Nefasit and Debre Bizen Eritrea - September 21st 2002
After a good breakfast, I take the bus to the
city center and walk to the bus station, where the buses to Massawa wait for
their passengers. In Nefasit I get out at 9:00 a.m. I wonder what I will have to
do all day in this small village, but a twelve year old boy gives me a good
idea. "You came for Papa's underground?" He means the funeral of Head of
the Eritrean Coptic Church. I decide to take the chance and ask the boy if he
wants to be my guide. We discuss the amount of Nakfa's I
will have to pay to him for his services as a guide. We agree I will give him 50
Nakfa at the start, and
another 50 Nakfa when we are back. Immediately, a group of kids surrounds us.
They want to earn some money as well. But I do not need more than one guide.
The path starts a few hundred meters outside Nefasit.
I can see the trail ribboning up the right side of the mountain. I wonder if
it is a wise decision to go up. But we are just with the two of us, so I feel
free to go back whenever necessary.
Just after we get started, we come on a sign:
"No Females Of Any Type,
Including Camels And Mules Allowed Beyond This Point". A group of woman is
praying here for the dead Patriarch. This is as close as they can get to his
tomb. The wide path leads us up through prickly pears, dry trees, and acacia thorn bushes. As we
go up the views become more and more beautiful. I have some problems following my young
guide, who has a far better physical condition then I have. Every once and a
while I have to ask him to slow down.
The trail gets worse and worse and is strew with
small and larger stones, so I have to walk carefully, not to wrench my ankle. I
ask my guide where we are. From his answer, I understand we are half-way. I take
five minutes rest and try to make up my mind. I am pretty tired already. Can I
do the other half? What will the monks say if I arrive without any permits? When
I see a monk, who must be at least 20 older then me, passing, I say to myself
"If he can do it, I can do it".
But the path changes in a kind of slovenly
stairs with unequal steps up to more than one feet per step. There is sand on
the stones, which make them slippery. And when I slip on this sand and grab a
tree, a few thorns penetrate my fingers. I can remove all but one, that stays
behind under the skin of my thumb. "Look", the guide points to the
top, where I can see the monastery. I ask him how many meters. I am completely
exhausted. "500 meters". So after climbing another 200 meters,
when I see people coming down, I ask them the same question: "How many
meters to go up?" Their answer is: "one kilometer".
My moral breaks. I have had it. I feel there is
no other way than either crawl up, or do the last kilometer in 10 stages. I ask
the men going down if they have any water. I do not care if it is not boiled. I
need the water. The men see my bad condition and they decide to drag me up
between them, leaning on their shoulders. After a few
hundred meters the quality of the trail gets better and the two men
wish me good luck and proceed their descent. The last 500 meters are reasonable
smooth and at 11:00 I walk through the gate of the monastery.
One of the monks leads me to the dining
room. I can drink tea, or water, or both. I drink a lot of both. They also offer
me some injera, but I am to exhausted to eat. We walk through the little village
on top of the mountain and I enjoy the breath-taking view from the edge. My
guide is in a hurry. He wants to go down. There is a chance the weather will
change. And I can imagine that the descent will be more dangerous if it starts
to rain. After half an hour I have seen the whole village. From one of the
other guests I get a big plastic bottle. We fill it with water from the well.
The descent is a lot easier then climbing up,
but my little guide uses some shortcuts that are extremely narrow and steep.
Since there is no easy way back to the common trail, I have to follow him. When we are half way, I
see my guide refreshing his feet with the water I took from the monastery. I am
very angry, but I am a bit afraid to loose him as a guide, so I do not say
anything, but drink the water that is left.
In less then an hour we are back in Nefasit. I
ask the boys name. "Haile", he answers me. "Haile", I say,
"here is your 50 Nakfa, but promise me that if you ever find another
tourist that wants your services (1) not to walk 100 meter in front
of him, (2) not to endanger the tourist by taking dangerous
shortcuts and (3) not to use the bottle of water to wash your feet, because I
need the water to drink on my way down". He understands the message, but I
wonder if he will remember it next time.
In front of the only hotel in Nefasit, I drink
some coke's to neutralize the "bad" water I drank the last few hours.
When I try to find a shady place to wait for a bus, I see the guys that assisted
me to reach the top of the mountain. "Have a beer with us". Of course
I have a beer with them. I even feel very much obliged to say "All the
beers are on me!" After drinking a few beers they insist I share their car
to get back to Asmara. They fill the radiator of their very old Fiat with water
and drive of to Asmara. After 10 kilometers there is another bar at the edge of
the mountain, and they stop to drink more beer and refill the radiator of the
Fiat. 5 kilometer from Asmara the story repeats itself at bar Durfo. Again we
drink beer and eat some injera.
Long after sundown we enter Asmara. One of the
guys insists I meet his family, living in Edaga Arbi. We eat injera and drink
more beer. They want me to go to a bar with them and drink Heineken, but I
think I have had enough for this day. The Meloti beer is oke, especially after
the climb, but I do not want to take any risk to spoil the last days in Eritrea
because of a hangover or worse. So I take the bus to return to Sembel, where Terhas and
Feshaye are waiting for me. Feshaye is
surprised to here that I did the hike all the way up to the the Debre Bizen
Monastery. "You should have started the walk at sunset when temperatures
are still moderate, but I am proud of you." And so am I. So happy I finally
The landscape between Asmara and
The village of Nefasit
The woman praying for the dead
Patriarch on the foot of Mount Bizen.
The trail to the Debre Bizen Monastery,
ribboning up Mount Bizen.
Debre Bizen, barely
visible from below in a gap between the boulders at the top.
The buildings of the Bizen Monastery
on top of Mount Bizen.
The entrance of the dining rooms
of the Bizen monastery.
The small houses of the approximately
60 monks living in the Bizen monastery.
The breath-taking view from the
top of Mount Bizen.
The two guys that saved me on top
of Mount Bizen.