Monday, February 25, 2013

A conversation with David Stanley


David Stanley

Issayas: Would you tell us briefly about yourself?

David Stanley: Since 1979 I’ve authored numerous travel guidebooks to the Pacific Islands, Alaska, Canada, Cuba, and Eastern Europe for Lonely Planet and Moon Handbooks. My travels have taken me to 184 of the 193 United Nations member countries. I’m now retired and currently live on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Issayas: How did you hear about Eritrea?

David: Since a trip around Ethiopia in 2009 I’ve been keen to visit Eritrea. And when I came across the very reasonably priced 10-day tour package to Eritrea offered by Undiscovered Destinations in the UK, I booked immediately at

Issayas: When and which places to did you visit in Eritrea?

David: In December 2012 I visited Asmara, Keren, and Massawa with a driver/guide from Explore Eritrea Travel & Tour Agency in Asmara. Of course, I enjoyed the good restaurants, cafes, and architecture in Asmara but Keren was the highlight of my trip. I was able to arrange an extra night there and it was well worth it. The markets of Keren are among the most colorful in Africa and the surrounding countryside is beautiful. The crumbling Ottoman buildings and streets of old town of Massawa were also fascinating.

Issayas:  Many non-Eritrean visitors to Eritrea talk about the plethora of colors in Eritrea. Do you agree?

David: Easily, the most colorful Eritrean city for me was Keren, be it in the dress of the people, the exteriors of the buildings, and even the variety of animals. The countryside along Filfil Road between Keren and Massawa is said to display a delicate green but much of the way was cloud covered the day we passed through. I suppose one could also say the food and drink served in Asmara is colorful.

Issayas: What is your impression of the people, country etc.?

David: Having visited all but six of the 51 countries and territories of Africa I say with some authority that the Eritreans are among the friendliest, most helpful, and most hospitable people on the continent. I roamed the markets and back streets of Asmara, Keren, and Massawa without a guide and never felt threatened. I was also very impressed with the honesty of the Eritreans and was never aware of being charged “tourist price”. This combined with all there is to see and do makes Eritrea a unique travel destination just waiting to be discovered. Here the cliché really does fit the reality.

Issayas:  The pictures you took are impressive. If there were so many things and places to take, how did you choose what to take?

David: Before leaving for Eritrea I used guidebooks and the web to compile a list of things to see in the places I knew I’d be visiting. I got to most of them and took the usual photos but I also snapped lots of street and market scenes. Almost everyone was happy to have their picture taken and I was never asked for money.

As an aside, I’d like to comment on the phrase often repeated in Western media that Eritrea is the “North Korea of Africa.” Having spent three weeks in North Korea in 2010 I feel I’m qualified to compare these countries. And for travelers, the two have very little in common. In North Korea, one is not allowed to leave their hotel without a guide. In Eritrea, no such restriction applies. In North Korea, one must ask the permission of one’s guide to take photographs and there are strict guidelines. In Eritrea, the only time I was asked not to take a picture was outside the Presidential Palace, for security reasons I assume. In North Korea, tourists can only eat at the restaurants where their guides take them. In Eritrea, tourists can enter virtually any restaurant or café and order whatever they wish. I also found local Eritreans quite willing to talk with me in a relaxed and open way. In North Korea, tourists can only speak with their guides and hotel staff or people who have been selected to mix with them. Those who use the canard the “North Korea of Africa” when referring to Eritrea are either completely ignorant of reality or have bad intentions. For travelers, Eritrea is probably as different from North Korea as it is possible to be.

Issayas: David, thank you for your time.

David: You're welcome.

All pictures are courtesy of David Stanley.

Below: Asmara, Eritrea

Below: Massawa, Eritrea


 Below: Mendefera, Eritrea

Below: The ruins of Adulis, Eritrea

 Below: Dekemhare, Eritrea

Below: Keren, Eritrea