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                                ERITREA - THE RED SEA

Marsa Dudo
March 4 - A boisterous but controllable 2 day 2 night passage through the throat of Strait of Bab El Mandel into the Red Sea, winds 30+ but behind us, we managed to skirt across the shipping lanes with only a few near misses!

We settled in an anchorage off an isolated bay in Eritrea (formerly Ethiopia, Africa) called Marsa Dudo. A Marsa is a natural indentation that cuts into the land, sometimes via long winding channel which can be quite narrow and bordered with coral. There are many marsas along the eastern coastline offering protection for sudden northerlies.

 The landscape is picturesque in a stark kind of way as we were surrounded by craters and extinct volcanoes and lots of sand.

This area of the world is the hottest and most desolate location on earth.

It was blowing very hard in the anchorage but the boats were flat. However snorkeling was out! Gord was very sick with the bronchial crud again. It was less than a month ago that he had it and we treated with antibiotics. This time he decided to let it run it's course so needed to sleep for a few days before we pushed on toward Massawa.

Hot and Barren

March 5  - Since Gord was still ill and now Chris & KT on Billabong were suffering from food poisoning, we decided to remain at Marsa Dudo until the winds switched back to the South. While half of us was convalescing, the other half went ashore. We scrambled across an outcrop of lava to a tiny beach where several abandoned coral huts remained to tell of a camp where fishermen likely lived. A huge turtle shell lay perched outside one of the huts but not much sign of any recent inhabitation.

 

Beyond the huts the jagged loose rocks stretched skyward to the form the top of the crater. I climbed partway and was diverted by a goat trail traversing the crater. I followed the rocky trail to what first appeared to be piles of rock and rubble high on the hill. On closer inspection these proved to be gunposts and foxholes. I can't imagine why there was any inclination to guard this barren and desolate piece of the country but I remembered that Eritrea fought hard for independence from Ethiopia not that long ago.

 

Abandoned Landmines

Then I recalled reading that the whole area was reported to contain lost landmines, so I tiptoed down the escarpment to a large barren plain, littered with small bones, likely those of birds but also came across a dolphin skull. Although the flatland was barren of greenery, I suspect that the area had been under seawater at one time as I found many shells, unique from any I had found before.

I followed the beach to another group of broken down dwellings surrounded by an oasis of sorts and a haphazard fence made of fish net. Lots of proof of a large herd of goats and what was a watering hole in rainier times.

Back on the boat, the rest of the day was lazy.

March 6

We awoke to no wind and a flat calm sea so set out for Massawa, some 190 nautical miles north.


Massawa

March 9

We almost gave Massawa a miss because of reports that 2 boats anchored there had been robbed the night before. Apparently someone swam out to the boats, while the occupants were onboard asleep! We decided to forego leaving our boats unattended with any inland travel & it was the first time in almost 5 years we have had to lock ourselves in our boat at night!

Harbour

We arrived with Stardust and Djarkka and were the only boats in the harbour, which was totally protected from wind and swell. Around were commercial fishing boats, most of them dilapidated. The boys went ashore to check in and later everyone went to explore the town.

A very colorful dhow passed by.

Remnants of War
Massawa
is a war torn city in shambles, with the once Italian-style architectural structures now ridden with bullet holes. Evidence of war is everywhere; a guard armed with a machine gun inspected our passports at every pass thru the harbor gates.

The once majestic Palace far right is now only a shell
and reminder of centuries of hard fought battles.

We wandered Around the Town but everything was closed from noon to 5 so we didn't see much of the shops. However, lots of people were about, dressed in their Sunday best. We came across some sort of Graduation celebration for a couple of young girls, encircled by throngs of people clapping and dancing to an African beat. We were invited to join in.

.

The children were always eager to follow us and have their picture taken

The population being ½ Christian, so many women wear colorful garments, a nice contrast to the monochromatic brown of the buildings and bleak countryside.

The people are friendly with a positive attitude, happy to have survived their fight for autonomy & trying to rebuild their city.

 The people live in extreme poverty. One little child continuously came to greet us. She was always dirty and had the telltale extended belly of malnutrition

Gifts for the Locals

On my second trip to town I took pens for the children and some clothing for the teens. It was evident that as soon as it was learned that I had items to give away I was bombarded, mauled and followed insistently by the children long after I was completely out of items!
 

I had been giving pencils to the children and I had a horse rattle that I gave to a very cute little girl, all dressed up in her Sunday best.

No Supplies

We found several grocery stores that had virtually nothing in them and gave up on our quest for bread. Sarah tried the internet but was totally unsuccessful in getting connected after 15 minutes.

We gathered for lunch at what looked like one of the more upscale restaurants in the area. Upon visiting the washroom it was discovered that the complex did not have running water. Half of our group ordered lunch, a dubious mix of spicy Ethiopian stew eaten with a large thin brown pancake, about 1 foot across, that tasted sour and bland. This typical accompaniment was always included in every meal that was served in Massawa. Gord settled for a beer and I had orange juice (which cost far more than the beer!).

Behind the restaurant there were hoards of cats to control the rats. Of course there are no dogs as it is a Muslim country.

The streets contained
an odd assortment of shops, small local restaurants and outdoor cafes.

The Italian Architecture must have been splendid in its heyday, (the Italians were in power from 1889- 1941, then the British from 1941-1952, then the 30 year war from around 1964- 94) but is now basically in ruins. People continue to live in the dwellings and seem proud of their independent country despite the mess it appears to be in.

 

People live in bombed, shelled buildings, no running water or electricity.

Narrow dirty alleyways reveal tiny crumbling dwellings

Market

We took a taxi to a market that was supposedly 30 minutes ride away. However, it turned out to be just across the bridge and we could have easily walked there. Very typical of how easily foreigners can be scammed and a way of life in the Middle East.

We were the only white folk at the Market and it was hard to take photos because it was apparently clear by the stony glares that they didn't want their pictures taken.

Center: A local is making a bed, typical of those used by everyone.

Food items were rather scarce. No bread, no refrigerated items or other provisions & very limp tuckered looking onions, potatoes, okra, blistering tomatoes, blackening bananas, the only produce.

The meat market displayed mutton and goat hanging, some with head, hooves and the furry tail still attached.

 

 

Kids swarmed our taxi as it waited for us to explore the market

The mode of transport was by donkey cart.

   

Officialdom

There are lots of rules in Massawa. It took 2 days to fight the bureaucracy to obtain diesel for our boats because fuel is rationed. It ended up costing 3x the amount  because of the bribes (baksheesh) that had to be paid to the officials.

You must go to customs to get permission to exchange money although it's easier just to do it on the black market, and you get a better rate. You get a 48 hour gate pass which is scrutinized by a guard in full fatigues totting a machine gun.

Sometimes it's hard to deal with the officials because you need to wake them up first!  

Along the shore front are tents to house Somalia refugees.

  There were some beautiful sunsets caused by the dusty haze in the sky.

March 11

Visa expired, we sailed out of Massawa, next port Sudan.

This portion of our trip had really taken a toll on the boat. Everything was so filthy, sand and cakes of salt everywhere, inside and out. The dust was a fine sand powder that got into everything. Of course there was no way to wash it off the boat so it just gets tracked around. There was so much salt on the sheets and the lines they were like cables, too stiff to bend around the winches!

 

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