Friday, September 30, 2005

Bull (offered to us for EUR 200)

A fine specimen, no?

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Oromo women

Greater Somaliland

It is a strange thing when you have an area of land, mostly bushy scrub, wadis, hills, fit for camels, sheep and goats, and a long coastline, which is inhabited by one people who speak the same language, who follow the same religion (even sub-set of the religion) .... that it has to be divided into five countries, namely Somaliland, Somalia, (Northern) Kenya, (Eastern) Ethiopia and (South-Eastern) Djibouti.

We passed through a large tract of the Ogaden on our journey to Dire Dawa and it was just as I imagined, nomad country, from stories, boioks, photos and so on.

Tomorrow, we take a bus down to Jigjiga, capital of the Ogaden.

Tonight, the hyaena man.

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Oromo men with their sticks

Charles heeft onze reis al in geuren en kleuren beschreven zo ik ga
het kort houden. Harar is een geweldige stad met haar muur en
toegangspoorten. Het is hier stukken koeler en toen we aankwamen
regende het zelfs. Lekker! De mensen zijn aardig en ook al proberen ze
af en toe geld, pennen of iets anders van je los te peuteren. Als je
NO zegt dan houden ze meestal direct op. De gebruikelijke begroeting
is ' faranji' (foreigner)of 'YOU'. Maar meestal vragen ze heel
aardig: 'how are you?'
Het land is erg arm en door dat er tal van hulporganisaties hier
werkzaam zijn, lijkt de noodzaak om te gaan werken ook wat minder. Met
name het mannelijk deel van de bevolking schijnt niet zoveel te doen:
behalve natuurlijk 'qat' eten. Je ziet duidelijk dat de meeste mensen
echt niets of bijna niets hebben. De kinderen hebben behalve een oude
autoband of een soort van zelfgemaakte hoepel, geen speelgoed.
's Avonds liggen tal van mensen op straat te slapen. Veelal onder een
dekentje of onder een stuk plastic dat dienst doet als een soort van
Toch heb je hier niet de indruk dat er honger heerst. Op de markten
ligt genoeg voedsel. Lokale vrouwen verkopen groentes en fruit. Het
probleem is dat als er droogte is, de voedselprijzen zo hoog worden,
dat gewone mensen het zich niet meer kunnen permiteren. Daarnaast
schijnt honger ook te komen door foute politieke beslissingen.
Naast de verkoop van groentes, fruit, hout, houtskool, zijn er weinig
andere commerciele activiteiten. Je ziet wel wat winkels, cafe's ,
restaurantjes etc maar over het algemeen weinig fabrieken.

Maar ondanks alles is het een prachtige stad met prachtige gebouwen.
De stad wordt(door de Ethiopiers) gezien als vierde heilige stad in de
islam. De stad is nauw verbonden met Haile Selassie en zijn vroeg
overleden vader Ras Makonnen en keizer Menelik. Zij hebben hier in de
stad een paleis (gehad). De vader van Haile was gouverneur en familie
van de keizer. Uiteindelijk werd Haile Selassie door Menelik als zijn
opvolger aangewezen. De keizer is 83 jaar oud geworden maar in 1974
werd Ethiopie door een staatsgreep een republiek. Het regime gunde de
keizer in 1975 geen staatsbegrafenis, dat werd in 2000 nog een keer
Naast de keizerlijke band, heeft de Franse schrijver en dichter
Rimbaud hier een tijd gewoond en is hier (volgens mij) ook
Het enige dat eigenlijk zou moeten gebeuren, is wat ze in Asmara doen.
De boel restaureren en het in kaart brengen en een duidelijke
wandelroute o.i.d. voor toeristen maken. Het probleem is misschien dat
vele gebouwen van leem zijn en dus snel in verval geraken.
Maar wij vermaken ons hier prima. We zijn nog maar een paar dagen in
Ethiopie maar het kan niet meer stuk. Zelf het luxe hotel met weinig
tot geen water maar wel kakkerlakken en het feit dat ze opeens geen
kamer meer voor ons hebben, kan de pret niet verstoren.

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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Oromo women in Harar

Oromo women in Harar
Oromo women in Harar
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
It is much easier to photo the women here than in Djibouti and there are just so many colourful scenes. These are Oromo women who live in the east of the walled city. Our hotel is just outside the western gate and they tend to be more Christian. Still LOUD and colourful.

Every now and then one sees a nasty man in blue tipping up their mats filled with fruit and vegetables which are for sale. He is a policemen and the ladies are selling in an illegal area. They are back within five minutes.

It is dark now and I have been gone for more than two hours so I'll go back to find Fred and see about dinner. May get a shower too if I hurry (the water is only on between 6.30 and 8 mornings and evenings, it seems).

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Cattle market, Harar

Cattle market, Harar
Cattle market, Harar
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Harar is loud, colourful, busy, chaotic, full of colourful people, colourful shops, colourful mosques.

People shout out faranji (foreigner), or YOU! or hold out a hand and ask for money (well they have bene given so much over the years). But they are friendly and like to stop for a chat. It is nothing like as bad as certain people were telling us, although it may get a bit wearying day-after-day. It took us ten seconds, twice to be greeted by an 'official' guide when we stepped out of the hotel.

We came across this cattle market on the edge of town. Proud men and women standing around with their bulls. Not much trading going on it seemed but we were offered the best bull for just 2,000 Birr (about EUR 200) and goats from 150-250 Birr, depending on how fat they were.

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In Ethiopia!

CRAZY horse!
CRAZY horse!
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
We do not pull into anything like a bus station where we can catch the next bus to Harar, but somewhere on a crowded street in the old town (not so old as it was only built about 100 years ago as a stop on the French-built Addis-Djibouti railway).

There are lots of forms of onward transportation available. The cute royal blue and white old Peugeot 404 taxis, the moorbikes with passenger trailers behind and horses and carts. We decide on the latter.

Our horse turns out to be completely mad as he will not keep a straight line and keeps charging at pedestrians on his right hand side forcing them against the walls.

Not everyone is amused but it is a very very colourful introduction to the city. As luck would have it a bus is leaving for Harar just as we are coming into the bus station and it is spitting with rain now, so in we bundle and it is a short 48 kms into the mountains to Harar.

The scenery, in the rain, with muddy puddle everywhere and green fields and lakes reminds us most of Sumatra around Bukt Tinggi. It is amazing just how many people there are everywhere. It is just as Hein and Marion told us.. people people everywhere.
Colourful people. A road accident with a minibus tipped up, all safe, adds to the atmosphere.

So we finally make it to Harar, under dark skies, back again after v43 years. It is not the place perched high on a hill overlooking the desert which I had imagined and I wonder how it is that so many hyaenas live in the area, for apart from being a very holy Muslim city, it is also renowned for its hyaena man.

We eventually find our second choice hotel, find out that there is no hot water after all, despite us paying faranji prices and we ggo out to have a wholesome dinner of half a chicken and two beers each for less than EUR 5.

It is always SO thrilling to come to new places and new countries in particular. We are looking forward to the rest of our stay here.

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The bus to Dire Dawa

The bus to Dire Dawa
The bus to Dire Dawa
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
5 am the next morning, and no sign of Faisal so we wait a quarter of an hour and still no sign of him. We now have very very few Djibouti Francs left, so if we take a taxi, we have no money for food, maybe just some water. In the end, we have to plea with the taxi driver for a very low fare and he brings us to the bus station.

And so begins the bus ceremony. How to get our rucksacks (and are we glad that we bought dust and rain covers for them... I remember standing in the shop - Carl Denig - in Amsterdam wondering whether or not to buy them as they seemed quite expensive but they have paid us back many times since). Money is required and again Fred has to plea poverty to get a reduced rate, before I find that he has a 500 franc coin, which is enough for a water and a packet of strawberry cream biscuits, which should keep us going until lunchtime in Dire Dawa, so we think. (I have to hide this transdaction from the boy on the roof!)

Then to find a seat. There are numbers written on the back of the tickets, A8 and A9 and we think they maybe seats, but no, it is first come first serve and we are still early enough to get a couple of seats next to each other on the left hand side. The bus gets fuller and fuller and fuller until it is overfull and the ticket inspector comes on. This is followed by an awful lot of shouting and bad tempers before a couple of women without tickets are forcefully ejected. Fred swears there were a couple of lads who didn't have tickets but maybe they were friends of the inspector. An old lady is setaed next to me. Ancient she is. Her daughter tells her how to sit in her seat and arrange her bags and she just sits there like a stone the whole way. Amazing.

The bus leaves a good time after 6 and although it is a tight squash, sideways and forwards, we try to perch our heads on the seat in front and get some sleep. We first travel along the road to Lac Assal, keeping alongside the train track - the train was due to have left at 5 am, but we didin't pass it, so it much have been delayed. The countryside looked lovely in the morning sun, bumpy mountains and hills in the distance, a bit of green in the valley, the odd camel and flocks of goats and colonies of baboons along the roadside.

Before we knew it we were pulling into Ali Sabieh, which represented the border. Here we saw two buildings with people behind cages, one for men the other for women. It looked like the gaol. It was in fact the place where illegal immigrants were locked away, until the next train or bus or lorry or whatever came to take them back where we came from. We chatted to a few of the lads in the bus, until we were called for our passports, ooops.... we hadn't received an entry stamp when that idiot let us in from Eritrea, but as it happened the only problem they had was with Fred's signature..... not for the first time this trip either!

