After reaching the base of the escarpment base at Rugay, the road from Erigavo straightens out to run more or less directly across the flat coastal plain, emerging after 33km – about an hour’s drive – at the venerable port of Maydh (N 11°00.320, E 47°06.588).
It’s a fascinating stretch of road, passing through a wide riverine valley that seems to support a few perennial pools, and is flanked by heavily eroded slopes pockmarked with caves, and overlooked by the forested main escarpment to the south.
En route, it passes within metres of some massive prehistoric cairns, as well as the whitewashed tomb of Sheikh Issa, founder of the Dir Issa clan of western Awdal and Djibouti.
Maydh, also transliterated as Mait, doesn’t look like much of a place today, comprising as it does only a tiny cluster of perhaps 100 buildings (some in the traditional Swahili style), housing an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people, a small jetty, and a beach lined with fishing nets and merchant dhows from elsewhere in the Gulf of Aden.
However, it has probably been an active trade port for at least 1,000 years, quite possibly longer, considering that the nearby mountains are a legendary source of frankincense, an important item of trade for millennia.
Sometime before the end of the 13th century, the area’s older Galla inhabitants were displaced by Islamic settlers, among them Sheikh Isaq, the founder of Somaliland’s dominant clan, whose tomb stands on the beach south of Maydh. The small port is also the mainland springboard for boat trips to Jasiira Maydh, an offshore island that supports seasonally impressive flocks of marine birds.