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July and August 2006
Festival Eritrea 2006
 

 

Semenawi Bahri Eritrea - August 4th 2006

 

At 6:30 I have to be at the Harat Travel Agency 's office, so I wake up very early. In the dark, because there is no electricity at night in Eritrea (to save on oil imports) I do the two kilometer walk from Cinema Roma to Debre Bizen Street near the Road to Massawa. The office of the travel agency opens even before 6:30 and being one of the first to arrive, there is a nice sofa to wait for the bus.

The two Mitsubishi mini busses arrive in time, but nevertheless the trip is delayed for more then an hour to allow for the usual "Eritrean departure time margins". Most of the other passengers are to late, and some even let us wait for almost an hour. 

The rain has turned the landscape green. Many water pools stayed behind after weeks of rain, and the cattle grazing in the rocky pastureland must be happy with so much fresh grass. 24 kilometers from Asmara, near Serejeka, the road forks to the new tarred road to Filfil, through fertile terraced agricultural zones, with cultivated wheat, barley and teff.

Because of the huge altitudinal decline (from 2,400 meter at the top of the plateau, dropping to about 900 meter over a horizontal distance of less than 20 kilometer), the snaking descent is even more impressive than the main Asmara - Massawa road. Breathtaking hairpin bends winding down, magnificent mountain scenery, rivers descending almost vertical, dense woods of evergreen forests. Semenawi Bahri, the green belt of Eritrea, is the most beautiful countryside in Eritrea.

Unfortunately, the bus does not allow us to enjoy more than two of the many beautiful views. There are children with carsickness on board. The drivers are hurrying to Massawa, afraid the children will vomit all over the seats of the bus. So we pass Filfil before we know.

There is short stop at the Solomuna banana plantations. With some of the other passengers, I make a short walk through the woodland, climbing a small hill to see the surroundings. En route to Massawa the landscape changes into semi-desert, dominated by thorn bush and acacia trees. We pass the famous natural hot springs of Mai Wui and Arafayale, but again the bus has passed the sites before I even know what is to be seen.

At Ghatelay there is a 20 minutes tea break, but the village is just a tiny settlement with a few huts, a mosque and a few shanty restaurants and water-melon shops. I have a coke and a few pieces of water-melon. A 15 minutes walk through part of the village, not too far, because of the sweltering heat, and to stay close to the bus so I can hear its horn that will sound to announce its departure. 

Massawa is hot, very, very hot. ERI-TV predicted temperatures of 44C (110F). The Dahlak Hotel is closed for renovation and the Red Sea hotel is completely full. At the Corallo hotel they have a room for me. With air-conditioning, but it will not work without electricity, so I have to cool the hotel room before going to sleep. I check the functioning the shower and the toilet. Everything is okay.

In a very slow pace, I start my walk to the old town. The streets are deserted. Everyone is sleeping in the afternoon. It is extremely hot, compounded by high humidity because of the clouded sky. "Hey you!" A girl calls me. I ignore her. She repeats. Wants to know my name, and drink a beer with me, or a coke. Probably she wants more. It is a port district. "No time", I address her. For whatever what she wants from me.

I snake through the narrow sandy alleys, marveling at the beautiful Turkish and Egyptian architecture with its many columns and arches. Functional open structures providing shade to its inhabitants. "Need a car? I can bring you to any place you want" a taxi driver invites me. The men start to show their knowledge of the Dutch football players, when I tell them I'm from Holland. "Holland is the best country" I guess it is their way to improve their business.

Batse is a peninsula that hosts the port and the old city, about one and a half kilometer in length, separated from a second island, Taulud by a causeway. Its fragile Moorish cream colored coral block housing with carved balconies and pointed arches has suffered earthquakes and wars, which destroyed most of its cultural heritage. What is left is in need of conservation and restoration. 

I drink some beers with men, who tell me about their life. About the liberation war, about life in Massawa. It is hard. Business is down. Eritrea remains on high alert for an attack from its southern neighbor, which is depriving its economy. What Eritrea needs is peace. Only God knows when peace will come. Ethiopia is still unwilling to respect the decisions of the Court of Justice in The Hague.

For a few Nakfa's a Toyota mini bus brings me to Edaga Berai on the mainland, where I spent an hour on a small market, walking up and down the stalls a few times, trying to make some nice photo's. The women don't want me to picture them. Massawa is a distinctly Islamic city and I guess it is the Muslim faith that is responsible for aversion for the camera.

In Restaurant Eritrea, in the open, in front of the restaurant, I have a fish scallop for diner. Several cats want to share the fish with me. I have some beers in bars in the Batse port district. In the dark I walk back to Tualud Island, where I enjoy a few more beers in front of the Corallo Hotel to have a good night's rest.

  

The new road to Filfil winding through Semenawi Bahri Eritrea.

The new road to Filfil winding through Semenawi Bahri Eritrea.

Four fellow bus passengers from Amsterdam, visiting their country - Semenawi Bahri Eritrea.

Four fellow bus passengers from Amsterdam, visiting their country
Semenawi Bahri Eritrea.

Banana plantations - Solomuna Eritrea.

Banana plantations - Solomuna Eritrea.

Mosque - Ghatelay Eritrea.

Mosque - Ghatelay Eritrea.

Water-melon shop - Ghatelay Eritrea.

Water-melon shop - Ghatelay Eritrea.

Corallo Hotel - Massawa Eritrea.

Corallo Hotel - Massawa Eritrea.

Dahlak Hotel extensions - Massawa Eritrea.

Dahlak Hotel extensions - Massawa Eritrea.

Offices - Massawa Eritrea.

Offices - Massawa Eritrea.

Batse port district - Massawa Eritrea.

Batse port district - Massawa Eritrea.

Market - Edaga Berai Massawa Eritrea.

Market - Edaga Berai Massawa Eritrea.

 

 
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