We load up just about to go before another shouting match starts and again it is two women being picked on. On and on it goes and the women seem to be very naughty, trying to run away from the border police but eventually they are captured and put in the cage. It turned out that they had stolen jewels from their employer in Djibouti and were making a quick dash to the border. Not quick
enough it seemed as the guards were already on alert!

Next stop the Ethiopian border where we were greeted by an English speaking
border guard who welcomed us to his country. So far, so good, after all the horror stories. All we have to contend with here is the mad scramble for seats. The strange thing was that although this bus looked bigger from the outside, there was even less room, but we had good company and we were already half way there, so it seemed.

How fine to be in a bus driving fast along the dusty road to Dire Dawa, surrounded by qat chewing men, colourful ladies, with a lot to say for themselves, listening to

LOUD Somali music, passing plains and mountains, wadis and woods, termites nests and local villages. It was only just a bit too long.... good for a few hours but always the destination seems further and further away and we are getting hungrier

and hungrier. We hope it will be no Obock and sure enough by 3.45 pm we are arriving in Dire Dawa, albeit in the middle of a sand storm, with dark clouds gathering ahead. This is to be our introduction to Ethiopia.

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Charles at hot springs

Charles at hot springs

As my friend Anouk writes: Lake Assal (Bahr al Assal) in Djibouti is Africa's lowest geographic point, it lies 515 feet (155m) below sea level. It's a fascinating salt water lake, with beaches literally made of pure salt. Some of the salt banks are over 200 feet (65 m) deep. Lake Assal is saltier than the Dead Sea, you don't have to swim a single stroke - you can just float and read a book. Salt cakes everything along the shores of this lake, loose vegetation that has been blown here from far away, dead birds -- everything is crystallized in salt. And not surprisingly, no vegetation grows here. It's a very bright and very hot place.

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Beautiful Somaliland (albeit French)

Beach and islands, Bay of Goudouk

Volcanic islands and golden sandy beach.

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Djibouti-Dire Dawa bus office

Djibouti-Dire Dawa bus office
Djibouti-Dire Dawa bus office
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Once back at our homely hotel in Djibouti City it was time to get organised for our planned journey to Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, the next day. We could fly, take the train or the bus. Flying is not much fun, unlike the train, but we had hread very very nasty stories about the train, being impossibly hot and crowded and unsafe, but most of all extremely slow.

So, we followed all the advice we had been given and decided to take the bus and Faisal from the hotel was kind enough to take me to the bus station to buy the two tickets for early the next morning, a good thing he did as we had to go through all the back streets Djibouti had to offer. Fascinating they were too, all corrugated iron colourful houses, wooden huts with colourful ladies selling qat, dusty areas with boys playing football, rubbish heaps home to the dirty ibises, as we call them, bars with men sitting outside listening to the radio, schoolgirls coming back from school, dressed in uniform and so on.

We managed to lay our hands on two tickets for FDJ 2,500 each (E 12, which is very cheap for Djibouti) and we were told to turn up at 5 am, for the bus which'd take until 1 pm to get to Dire Dawa, leaving us plenty of time to make the journey up the mountains to Harar.

Faisal would wake us up at 5 and bring us back to the station. I gave him the Somaliland poster which I was given by the Consul, the owner of the hotel saying he could perhaps best NOT put it up in his hotel, as it would be politically sensitive. Said, from Groningen, who had stayed there for a month had told us that the owner himself had tried to stand for President of Djibouti, but couyldn't find enough support. A pity, as he seemed to be a really good man.

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Fred 'skating' on Lac Assal

Fred skating on Lac Assal
Fred skating on Lac Assal
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
On Tuesday, we made part of the day trip we had been planning, going out in a 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser (how did Land Rover manage to fail so completely to keep their market share in Africa?), to the salt lake 150 metres below sea level rather than the Planet of the Apes scenery of Lac Abbe. And we were joined by the person who says he is Richard Limo, but who we doubt actually is the famous athlete and his girlfriend.

It waas well worth making the trip, as we were treated to some incredible landscapes, as you can see on the flickr pages. These include the white lake of Lac Assal, looking very much like it had frozen over - thus the skating poses. It was hot, very hot and would have been hotter had we arrived in the afternoon, but at least it was a dry heat, unlike in Djibouti City.

On the way there, we came across the side of the Great Rift Valley, the land just falling away towards the Red Sea, and to deep dark, black and orange canyons, with pools of green water way down at the bottom, and also boiling hot springs, feeding the lake below.

After the On Tuesday, we made part of the day trip we had been planning, going out in a 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser (how did Land Rover manage to fail so completely to keep their market share in Africa?), to the salt lake 150 metres below sea level rather than the Planet of the Apes scenery of Lac Abbe. And we were joined by the person who says he is Richard Limo, but who we doubt actually is the famous athlete and his girlfriend.

It waas well worth making the trip, as we were treated to some incredible landscapes, as you can see on the flickr pages. These include the white lake of Lac Assal, looking very much like it had frozen over - thus the skating poses. It was hot, very hot and would have been hotter had we arrived in the afternoon, but at least it was a dry heat, unlike in Djibouti City.

On the way there, we came across the side of the Great Rift Valley, the land just falling away towards the Red Sea, and to deep dark, black and orange canyons, with pools of green water way down at the bottom, and also boiling hot springs, feeding the lake below.

After the Lake, we climbed back UP to sea level, to beautiful views over the Bay of Goudouk, surrounded by volcanoes, both in and out of the water, dark black relatively new lava flows, golden and black sandy beaches (we picnicked on teh black sand - which seemed to be free as opposed to the golden sands).

We were promised a stop in an Afar village, but all the driver found was a couple of huts by the roadside and as we got out, we were greeted by a very ferocious woman, whose best description would be old fish-wife who hurled abuse at us, picked up stones and made a play to throw them at us. The baboons by teh side of the road later on were more polite and civilised than her!

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Somaliland in first vote for MPs

Listening to the Somali service of the BBC, Djibouti

Voters in Somaliland are choosing MPs for the first time since the territory declared independence from Somalia 14 years ago.
All three parties competing put the quest for international recognition at the top of the agenda.

Somaliland broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991 when President Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted.

Since then, it has established a reputation for peace and stability - in contrast to the rest of Somalia.

But last week, seven people were arrested in Somaliland, accused of being al-Qaeda members intending to destabilise the election.

As polling stations opened, queues formed in the capital, Hargeisa, with early voting going smoothly.

Criminals banned

BBC Africa analyst Grant Ferrett says that the economy has flourished and there has been widespread re-building after the destruction of the war, much of it funded by remittances from overseas.


246 candidates - 7 women
82 seats
3 parties
All seek recognition of independence
800,000 eligible voters

He says that while foreign governments have been wary of further destabilising Somalia by endorsing the breakaway republic, the failure so far of the latest attempt to create a functioning central government strengthens the case of the authorities in Somaliland.

President Dahir Riyale Kahin says he hopes the poll will "compel the international community to accept our rights to join the world community".

A total of 246 candidates, including seven women, are contesting the 82 seats in the lower house.

Candidates must demonstrate adherence to Islam, be at least 35 years old and in good health. They must be high school graduates with no criminal record.

The constitution limits the number of parties to three.

It also forbids the creation of parties based on region or clan.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Planet Ape?


Zondag was een topdag zal onze lieve vriend Henk zeggen. Maar ja niet
alle dagen kunnen top zijn. Gisteren ging ons even wat moeilijker af.
Het plan was eenvoudig: 's morgensvroeg onze paspoorten halen bij de
Ethiopische ambassade, dan met de passen geld gaan wisselen dan een
tweedaagse trip betalen en om 13.00 uur rijden. Ja jammer nou! De
cosul was niet aanwezig en had nog geen handtekening gezet, of we om
13.00 uur even terug wilden komen! Daar ging onze reis naar LacAbe.
Dit meer is bekend gezorden door de film 'Planet Ape' en is een
indrukwekkend natuurfenomeen. Door erosie etc zijn tal van rotsen
veranderd in een soort van schoorsteenachtige pilaren. Daarnaast is
het gebied zout en erg heet. Kortom het leek ons wel wat.
Om 13.00 uur onze visa gehaald, geld gewisseld en een tripje voor
vandaag geboekt: Lac Lasal. De rest van de dag ons bezig gehouden met
het plannen van de rest van onze trip.
Vandaag dus naar Lac Lasal. Samen met Richard Limo en zijn vrouw Anna.
De trip is ongeveer 100 km maar door de 'snelheid' van onze
chaufffeur, werd het een dagvullend programma.
Het meer zelf is een soort van Dode Zee en er wordt danook veel zout
gewonnen. Het zout, teminste een deel ervan wordt per kameel naar
Ethiopië vervoerd. Het grootste deel wordt nat in vrachtwagens geladen
en vervolgen laat men dan een tijdje uitleggen alvorens men gaat
Het gebied is erg heet en vulkanisch. Overal zie je dikke lagen
afgekoeld lava liggen en het lijkt net als of iemand een asfaltweg
heeft zitten opbreken. Door de zoutlagen wordt het gebied nog heter.
Erg indrukwekkend maar niet een gebied waar je al te lang wil lopen.
Het is er gauw een graad of veertig!
De tour ging vervolgens nog langs een warm (zout)waterbron en nog even
aan het strand een broodje banaan gegeten.
Op de terugweg wilden we nog een Afardorp bekijken maar één van de
bewoonsters had daar andere ideeën over en kwam ons gillend tegemoet,
gewapend met twee stenen. Tegen deze overmacht hadden wij geen
weerwoord dus zijn we maar weer braaf weggereden.
Eenmaal weer in Djibouti, hebben we de rest van de reis besproken en
gepland. Morgenvroeg reizen we met de bus naar Ethiopië. We hopen
morgenavond in Harare te zijn of elk geval in de buurt van. We hebben
tot en met 24 oktober Ethiopië op de reiskaart staan. Op de negende
gaan we twee weken per boot de rivier de Omo verkennen. Langs de
rivier leven tal van stammen die we gaan bezoeken.
Voor die tijd gaan we plaatsen als Harare, Axum etc bezoeken.
Na de 24ste staat Somaliland op het menu. Vandaag weer met Edna Adan
gesproken. Donderdag zijn er verkiezingen en daarna moeten de
resultaten geteld worden en vooral verwerkt en geaccepteerd worden.
Dus zij vond de laatste week van oktober een goed idee.
Dat kan betekenen dan jullie het een tijdje zonder onze verhaaltjes
moeten stellen. Maar wanhoopt niet, zo gauw als wij het woord
internetcafe zien, gaan we weer schrijven.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

