' al Khali desert in Saudi Arabia.
Meal for the 3 hour flight to Dubai.
And arriving back in Dubai after an exciting and fascinating trip to Mogadishu!
On November 1st 2015, six Al-Shabab gunmen used two car bombs to blast their way into the Sahafi hotel compound. This is also the hotel where I stayed at for my trip to Mogadishu.
At least 15 people were killed, including the owner, who I got to briefly meet and shake hands with when I first arrived. My tour guide, Jibril, luckily survived and was taken to hospital.
More info here: