Somaliland: the country without mail

Somaliland
Today is World Post Day, celebrated every October 9 to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the Universal Postal Union in 1874. More than 150 countries celebrate this day honoring something that’s so vital to our lives but is generally taken for granted.

In Somaliland they aren’t celebrating, because they don’t have a postal system. No other country recognizes Somaliland as a nation and therefore it can’t get membership in the Universal Postal Union. Somaliland is the northern third of former Somalia and declared independence in 1991. After a bloody war of independence it developed a government, law enforcement, a viable economy, and infrastructure while neighboring Puntland became a haven for pirates and southern Somalia was torn apart by warlords and terrorists.

When I was traveling in Somaliland last year I was based in Hargeisa, the capital. Unlike much of the region, the lights stayed on around the clock, the streets were safe, and businesses were thriving. When I visited the central post office, however, I found an empty ruin.

SomalilandSo what does a country without mail do to get, um, mail? Courier services are widely used, and there’s broadband Internet in the capital. In fact, they had the fastest Internet connection I’ve ever seen in Africa! Some Somalis told me the lack of a postal system actually encouraged the development of Internet Service Providers.

Still, it would have been nice to have been able to send postcards to my friends from this nation that doesn’t officially exist. Of course I didn’t actually see any postcards for sale, because there was no way to send them. With the rest of the world recognizing the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, which doesn’t even control all of Mogadishu, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be seeing any postcards from Somaliland anytime soon.

Photo of the day – Rural Mailboxes

photo of the day
Living abroad, one of the things I miss most about the US is mail. Sure, much of it is junk nowadays, but nothing beats the thrill of getting a new magazine, letter from a friend or a postcard in the mail. In Turkey, getting a package or letter from overseas can be a maddening (and expensive) experience dealing with customs and I miss the everyday ritual of checking the mailbox. When I first traveled to England, I was amazed that they get mail delivered more than once a day (though I’m sure it’s been cut down like many other services in the modern age)! This photo from rural Calgary by Flickr user Chris Maki made me imagine how the ritual of checking the mail would take on more importance if you had to travel a distance to the mailbox.

Have you seen any unusual mailboxes in your travels? What does mail mean to you when traveling? Add your mail (or other travel) photos to the Gadling Flickr pool and you could be featured as a future Photo of the Day.

Emailed photos become instant postcards with Postcardly

postcardsIf you’re anything like me, perhaps you’re a bit too…lazy to send postcards when you’re on vacation trip. Like most of us, I got sucked into the convenience of email, and it was a good excuse to not deal with looking for a post office in a foreign country. On the other hand, I love sharing vacation photos. Which, understandably, tests the patience of those who failed to receive a postcard from me while I was on said trip.

If you possess similar habits, I suggest you check out Postcardly. This recently-launched company allows you to email photo attachments from your laptop, an Internet cafe, or your Smartphone. Postcardly will then turn that photo into a real postcard (you provide the text, and they print it up on the back of the card), and mail it to as many people as you want (delivery takes between one day and a week). Postcardly isn’t the first company to come up with this concept, but it differs in that their postcards are the real deal; they’re not a phone app (i.e. no need for roaming capability or a global phone), pop-out cards, or printed on flimsy stock. They’re keepsakes, if you will.

Pretty nifty, especially for kids or people like my dad, who can’t fathom computers (or really, anyone; who doesn’t love receiving a postcard?). Postcardly costs $4.99 a month for five postcards, $9.99 a month for 15 postcards, or a one-time charge of $19.99 for 20 prepaid postcards. Currently, they only mail cards mailed domestically; international service coming soon. Go here for a free trial of three postcards. And don’t forget to write!

Photo of the Day (01.03.11)

photo of the day mail boat

I love that people still send postcards. With email, Facebook, Skype, texting and every other form of communication making the world smaller, good old-fashioned letter writing has been replaced by instantaneous shorthand gibberish. It’s nice to know that, know matter where you are or how remote your location, that, if you slap some postage on a piece of paper, it will eventually arrive at its destination to bring a smile to its recipient.

