RED SEA - MASSAWA & ASMARA, ERITREA
TUESDAY, 8 APRIL 2008
We arrive at Massawa port at 9am. It is quite a procedure to check in here and takes some time. It is all done within the port, but all in different buildings. Most people speak basic English in the offices but sometimes there are difficulties.
This is a very war-torn city from all the years at war with Ethiopia. It is sad to see the many once beautiful old buildings which have been bombed, and you can still see evidence of schrapnel holes everywhere.
We go to a local place for lunch where we are advised we can buy a beer. The two skippers are really looking forward to this after such a long sail. The lunch is great but there is no beer. There is a bottle of cheap red wine available but it is not good to drink. This is all part of the poverty here, and there is very little beer or wine available anywhere. Their currency (nefka) is worthless so there is a strong black market for U.S. dollars.
Ross and I go with Haile, the agent's driver, to the ship repair yards. They are the most wonderful, helpful, warm people here. It is a great experience to see how they set to, after many lengthy discussions in broken English, and weld a new top onto the spinnaker pole. They only charge US$5 because they are pleased to see we are so happy with their job!
Returning to the boat we stop at a mechanics shop in the new town. This is in a wide main street with wide, hard dirt pavements and very dusty. This is a lovely time of the evening to be out. There are many groups of men of all ages sitting around on chairs enjoying a relaxed chat. Now and again someone walks by with their camel. Nearby the bus to Asmara is being loaded. The large roof rack takes all the luggage, including the numerous goats.
We find dinner at the one rebuilt modern restaurant in the old town with Italian style cuisine. We are told there is no beer available, but when we stay to order dinner it suddenly appears on the table.
WEDNESDAY, 9 APRIL AND THURSDAY, 10 APRIL 2008
We take a tour to the capital, Asmara. The four of us squeeze into Haile's car. We decide the bus isn't an option, even though it would be quite an experience. Just recently other yachties tried to catch one at 6.30am. They had bought tickets but it was already full. Then the 10.30am one was the same, and they finally got the 2.30pm one, arriving in Asmara at 6.30pm.
It is a 2½ hour trip up to 2100 metres by car.
Haile is an excellent guide and his English is reasonable, so we learn a great deal. It is a wonderful drive through the desert up into the mountains through little towns. Driving through the dry and barren desert the landscape then changes as we climb. We see dried river beds, their floors covered with boulders, which will be covered with torrents of water in the rainy season. Then there are the terraced mountainsides which are for crops, e.g. maize. Some of these slopes are so steep it is difficult to imagine how they were made. There are many small huts and houses made of stone. We stop in one small village which is very colourful and buzzing. It is market time and a bus is being loaded, again with the goats tied onto the roof rack. The women here wear really brightly coloured saris - orange is popular.
Goats tied to van roof
During the trip we see camels, donkeys and cattle. In this area there are also lions, hyenas and bears. The higher we climb the greener the countryside becomes.
Donkeys are worked hard here
Asmara is a lovely town with a strong Italian influence. Some of the beautiful old buildings display this, e.g. the Opera House built in 1830 (we are shown over this by one of the actors), the old station and the Post Office and Santa Maria Church. The population here is 80% Christian. The main streets are wide and lined with palm trees. There are many jacarandas, olianders and bouganvillias out in full bloom. The restaurants have interesting local cuisine, again with Italian influence. We really enjoy the cooler climate here.
Woman walking through Asmara
We choose to have dinner in The Bluebird restaurant that serves local food. We have a dish which is served on a very large round tin dish. This is completely covered with a local bread which is very thin and of a spongy texture. It is made of Teff ( a product of the sea). It is ground and mixed with water and left to stand for 2-3 hours before being rolled out and cooked. The seafood, or lamb dish, is served in a small bowl and tipped onto the middle of the bread. You eat it in the same way as you would a chapatti - with your fingers.