Amsterdam - Istanbul - Taif - Asmara October 18 2014
In 2012 I lost my Logica (Now
CGI) job. Finding a new job was priority number one. And when I found
one, I was supposed to work and accumulate rest days for my next visit to
Eritrea. This explains the three year gap in my Eritrea travel blog. And
I must admit that although every visit to Eritrea was exiting, I find it
difficult to find new challenges after so many visits. If you have any
suggestions (for my May 2016 trip) do not hesitate to contact me using the
contact button at the bottom of this and every other page. I will welcome
your input and feedback.
So now I feel a bit uncomfortable and excited going back to my second
homeland after more then three years. What changes will I find? The global crisis will have hit Eritrea. And the
prevailing "no war no peace" relation with Ethiopia will not do
the country any good either. UN /US sanctions against Eritrea a few years ago may
futher strangle the Eritrean economy that did so well the first years after
its hard won independence in 1991.
The visa application
procedures for a visit to Eritrea takes a
little longer these days. The processing and people checks, double checks is now done in Asmara. I have been warned that it could
take five to fifteen working days. Just to be sure, I have applied for the
visa two months in advance. Thus, it was not a disaster that my
application took five weeks.
Lufthansa stopped its flights
to Asmara in October 2013. Therefore the mode of transport is now limited to Egypt Air and Turkish Airlines. I chose Turkish
Airlines because it is new and I am excited to see the recently modernized
Taif airport in Saudi Arabia, not far from Mecca.
My booking confirmation
mentioned a 1:55 hours transit time at Istanbul Ataturk Airport and TK1952
took off from Amsterdam Airport with a 1:30 hours delay. Like many other passengers
it makes me very nervous that the Airbus keeps circling over Istanbul, while their
connecting flights are about to leave. I
make some notes to show the first airport official I will see, and rush to the gate he
mentions. I am just in time (and happy) to join the passengers boarding the
connecting TK0578 flight to Taif / Asmara.
we land at nighttime in Taif and stay on board of the Turkish Airlines
Boeing 737-800, there is nothing to see of the new Taif Airport. The most exiting experience
is the thorough check by Saudi Arabian airport security officials of the plane
after the disembarking of the passengers in Taif. I guess they are worried
that any luggage is left in the cabin to explode after take off from Taif.
All passengers have to confirm that remaining cabin luggage is theirs. But they
not notice my camera bag that is hidden under the chair in front of me
(as per flight attendance instructions when we took off from Istanbul).
Turkish Airlines TK578 Ataturk Istanbul -
Asmara via Taif
Just before midnight we take
off for the last 736 kilometers / one hour to Asmara. The Turkish Boeing
hits the runway in Asmara a bit hard, but nevertheless the Eritrean
passengers applaud to celebrate their joy of returning to their motherland
An Ebola interview is part of
the entry procedures. Eritrea does not share borders with any country
where the communicable disease has been witnessed, so there is no immediate threat of
the Ebola virus. Still, Eritrean health personnel are undertaking the necessary precautionary
vigilance, including that of checkup on incoming travelers at Asmara International Airport. Two men in white protective suits of the Ministry of
Health ask all passengers if they have visited Ebola affected countries /
West Africa. A simple "no" is enough to pass the test.
Entry procedures at Asmara
International Airport are very efficient compared to 2011. Just passport
and visa checks, computerized comparison of passport data with the online
immigration data base. No forms to fill.
At the luggage belt I find out
that half of my luggage did not make it to Asmara as the rush transfer in
Istanbul was too short to unload and transfer half of the luggage. So I
have to fill a property irregularity report and return to the airport when
the next Turkish flight will bring my second suit case. Fortunately I have
a survival package in my cabin luggage for worst case scenarios. And one suitcase
with gifts for the family arrived, so the problem is limited to an extra
visit to Asmara airport.
For the learning curve I
should add the habit to divide the luggage in an even more practical way.
Now almost 100% of the gifts that Mebrat added for her family arrived in
Asmara and almost 100% of my clothes stayed behind in Istanbul.
A taxi ride to the center will
cost me 500 Nakfa. I will learn the fuel is scarce now and therefore very
expensive. I wait some time for Dawid who promised to pick me up at the airport. Friendly
Eritreans assist to make a phone call to Dawid. His car stranded because
of contaminated fuel. So an expensive taxi is the only option to reach the
house of Gebrehiwet and Zewdi in the Cinema Roma area.
The driver tells me that the
fuel will cost him 80 Nakfa on the black market, if available anyway. So I
guess my 500 Nakfa is his investment for next day operations. At 2:30 I
arrive in Kohayto Street, where Dawid shows me to my room. After a short welcome
talk I try to have some rest.
Istanbul Ataturk Airport -
Tax free shops.
Istanbul Ataturk Airport -
Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 on Asmara International
Warning: taking pictures at Asmara Airport is not allowed!
Government buildings -
Asmara Eritrea. © Ministry of Information Eritrea.
Warning: taking pictures of the government buildings is not allowed!