happy, Djibouti City

happy, Djibouti City
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
He's happy, you're happy, we're all happy!

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Djibouti-Obock ferry arriving

Djibouti-Obock ferry arriving
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

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Een zonnige zondag

Hotel Horseed

Vandaag kan niet meer stuk. Alles ging van een leien dakje en we
kunnen het zelf nog niet geloven. Wat was er dan allemaal aan de hand?
Charles is in 1961 in de stad Hargeisa geboren, dat is in Somaliland.
Somaliland was tot en met 1960 een Brits protectoraat. De rest van
Somalië was voornamelijk Italiaans bezit geweest. In 1960 werd het
gebied dus onafhankelijk onder de naam Somaliland. Maar dat duurde
maar 5 dagen en toen zijn ze onderdeel geworden van het grotere
Somalië. Dat was geen succes en een bloedige burgeroorlog brak uit in de jaren '80. In
1991 werd het land weer zelfstandig als Somaliland. Probleem is dat
de Verenigde Naties het niet erkennen.
De eigenaar van ons hotel is ook Somalilander en hij heeft ons
vanmorgen meegenomen naar het consulaat van Somaliland. Daar eenmaal
binnen liepen we tegen een meneer op die Osman Ali heet en een neef is
van de minister van Buitenlandse Zaken van Somaliland, mevrour Edna
Adan. In no time had hij zijn tante aan de lijn en gaf haar aan
Charles; Edna is vroedvrouw geweest en was vrijzeker degene die
Charles zijn moeder geholpen heeft bij de bevalling. Nu is zij de
vrouw die visas regelt. Na het gesprek werd al snel duidelijk dat de
consul generaal een visum voor ons aan het uitschrijven was. Er waren
een paar voorwaarden: we moeten na de verkiezingen van aanstaande
donderdag komen en met het vliegtuig want ze voelt zich
verantwoordelijk voor ons en wil niet dat we in problemen geraken.
Jullie hadden het gezicht van Charles moeten zien, hij straalde en was
zo trots en zo blij. De andere mannen uit zijn geboorteland straaalden
ook en spontaan kregen we geschiedenislesjes over Somaliland en
anecdotes over allerlei mensen die we niet kenden maar die schijnbaar
bij het verhaal hoorden. Tot mijn grote verbazing begon de consul
opeens in het Nederlands te spreken en vertelde dat hij in Amsterdam
gestudeerd had.
Met een visum, een poster en een geleide brief van Edna Adan verlieten
wij in een opperste stemming het gebouw.
Het volgende doel was een visum voor Ethiopië; binnen een half uur
geregeld en morgenvroeg ophalen. Wat wil een mens nog meer: twee
successen op één dag! Morgen nog het vervoer regelen (oeps) en dan op
weg naar Ethiopië om daarna naar Somaliland te kunnen en vervolgens
weer terug naar Ethiopië.

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After Edna, we meet Richard Limo

After our successful trip to the Somaliland consul, we passed by the Ethiopian embassy to apply for our visa there. No problems, we pay FDJ 5.400 each, sign a form, leave a photo and it will be ready tomorrow by 10.00 am. We are thinking that we will take the train to Dire Dawa, then go up the mountqins to visit the extremely wonderful Harar before catching a flight back to Hargeisa at the weekend, after the elections and stay there a week before our rendez-vous in Addis Ababa on the 8th.

At the hotel, we come a cross a couple with whom Fred had chatted last nighty, a Kenyan/Briton - Richard - and his German wife, Anna. They had had some very very bad experiences in Ethiopia and had lots of horror stories to tell about the medical facilities, the lack of education there, the theivery, the cheating, the over-charging of foreigners, the hassle - basically the people there! Oh well, at least we will be prepared for the worst and we can limit the damage by minimising the time we spend in Addis, I think.

They are wondering where to go next. We suggest either Somaliland or Yemen, the only problem with Yemen being the way women are treated.

We have a nice relaxing afternoon with them and I take them around the African quarter, a maze of streets and alleyways, of brightly coloured corrugated iron buildings, shops, market stalls selling spices, ironware, shoes, the most brightly coloured clothes, bras, samosas, jasmine necklaces ( as if we were in Thailand) and so on. Richard loved the expereience but said he would not have dared go 'in' there alone;. As we walk around, we stop to chat with the locals and they are both amazed at how friendly the exchanges were. In Ethiopia, everything had to do with money. We will see.

We end up going out for dinner with Richard and he tells us the wonderful story of his life, a story which I have already followed on BBC TV, of how he was plucked from school in his village in Kenya, taken to Nairobi, given his first pair of shoes and put on a plane at the age of 13 to participate in the World Youth Athletics Championships in Santiago de Chile. He won gold at his first attempt and has been winning gold regularly since at most of the big world athletic events, except for the Olympic Games. He now runs for Great Britain and hopes to start training for the indoor championship series in November. He does not smoke, does not drink alcohol and ate half a small vegetarian pizza!

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Republic of Somaliland

Well, an amazing day! We have the visa for Somaliland! In the process I spoke to Edna Adan, the foreign minister we mentioned on this blog in July before we left..... my midwife.

As you may have seen, there are parliamentary elections occuring on Thursday.Whatyou will not have read is that there has been some gunshots fired over and around Hargeisa the last three nights. No visas were to be issued until AFTER the elections. Only by Edna herself personally guaranteeing our safety, was the local consul able to issue the visa.

She was charmed by the story, although she never did receive the letter my father wrote to her. As it happened, her nephew Ali Osman happened to be in the consulate at the same time we were and he had her personal address and telephone number and managed to arrange for us to talk on the phone. A wonderful experience! She even said that she sort of could remember Mum and Dad from those days so far back.

Edna has advised us that it would probably be best, in the light of the shootings and of her having more time for us, if we came to Hargeisa AFTER the elections, so we will revise our travel plans.

Osman Ali is based in Djibouti but does lots of business with Hargeisa, which he says is a bustling city, even more than here. He also made the point that Somaliland DID exist as a separate independent state with membership of the UN for five days in1960, so should, according to the UN rules be given recognition, as the old colonial boundaries should stand.

We also hear, from someone elsethat maybe the President of Somaliland himselfis less keen on independence and recognition than the peopleof Somaliland. Maybe he is looking for a job in the Somali Republic.Anyway.....

I managed to show them alla copy of my birth certificate headed Somaliland Protectorate (despite the fact that Iwas born a year after independence). This was copied for the local archive. It appears that there are some people who deny even a separate existence ever for Somaliland.I wished I had more memorabilia from these days- and I am hoping that Mum can scan and send me some photos for me to take. Also some of the old Somaliland Protectorate stamps would be good, but these are all in Amsterdam.

When we eventually got to meet the consul, it turned out that he had studied in Holland - Amsterdam and Nijenrode - and still spoke Dutch! What a small world.

The only sad news was that the Registrar of Births died just a year ago. Apart from that the hospital where I was born is still there, only half damaged in the war. Osman Ali thinks I should try to get Somaliland nationality and maybe give an interview or two while I am there.

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

Every evening in Djibouti City

Djibouti City colours
Djibouti City colours
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Every evening in Djibouti City ..... the radios are turnd on ..... market stall after market stall ..... one after the other ..... all blaring LOUDLY ..... all listening to the BBC broadcasts from Hargeisa in Somali. Amazing!

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Water and qat, what pleasure!

Djibouti - water and qat, what pleasure!

The qat arrives from Ethiopia at abot mid-day and by 1 pm it is all over the city. Work comes to a complete standstill - after all it is exceedingly hot and humid - as the men start on their five hour qat chewing sessions.
The problem is getting quickly worse, here as in Yemen and Somaliland.

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In the meantime ....

