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My 2014 visit to Eritrea
 18/10/2014 - 01/11/2014


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.

As 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 do 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

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 safely. 

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

Istanbul Ataturk Airport - Tax free shops.

Istanbul Ataturk Airport - Platform.

Asmara International Airport

Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 on Asmara International Airport.
 Warning: taking pictures at Asmara Airport is not allowed!

Govenent buildings - Asmara Eritrea

Government buildings - Asmara Eritrea. Ministry of Information Eritrea.
 Warning: taking pictures of the government buildings is not allowed!


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