Everyone had told us we must visit Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and we were not disappointed. The four-hour minibus trip up into the mountains was inevitably uncomfortable; the road is good but the seats are always hard. We didn't mind as the constantly changing scenery was well worth the pain. Passing through the colourful desert plain there was no shortage of herds of goats and Eritrean camels, a regular hazard for our driver as they strayed across the road. Up in the cloud the villagers were wrapped up against the damp air and the countryside became increasingly green. Finally, above the cloud we had a good view of the terraced mountainsides and villages enjoying a fresh sunny climate.
A change of scenery - inland Eritrea
Up we go - breaking through the cloud
And looking back
Asmara stands at over 2300m and is fascinating for its Italian heritage. We drank cappucinos and ate seafood pasta and pizza with real prosciutto, though the salami left something to be desired and the local wine is very rough.
Asmara - a peaceful moment in the main street
In the last few years the Eritrean economy has taken a nose-dive, so Asmara is not as affluent as it used to be but it has to be one of the highlights of our cruise down the Red Sea. We spent a lovely cool night in a hotel and the next morning shopping in the local fresh produce markets before it was time to get back on the minibus and return to Massawa. On our way down we saw families of baboons beside the road.
Baboons not far from Asmara
Back in Massawa we spent last weekend getting ready to leave, helped by Mike who owns one of the cafes near the port. We managed to get most things we needed, though shortages and rationing meant that some things were unobtainable or very expensive. All the bakeries were shut because of a lack of flour and as far as we know none of the rally yachts was able to buy diesel.
Coffee originates from this part of the world and the Eritreans like to roast their own and brew it up on a small charcoal fire in the early evening, drinking it in small cups with plenty of sugar. We were invited to Mike's house for such an event and accepted without realising that only coffee would be on offer. Out of politeness Paul was forced to drink coffee and risk getting a migraine! Thankfully he survived his first cup of coffee in years.
Another aspect of Eritrea is the malaria risk so we have been using flyscreens to keep mosquitos out of the boat at night (along with anti-malarial pills and repellents) but the downside is a reduction in ventilation. After a warm and sticky night in Massawa, we were ready to clear out at 7am on Monday morning. We were warned that the process could take 2 hours but in fact we managed to fill in the necessary forms, get our passports stamped and have the boat inspected for illegal emigrants in just 35 minutes.
The forecast indicated only light winds and we ended up motoring until midnight. In the early hours we managed to sail for a few hours. By noon on Tuesday we had passed Howakil Bay and were approaching Anfile Bay, where another rally yacht, Present, was at anchor. Strengthening headwinds meant we had a hard beat to our anchorage for the last couple of hours but it was worth reaching a well sheltered spot.
We have spent the last three days enjoying being in a beautiful anchorage while at times the wind howls around us. Since arriving we have been joined by two other rally yachts and we have also had the company of a catamaran, Isabelle Star, which is being delivered to Dubai. The next safe anchorage down this coast is 90 miles to the south east and the forecast is for strong headwinds so we don't intend to leave until the forecast winds lessen.
Guy and Michelle (from the catamaran Mailys) prepare the fish
Mailys and Lunamare, two yachts which joined us on Wednesday, are both successful fishers so we have been enjoying fish barbecues on the small island which is giving us shelter. The local fishermen are also keen to sell us fish so we are eating well. Fish are plentiful here and we have dolphins feeding close by. There are mangroves ashore and the birdlife is spectacular: nesting ospreys, herons, pelicans, flamingos to name a few. The only downside of this idyllic spot is the brown dust brought by the wind and covering the boat!
We are still over 300 miles from Aden and the winds are often strong in this part of the Red Sea so we must go as soon as the weather forecast indicates a spell of lighter headwinds.