During the last day in Ramadan, the main mosque of the city was attended by thousands of people to celebrate Id al Fitr, one of the most important celebrations in the Islam Calendar.
Arriving at the capital city – Km 27,750
From Massawa to the capital city, there are only 115 km of pavement, but to get there I needed to cycle for nearly two days.
Due to the heat of the desert, the first day I started after 2 pm, and before sunset I reached to Gahatelay, a small town which the only hotel is a hut made of straw with some linen beds. Gahatelay is the last town in the desert, from here the road goes into the mountains. It was very difficult to establish a fluent communication with its inhabitants: they speak “Tigrinya”, the official language of Eritrea, although they also speak Arabian because they practise Muslim Religion.
It was really hard to cycle on the second day. I did 70 km. They didn´t give respite, from the plain of the desert up to 2400 mts. It was a constant ascend which I started at dawn, with only a packet of biscuits that was afterwards compensated.The scenery was changing while the temperature was going down. I crossed many villages that, different to the lowlands, had crows and animals.
After the first 20 km of an endless climbing, which has nearly taken three hours, I arrived at Ghinda. There was a bar with a blender. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I thought I was dreaming; I have cycled more than 15,000 kilometres in Africa, and I couldn’t have tasted a banana milk shake, and I love it. The owner of this bar have neither milk nor bananas so I went to a supermarket to get these ingredients as I was incredible thirsty and a milk shake was the best option.
Something really unpleasant happened to me near Asmara. While crossing a small village, many children aged between 8 – 10, rounded me and started to ask for some money. It is their custom because of being a white man. As many other times, I went on cycling, but suddenly they picked up stones and run towards me, shouting “give me money” give me money”, they threatened me at only 6 or 7 metres of distance.
I didn’t know what to do, I was angry and terrified. Desperately, I cycled faster, staring at them. I only wish not to be hurt, and I didn’t know my reaction. Meanwhile I was going further; they threw the stones to me. I tried to find an elder person to calm them down but it was useless. Fortunately, I was not injured as none of the 10 or 12 stones that were thrown, touched me and furthermore, this situation helped me to climb faster the other big slope.
Asmara, the capital city – Km 27,820
I arrived at Asmara in the afternoon, I was absolutely exhausted and starving. I have been cycling more than 7 hours. I toured the city for a while and I lodged in a small hotel which had more facilities than I really needed.
Asmara is a different city comparing it with the other African capital cities I have visited, its streets are neat with asphalted pavement and they all have sidewalk.
It was easy to feel Italian influence. In its main avenue, there are tens of bars where mainly elder people go, the only generation among the population who speak Italian. I could see them coming into that bar 4 by 4 or 5 by 5, with their hands in their pockets, sitting at round tables asking for a cappuccino with a donut, it was funny for me. Definitely, this was different from what I have seen in the other countries of Africa.
The inhabitants in the capital city are more than half a million and most of them are Christians. The Muslims, that in the country are the 50% of the population, mainly live on the coast and in the border with Sudan. Even so, after the last day in Ramadan, the main mosque of the city was attended by thousands of people to celebrate Id al Fitr, one of the most important celebrations in the Islam Calendar.
I got up early that day and before 7:00 I was there. People began to arrive from different directions, and in less than one hour, the square that is located in front of the mosque and the streets were full of followers. While they were arriving, they took off their shoes and sat on rugs that each one brought. Afterwards they prayed and sang for over two hours. It was the end of Ramadan for them, and they celebrated it in this way.
Looking for sponsors
In spite of not being in an economical crisis as in other moments in my trip, the end of my journey through Africa and the beginning of my next step, Europe, pushed me to think about needs of new sponsors.
Trying to get there in this city was much more difficult of what I had imagined: Eritrea is a new country where most of the companies are state properties, only some of them are private ones. I have visited more than 20 companies, but I always found the same answer “guy, this company is a state one, and in fact, you are not going to stay here for a long time to get some money, not only is it very difficult but bureaucratic as well.
But as if this journey would be appointed to go on the right track, with such a persevering attitude; consequently it appeared those people who said “we will help you” I can mention, i.e. Coca Cola, that through Coca Djibouti that knew I would arrive, or William, a French man who is the manager of the Hotel Intercontinental, whose hobby is also cycling.
I was also supported by Beraki and its team, who owns the cable TV chain of Eritrea: DSTV. Beraki has heard about me in Kenya. The Prime Secretary of Eritrea Embassy in Nairobi, who I had visited, to told him. Finally, Mitchell Cotts Company, an import trade Company whose Director is a member of Eritrea Olympic Committee and who had traveled to Argentina to see the Worldwide Soccer Junior Championship. I want to thank all of you to let me go on.
I was in Asmara for more than a month. I visited its media: newspapers, television and radio. I also bought spare parts for my bike and to fix the back carrier, though I had welded it in Massawa.
Promises done by the people of Sudan Embassy, which were not fulfilled, were the reason I was really delayed in Asmara.
Waiting for my visa, I have decided to go to the west to know this country a little more.
Keren is the third biggest city of Eritrea. It is at 100 km from Asmara and the weather is better than in the capital city, due to the fact that its altitude, which is 1000 meters less; for this reason it was a great pleasure to cycle up to there: nearly 50 km in a constant descend.
When I arrived, I went to the main street; there were a lot of people, most of them Muslim, who wanted to look at my bike. Something was funny while I was sitting on the pavement drinking a carton of milk, a man thought I was begging and he was going to give me some money, and I started laughing. I told him that I didn’t need that, as I was right only trying to recover strength and that I was enjoying the landscape. The man was well-mannered; he kept his note in his pocket and went walking, feeling a little ashamed. This experience wasn’t the first one for me. Staying sitting on a street is a beggar’s attitude for the Africans.
During the colony period, Keren was a strategic place for the Italians, making the rail construction which joined Massawa with Asmara longer up to here. Only this first section had 30 tunnels and 65 bridges.
While I was there, I knew Yassini, an elder man who remembered his father’s stories. At that time, big constructions were done which were very useful for the development of the country, such as the one that nowadays is the national network of routes; useful systems of irrigation and a lot of urban planning and constructions.
But, in fact, at the beginning of the colony system, during 20s and 30s, there was a discrimination system similar to the apartheid in South Africa, in Eritrea. Italian and local children were taught in different school, also with different books and levels. Men, who were born there, could not learn any profession, or have their own business. They could only work for the Italians. They were also obliged to abandon their house or their best lands to grow, keeping distance where the Italians live. The man who did not obey rules, was under arrest or killed without any reason.
On my last day in Keren I knew the “Camel Wood Market”, where people from different places go to this old market with their camels loaded with firewood or other goods to sell. Camels are included in this trade. Generally, village people sell a heap of firewood in 50 or 60 nakfas; it is U$$ 3. But buying a camel cost 9.000 or 10.000 nakfas.
In my opinion, it was expensive, but they explained that not only having a camel is good for a person, but it is good for the village as well; and at least every Monday, they were going on coming to the “Camel Wood Market”