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Destination on the edge: Mogadishu
Mogadishu is the adventure traveler's version of sex in public. The risk of getting caught defines the thrill. Unfortunately, the consequences cannot be compared. While a romp on your neighbor's front lawn might get you a fine or some community service, a misstep in Somalia can cause nightmares for the rest of your life.
For every American who remembers October 3 and 4, 1993, Mogadishu's Bakara Market brings a rare chill to the most resilient of spines. Visions of swarming Somalis rush into your mind, and nobody has forgotten the soldiers killed and wounded in the effort to capture warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. The situation on the ground isn't much better today, but if you crave increasingly greater thrills, this is about as crazy as it gets. Despite being one of the most dangerous places on Earth, you can explore Mogadishu without a military or United Nations escort. But, doing so would rank among your most foolish decisions.
The challenge begins when you are planning your trip. Online booking, you'll realize, is a luxury still. There are some corners of the world that have been sidestepped by the internet age. In some cases, you won't even be able to rely on the telephone. The hotels in Somalia do not take phone or online reservations, so your best bet is to find a travel agent that specializes in this sort of absurdity.
Work with the travel agent to book your flight, as well. The most reliable method appears to be chartering a flight that will drop you on a private airstrip outside the city. There is an airline that services Mogadishu via Dubai: Jubba Airways. So, if you insist on doing everything yourself, you do have options. The airline claims to have a strong safety record, but it obviously can't help you once you're on the ground. These days, a round trip ticket will set you back around $500. You can try to use FareCompare, but you already know that your comparing one airline to itself.
Of course, there's a catch.
So, here's the drill. You have to stay in Somalia for a week if you fly Jubba Airways. I tried to book a same day round trip, but had no luck (no, I wasn't planning to buy the damned thing). Flights only pass through Mogadishu once a week, so you have to be really committed to this trip.
Flights are easier to book than accommodations. You can research hotels, but only a few are listed. So, you'll have to take what you can get. As you make your selection, don't sacrifice safety. There is no substitute for coming home alive. Tk appears to b the best alternative, but you will notice that security is not listed among the amenities. Also, there is another hotel with the same name – one that is considerably less desirable. Take notes, and make sure you study every detail. There are pitfalls everywhere, and some are avoidable.
There isn't much to see and do (safely) when you cruise around Mogadishu. The main attraction is the Bakara Market, a large outdoor bazaar. You can haggle with the merchants and take full advantage of the decimated local economy. This is one place where the exchange rate will always cut your way. Also, you'll be treading the same turf that was home to the famous operation immortalized in Mark Bowden's Black Hawk Down. It all started at the Bakara Market.
For a unique type of shopper, the Bakara Market is nothing short of amazing. You can find deals on the basic goods that you'd normally pick up at a supermarket or drugstore, from basic medicines to food. Also, you'll find the products that CVS just doesn't want to carry. If you need to buy a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), mortar or antiaircraft gun, look no farther! And, since no toy is worth a damn without batteries, there's plenty of ammunition for sale in the Bakara Market. If you hear gunfire, someone's probably just kicking the tires on a new AK-47. Think of it as giving Elmo one last tickle before whipping out your credit card.
It's not all guns 'n ammo, however. You can pick up a forged passport (for Somalia, Ethiopia or Kenya), fake birth certificates and diplomas (convince your mother you didn't drink your tuition cash) and counterfeit currency.
Bakara Market can be crowded, and it is in a dangerous part of the world. So, you need to say alert the whole time you're on the ground. The entire spectrum of risks – from pick-pocketing to kidnapping – is possible. Your odds improve if you don't do anything stupid, though you violate that tenet simply by taking the trip.
Want to see what happens in the Bakara Market? Take a look below, unless you aren't comfortable with graphic. If you can't handle this video, though, you certainly don't belong in Somalia.