Travel To Eritrea
Travelling to Eritrea I was a bit skeptical, but a friend of mine who visits Eritrea a number of times told me to come along with him. Since it was only for a few days I decide to tag along and see what the lovely and intriguing country had to offer. Eritrea is bordered by Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti. The north and eastern part of Eritrea run along the coast of the Red Sea and is directly across Yemen and Saudi Arabia and also includes the Hanish Islands and the Dahlak Archipelago.
Eritrea has slowly started coming back into its own, after decades of war .Its home to a large variety of wild life as well as flora and fauna. All these factors have contributed in increasing the popularity of ecotourism in Eritrea. We landed into Asmara the capital city. The airport was not too far away. Asmara has lot of remnants of Italian architecture. The city is dotted with mosques, cathedrals and markets.
We started our day sightseeing in Asmara. The Cathedral which is red in color and built in Lombardian style when Eritrea was an Italian colony, was very hard not to miss as it stood in the middle of the city. The clock tower rises about 57 meters into the sky and we got to climb up and to have a look at the fabulous view of the city. We then went to see the biggest mosque, Khalufa el Rashidin. Marble for this mosque was brought in from an Italian quarry. The mosque was built in 1937. The market surrounding the cathedral was really interesting. It had handicrafts and lots of exquisite jewellery in gold and silver. We took our time walking through the market and picking up a few interesting souvenirs to take back home with us.
From there we went to the National Museum, which was once the residence of the colonial rulers. The museum is divided into three parts – the military, the archaeological and the ethnographical. It basically promotes Eritrean history and culture to both within the country and abroad. We also went and had a look at The Mir-Jahjah Fountain.
Eritrea is rich in natural scenery .Eritrea has five eco systems –Sahel, maritime, savanna, desert and mountain. One gets to appreciate and see three seasons literally in just a span of two hours.
Not only is Eritrea rich naturally but historically it features some of the best religious sites. It was among the first countries in the world to accept Christianity and Islam. It has some of the oldest established mosques, churches and monasteries in the world.
Having read a lot before coming to Eritrea, I was very keen to see what the outdoor world of Eritrea had to offer. I had read a lot about the Dahlak Islands. More than 200 of Eritrea’s islands belong to the Dahlak archipelago and they provide a fabulous opportunity to go scuba diving and fishing. We were told of the numerous varieties of fish that we would get to see and that waters were nicknamed “fish soup” because of the 1000 plus variety of fish and marine life. The Red Sea has many unusual varieties of fish and coral. We had to get permission to visit and go scuba diving. The Dahlak Archipelago has been designed as a national park after the war and the instructors are all mostly freedom fighters who fought for independence. We charted a boat from the port of Massawa .A large number of the islands is uninhabited. The largest of the islands is Dahlak Kebir and is the chief port for pearl fishing.
Scuba diving in these waters was just amazing. We got to see turtles-the hawksbill, green species and leatherbacks. We even got to see Manta rays, which have wings measuring up to several meters. A pod of Dolphins swimming and playing in the surrounding waters was truly an incredible sight. The other magnificent creature that is present in these waters is the Dugong or the sea cow, which of course we didn’t get a chance to see. This creature is the start of fishermen stories about mermaids. They are rarely seen and are grey and cylindrical in shape and can weigh over 900 kilos.
There were over twelve sea wrecks located in the waters of the Red Sea. Some of these include wrecks from World War II. These wrecks are home to a wide variety of fish and other species.
I wanted to swim at night to be able to experience a wonderful wonder of nature called bioluminescence. As we moved through the water at night, a greenish sparkling light exploded around our fingers and limbs. It was truly magical. This amazing light show is produced by the tiny living creatures around the water. This entire experience to me was by far the best.
Eritrea is steeped in so much of history as well and we were keen to visit the Ruins of Adulis. The old port lies about 59 kms away from Massawa and was excavated as it had links with the Roman, Egyptian and Greek empires and with distant ports. In the 3rd century AD it was considered to be one of the most important ports along the coast of the Red Sea, where trade flourished from the Mediterranean right up to India. There are tombs, a Christian Church and a palace and also a temple for the worship of the sun. We spent almost the entire day walking and exploring the area. One day hopefully this may be turned into a world heritage site by UNESCO.
We wanted to do a bit of hiking and decided to visit Filfil. It was indeed a hidden paradise, as this is one of the last remnants of the evergreen forest belt in Eritrea. It is permanently green and is covered with lush green plantations and forests. It was a lovely clear day and the coast of the Red Sea was also visible with the coastal plains spreading as far the eye could see. The flora and fauna of the area was beautiful. We got to see some lovely birds like the hornbill, orioles, canaries and many more. The wildlife as well was beautiful. Hiking up to this part of the country was well worth it. It was indeed a breath of fresh air!
The other city we wanted to visit was Keren which was 91 kms from Asmara and is a popular weekend retreat for the people of Asmara. As we entered Keren, we came across what is called “Gira Fiori” or circle of flowers where all roads meet. Trade thrived thanks to the Old Italian Railway. We visited the most famous shrine of St. Mary of Da’arit famously called as Mariam Da’arit (Madonna of the Baobab) .It is a large open shrine, as a sign of unity and religious devotion. The shrine is in an orchard of guava and orange trees. We stopped for a coffee at the Old Italian Railway Station, which is now a café and a bus station. Keren has a lot of Italian influence and heritage that is still visible and present.
Nearing the end of our trip we decided to visit Massawa or the Pearl of the Red Sea. Massawa has a very Arab feel with its low porticoes and arcades, white washed buildings. Massawa is a natural deep harbor and its strategic position was very important for trade. Massawa consists of two islands that are linked by causeways -Tiwalet and Old Massawa(Wishti Batzie).We visited one of the oldest mosques in Africa –Shaafi Mosque. About 150 meters from the port is the house of Abu Hamdum.It is a great example of Turkish Ottoman architecture. The Sheikh Hanafi Mosque is over 500 years old and had chandeliers from the glassworks of Murano near Italy. It was beautiful to see this part of the city. It was like walking into some other world.
My holiday to Eritrea was indeed lovely. I was pleasantly surprised to see all that it had to offer!