Between the border of Djibouti and the immigration office of Eritrea there are 20 km. In spite of being a big desert everywhere, this short distance was wonderful. The only way didn’t have any sand, the wind blew up in favour and the sunset landscape made me feel so good that I didn’t want to reach.
The first village on the side of Eritrea is called Rahaita, a small population where there aren’t more than 500 people and without any hotel. Luckily, when I arrived there, immigration officials received me and I was offered bed and food for the night
Speaking with them I knew that I couldn’t go on cycling. I had entered to the country from the south by the only possible way: Djibouti, but from here the region was impossible to cycle as I would enter in the depths of Danakil Desert.
My first target was to reach to Assab, an important city in the south of Eritrea. It is near the border, although it nearly doesn’t have any communication. Most of its 80 km of the route are changeable; there is a strong wind the whole day which make the sand dune move. People who don’t know it, lost their way and the few four by four that try to cross this area finish in a traffic jam. This information plus my experience in danakil desert in the other countries made me think, and I took the decision to don´t risk more.
Therefore I was delayed two days trying to get a transport to Assab. It was 1.00 am when the immigration official woke me up having an offer to travel in an old van, which carried 11 people and who knew how many kilos of goods. In the beginning I had a doubt, but I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of the desert waiting for a miracle. I was really luckily, because sometimes a mean of transport to Assab can delay one week and, at least, if these people take risk, why not me?
We have been travelling for more than four hours, but as we were in the ninth of the Islam calendar “Ramadan” we stop to pray and eat before dawn.
According to the Muslim custom, Ramadan is the period of the year which people purify their body; they don’t eat any substance from dawn to the sunset. In this way the first meal of day is done at daybreak. It was 4 pm, when we stopped in a small village where there was a mosque. Soon I realized that I was alone, everybody went to pray, but I didn’t matter, I lay down on the sand to wait for them, in front of the van.
After a while, I heard some voices and I felt I was shaken, but I was nearly as sleep. They were my mates who were sitting next to me to have a picnic and they told me camel! camel! offering me a glass of milk. I didn’t want to drink a glass of milk at that moment but I couldn’t say “no” to their invitation. However, denying would have been the best option. After the first glass of camel milk I thanked them and I said that it was enough for me, but they couldn’t understand and insisted to go on drinking and eating. It was a matter of education so I accept something like a pancake and I drunk another three glasses of milk, in spite of telling him over and over again “la shukran gazilan, la shukran gazilan” that means “no, thank you very much”.
We arrived at Assab at 7.00 am, I farewell my friends and I stayed in a hotel in the town. Assab is the second biggest harbour in the country, but its activity has been reduced in a great scale. During centuries, it was the main port for the Ethiopian, but in 1998 another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea ended its great movement. This caused that all the maritime trade of Ethiopia was done through Djibouti and became Assab much more than a far away place.
I stayed two days in the city and I liked it. Quiet and clean streets with a lot of trees distinguished this place and I felt as if I was in my neighbourhood, San Andres.
Travelling by bus or truck from Assab to Massawa a couple of years ago, it could take between 3 and 5 days, despite there are only 600 km between them. Today most of these kilometres have been improved, but anyway, you need a lot of patience and more than 24 hs to cross the inhospitable desert of Danakil.
Distances between towns were far, sometimes almost 200 km. It was impossible to cross it with the bike. Generally when I know that to cover a distance will be complicated; sand roads, with stones or without places to get some water or food; I try that there aren’t more than 100, or 120 km; if not they would be a risk. This doesn’t mean they are safe at all, a problem in my bike or a joint on the road/ junction of roads, as the one I suffered in the north of the Djiboutian desert, could complicate my day.
Finally, I arrived in Massawa in the morning on the second day, thinking about a heavenly place as a lot of people have told me about the wonders of this city and its coast. But it wasn’t like that, because Massawa is in the middle of the desert, consequently its beaches are short at green.
Geographically, this city is an island, joined to the continent through a bridge and it has an European style of architecture that was recuperated during the last years, after being the centre of unfinished battles.
While speaking with Eritrean people, having nothing to do with the topic in question, I felt that they always mention their fear to a new war. It is difficult to believe that in spite of being invaded during more that 300 years by the Turks, then by the Egyptians and lately by the Italians, they have only one enemy and it is Ethiopia.
It sent shivers down my back, Mr Getakune´s stories, a man in his fifties and, as every Eritrean´s man, who enlisted to fight for the Rights of his country. “Eritrea is a small country, it has 3,5 millions of inhabitants, and Ethiopia has 60. “Its army seemed to multiply, we waited for them in the border and killed them, but there were always more” He told me with his eyes full of tears. “Men do military service up to 40 years old”
And a woman who is called Ana, with some friends “we have also been to the war, Eritrean´s women had to perform our duty to be there”
Definitely, Massawa and its people affected me deeply. I have never seen a place post-war so near. It has passed three years since then, and a lot of its people can’t forget yet.