Assab-Obock - twenty-five

Eritrea has warned it might re-start its war with Ethiopia if the United Nations fails to resolve a border dispute between the two neighbours.
Ethiopia is occupying the town of Badme, which an independent commission awarded to Eritrea under the terms of a peace accord in December 2000.
Both countries had agreed to accept the commission's findings on where their border should lie.
The agreement followed a two-year border war in which 70,000 people died.
Eritrean Finance Minister Berhane Abrehe told the UN General Assembly that Eritrea is determined and has the right to "defend and preserve its territorial integrity by any means possible".
"If the United Nations fails to reverse the occupation, it will be as equally responsible as Ethiopia is for any renewed armed conflict and its consequences," Mr Berhane said.
The frontier zone has been patrolled by a UN peacekeeping force since 2000.
Earlier this year, the UN expressed concern over a build-up of Ethiopian and Eritrean troops close to the border zone.
Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1993, after Ethiopian and Eritrean rebel movements overthrew the Derg regime in Addis Ababa.

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Somali 'al-Qaeda leader' arrested

Asmara-Assab - eleven

The authorities in the breakaway region of Somaliland say they have arrested four militants, including an internationally known al-Qaeda member.
Interior Minister Ishmael Aden said the men were all Somalis from Mogadishu.
The arrests follow an overnight raid on a house in the capital, Hargeisa. Three policemen were injured in a shootout.
Since the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, Western countries have seen Somalia as a possible safe haven for Islamic militants.
Mr Aden said the arrested men were planning attacks to disrupt elections scheduled for 29 September.
He said the police seized a large cache of weapons and communications equipment following an overnight shoot-out.
The interior minister did not give the names of those arrested but said one man had been trained in Afghanistan and was "on the list of internationally wanted terrorists".
The Somaliland authorities accuse terror cells based in Mogadishu of carrying out four killings of expatriates in the territory in 2003 and 2004.
In July, the International Crisis Group think-tank said an al-Qaeda cell had been set up in Somalia, which has had no effective government since warlords overthrew the government of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
"The threat of jihadi terrorism in and from Somalia is real," the ICG said.
It is believed that those behind the al-Qaeda-linked attacks in Kenya in 1998 and 2002 got logistical support - and maybe more - from Somalia.
Somaliland declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991, but its independence is not internationally recognised.

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Tomorrow is another day

across the desert to Obock

Donderdagmorgen stond Medhane al vroeg aan onze ontbijttafel.We wilden
om 8 uur vertrekken.Dat lukte niet helemaal.Er moest nog een band
geplakt worden, nog wat spullen opgehaald worden en nog wat
medepassagiers geronseld worden. Maar om 9.30 was het dan zo
ver. Afscheid genomen van Medhane en op weg naar Djibouti.Genoeg water
en cola mee. Ik had uitgerekend dat we die avond zo rond een uur of
zeven in Djibouti zouden zijn.
De tocht ging voornamelijk langs de Rode Zeekust en was erg heet en
droog. Ondertussen hadden we zo'n vier medepassagiers in de laadbak van
de Toyota 4 wheeldrive. Bij de eerste controlepost ging het al mis met
ons papier, iemand met een hogere rang moest er bij komen en dat duurde
natuurlijk even een tijdje.De tweede opstakel was water: een of ander
stuwmeer werd geleegd en daardoor stroomde het water over de brug.Het
zag er gevaarlijk uit. De chauffeur wilde wachten tot dat de
stroom minder werd. Ondertussen gingen we onder een boom zitten te
wachten.Toen ik een oude man met een stok aan zag komen lopen, zei
ik: 'daar heb je Musa (Mozes), die kan ons vast wel helpen door op het
water te gaan slaan.' De grap viel in goede aarde. Maar de redding kwam
niet van de oude man maar van het feit dat er van de andere kant een
auto er wel door durfde te rijden.Toen gingen wij ook.
Onderweg stopten we een aantal keren in kleine dorpjes met ronde
hutten. Ze boden ons een soort van palmwijn aan.Het was 10 procent
alcohol en smaakte alsof je al gekotst had.Gelukkig kregen we toen
ranja. Afentoe stapte één van onze passagiers uit en afentoe stopten we
om een baal meel of suiker af te leveren. Bij de grenspost van Eritrea
hadden we nog één meneer (Ali) over maar hij werd weldra aangevuld met
een tiental geiten en net over de grens met nog drie vrouwen.
De tocht ging erg langzaam. Aan de grens werd ons verteld dat de
havenstad Obock nog zo'n twee uur rijden was en dat de snelle boot naar Djibouti er een uurtje over deed. Dus mij berekeningen klopten aardig.
De grens van Djibouti bereikten we tegen vieren en onze reis ging
steeds langzamer. Charles merkte al op dat we in Obock moesten
overnachten; hij kreeg gelijk. Ondertussen werd het donker en rond een
uur of acht waren we in Obock. Te laat om nog een boot te vinden. Ik was
wat pissig omdat er weer geen duidelijkeid was gegeven.We sliepen bij
een familie die zo aardig was om voor ons spaghetti te koken. In eerste
instantie moesten we buiten slapen maar later werd ons verteld dat we
een kamer konden delen. In de kamer stond een fonkelnieuwe tv en met
een groepje van zo'n 8 personen konden we gezellig naar een Amerikaanse
film kijken. Toen Charles en ik in slaapvielen, werden de buurkinderen
weggestuurd en bleef de rest kijken en slapen.
De volgende ochtend vroeg op en na de thee richting haven. Onze
chauffeur vond ons al snel een boot en samen met Ali en zijn geit
waren we een uurtje later in Djibouti-stad.
Een hotel gezocht en al gauw bleek dat er vele hotelgasten en personeel uit
Somaliland kwamen of uit Somalië. Charles was dichter bij zijn
geboorteland dan ooit. Toen we met een aantal jonge Somaliërs zaten te
praten bleek één zelfs uit Groningen te komen: de wereld is klein.
Djibouti-stad is dé plek om alles te regelen en we hopen danook dat we
volgende week richting Somaliland kunnen reizen. De contacten en gidsen
hebben we al, nu nog een visum (of te wel eerst een gesprek met de
consul) en vervoer.
Ach en als het vandaag niet lukt: 'Tomorrow is another day' niet

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Djibouti, or rather French Somaliland - ooh la la!

Downtown Djibouti
So now we are in Djibouti City, capital of Djibouti, previously Le Territoire des Afars et Issas and before that, French Somaliland. The country is home to the two peoples - the Afars and the Issas, with the bulk of the people here being Issas, who are in fact Somalilanders. They have been joined recently by Somalilanders from Hargeisa, Ethiopians and some remnants of French colonialism. The languages spoken are Somali and French and English. Coming off our boat from Obock, some chaps were sitting around, one of them proudly claiming not to understand me asking for a taxi in English because he was a Francophone. Poor chap!

Anyway, what a contrast with Assab. Djibouti City is a loud, thriving, colourful, busy coastal city. The port was full, contaoiner ships, a battle ship, fishing boats, pleasure boats, dhows, dinghies, a thriving fish market, all this before you even land on the jetty. The green and white taxi, taking us to our hotel (Hotel Horseed) takes us down muddy tracks, past colourful street markets, the ladies in a blaze of reds and pinks and greens and blues, the ground strewn with the thin plastic bags of the khat - which is forbidden in Eritrea. It is hot, very hot and very humid.

After checking in we go out onto the streets, all the time stopping to chat to the chaaps calling out Ca va? Bonjour! and the like. Before long I realise that everyone is very amused to hear that I too am a Somalilander, proudly producing m passport to show them I was born in Somaliland. I am greeted with wide smiles and hearty handshakes. I meet countless Mohammeds, Siads, Ahmeds and Faisals. It is great! They tell me that Hargeisa is a beautiful place, cool in the mountains. Everyone wants teh country to be internationally recognised and most of them listen to BBC Somaliland. I tell them that if countries do not recognise the country then the BBC does.

It might not be the easiest of places. There are some angry faces, some Islamic idiots, ladies shouting, Francophone fanatics and the like, but we give as good as we get. Great to see people with such energy and pride and joie de vivre, to use a French expression! Ooh la la!

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The not-so-long but very slow trip to Obock

Assab-Obock - twenty

Well, it looked quite a short trip - about 80 or 100 km down to the border and about the same again from there to Obock. However, there are Toyota Land Cruisers and Toyota Land Cruisers and ours must have been one of the earliest models and, to be honest, we did not expect to be held up by a very fast flowing river in the middle of the desert! OK, after the first 5 or so kilometers there were no roads either, butr tracks in the desert sand are sometimes more easily traversed than bumpy asphalt roads.

But it was a trip to remember for a very long time, the beauty and desolateness of the scenery, notably across Ras Syan, a volcano just out at sea, the vast salt flats, the odd village of round beehive houses, the hospitality of the villagers who offered us tea and palm wine, bread and water, the ever changing fellow passengers, from the old crazy man who kept shouting water at us while he waved his bottle of palm wine at us, the three colourful but shy (we say shy, instead of unfriendly) women we took over the border, the eight goats we picked up half way, joined by another two later on, the old man who crossed the ford, his sarong tied up to his waste, his spindly little legs looking at any minute to be swept away by the muddy torrent, the border procedures, first the friendly man ( who we had disturbed from some private time with his woman/wife) and the fascist bastard of a border guard in Djibouti who refued to let a young student onto our vehicle and so on.

