RED SEA - MASSAWA, ERITREA 2
A highlight in Asmara is when we find the Santa Maria Church is closed we wander around to the side gates just to see as much as possible. A young local man talks to us and is very friendly. When he discovers we are Australian he says he has a very good friend from Australia who is supporting him and is coming to visit him soon. We are all excited to find he is a friend of ours too. This is such an amazing meeting. He speaks excellent English, as does his friend who is well educated and teaches English to grades 5-8. He explains how poor the country and economy are as the aftermath of the war. People are queuing and are rationed even for bread. Also there are huge issues with National Service. The entrance age is legally 18 but they are taking the lads as young as 15. If they are well educated it is for 6-8 years. If not, it can be for many more years, and there seems there is no control over this. He explains it as being like someone just disappearing.
We are taken in to climb the tower and enjoy the 360º view of the city, and in to see the church with it's beautiful stain glass windows. We are also invited to the family home for coffee, which would be a real treat, but we haven't time sadly as we have our long drive back to Asmara which is better to do in the light. We had a flat tyre coming up here.
Again we have to go through a checkpoint each time we go in and out to the yacht. It seems more normal now to have machine guns lying around - I guess we get used to it, even if we don't like it.
We arrive back at the boat in good time and just have a quiet catch up night with dinner on board.
This morning we leave early with Haile to buy spare fan belts. Friday is the market day here so I wander over there. Again the women are wearing their bright sari making for a colourful scene. I am conscious of being the only non-Eritrean person there. No one takes any notice as they are busy doing their own shopping. The vendors are friendly and keen to sell their produce. There is not much choice but there are a few extras to buy for Free Spirit and us. Robbie is buying the bread in the old town but she can only get 9 small rolls between us, thanks to the agent Mike. There is food rationing here too.
Then we visit the shipyard to see if they can straighten out the track up the mast that was twisted when the auto-pilot went out. This takes some time but, again, they do a magnificent job - not quite so cheap this time! I was taken into a cooled office where I could read my book and was given a welcome cup of tea. Ross enjoys watching the whole procedure and needs to explain what needs doing.
We plan to check out in time to leave to arrive at our next destination which is a reef anchorage while there is still good light to see. Checking out is a drawn out affair. The customs officer said he would be there, but by the time we took the boats up to required area, re-anchored, and Robbie and I go ashore with the papers, he has gone home for a rest. The pilot officer rings him and he says he will come back. A lovely young man makes us a cup of tea and introduces us to his mother. He tells how very few boats come into the port now. He is a qualified electrician but is working as a fork lift driver. They have no exports and can't afford imports.
We are finally officially cleared but it is too late to leave. We plan to go first thing tomorrow morning but now we are cleared we are unable to go ashore again. The winds are favourable to venture further north up the Red Sea. Strong north winds are a great deterrent to do this.