Visiting Massawa, Eritrea. Massawa rests on the coast of the Red Sea. It has been traded more times than the worst gift at a Yankee Swap. The Axumite Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Italy, Britain, Ethiopia and others have all taken their turn ruling this port city.
Massawa is only 113 km from the Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. Yet, the drive takes several hours via winding mountain roads from Asmara. The landscape is glorious. And it is a treat to drive. Asmara sits at over 7,000 feet and has a pleasant, sunny climate. When you arrive at sea-level Massawa you are inundated by a stifling tropical heat. Things come to halt under the mid-day sun.
During the civil war when Eritrea was part of Ethiopia, Massawa suffered serious damage to both the buildings as well as the residents. The Italians who colonized Eritrea built the most significant port on the Red Sea. Eritrea was able to use this port city to its advantage in the war as part of its supply chain.
Asmara and Massawa while located near each other, have distinct and unique feels. Asmara is a case study of snazzy Italian art deco style, while Massawa has been influenced by Islamic architectural styles. Asmara also has a more bustling and lively feeling. While walking through Massawa, I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen a lone tumbleweed roll through the center of town. Poverty seemed more prominent here, with little economic activity. Many buildings have not been repaired since the end of the war over 25 years ago.
I strolled the street in late morning. I darted from shadow to shadow to avoid the stinging sun. Sweat cascaded down my back. The humidity was crushing. I sat for a moment with five locals to play a game of dominos. Moments later, I passed an open door, and was ushered into a single room. An elderly woman randomly invited me into her home and made me coffee. The stone home provided a coolness as some sunlight darted into her home. We sat in silence, exchanging a couple of smiles. After finishing, I thanked her several times, and slipped her some Nakfa as a thank you for her hospitality.
I stayed at the Massawa Grand Hotel Dahlak. It sits on the water and is designed in an Arabic style. This grand, sprawling hotel rests in faded elegance. I imagined the hotel in its heyday, with Italian colonists attending galas in black tie.
A short boat ride from the hotel lays a strip of yellow beach. Thousands of hermit crabs covered the beach like a carpet. Taking a dip in this shallow ocean was almost too warm. Initially, the bath-water ocean was uncomfortable until I eventually acclimated to it. I drifted in the sea as the sun set.