Wed 20th December 2000. This time it was the fairly short trip to Asmara. In fact, when I arrived I noticed a bus to Massawa was about to leave so I hopped on that one and was soon heading off the plateau and down 2500m to the shores of the Red Sea. They say this road goes through three seasons in two hours. I can believe it because the blue sky was blotted out as we descended through clouds and then on the other side it started raining. And then it was dark by the time we arrived at the “New Bus Station” in Massawa. The old town of Massawa is actually built on two islands linked by causeways, the first of which was built in the 1870s. The first of these islands is Taulud and has quite an Italian feel to it. the second where I was headed is the old port and has more of Moorish fishing village feel to it. Of course the hotel in my guidebook was closed so I wandered the streets and found the Ghenet Hotel run by a really old bloke from British Somaliland or so he said. It was comfortable enough with a pleasant open area where other guests were sat watching the TV. I went out that night and had a very tasty fish kebab at the Eritrea restaurant. After the relative cool of the highlands, it was hot and humid here and I thanked the slow ceiling fan helping what little sea breeze there was.
Got woken up by the radio and girls cleaning outside. Wandered the town. It was the first place I had visited which was obviously in a bad way as lots of the buildings had been destroyed in the war and still showed their war wounds, not least the Presidential Palace and old Bank of Italy building. I went to the tourist office which was actually open. The guy inside actually spoke some English but seemed surprised he had a customer and had no suggestions to make of place to visit. I went to the Dahlak hotel for a beer, probably the swishest place in town, which definitely wasn’t saying much. I saw quite a posh yacht parked outside with a sign saying 150N for a trip to Green island. I went back to the hotel and looked out across the water. I was seriously thinking about swimming here until I saw a small boy defecating into it a few yards away.
In the end as there wasn’t much else to do I forked out the cash and took to Green Island. It couldn’t have been that great as I didn’t take any photos and my diary simply says I did some snorkelling but didn’t see much. It doesn’t even mention if there was anyone else on board. Most peculiar.
On the move again. All roads go to Asmara and then they go somewhere else. This time I was off South to the Southern Highlands near the border with Ethiopia. It is famous for archaeological sites and some stunning countryside. I took a bus to Adi Qayeh and checked into the Adi Kay Hotel (the English spelling of most the places was approximate at best!) – the most expensive of the trip at 50N but with en-suite toilet. Hot water was a bit too much to expect. The place was full of soldiers, not surprising as it was a still contested zone and very close to the Ethiopian border. IT also meant that the bars closed at 6pm. there was a constant stream of UN vehicles as well. I had hoped to carry on a little further south to the ancient Axumite city of Metara but there was no chance as it was still occupied by the Ethiopians.
Sun 24th Diary entry.
Woke up at 6. Had brekko of frittata in town (scrambled eggs, onions, peppers). Went for a walk. Got passed by UN peacekeepers from Canada and Eritrean soldiers and walked the 11km to turnoff in a couple of hours. Large army camp on the Qohaito plateau a little like the rim of the grand canyon. Good views back to Adi Qayeh. Barren and flat on top. Soldier in jeep picked me up and gave me a lift to Qohaito – a small collection of concrete buildings randomly scattered. An old guy there took me to the ruins – 3 pillars with lots of graffiti and stones. He stamped on the ground to show the earth was hollow. All very unimpressive. Set off back. A quick butchers at the only village along the plateau – very low stone buildings with earthen roofs. A young bloke showed me a short cut – straight over the edge of the escarpment more fantastic views and a patch of green!! must be a river there. The last stretch almost killed me – 6.5 hrs in the sun. Now in the garden of hotel. Still sunny but cool. Had a new dish: sirsi – looks like fuul but with tomato and egg – makes a change from zigni. Adi Qayeh seems a lively little place with lots of soldiers but few restaurants – just snack bars.
Mon 25th My last four days were rather mundane. Not much happening, my time in Eritrea was coming to an end and I was rather looking forward to the luxuries of my life in Cairo!. Here are the diary entries:
I was going to wander around town but found myself getting on a bus to Asmara. I booked into the Green Hotel and found another tourist – the first! an Italian bloke. Wandered around town. then realised it was Christmas Day as Bing Crosby was blaring “White Christmas” out of the Cathedral. Had a pizza at Piza Napoli. All shops closed for Xmas. Thought it’ll be like this for days as it is also Idul Fitri. Evening went to Cinema Impero saw the film “Soldier ” with Kurt Russell. Coming out, the streets were packed with strollers (rather than soldiers).
Had ice cream and beer at the park. Went to orthodox cemetery.
Evening – splashed out on half bottle of South African wine at St. George Restaurant and had Fish escalope.
Got taxi to Bar Durfo. Followed railway down to Nefasit. Pleasant walk good views got one of the few buses back. Apparently they have now renovated this railway although I’m not sure if it is being used (2022).
Evening – liver at Legess hotel (again!) v nice.
Lie in till 9am Walked to Panorama Bar
Had steak at Legesse then beers at Bar Vittoria. more UN soldiers. this time Slovakian.
Fri 29th flew to Cairo