Well, our Freedom stamp worked.... We along with 5 friends piled into the trusty old smoking cab/van jalopy and headed for the hight country. Job, our driver wasn't really interested in making any speed records. We were stopped at the first of 5 checkpoints to check our "FREEDOM STAMPS"....They worked! Up into the mountains...steep windy switchbacks for 4+ hours. The seats in our vehicle weren't standard vehicle seats. They were made to pile as many passengers in for short trips as possible = HARD. We found ourselves changing cheeks and hanging on as we zigzagged up the bumpy road. Herds of goats, sheep, camels and cattle slowed our progress. Each herd was usually tended by a young boy dressed like he was in a 2000 year old flash back.... Long robe type garments with a turban on the head. The country side was dry and desolate. If rocks were in demand this place would be a world supplier. The rope across the road was dropped for us to proceed past the final check point and we entered the capital city of Asmara. This city was built by the Italians in the 1800s. Much of the architecture is still in tact. Also, there are many Italian restaurants and you can get an espresso on just about any corner. We rumbled up to our hotel to find that it was completely booked. After little looking around we found 3 rooms in 2 different hotels a block apart. Ours had an ensuite and even one light bulb that worked. (what do ya want for $10 a night!).. First order of business.... Pizza! (and lasagna). Judy was locked in battle with the "two step" and after the delicious meal we headed back to the room ~ pronto! After an hour or so she emerged from the bathroom and declared she was ready to venture out a little. We headed to the recycle market. What a place! There are shops here that are creating stuff from recycled material. They make everything from bedroom furniture to bicycles. Welding torches are popping and metal is being pounded into countless shapes.. the noise is a symphony of clattering, banging, pounding and popping. Each shop is producing a different product. Many are run by families. The kids are painting while dad is pounding out some creation from a discarded oil drum. A little something from nothing!!! Dave could have spent his entire time there. The workers were all really friendly and would stop, smile and strike up a conversation. I guess you could call it that. Mostly sign language.
There are really no tourists here. As a matter of fact, the US state department has recommended against us even being here.....So here we are. It's hard to find a place that doesn't have tourists these days. We feel like were seeing the real country. Next stop.......back to the room with the ensuite, tout suite! That was really all we did that day. Our friends headed out to dinner...we stayed close to the ensuite....caught up on some reading. TV was kewl...3 channels... All in Arabic ......Next morning.... Head out for a breakfast coffee and pastry. ... It's Palm Sunday.. we wander the streets meeting folks and looking for someplace open that serves a real breakfast.... No luck.. We heard there were some baboons at the garbage dump so half of us went out there. We opted out, hitting the fruit/veggie market instead. These are always interesting. You get to meet people and interact with them. There is always lots of activity and all the different fruits and veggies are stacked up in a colorful display. It's an overload on the senses.
After lunch "Italiano" it was time to head down the road back to Massawa where Freebird is waiting patiently. We (now nine of us) all pile in for the long journey.......First check point......They don't seem to like our drivers papers.... Back to the city where Job heads to the appropriate office while we sit the sun for 2 hours ~ waiting. We are on display. Soon people gather around the van. Most are just interested in the strange creatures inside. Some are selling their wares. Some are beggars. Soon we are all tired and cranky. There is talk of spending another night. We need to return to Freebird. The battery needs to be charged or we will loose all our food in the refer. We wait....our driver still doesn't show up. We wait some more.... Finally, Judy sees a van and flags it down. She asks if the guy wants to take us to Massawa.. NO, he says but he offers to take us to his friend who he thinks can do it. Dave jumps in the van and disappears around the corner for 20 minutes . After some negotiation, a price is agreed upon and triumphantly Dave returns with his prize. We all pile in and off we go..... To the tire shop. We put some nice new "used" tires on and away we go.... To pick up the real driver that has a Freedom Stamp to travel to Massawa. So off we go.... To the gas station... So off we go.....to Massawa! We did spot some baboons along the road. They came up to the van with angry smiles.
Three and a half hours and 5 check points later we spot Freebird's anchor light in the bay This will not go down as one of our more fun trips but who said it was all fun out here. We will always carry the memories with us of the smiling people of Eritrea..
As I write this we are anchored off a small island north of Massawa. We had a beautiful sail most of the way. We gave Freebird a bath to get the dessert sand off the decks. The moon is full, The air has cooled down. The breeze is light. We're working our way north again. Tomorrow we rise early to sail about 30 hours to our next destination.
Oh & yeh, well, when the other 4 hiked off to find baboons at the "dump", they spotted a few in the binoculars & got a far away photos. Well, on our way back down the mountains there were a large family along the side of the road. We pulled over as fast as we can & before we can get our camera's out we are surrounded. The few of us who had open windows were a bit intimidated but we have a good shot of one through the window for you when we get to the next internet. There was not a connection here in either Massawa or Asmara. We probably can't check the gmail/Facebook until Suakin in about a wk... sorry. Please write to us here if we haven't answered you lately on the gmail ok?
PS Here is the Wikipedia address for Asmara if you want to take a look, click here.