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 buses 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
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.
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
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.
Four fellow bus passengers
from Amsterdam, visiting their country
Semenawi Bahri Eritrea.
Banana plantations -
Mosque - Ghatelay Eritrea.
Water-melon shop - Ghatelay
Corallo Hotel - Massawa
Dahlak Hotel extensions -
Offices - Massawa Eritrea.
Batse port district - Massawa
Market - Edaga Berai Massawa Eritrea.