Fred created a great deal of amusement by calling on Moses to help us cross the ford, just as he Moses crossed the Red Sea with his people. The deed having eventually been done, only after others had tried and succeeded from the opposite direction - about the only time we saw another vehicle all day - our driver became referred to as Musa!

As the day went on and we crawled across the desert, I decided to get out of terh crowded front seat and join the goats at the back. In the meantime, as it became increasingly clear that we would be lucky to reach Obock, let alone Djibouti before dark, Fred was getting increasingly stressed and angry in the front. Evetually, after sunset and in the darkness we managed to make out some lights in the distance which eventually turned out to be the lights of Obock. When we eventually stopped outside a FISH restaurant ( of all places) Fred lost control! Nothing seemed to have been arranged by way of accommoation, Musa spoke no English, we had just enough Nakfas for a boat, which would have to leave tomorrow, no Djibouti francs and we were quite tired and a little hungry, the water supplies were depleted and so on anbd so on.

Eventually we found shelter at a place we had delivered the goats to, and mattresses were laid out in the garden, some distance from the gaots which were now tethered. As tempers cooled and we were treated to hospitality in the form of sweet tea, cola and very spicey spaghetti and we had managed to find someone who spoke French, then another who spoke English, things became more relaxed.

Our mattersses were moved indoors and we were invited to go, in an watch television. We found them, bizzarely, watching the film Far From Heaven until someone else got control of the remote control and zapped their way through over satellite channels to find Rush Hour , which made for great family entertainment, while Fred and I fell asleep, exhausted after our long day. Satisfied too.

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A day with Medhane in Assab

Medhane and Fred, with one of tye very few remianing maps of Eritrea on the wall behind

Medhane has lived in Assab for 10 years and is originally from Asmara. He has live dfive years in Torino and ten in Rotterdam and has Dutch nationality as well as Eritrean. He came back to Eritrea to escape two bad habits he had picked up in Holland, namely hash and slot machines. He arrived in the boom times for Assab, after the first peace with Ethiopia, and set up his tyre repair shop.

Now he is a well known and seemingly well liked man about town, with a wife and three kids. he would tell us that the current UN'ers from India were not much good for thr town as they did not spend a penny, unlike the Kenyans before who spent their salaries on women and drink andd kept the economy going. He told us that the government had banned imports into Eritrea except for things which were absolutely necessary, such as spare parts and - small amounts of - petrol. This explained for us why there was no coca cola to be had in any of the bars displying the coca cola signs!

It really seems like Eritrea is on a big curve downhill, the cause being the continuing border dispute with Ethiopia, the cause of which seems to be personal emnity, if not, mutual hatred between the two respective Presidents/dictators. It is odd to us, having travelled down the 'tail' of Eritrea (look at the maps), where the only place of importance is/was Assab, that the main justification for the current borders is that these borders were establmished by the Italian occupiers over 100 years ago. So many people in Africa are fighting to change such artificial borders and here is Eritrea whose main cause and justification for existence is such a border!

He arranged for us to get our permits to travel down to the border and put us in touch with Mohammad Ali and later invited us round to his house for dinner with his family, after stoping along the way for a beer, whiuch became two, drunk in the bar because he lives in a Muslim neighbourhood and the local residents association bannedd drink from the area. Dinner was great! Pasta with chips and a delicious salad and we delighted the children with the tiny teddy bears which we had brought from Holland, thanks to Rob and Jos�.

Medhane picked us up early-ish on Thursday to bring us to Mohammed Ali who was to bring us to the boat in Obock, with the instructions that we should not pay him until we were on the boat.


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Friday, September 23, 2005

The Bay of Tadjoura, leaving Obock for Djibouti

This morning at about 7 am, on the still waters with a boat and a fast motor.

But we had not planned on being in Obock last night..... it is a long - and very slow - story, which had a happy ending, as we are here in Djibouti now and enjoyed our latest little adventure!

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Assab - victim of a needless war

Assab - old charterer's office

Assab used to be a major Red Sea port handling the bulk of freight to and from Ethiopia. This is clear to see by looking at the docks, container terminal and refinery. All locked up and behind bars now. Almost all the movement in the city now being UN vehicles driving around and Indian UN soldiers handing out free bottles of UN water to mark 60 year anniversary. My goodness was the needed, so hot and humid it was there.

The shops and bars along the front were all empty and crumbling and not just because it was lunchtime. The
international hotel we were staying at with its large terraces and bars, again almost empty. Empty because Ethiopia will not use the services of Assab port while the border dispute continues, preferring to use Djibouti and berbera despite the extra costs of transport. So the ordinary people of Eritrea have to suffer because of the ego and injured pride of a leader they cannot get rid of. Sad.

Anyway, our stay in Assab was spent mostly with
Medhane, who had arranged out trip further down to
Djibouti. His story is for another blog, as it is time
to go now, before the money runs out.

Just so that you know, we arrived in Djibouti this morning and, I, particularly feel very at home here
with 'my' people, the Somalilanders. Colourful, bustling, confusing, hot, friendly. The hotel owner, like many here comes from Hargeisa himself and he
will arrange for us to meet the Somaliland consul here. It seems like we could be there quite soon. But first, we have to enjoy what Djibouti has to offer.

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Afrika in geuren en kleuren

Landscape in southern Eritrea

Vandag aangekomen in Djibouti na een lange reis.
We zijn dinsdagmorgen om 4.30 vertrokken uit Asmara. De bagage hadden
we een dag van te voren al afgegeven en lag keurig op het dak. Dit
keer zonder de gezelschap van geiten. Voor vertrek hebben we om 4 uur
ons traditioneel ontbijt genomen: kopje zoete thee en een stuk brood.
In de bus was het een drukte van belang. We deelden onze plek met een
dame. Voor ons zat een oudere mevrouw die beter af was geweest met een
verhuiswagen. Ze was tijden bezig om haar bonte verzameling aan
spulletjes in zakjes en tasjes te stoppen en daar weer plek voor te
vinden. Onder de banken of in de bagagerekken.
De reis ging eerst door de bergen en afentoe werd er gestopt voor een
plasje, een kopje thee o.i.d. Tot ongeveer 8 uur was het nog redelijk
koel in de bus maar daarna werd het snel warmer. De oudere dame deed
haar best om een frisse bries tegen te houden. Met hand en tand zat ze
haar open raampje te verdedigen tegen de tocht door het gordijn strak
tegen het ruitje te houden. Maar haar actie leidde als snel tot verzet
en ze moest de tochtstroom toelaten. Haar klaagzang over haar
nekspieren hielp niets. Ook het feit dat ze daarna de hele tijd met
een wollen trui om haar nek zat, kon de rest van de bus niet deren.
's Middags reden we langs de Rode Zeekust: leuk maar erg heet. Toen we
om 17 uur bij een controlepost vroegen hoe lang het nog naar Idi was,
kregen we een teleurstellende 'nog drie uur' te horen. De hitte nam
meer en meer toe en het was drukkend en benauwd.
Om 20.00 uur reden we Idi binnen. Het plaatsje bestond uit een straat
met aan beide kanten hutten. Een aantal hutten dienden tevens als
winkel of als restaurant. Het dorp was totaal onverlicht omdat
electriciteit nu eenmaal een probleem is. Mijn idee om even te gaan
douchen voor het eten kwam niet geheel uit. In de straat voor de
hutten stonden tientallen bedden op ons te wachten. Lekker slapen in
de open lucht! Ja en een douche of toilet was er niet. Het open gebied
achter de bewoning diende als toilet. Goed, bed opgezocht, spullen
neergezet en een restaurantgezocht. Lekker biertje uit de witte
maar zeker geen koelkast en een injera. Daarna zijn we gaan slapen
maar dat viel niet mee i.v.m. de drukkende hitte.
De volgende morgen ronkten de motoren van onze bus al gezellig rond
een uur of drie. Opstaan en wegwezen dus. We vonden het niet erg om zo
vroeg te mogen reizen. Rond een uur of acht waren we in Assab. Niet
lang daarna kwam meneer Medhane ons verwelkomen. Het hotel lag een
aantal meters verderop maar toch maar even met de auto. Na het
inchecken snel naar het toilet en gauw even douchen: wat een luxe!
Na het ontbijt heeft hij ons naar de VN-post gebracht voor het
verkrijgen van een 'permit' maar we moesten bij de militairen zijn.
Toestemming krijgen was geen probleem. Daarna bracht hij ons naar zijn
garage: Medhane heeft een banden reparatiebedrijf. Hij vertelde ons
zijn verhaal. Als vluchteling in 1986 in Rotterdam aangekomen. Vrij
snel nederlands geleerd en een technische opleiding gedaan. Toen nog
een aantal jaren in Italië gewoond en gewerkt. Toen is hij terug
gegaan naar Eritrea. Hij nodigde ons uit om 's avonds bij hem en zijn
vrouw te komen eten.
Nadat hij ons voorgesteld had aan de man die ons de volgende dag naar
Obock in Djibouti zal brengen, zijn wij de stad wat gaan verkennen.
Assab is erg triest. Deze havenstad heeft als gevolg van de discussie
met Ethiopië, totaal geen bedrijvigheid meer. Alles en iedereen wijkt
uit naar Djibouti-stad. De eens zo mooie havenprominade lag er leeg,
verlaten en vervallen bij. Je kon zien dat de stad vroeger allure
gehad heeft. Jammer! Als je de kaaart van Eritrea ziet, dan valt op
dat het land een lange maar vooral dunne strook land heeft tot aan
Djibouti. Hierdoor is Ethiopië ingesloten en heeft het geen enkele
toegang tot de zee: dit is dan ook een strijdpunt! Eritrea beroept
zich op de oude koloniale grenzen en zegt dat dit land door de
Italianen geschapen is en dat de strook erbij hoort. De VN is er
aanwezig maar de discussie tussen de twee landen schiet niet op.
's Avonds heerlijk gegeten bij Medhane en zijn gezin. Helaas had zijn
vrouw al met de kinderen gegeten en zat zij stil op de achtergrond.
Ondertusssn met Medhane in het nederlands over van alles en nog wat
zitten te kletsen.
Om een uur of tien naar bed met een tevreden gevoel en blij iemand
zoals Medhane te hebben leren kennen. De volgende dag zagen we dan ook
met een goed gevoel te gemoet.

