19-28 February 2020 Djibouti Exit and Massawa Eritrea
In the end, we never took the Djibouti tour, it was just too expensive at $400 USD. Also, the guy who was supposed to be working on our sail did nothing, so after 7 days – we took it back. Together with Steve and Liz on Liberte, Diane and Mariona made the necessary repairs. Diane used her own sewing machine as well as re-stitching a lot of the sunbrella strip on by hand. We rented an office space in the “marina” for $100 USD (for a day) and went at it.
All told, we stayed 10 days in Djibouti. Its a shame really because we ended up leaving with a bad impression. It seems there are lots of angry people shouting at each other. Its not a culture that I can appreciate. When checking in, I noticed the tidal range made challenging the wall at Customs a bit of a challenge, so I made sure to check the tides with TidesChart.com before going back there. Since our weather window was vanishing quickly, we sailed on in the morning of 17 February, bound for Massawa Eritrea. We had strong winds for most of it, but in the last 12 hours had to motor in, and this bird sat on our whisker pole for most of it, taking a break.
Our “buddy boat” for a lot of this trip is Liberte, Australian flagged, with Steve and Liz Coleman on board. We first met them in Trinidad, about 8 years ago.
Massawa is a dirty, impoverished East African port “city”, important to the war-torn country of Eritrea. Here in a nutshell, is their history. They have been at odds with Ethiopia for hundreds of years. In the 1920’s, Italy colonized the country and made big improvements to their infrastructure and sent nearly 100,000 Italian emigrants here in the 20’s and 30’s – to settle. You can easily see the Italian influence in the roads, bridges, building architecture – and even people’s faces. In WWII, the British supported Ethiopia, defeated Eritrea and merged the two and drew inconvenient and non-sensible borders (as they did). Then, the Eritreans started to fight for their independence again, and finally in about 2000, a peace was declared and UN peacekeepers were here for a while. Eritrea has its independence, but is very low on the scale of development, even for African nations. This was our first view on arrival. It was a magnificent building at one time.
We went out for a local meal, together with Steve and Liz.
We could get some fruit and vegetables in the night market (forget about lettuce, broccoli etc, its just not in their diet) and there are a few shops or supermarkets with nearly nothing on the shelves. The night market was located on the edge of town, and people were really shy about getting their picture taken, so we had to be careful not to offend anyone.
I paid this young woman extra for the potatoes we bought from her, just so I could get her photo.
I’ve heard Eritrea described as the North Korea of Africa. Now I know why. For $50 USD per person, we got 30 day visas, and together with the correct internal travel permit (everybody needs it here) we found two good days to make a side trip to the capital city of Asmara to see the best that there is on offer. Even in the capital city, there were dozens of Internet cafes, but the odd few that were operating offered Internet at speeds equivalent to what we saw in Canada in about 1995, and can’t support any Apple apps or software. Just forget about it. Cuba is at least a generation ahead of these guys. Although they have plenty of natural resources, I don’t know how or why any Western industry would brave coming to this country to setup, its just way too risky. We had to wait until we got to Sudan to get Internet access.
The road trip up to Asmara was very interesting. The bus ride was cheap at about $3.50 USD per person, but very rough and at times nerve wracking. At an elevation of 2300m, the climate was cooler and really above the clouds. It was chilly in the evenings and you needed at least an extra shirt or sweater. Locals in Asmara rarely make the trip down to Massawa at sea level, where the temperature in July/August can reach 42-45C.
Its hard to see in this photo, but these was a swarm of locusts, huge “grasshopper like” insects flying along.
Much to my surprise, Asmara was a very clean, organized and pleasant city. Eritreans in general are very friendly and calm people, but in Asmara, there was a distinct Italian flare to everything. Cafes and bars were plentiful, and people seemed to have a very calm and tranquil lifestyle. Most Eritreans are Christian, and this was the Catholic Church in Asmara.
There was also an Italian government funded public school with some Italian staff. Although the people in Asmara suffer from drought, and our overnight stay at the African Pension was impacted, the people seem to be quite happy and carrying on. At least there is no war! We ate pizza, spaghetti, Italian deserts and gelato – and had cappuccinos. Gabriel was in heaven, it was so much like Italy. In fact, when questioned about it, he was completely unaware that this country had once been an Italian colony. Locals asked him: “why did the Italians leave?” “when are they coming back?”.
This area of Asmara is called the recycling depot. Here, we saw all kinds of goods come in and get recycled into hundreds of different products. There is a carpentry area, a metal working area, gears and springs – you name it. Obviously, this guy made his own “welding mask”.
Gabo struck up a conversation with one of the thousands of Italian descendants remaining in the city.
After a stay of 8 days, was time to move on and head North to Suakin Sudan. Again, we had a hitch-hiker, this time a hoopoe, the national bird of Israel (not a sea bird). It is from the Kingfisher family of birds.