Asmara Times You Fail, Eritrea Harder

by | May 24, 2023 | Eritrea, Fit for Foodies, May 2023: Horn of Africa, The Nightlife | 0 comments


After 5 days in Somaliland, we attempted to fly out from Hargeisa on a scheduled 12:00pm Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa so we could make our connecting Ethiopian Airlines flight at 5:10pm in Asmara. However, when I looked down at my watch to see 11:46am while still waiting at HGA airport to board, a travel Spidey sense went off and I knew it was likely we were going to miss our connecting flight.



Lo and behold at 12:00pm we received the email confirming our flight out from Hargeisa would be delayed by 5 hours to a 5:10pm departure. We now have to stay overnight in Addis Ababa before boarding our rebooked onward flight from Addis Ababa to Asmara the next morning at 9:10am.

So I pulled over a table upstairs and set up an ad hoc work station:



By 2pm Ethiopian Airlines agreed to get us lunch, which was actually quite good. The only downside was no utensils, so I had to charm the departures café to lend me a coffee spoon.



We finally boarded at around 5pm, where I looked outside to see many things I don’t normally see get loaded into cargo.



Once arriving at Addis Ababa for our unplanned overnight stay, we noticed there was a reluctance in letting us disembark from their jet bridges.



After going through a round of procedures at the transfer desk to obtain our included hotel stay and visa on arrival (I found out I had to pay $50 extra as’s booking made it a self-transfer instead of a unifying ticket) due to the required overnight stay for our rebooking, a small part of the group set out on the town for an eventful night out.



Let’s just say it involved a lot of sharing tea, barhopping, and retrieving an almost-stolen phone.



I returned at midnight and only able to sneak in 4 hours of sleep before heading back to Addis Ababa airport on a shuttle, enjoying an hour at Plaza Premium Lounge with our Amex Platinum access (and getting 2 free guests in each with us), before making it to our 9:10am flight to Asmara.



Eritrea now boasts a new visa on arrival program! You have to have the following documents ready:

  • Letter of Invitation by a tour agency in Eritrea
  • TWO printed out color 2in x 2in passport style photos of yourself in front of a white background
  • $80 USD in clean, crisp, new bills. Bills showing any wear and tear may be rejected.



But the process can take up to 2-3 hours as you wait for them to slowly process your visas on arrival.



It took so long they even let us leave past passports control without an arrival stamp so we could exchange money and retrieve our luggage from baggage claims, which was also a mess.



They even let me stand on top of the carousels myself to look for my bag:



I then endured a minor scare where I was the only one in our group who could not find my bag despite returning over 8 times to look. Then on the 9th attempt I went back into the visas office to get my baggage tag stuck on the back of my passport, and offered it to the baggage staff to look up the location of my bag. They then entered the tag into the computer only for it to confirm that my bag had not arrived and therefore was still back in Addis Ababa.

I then headed over the Ethiopian Airlines office at the airport, where a helpful man named Meheb sent an email to Addis Ababa’s offices, and encouraged me to return later in the evening to see if my bag would be on their second, later afternoon flight. However, I informed them I would be in Massawa and that it sounded like I would be wearing the same clothes 3 days in a row. I got Meheb’s number to give to our local Eritrean guide Robel and thanked him for his help.

Once I returned and accepted my inconvenient first-world-problem fate, I finally obtained my visa.



Once officially through passports, I was about to board our bus to take us to lunch when I got a voice in my head telling me to fuck it, just make a run for it.

In other words, something out there compelled me to turn around and back inside, but this time past the baggage carousels and through the black flaps towards airside where once again “lo and behold”:…my bag was on the ground having looked like it fell off the belt and therefore having never made it landside and proper baggage claims. What compelled me to look there? My guardian angel up above? Thank goodness it/I/some energy out there was right because if I had returned empty-handed I would’ve gotten in a lot of trouble for trespassing without a good reason. I went back to Meheb and told him the good news. He gave me a fist bump.

Celebrating, I enjoyed lunch with the rest of the group in Asmara:



During lunch they processed our passports to give us a slip of paper that allowed us to roam freely if we wanted to (aka if we were stopped by any authorities, this paper would let us get by)



Then it was off to 24 hours in Massawa to make up for lost time. . . .

. . . When we returned from Massawa the next afternoon back to Asmara, we stopped by the Italian cemetery located on the elevated western part of Asmara:



Following that up, we then drove to one of the largest tank graveyards I’ve ever seen.



APCs, Soviet tanks, aircrafts, vintage cars.. most are leftovers from the war with Ethiopia. You can climb any of them at your own peril.



We then took walks along Harnett Street and Liberation Ave to witness the center of carnival celebrations on the evening before Independence Day. Their gelatos here were top notch.



Once checking in at the hotel and having dinner, many of us returned for the massive crowds at midnight to celebrate independence.



We also visited City Hall where you could find photo displays in commemoration of the thirty-years bitter struggle and the post-independence progress. The City Hall was established by the Italians in 1890 and is one of the oldest institutions in Africa.



We took a break from the crowds at a nearby mosque.



Then we found a bar that happily took us in and served us cognac.



After breakfast the next morning, we took a walking tour of Asmara starting with spectacular art deco style of the city built by the Italians at the turn of the last century.



Most notable examples would be the Fiat Tagliero gas station:



The Soviet-era IRGA tire shop:



A building made to look like an old radio:



The ROMA movie theater, currently showing John Wick 4:



The Post Office built in 1916:



Albergo Italia built in 1899:



The Commercial Bank:



Asmara’s first performing arts theater:



And a beautiful church that was unfortunately closed to visitors:



After lunch, we tried to join the celebrations at Asmara Stadium where we were supposed to witness various displays by the Eritrean military marching band. However, they turned us away (after all this is the “North Korea of Africa” so our expectations were managed) and we instead celebrated the finale to our Eritrea trip at their local bowling alley.



During bowling I tried one more time to put emotions aside and clear the air with all the tensions that had built up over the course of the trip. Rowan even came up to me and said although he felt it would have been ideal if the offender should be the one approaching me to apologize in a more genuine way, it may have to be me to approach him again to see if we could come to a mutual understanding and put this behind us.

While he remained recalcitrant to my trying to understand where he was coming from and appearing to then suggest that I was the one overreacting over his ethnic slur that he made in front of the group and what he even agreed was the equivalent to the N-word, the offender did also relent and agree with Rowan and I that what he said was indeed beneath him and “stupid.” More surprisingly, however, he also then confirmed that he had offered to Rowan to also be banned from the rest of YPT trips, which outcome I did not necessarily want and tried my best to rectify. After all, I do believe in redemption and the courage to face discomfort, do better, and even invest in potential friendships that may emerge from a rupture and a repair…that’s how you learn. However, Rowan also then agreed that this was the right thing to do especially when the offender had for months been outspoken in his distaste for Africa and Central Asia that it became a headache, made it seem that it was more important to him that he could still allow himself a travel space to still say whatever he wanted, and that according to him he was “someone without any insecurities” meant he did not need to work on anything, rather than to see this as an opportunity for self-reflection and challenging himself to be more mindful and considerate around fellow travelers such as myself.

With time not on our side to make this any better than we could have, the 5 of us then wished a fellow traveler Greg a happy birthday, said our goodbyes to the rest of the group. and departed early for an afternoon flight back to Addis Ababa to make it to our onward flight to Mogadishu.

Thank goodness for in-terminal hotels to let off some steam after everything we’ve just been through.



Time to sleep. Mogadishu awaits.


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- At time of posting in Asmara, it was 17 °C - Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: Perfect weather after everything we've been through


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