The Road To Asmara

The city of Asmara

A trip to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is essential. Do it if you have the chance because it is a wonderful city perched in the mountains above the clouds.

Before I continue any further I can’t help but post up one of my fave pictures taken in Asmara. I call it ‘Telephone Lady’:

For us, coming from Massawa, we took a four hour bus journey up through the mountains, stopping off half way for sweet tea. The journey was more impressive than the capital itself!

Pictures speak a thousand words and so here they are. There are so many I have tried to divide them up into sections spread over a couple of pages, so the pics of Asmara will be published in a few hours. They are a better set than these pics as the journey up was plagued by dark cloud, which is not great for photography. Still, these images should paint a nice story of the journey up that mountain road.

We began by leaving Massawa and immediately hit the hills, quickly shifting from dry to verdant. For whatever reasons there was much cloud cover and it was rather misty and grey. We passed many townships, some farming, some industrial.

A treat for us (and the bus driver) was stopping off half way up the mountains for a tea and wee break in a wonderful market village. Check this dude out, I love the way he can drape a dirty bit of pink cloth around his shoulder and carry it off with some style.

We attempted to distribute pens and cigarettes to the locals but it got a bit manic and one man was beaten away by the bus driver to prevent him from clambering over Astrid of ‘Storm Dodger’!

As usual the children were amused by my camera and quite keen to have their photograph taken, even if it meant grabbing the nearest goat to get my attention!

Bicycles feature a lot in Eritrea, for obvious reasons.

And if you don’t have a bike, then there’s always your artiodactyls to choose from…

The less said about the state of the toilets at these tea-drinking establishments the better so we jumped back on the bus and I’ll now tell you exactly how cool Ian of ‘Rhumb Do’ is. As we approached the upper parts of the mountains we were suddenly surrounded by about 20 baboons!

We pleaded with the driver to slow down so the gawping tourists could poke their cameras out of the window to get some shots.

Tony, ever the naturalist, decided the monkeys might be hungry so he threw out some bread. He wasn’t wrong because another 10 baboons appeared and before we knew it the largest of the group bounced up to the open window right by Ian. He curiously poked his head in to the bus and, despite 20 hysterical yotties screaming and jumping up and down, he nonchalantly scanned the bus for food.

Ian sat rigid, unmoving. His unblinking face was just inches away from our furry cousin and thought it best not to move. There’s a possible theory Ian was actually sh!tting bricks but we’ll just say his naval training had taught him to remain motionless when in danger.

At this point the bus driver appeared with his stick again and beat the baboon back out the window. No animals were harmed during this adventure.

Another curiosity was the appearance of terracing in the steep hills. They looked ancient and only patches of them were still being tended. How did these terraces get there, why was there so many and exactly how old are they? Can anyone help?

We break through the clouds and believe  we’ve made it. We hadn’t as it was another small town and we stopped to view the shambles of the houses the locals were dwelling in.

Finally we got to the very highest mountain and the road leveled off.

We were in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea.

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17 Comments on “The Road To Asmara”

  1. Blimey-what atmospheric pictures. Don’t think Thomas Cook will be interested in offering such a trip in their winter brochure! 🙂

  2. The terraces could well be ancient: only close study would answer your question. What is interesting is the reason for the abandonment of so many of them. The reasons might be political (there has been a lot of war in the region for decades) or climatic.

  3. Great shots, as usual. Couldn’t find any info relating to the terraced hills though.

    Nice pictures of local monkeys… looks like the perfect place for Jason Cooper :-))

  4. Isn’t this world simply amazing? Who knew about such a place before? Thank you Jamie. I am off to investigate and learn more about this intriguing land.

  5. The terraces are probably pretty new. The government sends kids out with their teachers during summer vacation to terrace and plant tree to reduce the high rates of erosion. The summer reforestation program is called “Matote.” Kids generally enjoy Metote because they would be doing farm work during vacation anyways. I taught in Eritrea 1997-98.

    1. Hi Rick. We really appreciate you taking time out to explain the terraces. It really puzzled us as we weaved our way through those misty mountain roads. We loved Asmara and regret not spending more time there. As someone who worked in Eritrea I’m sure you appreciate where we’re coming from. It really is a beautiful country, political and social problems aside.

  6. Thanks Jamie, I am from Eritrea. And i can tell you that, there are no political problems in Eritrea. The only problem in Eritrea, if there is any is started by the West, including the problems in Somalia. The people and Government of Eritrea, are proud people who just want to be left alone, so they can build the country.

  7. Hi Jaime, lovely pictures. I only found your collection of photos btw, when I was browsing for some pictures on Asmara, but the title you gave the collection of your pictures, made me curious enough to view them and read the descriptions you gave them. Which I enjoyed. I also continued reading through the comments, which were also lovely until the last comment that you made. And I am wondering Jamie, how you could you make such a judgement or criticism about the political and social problems of a nation in which you only stayed for only a few days?


    1. Hi Theo, glad you liked the photos. Eritrea, according to official UN figures, is the third-poorest country in the world. You don’t have to spend long in Massawa to see the abject poverty, the bullet-ridden, empty and decaying buildings, families living in lean-to shacks constructed out of cardboard, or children playing football with a stone. That is not to say the people are unhappy, but there is no denying the level of destitution many people live in. That is what I meant by social problems. As for political issues, are you telling me Eritreans are empowered to demonstrate freely, to publicly declare their own political, anti-government persuasions without any kind of retribution from the authorities? What of the ongoing border disputes with neighbouring Djibouti and (north) Sudan? Are these not political problems? There are social and political problems in the UK too, and you have every right to declare that. I will not get upset or defensive about it, it is just fact. Eritrea is still one of my most fave countries I have ever visited. I tell everyone how wonderful the Eritreans are, how beautiful the countryside is, how fantastic the towns and cities are, but like most countries in the world it is not without its problems, and to deny this is to live in ignorance.

  8. You have a remarkable heart for taking truths that many of my family members (Eritreans) find difficult and elusive to face about the politcail problems (I am not sure if you visited any poltical/religion prison), and unfolding them with simple and brief clarity.

    I am very thankful for taking your time to share the truth freely and gently. Happy 4th of July and God Bless you!


  9. Hi jamie i just saw the photos of eritrea and i liked because eritrea is one fo the most beautiful country i likee the way you portrayed everything and obvoiusly the pictures say more than any word can and i like how you acknowlegded the problem that eritrea has socially and poletically and simon or whoever you r no disrespect but u dont know anything

    1. Thanks, Abrham, for the comment. We adored the people of Eritrea and the beauty of the country. We would love to go back and spend more time there one day.

  10. I was stationed in the Army there in Asmara from 56 to 59 and made the trip from Massawa to Asmara probably 25 times taking large leather pounches with locks on them filled with classified information from our receiver and transmitter sites outside Asmara down to the US navy ships that docked in Massawa. It was a scary trip them lots of “Shifta’s” bandits on the mountain road. We went well armed with a machine gun mounted in the back of the jeep and one guy glued to the bonoculars. Baboons everywhere and they could get quite nasty. You dare not stop. There was one stop one the way down with two houses and they served great tea and a Italian like bread. Only a few other buildings existed on that trip 60 years ago. But it was exiting as an 18 year old and have fond memories of the people in my 31 month tour duty there.

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