exploring gacan libaax, Somaliland

(The peak of Gacan Libaax in the distance, ”Gacan Libaax” means lion’s paw in the Somali language .) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

On 24th July 2022, I went with my cousins to a mountainous region in Somaliland called Gacan libax, Maarodi Jeex, not far from Laas Geel, and around 100 km (62 mi) east of the provincial capital Hargeisa. It is in the western part of the northern mountains, which extend east and west parallel to the northern coast of the Horn of Africa. (Credit Wikipedia)

The weather temperature ranged from 12*C at the coolest and 42*C at the hottest while I was there. This was during the hottest time of the year.

We went from Hargeisa via the Berbera Road. After an hour drive, we stopped at petrol station to fill up the tank. 

(A sign showing the direction to Gacan Libaax mountain.) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

From there it was roughly a five-hour drive to Gacan Libax. The ride was bumpy, the terrain rough, dusty and hot. There was almost no sign of life as the area was hit by a three-year long drought. Eventually we started to drive through a very windy sandy terrain close to a town called Cadadeley, around two hours from the Gacan Libax mountains. There I spotted an endangered species called the Speke’s gazelle (Gazella spekei). I also spotted a Kori bustard (Ardeotis kori) as I was trying to photograph the Speke’s gazelle.

(A petrol station outside Hargeisa right next to the Berbera Road, most petrol stations in Hargeisa have been changed to more modern looking ones.)  ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Speke’s gazelle spotted 50km away from Gacan Libaax mountains ) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Speke’s gazelle startled by us) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

A Kori bustard -Ardeotis kori- (on the left), is the largest flying bird native to Africa. A  Desert Warthog -Phacochoerus aethiopicus ssp. Delamerei- (top right). ©Abdurrahman Farhan

Going to that part of the region needed a lot of preparation as the villages were few and far in between. Spare tires, headlamps, first aid kit, ropes, extra petrol, and water were a must, along with food that doesn’t spoil in the heat. Ice boxes for drinks were also useful. 
To visit that region, you need a local guide that knows the area well. Luckily, a relative of mine, who had sufficient knowledge and connections, got us there safely.
We eventually arrived at the little rural town called Cadadeley. The locals were very curious and gathered around us. They were all very kind and welcoming—some of them even knew my grandfather who used to have a farm close to the town. We had a midday lunch with one of the locals who was kind enough to cook us food. The amazing thing was that the family who cooked for us did not have much. They were poor, but they shared their food with us, and didn’t expect anything in return.
It’s part of our religion (Islam) and culture to give to passing travelers even if you have a little. It was eye-opening to experience their generosity.
After a filling meal and praying in the local mosque, we resumed our journey. A guide lead us from this village to our exact destination which was under the foot of the huge Gacan libax mountain.
We drove for about a good two hours, and what we found shocked us. Most of the terrain we drove by was struck hard by the drought. The locals were warning us about camping out in Gacan libax as they said to us that it was hit hard by the drought and it was very dusty and windy (which is not a good combination). 
But lo and behold, what greeted us amazed us. The place suddenly turned into a valley, the temperature became cooler, and the ground was filled with pebbles and minerals—some of them even being precious stones. 
The vegetation (mostly being Buxus hildebrandtii and Juniperus procera) instead of being thorny and far in between, were dense and without thorns. The Buxus hildebrandtii had golden color, caused by the drought. Though the drought had a big impact on the area, it was not as bad as we were expecting. Looming over us was a small mountain (which is actually owned by my cousins’ family), and in the distance looming over the small mountain, was Gacan libah, which roughly translates to lion’s paw.

Buxus hildebrandtii (top left) and Juniperus procera (right). ©Abdurrahman Farhan

After paying the guide, we made camp. While we were doing this, one of the locals ‘accidently’ bumped into us, (news travels fast in the bush, via bush telecommunications). He told us that this place was much greener a year ago, adding that they haven’t been hit as hard as other parts of the country. He told us that if you dig in the empty river streams, you will find water within 20cm or so! 

