Veils and YouTube trigger Canadian security investigation over passenger identification

Score one for social media: some guy popped a video of two fully veiled women boarding a plane on YouTube, and now the Canadian authorities are investigating. The video is said to show passengers hopping onto an Air Canada flight to London from Montreal on July 11, 2010. The beef isn’t so much the veils as ensuring “that airline personnel are verifying the identity of all of passengers before they board a flight,” according to the AFP.

In the video, shot by a British traveler, the women were not required to show their faces before boarding, which Canadian Minister of Transportation John Baird called “deeply disturbing” in a statement released Sunday. He added that it “poses a serious threat to the security of the air travelling public.”

Somaliland: the other Somalia

There are some places you just can’t consider for a vacation. While even Iraq has recently opened up to carefully handled tours, Somalia remains out of bounds. What with an Islamist movement proudly proclaiming its ties to Al-Qaeda, and a decades-long civil war between rival clans, there’s no chance of exploring the Somali culture and landscape, right?

Actually, that’s only half true.

The Republic of Somaliland is the northern third of what most maps show as Somalia. Anyone paying attention to the news knows that Somalia hasn’t been a unified nation for quite some time, but this one region, a little larger than England and home to 3.5 million, has managed to bring stability and a developing democracy to its people. Born out of the colony of British Somaliland, it gained independence in 1960 and immediately joined former Italian Somaliland to create what we now know as Somalia. A brutal dictatorship and a civil war later, it declared independence in 1991 and has quietly built a nation as the rest of Somalia disintegrated into chaos.

But no other country recognizes Somaliland as an independent state, which makes it very hard to get international investment and attention. Now Somaliland officials are hoping an increase in tourism will help to literally put their country on the map. It already has regular contact with its neighbors Ethiopia and Djibouti, and has representatives in several major capitals. The Tourism Ministry is busy making plans and there’s a good website highlighting Somali Heritage and Archaeology.

%Gallery-84671%With a countryside only thinly populated by nomads, Somaliland has good potential for safaris. Lions, cheetahs, zebras, antelope, and other animals are easily spotted. Even more stunning are the well-preserved paintings at Laas Geel, believed to be some of the oldest in Africa. They’re located near the capital Hargeysa and remained unreported until 2002. Colorful paintings of hunters and animals date back an estimated 9,000 years.

Other towns to check out are Barbera and Zeila, two ports with excellent coral reefs as well as old colonial buildings from British and Ottoman times. More important than bricks and mortar, though, is the chance to interact with a culture that has had comparatively little contact with the outside world. This is a rare chance to see a country unaccustomed to tourism, where there are no “tourist sites” and “local hangouts”. For the adventure traveler, it’s still pretty much uncharted territory.

After almost 20 years of independence, Somaliland is beginning to get some recognition from adventure travelers. The most recent edition of Lonely Planet Ethiopia has a short section on the country, and three young backpackers recently posted a video of their trip there on YouTube. A reporter from the Pulitzer Center has also covered the country on an online video. Somaliland could become the adventure travel destination of the new decade.

While Somaliland has some good potential, travelers should take care. Government bodyguards are required (costing $10 a day each) and there are few facilities for visitors. The country has also attracted the ire of Al-Shabab, an Islamist group with ties to Al-Qaeda that wants to take over the Horn of Africa. In 2008 a series of deadly car bombings blamed on Al-Shabab left two dozen dead in Hargeysa. Also, the countryside is not yet safe enough for foreigners to travel overland from Ethiopia on public transport. There are regular flights to Hargeysa from Addis Ababa and other regional capitals. The office for Somaliland in Addis Ababa (which is not recognized as an embassy by the government of Ethiopia) can issue visas and give advice. If you do decide to go, it’s best to plan well in advance and talk to the government as soon as possible.

Better entertainment on the go – full shows now available through YouTube

Since the launch of YouTube, its range was usually limited to people farting, and pirated music video clips.

That is all about to change, as YouTube just launched a lineup of full length TV shows from some of the most popular movie studios.

Content is available from Sony, Discovery, Stars and others. The lineup is not as impressive as what you’ll find at Hulu, but fans of old comedy shows like Married With Children and Alf won’t be disappointed.

Of course, none of this is all that important if you usually just sit at home and watch TV, but the addition of full length shows to YouTube means that people with a YouTube capable mobile (smart) phone will now be able to watch something decent while stuck in the airport departure lounge. That said, not all the content is currently available for mobile viewing. To watch this new content, point your (mobile) browser to

The Surf is Dynamite!

Viral videos have gotten so good, it’s scary. Many folks (10 million hits at last count) were taken in by a recent video which shows some kids dynamiting a city pond and then surfing the resulting waves.

On the grainy cellphone-cam footage, you can see kids quickly jumping into a city pond with a surfboard, while their friends run over a bridge, then light and toss dynamite into the water. The first guy then surfs the waves caused by the huge explosion.

It turns out it was a Quicksilver viral marketing campaign. Some pyrotechnics, a little movie magic, and the right government permits, and the Dronning Louise Bridge over Copenhagen’s Lake Sortedams became a surf heaven, for a while.

Maybe they’ll be trying this in Cleveland!