Massawa Eritrea - September 18th 2004
When the bus enters Massawa, I
make sure to get out before it enters the bus station (the bus will follow
the railway line, but instead of following it all the way to the Batse
Island, it will turn to the right a few kilometers earlier to enter the
bus station). From here I follow the railway and the main road that
connects Edaga Berai to the Tualed and Batse Island.
The drivers of the Toyota taxi
vans do not understand why I ignore them. But I want to walk, look at the
shop windows, drink a coke in one of the small bars, challenge adventure.
Nothing special happens. Children want to shake my hand. In the bar of the
cinema on the edge of the mainland and the dam to Tualed, I take some
rest. The temperature is just above 30 C, which is very reasonable for
this part of Eritrea.
When I start walking the dam,
I hear some people sitting under a small shelter. Coming closer it appears
that they are selling enormous Red Sea fish. They ask me if I am
interested, but I have to disappoint them. On the right side of the dam
Chinese contractors are constructing an extension to widen the causeway to
a two lane road. So next year this part of town will look quite different.
At the war memorial is a
small park with lots of shade. A good place to take a short rest and some mineral water.
An old man joins me. Although he only speaks Italian, I understand that he
is the guard of this monument, composed of three tanks that played an
important role in the struggle to liberate Massawa.
I take some time to cross the
first island, called Tualed, entering side streets, visiting bars and
witness the renovation of the Corallo hotel, the new Luna hotel, the many
new built offices and residential buildings on the island and the
construction of enormous extensions to the Dahlak hotel. I leave my
luggage in this hotel and check the air-conditioning, w.c. and shower in
From the Dahlak hotel I resume
my walk, visiting the Gibi palace, that suffered a direct hit during the
war of independence and is still waiting to be restored. It is said that
it was the first building in Eritrea to have an elevator. Unfortunately
the compound is also used to store sea containers, that are defacing this building
Walking to the second island,
I watch two boys fishing from the dam. To my surprise they actually catch
fish with just a piece of threat. I spend the rest of the morning walking
on Batse island, visiting every point of interest indicated on the
map in the Bradt travel guide, drinking coke and mineral water, chatting and
making fun with local people.
In restaurant Eritrea I have a
delayed lunch. fried fish, vegetables and a drink for 50 Nakfa, which is
less than four dollars. Restaurant Eritrea serves excellent food and
offers both pasta, sea food and traditional meals, and you can sit in a
cozy open-air construction opposite to the restaurant.
I take a taxi back to the war
memorial to visit the Eritrean Diving Center. Asking the direction, a man
in the doorway of a bar offers to walk with me to the yard. "Please come back to
have a drink with me". After having a short conversation with Yassin
(Nesredin, the manager of the diving center went to Asmara for the ETSA workshops), I return to the bar,
as promissed to have a coke with Tesfai. Other men are playing cards or
play at billiards. Tesfai explains to me that the place is part of the Massawa police station.
For the second time today I
walk to Batse island, now following the railway track and the beach, to
watch the Villa Melotti, the small fishermen's boats and the remainders of
what once was the railway station. old railway material is waiting for
I spend the evening on the
Batse island and I have diner in the Selam fish restaurant, a collection
of tables and chairs in one of Massawa's alleys. I am
surprised by the number a foreigners, and the number of cats waiting for
the left-overs. I here English, German and Italian conversations. I assume
the Selam restaurant is mentioned in every book about Eritrea.
"Do you want small, medium or large fish sir?" I ask what size a
large or a small fish will be. I am invited to the kitchen of the
restaurant, where the fish is sprinkled with berbere and then roasted on a charcoal fire in a
tandoor oven. I
point at the fish that I want, and ten minutes later my fish is served
with kitcha, an very thin bread. The kitcha is delicious. The fish
contains so many bones that I find it difficult to eat it. The many cats
however are very helpful.
Walking through the streets of
Massawa, many men and women want to be friends, either to do some small business, like changing money or rent a boat, or girls willing to warm you
if you are feeling cold. Don't make friends to easy. Most
"friends" just want to get drunk on your account. Best is to pay
for every drink you order, so you will notice who is sharing your
Small scale trade around the
Massawa bus station - Asmara Eritrea.
Shop selling fishery products in
Edaga Berai - Massawa Eritrea.
Dolphins on a wall painting near
the tank monument - Massawa Eritrea.
Bombed Imperial Palace - Massawa
Two boys fishing on the causeway
to Batse - Massawa Eritrea.
Shaafi Mosque, Batse island - Massawa Eritrea.
Three young women in front of their
grocery shop - Massawa Eritrea.
One of the main streets of Batse
island - Massawa Eritrea.
Kitchen of the Selam fish
restaurant on Batse island - Massawa Eritrea.
Center of Batse island at night -