Although I slept better at the Asmara Palace hotel and got nearly 10 hours on and off, the incredibly warm room made it hard to sleep too well. Headed down for breakfast eventually, which was included, and the spread was pretty disappointing. Toast is usually the one reliable option anywhere in the world, but in this case there were just a few mediocre baked goods, some sketchy looking cold cuts, and some canned fruits. They were making eggs to order, and I did get a pretty good cheese and onion omelette. Oh, and the coffee was reasonably good as well.
Ended up chatting with a couple of Canadian guys sitting at the next table about the Caps win over the Rangers a couple hours prior, and discussed the woes of being Jets and Leafs fans at this point in the season. They were in Eritrea for work, working on a couple of large mining projects. The government seems to be opening up a bit, and allowing a bit more outside investment which should help a bit.
If you’ve read my recent blogs, you know that in November you know I ran into the Chinese Premier in an elevator in an Auckland Hotel. Then, back in February, I ran into Ugandan president Musevini in an elevator in Kampala.
So, as I was getting ready to leave on my daytrip, there was a huge security entourage pulling up to the Asmara Palace and hustling someone very important looking in…and when I saw the flag on the car it just confirmed it: it was semi-deposed President of Yemen Hadi! This just keeps getting weirder!
My driver eventually showed up nearly 45 minutes, turned out they’d had some trouble getting a permit for me to visit Massawa (foreigners require an individual permit for each trip outside Asmara, and you can only apply for one at a time) but eventually it had arrived and he came to pick me up. The day before we’d been in a standard medium sized car, but today was a four wheel drive. Asmara is at 2,300 metres above sea level and the weather is quite nice – around 22C/72F during the day but Massawa is on the coast and rather hot…hitting 46C/115F the day I was there. Yikes!
A short way out of Asmara, we began the long, winding, gradual descent towards Massawa:
Mosque in a small village along the route:
This was a common site on the drive, local men herding cattle along the side of the road:
After about two hours, we crossed the final bridge towards Massawa:
Driving into the city, our vehicle started to overheat due to the stifling temps, so my driver stopped to add coolant or some such thing. I used the opportunity to snap some photos of some tanks from the Eritrea-Ethiopia war which were on display:
Entering down from the intersection:
Bombed out building from the war:
Finally, we drove into the old city of Massawa, and stopped on the coast to take some photos:
At this point, I was hot, hungry, tired, and a bit cranky, and asked my driver to stop at “somewhere nice on the water” so I could have some food and a drink. He dropped me at what he said was the nicest hotel, and asked “you stay for 90 minutes? I want to swim.” Swimming did sound nice, but with a healing tattoo and being tired and such there was no way I was going to. I told him to go ahead, and I would sit and have some lunch.
I sat at a small outdoor patio with maybe 8-10 small groups of Eritreans, and ordered an Eritrea Beer and tried to cool down. The fans were helping slightly, but when it’s 46C and humid out there’s not too much you can do. I ordered the “spaghetti and meat sauce” to go with it, and it was delicious despite only making me warmer. I have to say, the Italian food in Eritrea was so far surprisingly rather tasty!
Then….CRASH! My plastic lawn chair absolutely gave out from under me and two of the legs shattered into shards and I fell to the concrete floor. This, combined with all the flies and mosquitoes trying to nibble on my healing tattoo had me rather grouchy, despite having finally gotten some food and drink.
The staff were super nice, making sure I was ok, and stacking two chairs on top of each other for me. Thanks. Now I feel fat. LOL.
At this point, a Sri Lankan guy came over and started chatting with me. He worked on a ship that was in port “picking up some supplies” and then heading back. Then, he beckoned over his Captain who was also eating there. He was a Ukrainian gentleman with nearly no English spoken. They were delivering a large shipment of food and oil to Eritrea, and picking up “supplies in transit” to carry onwards. They asked what I was doing there, and I told them I’m working on visiting every country, and Eritrea was #178 for me.
We discussed which countries I still had left, and I mentioned the list, and then said Yemen, and asked if they’ve ever been there. “Oh yes, we go to Aden port all the time with supplies. I know many people there.” Hmmm…. I tried to get more info out of them and where they were going, but the Captain seemed pretty reluctant. When he left, the Sri Lankan explained they picked up cargo in Eritrea that was “in transit from neighbour countries” and took it across the Red Sea. Use your imagination…
Then, the Captain came back, and offered a “speedboat ride” east into the Red Sea. Now, Eritrea has no data roaming, I wasn’t sure just how far away Yemen was, but I was pretty sure he was offering to try and give me a quick ride there to check it off. So, of course, I agreed. I told him “I can’t pay you for it” and he said “no no, this is just for fun” so…I agreed to go. Probably the single stupidest thing I’ve ever done travel-wise, but hey, there aren’t many options yet… I asked him exactly where we’d go, and he just kept saying “onto the water to see things from the water.” Ok, vague, but at a minimum it would be an interesting little cruise!
We headed out onto the water, passed the Dahlac Islands marine sanctuary, then out onto the open Red Sea. There were several small islands sticking out and soon we were on the open water. Maybe 30-40 minutes off shore the guy piloting the boat started to freak out, and suddenly turn the boat really sharply to the side. The Ukrainian guy said “look over there – they’re shooting” and I could make out what seemed like a boat in the direction we’d been heading. I asked “who are they” and he said “I don’t know – but we cannot wait to find out – they are shooting!”
Sooooo….we turned straight around and hightailed it back to Massawa. I was mainly concerned because the three guys on the boat had seemed so confident it was safe to head out onto the water, and now they were suddenly freaking out. The boat didn’t seem to be following us, and soon we were safely back to Massawa port:
…and that’s where it started. “Perhaps you have a gift for us.” “I told you I cannot pay you.” “I know, but perhaps you have a gift.” Ended up agreeing to buy them a large pallet of beer from the hotel which still ended up being way more money than I’d planned on for a trip to Massawa, but well worth it for the story. Looking at the map when I returned, they were clearly not suggesting Yemen – way too far away, but merely just doing a joyride on the boat…which was cool!
My driver was back from his swim and just hanging around, and didn’t seem at all concerned I’d been gone over three hours instead of the 90 minutes we’d talked about…hahah. So, we packed up the car and started back towards Asmara. On the way, we drove through the edges of town and stopped outside a house where lots of little children were yelling and running at the car. So we stopped to talk.
The kids seemed very fascinated by me, and the woman I presume was their mother started talking to me. Translated by the driver, she asked “why does your God tell you to wear an octopus?” I’d noticed lots of Eritreans had a cross tattooed on their forehead, and she was genuinely confused why I had a large octopus tattoo on my arm. There was just no way to explain it, lol! I smiled, and showed the kids how to high five, and soon we were back on the road to Asmara.
A common sight along the road:
We also saw a couple large groups of monkeys along the road. My driver had some nuts to toss at them, which kept them near the car and wanting more:
Finally got back to Asmara just after 7pm, and headed to the tour company to settle my bill. The owner asked “wouldn’t you like to have another half day at the hotel to get some sleep before your flight? For an extra $60 she was able to get me midnight checkout, which was awesome, so took her up on it. Settled my bill, and then back to the Asmara Palace around 730p. Quick dinner at the Italian restaurant again, and was in bed a few minutes after 8pm. Quickly passed out from exhaustion, and slept 3.5 solid hours before getting up and preparing to head to the airport to start the long trip home….