Dahlak Islands - November 24th 2006
With Tedros of Travel
representatives of the Massawa branch of the Ministry of Tourism, two
students of the university of Asmara (archaeological department), we will
engage a small cruise ship from the UK. The passengers of the ship will
visit the Dahlak Islands today, accompanied by the Eritrean guides, and I
am in the lucky position to follow the group, thanks to Tedros.
Yesterday we agreed to gather at the diving
center at 6:00, but when me and Tedros arrive at the diving center, we are
the first to be there. So we take some time for a breakfast in one of
Massawa's bars. Egg sandwiches and tea. With one of the trucks of the
diving center we collect a few jerry cans with drinking water and the
ingredients for a lunch on board.
At 8:00 the Eritrean Shipping Lines patrol
boat WINA is ready to leave the port of Masswa for the Dahlak Islands,
where the cruise ship Hebridean
from New Castle lies at anchor. After finishing the necessary
paperwork, we are picked up by the zodiac of the cruise ship, that
will bring us to the largest island of the Dahlak archipelago. The last
100 meters we have to wade through the Red Sea shore, over the submerged reefs and
slippery mud/sand/rock areas.
I decide to leave my shoes and socks in the
zodiac, afraid they won't survive the trip through the water. On the shore
we are welcomed be some men of an Afar fishing village. The soil of the island is
strew with very nasty pieces of coral limestone. It is impossible to walk
barefoot. I watch the Afar men and especially their feet. I ask an old man
with big feet, if I can rent his slippers for one hour. It is okay. Lucky
We visit a 10th - 15th century Islamic necropolis
on the west coast of Dahlak Kebir, with over 800 tombs with coral
gravestones that carry Kufic (ancient Arabic) inscriptions, the ruins of
an ancient mosque, fossils of the Red Sea life, and
365 cisterns carved from coral limestone, used to collect rain water (one for each day of the year
to accommodate the arid climate, providing the inhabitants of Dahlak Kebir
a reliable source of drinking water). The students of the Asmara
University are our guide and explain what is to be seen
The island Durgam is our next destination.
It is a low flat island with idyllic white sand beaches, surrounded by
blue water with delicate branching corals. The WINA anchors some 500 meters
from the island, while the passengers of the cruise ship are transported
to the island, using one of the ships boats.
I undress for a swim in my boxer shorts,
and after rounding the patrol boat five times, I decide to swim to the
shore with some of the Eritreans, who take one of WINA's lifebuoys with
them, because the patrol boat is in 25 meter deep water, and not all of
them are experienced swimmers. The zodiac of the Hebridean
keeps an eye on its swimming passengers, and also visits us to see if
everything is okay.
After one hour we return to the WINA, that
sets course to Massawa, while the Hebridean
will continue its cruise on the Red Sea for a visit to Oman. One of the
crew members of the WINA prepares us a typical Eritrean lunch. At 17:00 we
are back at the diving center.
In the Massawa Sea Food Restaurant near the
tank monument, I order a fish cutlet. I ask Ruth, the waitress, if I can
picture her when she brings me my meal. She adds a flower to the dish and
puts on her sun-glasses to make it a nice picture. I have to bring her a
copy, next time when I visit Massawa. I spend the evening in the old
district of Massawa celebrating today's expedition with a lot of Asmara
Eritrean Shipping Lines patrol
boats ZEBRA and WINA - Massawa Eritrea.
New Castle - Dahlak
House International) in casual Dahlaki outfit
Dahlak Kebir Eritrea.
One of the 365 water cisterns, one for every
day of the
year, still operational as the Dahlak Kebir water supply.
Remains of a mosque at the ancient
necropolis - Dahlak Kebir Eritrea.
Ancient necropolis - Dahlak
Beached houri - Dahlak Kebir
Swimming around Eritrean Shipping
Lines patrol boat "WINA".
Full speed to Massawa's mainland.
Ruth - Massawa Sea Food Restaurant
- Massawa Eritrea.