After trying the experiment out, we laid camp and soon the darkness fell. The milky way that appeared was beautiful. Stars winked and twinkled like a bag of diamonds spilt on a sheet of black silk. Shooting stars ripped through the sky. The breeze was cooling in the still summer night.

Next day after spending my first night outside in the bush, I woke up and decided to do a little birding venture. The birds I spotted were phenomenal. Compared to the British Isle birds that I’m used to, these were a treat. I spotted three species of  hornbill. There were also a myriad of sunbirds, Columbiformes and Drongos.

We had our breakfast. while we were eating, an extremely tall man greeted us. I was bit taken aback as we were very far away from civilization. He told us his name was Ibrahim and that he walked from a town which was a day away (he looked like he just stepped out of his house, that’s how fresh he looked). He knew the area very well and offered to guide us to the Gacan Libaax mountain. We were very glad as we didn’t know the way.

We set off after breakfast, riding out of our camp site and through a dry riverbed. It was a rough long two-hour ride from the end of the Gacan libaax mountain range, and we started to slowly climb (with the car) up the mountain peak.

 ©Abdurrahman Farhan

When we arrived at the summit, the weather changed, as I mentioned earlier, and the view was amazing. According to Ibrahim (our guide), you could see all the way to Hargeisa, but it was a bit cloudy so we couldn’t see it that day. After taking in the view, we went down to an old residence of the British colonials, where two buildings were still standing.

(British Colonial house located on top the mountain.)  ©Abdurrahman Farhan

©Abdurrahman Farhan

(The view on top of Gacan Libaax. Left, top right and bottom). ©Abdurrahman Farhan

©Abdurrahman Farhan

We headed back through the dry riverbed. The rocky passes led us through the small villages and back to our campsite. I went to get some ablution water from the ‘well’ we dug after we set up camp. 
Suddenly a white blur zoomed passed me. I guessed it was a Vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus). I also saw some Sand grouses. On the same day, I spotted a grey go-away-bird (Corythaixoides concolor), which was calling its nasal ‘go away’ and baby-like wail. Bruce’s green pigeon (Treron waalia ) also made it into my lifer list— what a day!

(The spot where I spotted the Vervet monkey.) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Grey go-away-bird Corythaixoides concolor ) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Madagascar Bee-eater Merops superciliosus) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Eastern yellow-billed hornbill Tockus flavirostris) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Von der Decken’s hornbill Tockus deckeni) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

( A Hemprich’s hornbill Tockus hemprichii ) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(A male and female Somali starling O. blythii, the female could be identified because of the grey head) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

After the two-day camping trip, and a day drive back, we arrived in Hargeisa. The hustle and bustle seemed extra loud after the deafening silence of the Somaliland bush.
This was a great experience for me. I hope you also get the chance to travel to Somaliland—it’s full of hidden gems.
Moral of this trip: always keep an open mind when travelling. Remember to be diligent and know the customs of the people. Everything that you hear in the mainstream media might not be true. Follow these tips, and your trip will be one to remember.
Hope you enjoyed this two-part blog of my experience in Somaliland. If you didn’t read the first post, here is the link.

More photos of my trip to Somaliland

(A Gerenuk Litocranius walleri, a near threatened species) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(A Somali-desert warthog amiably strolling through the bush.) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(A young girl herding her families sheep through the bush.)  ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(A beautiful sight) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Army ants marching across a dried out riverbed).©Abdurrahman Farhan

(An Agma looking warily at the lens) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(View from the top of Gacan libaax) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(The valley underneath the Gacan Libaax mountains.) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(Gacan Libaax) ©Abdurrahman Farhan

(The Berbera road leading into Hargeisa.) ©Abdurrahman Farhan


Abdurrahman is a wildlife fanatic who absolutely loves nature and the outdoors, he is  regularly birdwatching and photographing wildlife. If you can’t find him birding or crouching behind a patch of reeds taking photos of waders, you will probably find him trail-running or cycling in the closest national park.


Leave a Comment