12.00 23rd March
Once checked in with immigration we moored about a kilometre from the steps
in the inner harbour. Arriving onto a very dusty, barren dockside we passed
through the gate, having been met by a very friendly Eritrean soldier,
assault rifle lazily leant against the wall. 'Hello, welcome to my country'
said with real feeling and repeated many times as we walked across to the
old town. Old, battered but with the remains of colonial elegance and
wealth, the first sight outside the gate is the shelled,derelict remains of
what was a very large and beautiful palace or office, obviously the target
of a sustained assault from the sea. As we walked around there were a number
of other buildings that had clearly been shot to bits and lay in ruins. A
reminder of recent conflict. (the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia is
still being maintained by the UN I believe).
Walking around the old town, other than the main street which runs through
the middle, the roads are dirt and dust. Some old and attractive buildings
have a paved walkway underneath the upper floors but mostly the buildings
abut the road and life is lived part in, part outside the house. This is
every bit the Africa that I imagined, children playing football, always
interested and come over. Asking if we had any pens - something I had not
thought of but would have been highly prized - a bag of honey sweets was the
best we could do.
Now, word was that the Eritrea's do a nice beer - word from afar that is,
because it hadn't reached here. None of the cafes or shops had any and the
most we learnt was that sometimes, some places have it but they keep it for
friends or need some persuasion. I don't want anyone to think that beer was
that important, but it was an interesting take on a very different world.
Along with no beer, there is very little diesel - available only if you get
a permit from the government and only from petrol stations away from the
dock, and only if you are very lucky! This is a very poor country with poor
supply lines - and we are at a port.
Having perhaps sounded rather negative, I should be clear, this is a very
fascinating place with very friendly people who stop you in the street ask
'how are you' and all want to help. In the evening we wandered across the
causeway to a newer part of town, we spoke to a Italian couple who staying
in a hotel and said we could get a beer there. On arrival a familiar answer
to the question 'No beer' Sitting having a coke (and a little rum) the
waitress returned. Perhaps if we had dinner in the restaurant they had some
beer. So, Eritrean dinner, with a bottle of unlabeled, cloudy, sweet tasting
but cool beer. Off to bed and another day ahead!