That’s why I was so pleased when I saw Flickr user stefantrego’s photo of a mail boat in Old Forge, New York. It’s reassuring to know that the mail will make it across bodies of water…at least once the snow melts.

Taken any photos of mail carriers during your travels? Or maybe just some fantastic pictures of the people, places and things you’ve encountered along the way? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

The mail jumpers of Lake Geneva

For the residents who live on waterfront property in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the daily mail delivery comes by boat. The U.S. Mailboat Walworth makes the delivery every morning at 10am from June 15 to September 15, stopping at over 60 lakefront homes. At each dock, the mail girl – or the occasional mail boy – jumps from the boat, races to the mailbox while dodging rafts and dock furniture, grabs the outgoing mail (hoping that the owners haven’t played a prank and tied the mailbox shut!), drops off the incoming envelopes, and then runs back to the boat, which – and here’s where it gets interesting – never stops moving (check out a video here). It’s a process that takes as little as ten seconds, and leaves no room for error.

The mailboat delivery began in the late 1800′s out of necessity. The roads around the Lake were not well developed, so delivering the mail by boat was quicker and more efficient. The tradition continues today, but now tourists can tag along for the delivery on daily mailboat tours run by the Lake Geneva Cruise Line. While watching the girls work, passengers listen to information and anecdotes about the area and the historic mansions on the lakefront.

The mail girls, or “mail jumpers”, are not postal employees – they work for Lake Geneva Cruise Line – but they work closely with the U.S. Post Office. The mail jumper work day begins at 7am with the sorting of the mail and ends around 1pm, after the 2.5 hour delivery tour. Of the hundreds of houses on Lake Geneva, only 60 or so receive their mail by boat because many are summer houses that are only inhabited part-time.

For young adults in Lake Geneva and the surrounding towns, being a mail jumper is a coveted job, and one that requires an unusual application process. Elle Vogt, a two-year veteran mail jumper and a sophomore at UW-Madison, said that when she first saw a video of the mail jumpers, she knew right away she wanted to try out. The tryouts are hands-on: the applicants will make several jumps, first at the pier and then out on the lake, and then give parts of the scripted tour. To get the job, applicants need to show that not only can they quickly make the jump from boat to dock, but that they can also deliver an engaging presentation to the passengers.

Elle says that she really enjoys being a mail girl, but the job isn’t without its challenges. The biggest one of course, is falling in the Lake. Captain Neal has been driving the mail boat for almost 50 years and has seen at least one mail jumper get soaked every season. It’s nearly guaranteed for each mail girl to fall in at least once in her career. Elle had her turn this summer. One wet and rainy day, she was running a little slower than usually down a particularly long and slippery pier. As she made the jump, the boat passed by and she just missed it, landing in the water with a splash. When a jumper misses the boat, they have no choice but to finish out their shift soaking wet. It’s no surprise then that jumpers also need to be strong swimmers to get the job.

The job does come with perks though. This summer, Elle met Andrew Zimmern when he visited Lake Geneva and filmed a segment of his Travel Channel show aboard the Walworth. Andrew jumped mail and received a special package from a fan, a bag of “bizarre food” left for him in a mailbox.

In addition to the mailboat tours, Lake Geneva Cruise Line offers several other lake tours, including an ice-cream social tour, champagne brunch cruise, and a full lake tour that cruises past the stately lakefront homes. Mailboat tours cost $27 for adults and are conducted every day in the summer, including Sundays when the newspaper is delivered.

Disclosure: My ride on the U.S. Mailboat Walworth was covered as part of my stay at The Abbey Resort and Spa, but my opinions of the Resort and the lake cruise are my own. Even without a gratis tour of the Lake, I’d be pretty impressed with the antics of these mail jumpers.