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With the Queen of the Desert down to Assab

Eritrea - Maria shrine

Well, it seems like a long time ago now, but we set off for Assab at about 5 am on Tuesday morning in a full bus, the Queen Bus, with very small windows, dark curtains and blackened out windows ... so not the best proposition for taking photos, although we were sitting on the left-hand side - the side of the sea.

Anyway, we first slept as it was dark as we pulled out
and descended into Massawa. At first light we noted that the Holy Mary was with us, a little white statue at the front of the bus, surrounded by garlands of
colourful plastic flowers. So, if we were not quite Priscilla we might have been Mary, Queen of the Desert.

Well, there is lots to tell and internet seems to be as impossible here as in Asmara, so I will just say
that we made numerous stops on the way, to the accompaniment to a really good collection of music tapes, poppy hits from Eritreq and Ethiopia, as we
made our way down the Red Sea coast, sometimes seeing the sea, sometimes just rocks, desert, mountains, hills, extinct volcanoes, small villages, groups of
goats and camels, shepherds, dry river beds, vultures
flying overhead and do on.

The surprise was just how far it was and how we carried on right into the dark of evening, with the
bus getting ever hotter and more humid, sweat bursting out on everyone's faces. So it was that we finally pulled into Idi at 8 pm, 15 hours after we had started. And what a sight. Wooden huts, each with one gas lamp burning and then.... rows and rows of beds laid out on the dusty street. These were to be our lodgings. A bed, a mattress and a pillow. Washing facilities were a large and small bucket of water.
Less than a Euro per bed.

We also managed to find food... enjera... AND warm beer, so we were well contented by the time we returned to our beds at 9 to sleep under a partially cloudy sky, the 3/4 moon, shining through, as two Afar shepherds turned up for the night.

The engines started at 3 am, and within half an hour we were loaded up for the next stint, getting into Assab at about 8.30 am.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Salt - the Afar gold, Dekemhare

Time to move on..... finally!

Afar man

Yes, we finally laid our hands on two tickets for the bus to Assab, leaving tomorrow. We first descend the 8,000 feet to Massawa, the main Red Sea port and then follow the barraen coast down to Idi, where we will spend the night before carrying on the journey to Assab. We will be in Afar land, some of the most ferocious warriors of the region who, like the Yemenis carry knives and machine guns, although the ones living near the sea are said to be more friendly than those inland, whose main activity is extracting and carrying salt from the Danakil depression into Ethiopia. Here we will be met by an English and Dutch speaking Eritrean who runs a tyre repair service. He is looking forward to showing us around and using his Dutch. It is his friend who has offered to take us across the border into Djibouti to the town of Obock from where we will catch a boat across to Djibouti City. We will be away from internet access all this time, so no blogs and no pics.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

At home with Hana and family

Asmara - piazza
Fiat Tagliero
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
We met us with Hana at Pasticceria Moderna at 10 am as agreed and had a tea/cappuccino before walking with Hana to her home. We were not so sure about this as it seemd that she slept at the hotel, but as it turns out her family lives in the East of Asmara and she goes there every morning after sleeping at the hotel (she has evenig shift and stays until the bar closes at midnight- 2 am.

Well, at home, we were treated first to large helpings of enjera and sauce (hot - tomato, onion, pepper (lots) and meat - no garlic, it seems).

Then we were treated to the coffee making ceremony... first stoking up the chgarcoal, roasting the beans, crushing the beans, puting them and the water into the earthenware coffee pot, heating it up, waiting til the coffee spurts up, then letting it rest and putting some sponge in the spout as a filter before pouring it out continuously into three cups. This was repeated three times: it was impolite of us to refuse the third (very strong, but delicious) cup of coffee.

Then some more enjera.. and again we were not allowed to refuse.

In the meantime, we had met Hana's two sisters, mother and father and, finally her brother. He spoke very good English and he told us a bit about his family's situation. They were expelled from Addis Ababa, where they ahd all grown up, when the war re-started between Ethiopia dn Eritrea in 1999, as they were Eritrean nationals, despite speaking Amharic and not Tigrinya (the national language of Eritrea). They lost everything and had to start new lives in Asmara.

No-one in Eritrea can get an exit visa unles sthey are above 40 (or go for work), so they are stuck here in a country where there is no freedom of speech, no democracy, no free press, little work and where the government prefers everyone to have just enough money to buy food and nothing else.

Very sad, because the governemnet is laregly the people who gave the country independence from Ethiopia. But what price independence when you become so afraid of opposition that you lock them all up, get help from the United Nations, lose your allies in Europe and live in conflict with your most important neighbour.

Eritrea and Ethiopia would both mutually benefit from peace, where they could both use the ports of Massawa and Assab (access to Red Sea ports being the main bone of contention).

Anyway, after internal politics it was time for a chat about the Premiership... it seems that young Eritrean men are avid followers of English football, and indeed Cinema Impero invariably has an evening slot open to show live (or almost live) English football.. tomorrow they can watch Arsenal vs Everton.

So, it was a delightful day we spent with the family and as it turned out, Fred's girlfriend was not Annemiek but Esther - but that is another story and we have written more than enough.

Sorry about the inappropriate photo, but I deleted the only one I took of coffee 'ceremonies'.

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Eritrea - Espresso, capuccino e dolce, Eritrean style

Vanmorgen om 10 uur hadden we met Hanah afgesproken. Ze werkt in ons
hotel en wel in het restaurantgedeelte. Elke avond staat zij met een
grote glimlach ons op te wachten. Traditiegetrouw drinken we bij haar
in de bar een biertje en gaan dan naar het eetgedeelte waar haar
vriendin Ellah werkt. Gisteren vertelde Hanah ons dat ze in Ethopie
opgegroeid is en ze liet ons in onze gids zien waar ze precies gewoond
had. En ze nodigde ons uit voor op de koffie.

Vanmorgen was het dus zo ver. We wandelden naar haar ouderlijk huis aan
de rand van de stad. Thuis aangekomen werden we begroet door een van
haar zussen. Ze vertelde ons dat ze twee zussen en een broer heeft.
De zus begon direct met het maken van een soort van ontbijt: injera.
Dat is een pannenkoek met een vleessaus. De saus bestaat uit spaanse
pepers, uien, tomaten en natuurlijk vlees. De pannenkoeken worden
gemaakt van een soort graan gemengd met water. Drie dagen lang staat dit mengsel te gisten en dan wordt het gebakken. Het geheel kan erg pittig zijn.

Terwijl zuslief bezig was in de bijkeuken, was Hanah druk met de
koffie. Niks geen oploskoffie en ook geen Italiaans gedoe met warme melk
en hete stoomblazende machines. Het was bijna puur handwerk. Allereerst ging
ze de koffiebonen zelf roosteren boven een houtskoolvuurtje. Daarna
werd het gemalen (dit was machinaal)en vervolgens werd de gemalen
koffie in een soort van kruik gedaan samen met water. Het geheel kwam
op het houtskoolvuurtje en wachten tot het ging koken. Nadat het
gekookt had, werd een klein deel uitgegoten in een soort van
maatbekertje gemaakt van een 'luncheon meat'-blik. Nadat het nog een
keer gekookt had, werd het kruikje in een rieten houder gezet om te
rusten (zodat de koffiedik kon zakken). Daarna werd het uitgeschonken
met natuurlijk veel suiker. Ondertussen zaten we wat te kletsen
maar haar Engels is beperkt. Terwijl Hanah bezig was kwam pa en later ma
binnen. Pa at de restanten van de injera en trok zich terug achter een
gordijn. Vijf minuten later lag hij , getuige het gesnurk, lekker te slapen.
Zuslief kwam uit de keuken met een grote schaal popcorn. Deze werd
nogeens aangevuld met honingbonbons en rozijntjes.
Het is gebruikelijk om drie kopje koffie te drinken. Hanah heeft danook
drie keer koffie gezet. Zodra de koffie opstond werd er wierook
aangestoken. We hebben ook weleens gezien dat ze wierook op het
houtskoolvuur leggen of in een speciale brander naast de koffie.

