Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sketches of a trip : Eritrea 2011

Sketch Five

A visit to Eritrea would not be complete without visiting Semenawi Bahri (It means Northern Sea in Tigrigna. The area is commonly referred to as Filfil/Solomuna). This is Eritrea’s “rain forest”. The area is the most “northerly rainforest in Africa”. It has one of the best roads built by Eritrean ingenuity. It is also “the under/undiscovered jewel of bird watching in the world”. So far, there are 560 species of birds identified in Eritrea and most of them are in the Semenawi Bahri. For detailed information on bird watching in Eritrea, please check the link at the bottom of this sketch.

I took this tour with two of my colleagues. We met early in the morning and left Asmara. Asmara is the capital city of Eritrea. Asmara is a shorter version of Arbate Asmara (in Tigrigna, it means "they (women) who united the four"). Asmara's humble beginnings started when the women of four villages (Geza Gurotom, Geza Shelele, Geza Serenser and Gaza Asmae') tired of continous warfare, united their villages and menfolk and brought peace. Even today, Asmara is the "safest city in the world".

After driving for half an hour, we reached the town of Serejaka, which is located about 20 miles north of Asmara on the Asmara-Keren road. We made a right turn at Serejaka and drove east. After driving 10 miles east of Serejaka, we entered Eritrea’s National Park. The official welcome sign to the park reads “Take nothing else, but photos. Leave nothing else, but footprints". The road which was planned, financed and built by Eritrea became operational in 2006. Once in the park, one witnesses Eritrea’s engineering feat marvel with the road winding down from 7874 feet to 2296 feet in just 22 miles with over 40 switchbacks.

From the website of Bird watching in Eritrea: accessed on 1/7/2012

We stopped at different places to film and take still pictures. Even though it was a very windy day, it didn’t deter us from stopping and enjoying the view. Driving down the winding road, one encounters many spectacular vistas. Within the aforementioned miles, there are three recreational centers: Mogo, Sabur and Medhanit. Eritrea’s major state of the art printing press company is named after Sabur. It is important to note that the entire Semenawi Bahri area had a very significant historical role in the struggle for independence of Eritrea.

All the above pictures are by Yemane Andebrehan

After driving for a couple of hours, we stopped for breakfast at the recreational center of Medhanit, which has a restaurant and a small hotel. After we arrived and ordered our food, a group of Eritreans who were visiting Semenawi Bahri, entered the restaurant. As everywhere and anywhere in Eritrea, it didn't take time for us to get acquainted and be good friends, simultaneously. After we ate our breakfast and bid our fellow visitors good bye, my colleagues and I went to film the hotel (located within the compound of the recreation center) that was built by the Italians. After filming, we went to pay our bill, but were told that our bill was covered by the people whom we had met and just bid goodbye. This is another Eritrean hallmark that Eritreans encounter anywhere in the world, regardless of one’s age, gender or religion.

After Medhanit, we reached the small town of Filfil, which is located at the base of the escarpment. We then turned right and continued towards the town of Gahtelai. Before we reached Gahtelai, we turned right towards Mai Wu’uey (the direct translation in Tigrigna is “hot water”). Mai Wu'uey is known for its hot spring. People have been going to Mai Wu'uey to shower in its hot spring for a long time. We saw and talked to many people who had come for its "healing power". Among the people we saw was Wedi Feraday who had been there for a week with his family. As soon as we arrived, we were offered enta'te'h (ground flax seed mixed with water) to soothe the thirst. With a temperature around 100F, the enta'te'h was quite a thirst quencher!

Mai Wu'uey has not been developed to its full potential, but once it's developed, there is no doubt it would be a leading healing destination for world's medical tourists. Wedi Feraday insisted that we could not leave without washing in the hot spring of Mai Wu'uey and assured us that one feels rejuvenated after showering in the hot spring. We drove a few miles from Mai Wu'uey and washed in an area that was established by the Italians. There are still ruins of Italian villas. Sure enough, after taking showers from the hot spring, we were rejuvenated. We dropped off Wedi Feraday and continued to Gahtelai, which is located on the Asmara - Massawa road.

In Ghatelai, we turned right and started to head towards Asmara. In Ghatelai, we stopped by to buy Foro's watermelons renowned for their natural savory. After we drove for another hour, we arrived at a modern restaurant and inn, which is built in the middle of nowhere. We ate delicious lunch and continued with our journey. As one drives closer towards Asmara the elevation rises while the temperature drops. The vegetation also changes, hence, Eritrea's Ministry of Tourism advertisement: "Three Seasons in Two Hours". Once we entered Arbou Roubu, a small village outside Asmara with the most extraordinary view, we saw many kids selling beles (prickly pears). We bought the best ones, ate some and continued towards Asmara. We arrived in Asmara when the sun was just setting and Asmara's famous "passagiata" (nightly stroll) was beginning.

Below are links to bird watching in Eritrea:

Next: sketch five and half.