Amsterdam > Istanbul > Asmara Eritrea February 03
When my team manager asked me to specify my 2017 rest days there were good reasons to choose the time span from 03/02 up to 19/02/2017. One of them is the celebration of Massawa's liberation February 08-10 1990 also known as Operation Fenkil,
the beginning of the end of Ethiopian occupation, and a very significant moment in the history of the Eritrean struggle for independence. The liberation is celebrated every year, and if I am lucky, I will witness this year's celebration.
February is also the last month of the Massawa winter / rainy season, and therefore a good time to visit Eritrea’s coastal city. I have been there several times before and I do not have good memories of the climate in the summer season when temperatures may rise up to 40-50 degrees and I walked from bar to bar. This year I hope to enjoy a more pleasant stay and the celebrations as a bonus.
The airline choice was simple: it was either Turkish Airlines for just over € 700 or Egyptair for just over € 1400. The difference was the travel time of 24h vs 14h. Quick win : € 700. The third alternative, Qatar Airways skipped Asmara as a destination. I understand they added Asmara for political reasons, so I guess they terminated their flights for the same reason. Another alternative is Emirates/FlyDubai: € 1600 for 17h flight time. I know Turkish is okay and I hope Istanbul Airport will be the same, to survive the 16h transfer time.
I am lucky to have a very nice and reliable relationship with several travel agents in Asmara. In May 2016 Oasis Travel Agency did their very best to show me Keren and Kohaito. Adam Berhane, the Oasis owner and manager monitored and speeded up the process when I applied for an upon arrival visa in 2017. Mr. Tekeste Asghedom of the Asmara Grande Travel Agency will be at the airport at 03:00 in the morning. And with Mr. Mussie Tesfazghi of Eagle Travel I discussed my plans to visit Massawa and the Gergera dam. He will do everything possible to facilitate the two trips.
After 22 visits I can find my way in Eritrea, but the Fenkil celebrations will attract a lot of Eritreans, which may cause transport and accomodation problems. Eagle Travel has its own branch office in Massawa. In 2014 I planned to visit the Gergera dam, but I did not get a travel permit, because I could not specify my mode of transport to this remote area. This year Eagle Travel will facilitate the trip the dam, some ten kilometers from Debarwa.
I will do some cake walks to Beleza / Quazen and to Arbaroba, following the railway line. And I received some suggestions, including the directions from an Eritrean in the US. As a (foreign) hiker you are free to walk 25 kilometers out of Asmara without a travel permit, which is more than enough for a one day trip to smell the Eritrean countryside, or the mountain area, like Debre Bizen (to visit this monastery you need a permit from the church).
Two days are dedicated to the family visits. The website updates will also take a few days. For the rest of the program I rely on the hospitality of the Eritrean people and a little luck. Just go out on the streets of Asmara and you will be surprised.
I bought a lot of small gifts and some more expensive for people very special to me. The small gifts are: 180 packs of chewing gum, to share with just anyone, as almost everyone is happy chewing gum (Mastika in Tigrinya). Pencils for the kids, as I am sure they will ask for them. 16 boxes with chocolates for the women. Eau de perfume and whisky for those who did their very best in 2016. Just to show I did not forget. And of course the prints of last years pictures. In Asmara I will buy Araki and/or pastry, when invited to whatever event.
As always I prepared plans A, B, and C so that delays and missing permits do not influence the joy of my stay in Eritrea. My rucksack contains all items anticipating on the worst case scenario that my luggage will not follow me to Asmara. It happened before, and it should not ruin my stay. So some extra sets of clothes will accompany me as cabin luggage.
For me no need to book hotels in advance. I will stay in one of the Nda Corea apartments for two weeks and Eagle Travel will book me a room in Massawa, when the travel permits are finished. You will apply for these travel permits after arrival in Asmara, as they need a copy of your passport & visa, including the entry stamp.
Arriving at 5:00 in the morning at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, I have to kill the time up to 19:00 to board on the flight to Asmara. I experience the entire airport in every direction, trying to get some sleep hanging on a chair when I feel it is safe. The two vouchers
received at the Turkish Airlines Customer Care Desk for the meals & drink are to be spent in a buffet restaurant in the food corner of the airport.
Take off is at 20:00 for the final 5h30m to Asmara International Airport.In the plane to Asmara, I am sitting next to two Eritrean ladies living in Sweden. We introduce ourselves. They both originate from Keren. One is from Keren, and
Mary Tesfay is from a nearby village. I ask her which village. “ Muscha”, she answers. What a coincidence!. I tell her I have been there twice, and about my
visit to Muscha in 2007 and
I even have some pictures with me in my cabin luggage, because my 2011 to 2016 program did not fit to returm to Muscha. I show them
the pictures. “This is my family!” she reacts surprised. “The father of Lettemariam is the brother of my father!” It is the first supernatural surprise of this years visit to Eritrea. How did Turkish Airlines know we should be in the same row 13. Mary Tesfai wants my e-mail address. She will send me an email when she is back in Sweden.
There is a technical stop to refuel the plane at
Ta'if Regional Airport in Saudi Arabia, 70 kilometers from Mecca. At 2:30 we are in Asmara. 300 meters with the airport bus to the terminal. Efficient passport and visa check. And double check. And all my luggage made it to Asmara!
I can’t find Mr. Tekeste. No problem to use the cell phone of a random Eritrean, waiting for his family. “I’m coming!” Mr Tekeste, manager of the Asmara Grande Travel Agency did not expect me that early. I could have taken one of the waiting cabs, but
than I would have missed my appointment with Mr. Tekeste. Fifteen minutes later he is at the airport to welcome me. A few minutes later I am in the Nda Corea house where I have some sleep.
After a short rest I hurry to visit the travel agents I contacted by email before I came to Eritrea. Eagle Travel understood right away why I was to come to Eritrea (the Fenkil celebrations, and the Gergera dam) and offered to facilitate the two trips. I guess Massawa will be a popular destination in the 9-12 February time span, so I am very happy with their services. In their office on the 4th floor of the SA building, I discuss my plans with Mussie. He will do his best not only to organize the trip and the hotel, but also the entry card for the official ceremonies.
Eritrean Airlines has its office in the same building on the 2nd floor. I have a chat with the sales manager, Almaz Berhane about the current and future destinations of the airline.
I find Mr. Teskeste of Asmara Grande on the streets, not far from his office. He invites me for a lunch in one of his favorite Restaurant Tsehaye, not far from the Fiat fuel station in Gegeret.
After the lunch I visit the Ministry of Tourism HQ as Mussie advised to lobby for the Fenkil invitation. Mr. Tedros tells me I should go to the Tourism Service Center in Harnet Avenue. In the
MoT TSC Office they
make a few phone calls, doing their best to help me, but with no success.
They call Mussie and explain the invitations are prepared in Massawa. Eagle Travel has an office in Massawa. Mussie will contact the Massawa office, to assist on the local level.
Next to the Crystal Hotel I find Adiam Berhane, manager of Oasis Travel, who treated me so nice in the 2016 Independence Day time span.
I hope she can link me to a group, because for the individual tourist it
is hard to find a guided tour for a limited budget.
Ice Cream Bar -
Istanbul Ataturk Airport Turkey.
Candy Bar - Istanbul
Ataturk Airport Turkey.
Jewelry Shop -
Istanbul Ataturk Airport Turkey.