Tijdens het derde kopje kwam de broer binnen. Hij was ooit begonnen als
student medicijnen maar moest omschakelen naar ingenieur. Hij vertelde
ons dat de familie vijf jaar geleden uit Ethiopie geschopt was omdat
Eritrea toen in oorlog was met Ethiopie en zijn uit Eritrea kwamen.
Toen ze het land verlieten moesten ze hun bezittingen grotendeels
achterlaten. Hij sprak goed Engels en vertelde ons over de problemen
waar zijn land in geraakt was. De regering had de eerste jaren na de
onafhankelijkheidsstrijd tegen Ethiopie veel krediet bij de bevolking.
Maar na de oorlog tegen Ethiopie in 1999-2001 kwam er steeds meer
kritiek. De regering smoorde de kritiek in de kiem. Kranten kwamen
onder censuur. Democratische verkiezingen werden niet meer gehouden (60 zetels van de 104 worden door de president gewoon gevuld).

De oppositie nam toe maar en ging zich organiseren (voornamelijk in het buitenland).

Op dit moment mag geen enkel inwoner onder de 40 jaar het land uit. Vrouwen kunnen het land uit als ze met een buitenlander trouwen. Op speciaal verzoek, bijvoorbeeld van een Engelse universiteit, is het mogelijk om daar te gaan werken.

Er heerst grote werkloosheid, met name onder jongeren en het land is arm. De
meeste mensen zijn al blij dat ze gewoon te eten hebben en dat ze rond
kunnen komen. De enige methode om dit te omzeilen is te vluchten.
Sommigen proberen naar Ethiopie te vluchten omdat het daar beter is
(dan bijvoorbeeld in Soedan). Vluchten naar het Westen heeft meestal
geen zin omdat ze dan economische vluchtelingen zijn en meestal geen
schijn van kans hebben op wat voor status danook.

Na de koffie en de politiek kwam voetbal en broer wist van alles over
grootheden zoals onze Johan, onze Ruud, de Koemannetjes etc. Tijdens de
voetbalgesprekken kwam de oudste zus met zes maanden oude dochtertje
binnen. Volgens ons een goed moment om te gaan.
Nee dus eerst weer wat eten! Wat schetste onze verbazing: we kregen
injera's. Een tweede portie met die pittige saus is een behoorlijk
aanval op een toch al wat gevoelige maag. Maar goed we overleefden het. Gelukkig kregen we daarna niet nogeens drie koppen koffie. Na het eten
hebben we afscheid genomen van de familie. Hanah liep met ons mee
richting hotel. Ze moet om drie uur weer beginnen. Om de hoek van het
hotel verzocht ze ons om tien minuten te wachten en niets te zeggen
tegenover de mensen van het hotel en restaurant dat we haar ouderlijk huis
hebben bezocht. We beloofden en zijn een blokje om gegaan.
Van een huwelijksaanzoek of iets dergelijks is het niet gekomen. Zowel
Charles en ik hebben genoten van de gastvrijheid en van de gesprekken.
Veel geleerd vandaag.

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Barentu clothes shops

<Barentu clothes shops
Barentu clothes shops
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
After a few days of long blogs without photos sent by e-mail (yahoo is about all that works here when things are busy), here are a few photos we have managed to upload.

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A biological break spent posing with the cows

While the others were squatting or standing around, we were posing with the small herd of cattle which were coming up the valley.

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Camel trekking down wide river bed, early morning, Gash Barka

Photo taken from the bus. Not so easy to ask the driver to stop when travelling on public transport.

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Storm brewing over Barentu

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Pasticceria Moderna

<Eritrea - Pasticceria Moderna
Pasticceria Moderna
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Where we are meeting Hannah for breakfast tomorrow before going to her house. Fred is very worried that he will be introduced as her fiance or husband, so for tomorrow at least, Fred is engaged to Annemiek.

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Debre Bizen - boy, bird, camel
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Humps... at the bottom of our climb up to Debre Bizen.

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Waiting for a bus which never came

We uploaded a photo!!!!! And only because we are keeping the owner of this internet cafe away from his wife and children by coming on here so late (the only time when you can get any speed on internet here!). Some more to follow.

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The tourist bitches from hell

Colourful ladies in Dekemhare

Maybe it is us, we think sometimes, walking around
being impatient, unfriendly and demanding but then we
think if that was the case why did we not have these
problems before?

Today an argument with the car hire people who could
not give us back the large deposit we had left them
just a few hours before and because they were trying
to get us to pay for more petrol which we actually
used - lucrative when it is a whopping EUR 2.10 a
litre! (We begin to understand why they want to
charge USD 800 for a 700 km trip in a Land Cruiser to

This scene was followed by us walking out of the
restaurant we normally eat at because the waitress
was so unfriendly and rude when cleaning the table and
giving (well throwing) us the menu. I don't think she
really understood WHY we left, bnut maybe one day she
will. Just hope the poor girl doesn't get the sack

On the other hand, we DO have a great time with the
girls in the bar and restaurant of the Khartoum Hotel
every evening and this has sort of become the
highlight of the day for us!

Anyway, we took a car out of teh city, south to
Dekemhare, as it boasted the name of Naples of Italy
(see Naples and die?), with beautiful countryside,
favoured by artists and local wines and fruit
We found a dusty market town set amonst some rather
scrappy dry-ish looking countryside. Good for a few
photos of the colourful market and a good
cappuccino, but not much else. Not sure what happened
to the old Italian villas we were supposed to have

Got to go now... to get that deposit back with as few
tears and stamping around as possible.


As it happened, all went well, deposit returned and over dinner we had a laugh at ourselves for acting like a couple of spoilt brats. We reckon we have had good reason to get fustrated but really Eritrea has more important things to do than make life easy for us two. And despite the setbacks, we have encountered enough friendliness and kindness for this to have been a positive experience overall, and we wait with baited breath for what the rest of Africa has to offer.

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Human sacrifice and all those other horrible things your enemies do

Chatting to an old man in Nefasit earlier today, he
was telling us just how bad the Ethiopians (former
Imperialist rulers of Eritea) are. Not just the
Ethiopian Afars who are far far more backward than the
Afars of Eritrea and Djibouti, but the others too. The
Ethiopians, we should know also commit human sacrifice
and remove people's genitalia and then show them off.

We had heard before a similar story about the Muslims
here, who if they did not have a sheep or goat to
sacrifice at Eid, or after Ramadan, would sacrifice
one of their own children.

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'Waar een wil een??'

Asmaret, Fred and Jonas outside the gelateria

Zaterdagmiddag. Vroeger was dat voor ons het tijdstip om Swiebertje te kijken bij mijn oom en tante en om vervolgens 's avonds in de 'tobbe' te mogen/moeten. Met een beetje geluk mocht je in pyjama nog naar 'Mies' kijken.

Zaterdagmiddag in Asmara is niet de tijd van Swiebertje maar meer de tijd van 'chatten' en 'msn-en'. De internetcafe's zijn overvol en bijna 100% van de mensen zijn bezig om via Yahoo contact te leggen. 's Avonds rond 7 of 8 uur is het onmogelijk om een plekje te bemachtigen en als dat al lukt, dan kun je vergeten om 'on line' te komen.

Vandaag moest ik erg aan mijn vader denken. Voor mijn vader was eigenlijk alles bruikbaar of beter gezegd alles herbruikbaar. De appelmoesblikken stonden keurig gepoetst in de schuur en voldeden prima als opslagplaats voor pootbonen. Tal van plastic emmers, oude jerrycans, stukjes touw en zelfs stukken glas (handig om naast planten te zetten zodat ze extra zon kregen en ze konden tevens dienen als wapen tegen al te vraatzuchtige houtduiven). Naast dit alles was mijn vader ook een meester in het bouwen van allerlei schuurtjes of schapenhokken.
Toen Charles en ik vandaag door het landschap van Eritrea reden, zagen we tal van bouwsels die mij deden denken aan die van mijn vader: met schaarse middelen waren ze daar neer gezet. Op een markt zag ik de hergebruikerscultuur. Met name blik. Tal van blikken afkomstig van Amerikaanse hulporganisaties dienen nu als olielamp, opslagplaats voor bonen (sic), wierookbranders, koffiestoofjes etc. De zakken waar eens graan (gegeven door wederom Amerikaanse hulporganisaties) in had gezeten, waren nu omgetoverd in handige boodschappentassen. Het mooiste vond ik wel de dakgoot met daarop ' USA vitamines'. Ik denk dat mijn vader zich hier prima thuis gevoeld had.

Tijdens onze tocht door Eritrea lopen we tegen zaken op , waarbij wij ons weleens afvragen of het onwil of onkunde is. Het land is nog jong en heeft nog steeds problemen inzake de grenzen. Ethiopie claimt namelijk toegang tot de Rode Zee en wil daarom de stad Assib hebben. Dat wil Eritrea niet geven. Maar wat heeft dat met het feit te maken dat er bijna geen bussen zijn en dat de benzine hier zo'n 2. 30 Euro per liter is? Misschien alles maar misschien ook niets! In ieder geval is reizen een moeilijk probleem zeker met deze prijzen. Als toerist kun je niet geheel vrij reizen maar de 'permits' zijn redelijk makkelijk te regelen. Alleen het vervoer niet. Ga je zelf dingen huren, dan merk je hoe duur het allemaal is.
Het jonge land heeft een langdurige oorlog achter de rug en economisch gaat het niet goed. Toerisme staat nog in de kinderschoenen. En ik kan me ook best voorstellen dat het vervoweren van de bevolking richting hun werk en school belangrijker is dat twee mannnen die graag iets willen zien van hun mooie land.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

With the locals

Agordat colour 8

So, after the six hour hike (not sure if we mentioned
that), we have had two seven hour bus rides from
Asmara to Barentu and back again, both leaving at
break of day, about 5.00 am. The reason we came
straight back is that the bus which took us there was
due to go back today. Otherwise, we faced the prospect
of being stranded there for a few days, so few are the
buses which run currently.

This is due to the current 'situation'. It is not
entirely clear what this situation is, but it is
partly the high oil prices and partly the fact that
the UN is still sorting out the boundary dispute
between Eritrea and Imperialist Ethiopia.

Anyway, being with the locals meant amongst other
things sitting in front of a lady who smelled like
the worst of smells you ever find on a dirty street
market, sitting aside a man who kept telling us to
close the window, watching the goat on top of the bus
fall off and almost strangle himself, watching African
toiletry habits - how they pee into the wind (no tree
or bush or building) and even squat to pee (and during
the two days we saw any people sqatting), eating dry
bread and sweet tea for breakfast, being hauled out of
the bus every now and then for control by the military
authorities who wanted to check our permits and so on.
But is also meant making friends with fellow
passengers and watching the beautiful landscape fold
out before us, endless green vistas, one after the

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Face-to-face with the unknown and unknowable

Barentu streets 3

The tribal people of Gash Barka were quite amazing.
Unfortunately, they seemed very unwilling to have
their photos taken and it proved impossible to find a
quiet dark spot in which to sit and quietly click
without being noticed. And these were people you
really would not want to cross, so this description
will have to do.

The men had either very long fuzzy hair, in an
Afro-style (of all things) or tight curly hanging
locks. They would wear white clothes, colourfully
embroidered in reds, yellows, blues and greens. They
wore nappy-type shorts, loose fitting cloth around
their loins and they would wear whitish tape around
their bare legs, for effect. They carried sticks, in
the shape of an elongated boomerang, which looked very
strong indeed.

The women would often have a large gap between their
front teeth, which could only have been artificially
induced. Their hair would be braided and combed
tightly back at the front out to a wide bushy 'tail'.
Or they would have the tight flowing locks, similar to
the men, only the hair would be decorated with
brightly coloured beads (from India). So, it was an
interesting experience, walking around their town and
their round wooden huts.

At one stage I was face-to-face with one of the
warriors, he looking at me and me looking at him,
eye-to-eye. But it was impossible to communicate with
each other in any way and in an instant the moment passed.

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Classic Africa - like in the nature documentaries!

Village houses in Gash Barka (Western Eritrea)

Wide open skies, mud and straw huts, little herds of
goats running around, a few camels, acacia trees,
kites and ibises flying and whirling around, donkeys
pulling carts, colourful tribal people wandering
around, children playing in the river water, smoke
coming out of the huts, the ladies preparing coffee,
surrounded by the smell of incense, the sun burning
down, little bars and hotels, U.N. soldiers and
World Food Programme, stunted baobab trees, a small
market by the bus station, another in town, selling
bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and sisal products... and
so on...

These were some of the impressions from Barentu,
capital of Gash Barka province in the West of Eritrea,

The day ended spectacularly with a massive storm cloud
brewing up from the north, just as the sun was
setting. The photos (which you may get to see one day)
are amazing. We sat out on the terrace of our Unite
Family Hotel, drinking beers and watching the free
lightning show as the cloud got ever closer. The
cloudburst, when it came was a little disappointing,
but after dinner it started raining consistently, such
that this morning, the rivers were flowing again and
there was a beautiful fresh wet smell to the beautiful
green landscape.

It was an early start again (5.00 am - the day before
having been 2.30 am due to a mix-up with Charles'
alarm clock), and a very dark start as the
electricity had fallen out. We were rewarded with a
very clear view of the late night sky, Mercury just to
the side of the mighty Orion, neither of which we had
seen so far on this trip. A couple of shooting stars
added to the fun.

Again, there were tremendous views on the way back to
Agordat, Keren and Asmara, especially in the early
morning sun. We travelled along a wide flood plain,
surrounded by interesting looking hills (all craggy
and spikey), birds flying over the acacia trees smoke
coming from the round huts in the villages.

These will make for some of the more positive
impressions left by Eritrea. Truth be told, we are
really quite fed up with things here and the complete
inability to plan anything and the willingness of
people to say 'no' to any request we may have. This is
the subject (maybe) of another blog, if ever we get to
make it back onto internet. (Get the picture).

Onward plans are still unknown, but if miracle of
miracles we manage to get a ticket for the bus to
Assab on Tuesday (now that Monday was sold out behind
our backs), we may take this. The alternative is the
Sunday flight to Djibouti.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Twenty minutes up a mountain

Eritrea - a pause on the way up, Debre Bizen
Well, today we finally made it out of Asmara. It was
to be a short trip down the valley to Nefasit and a
short visit to the monastery there, maybe back by
lunch or at least tea-time.

But first we needed to finalise our booking for the
bus to Assab, in the south which will be our
sprinboard into Djibouti, now that our English and
Dutch speaking friend down there has found someone who
is wiling to take us across the border (we have our
visas) and take us to "O" from where we can take a
boat across the bay to Djibouti City, away from the
dangers of pirates, which are found out at sea. From
Djibouti City it is just 20 miles to the Somaliland
border, not sure of this is open, but we will see.
Funnily enough we have not met ANYONE who has been to
Somaliland, during our whole trip. Funny that!

Anyway, having been told twice yesterday to come back
today to make a reservation on the bus, we were told,
quite happily by the two women who could have helped
us that it would not be possible to put our name down
for a bus next week, not even if we were not yoo
bothered about it leaving on Monday, Tuesday or
Wednesday. Eventually we found a man who gave us a
number we can ring on Friday, to get a seat for next
week. We will see.

So now, we just had to find a bus to Nefasit, which
was only 20 kilometers away. Well, cutting a long
story short, after Fred waited in a queue for a bus
whichj might or might not go to Nefasit (down what
must be one of the busiest roads in Eritrea), along
with women, chickes, babies and bundles of flour, we
decided to go with a taximan, who was willing to drive
us down and wait for us.

The trip down from the Asmara plateau to the coastal
plain was very picturesque, as it followed the route
of the Italian-built Asmara-Massawa railway, all
tunnels, bridges and twists. Nefasit turned out not to
be much of a town, but it has the distinction of being
very close to Debre Bizen, a very famous Eritrean
Orthodox monastery. It promised to have a library with
many very old, beautifully illuminated manuscripts
belonging to the Church, as well as having wonderful

Our friend at the tourist office told us it was a 20
minute walk up from the twon to the monastery. Our
taxi driver doubted this and said we would take 2
hours to get up and down. From what I could see of the
very high mountain, even that looke d abit optimistic.
We were offered a guide, in a very take-it or leave-it
kind of way, after all the path went directly up to
the monastery. But more in order to avoid being
pestered by other chaps wanting to take us up, we
decided to take Rina's nephew Iskinder with us (Rina,
speaks Italian and runs the Rina Bar, a roadside cafe
with posters of Dutch tulips and David Beckham on the
walls, bottles of Eritrean grappa and sambuca on the
shelves behind the bar and a fridge full with
sparkling mineral water and cold beer).

Before we knew it we had attracted another guide, a
mini one called Natu (9 years old), and off they raced up the
mountainside, Fred and I lumbering behind. Fred has
not been too fit these past few days and I have been
having some nasty problems with teh dry skin on my
heels, making walking normally very painful....

Anyway, it was almost three hours later that we
finally made it up to Debre Bizen. We only managed it
through the skill of Iskinder (18 years old) motivating Fred to keep
going, when Fred felt quite keen to call it quits.
Amazing! He would make an excellent PE teacher.

The journey was very vertical, very spectacular, very
treacherous, with gravel and rocks slipping underneath
our tread. All right for the young ones who as good as ran up the hill vertically, taking all the shortcuts through the prickly and strong cacti and the thorny acacias. We were supposed to folow, but it was usually some distance behind when Natu wasn't giving us a helping hand (literally holding outr hands).

We passed beautiful flowers, butterflies, a
grasshopper, saw beautiful birds, including the
magnificent peregrine falcon, and heard and saw a few
families of baboons (a bit scarey they were too,
making all those aggressive noises).

The monastery reminded us very much of an Italian
hilltop village, old style, full of agricultural
buildings, donkeys, goats, cattle and camels. Not many
monks to be seen unfortunately. We were not shown
inside the church or the chapel or the library,
instead to an old shed, painted yellow and green, and
were served with sweet tea and enjera with very spicy
sauce. Not the most welcoming welcome, but it was what
we needed before the climb below. Didn't see many monks but heard them praying as we entered and then one racing throuhg some prayer at teh speed of a Peter 'Sullevan commentary oon a never-ending sicx furlong sprint at Goodwood!

We arrived back six hours after we had left, a long twenty minutes.

We are thinking that it is very difficult to arrange
anything here in Africa (and it is not only us but
also the journalist and PhD student we met up with for
dinner last night for a very enjoyable Italian meal),
but when yuu finally do, there is SUCH a sense of
achievement! And so it seems!

Tomorrow, we leave at 4.30 am fro Barentu, capital of
teh Barka-Gash province in the West and we should be
back here in Asmara on Saturday or Sunday, after
stopping off in Keren.

See you then!


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