Massawa and the Escarpment – Arranging Travel

It was an ambition to drop down the escarpment and call in on a friend and colleague who lived in Massawa on the Red Sea coast; Chris Hillman and his family.  I had the honour of meeting him in Chatham many years before and gave him a brief introduction to my craft, GIS, that he took up with vigour and tried to introduce to his co-workers in the Ministry of Marine Resources on the coast.  I thought I could see for myself what is going on down there, as well as see Massawa, which I had heard so much about.  In fact, I had been training some of Chris’s staff in Chatham a week or so before I went to Asmara.

Agriculture Ministry

Agriculture Ministry

 So I had to arrange some transport down there.

 The bus was out of the question – I only had the Saturday and Sunday to get down and back.  Since the bus took 6 hours on a good day, I needed something faster.  There was no-one heading in that direction, so my only options was to hire a taxi. .  I rang up a contact and was told to meet this guy at the Amba Soira hotel.  I went a couple of times and didn’t find him.  Then one of the guys I was training, Waldo, a large, kind and funny gentleman, probably in his late fifties, with a very distinguished head of grey hair, offered to go to the hotel and meet this guy.  He drove a light blue Volkswagen Beetle, which he had had for twenty years.  He offered to help me get in touch with a taxi driver who would give me a good deal down to Massawa.  We went to the main hotel in the city, the Amba Soira.  Here was the usual standard of International Hotel that you find in Africa, big wide open spaces with 1960’s wood panelling.  It had some things which worked, others which could work if you tried hard, some things which don’t look like they should work but do, things which look like they haven’t been used in 30 years and haven’t, things which look like they haven’t been used in 30 years, but you find are routinely used.  An air that initial investment was made, but no-one bothered to keep up the maintenance.

 Waldo took me over to a coffee bar in a corner of the lobby and we supped a couple of espressos.  He told me of his days in the States.  We waited for over half an hour for this guy to arrive, and just when we were on the verge of giving up, a small wiry man in denims came up and shook hands with Waldo.  He didn’t say much, but somehow we agreed a price and a time, he would meet me outside my hotel at 7:30.

 When the Saturday came, I didn’t sleep the night before, as I often don’t when I have travel commitments to keep, and especially if it is into somewhere new.  Despite having an insatiable appetite to discover new places, and go over the horizon, I often get extremely nervous when the actual time for me to DO it comes.

 I went down to the bar at the front of the hotel.  There was no-one around, the stools were up on the tables and the floor was still covered in yesterday’s stains.  I looked out of the window.  About twenty minutes after the agreed time, the taxi driver turned up.  I got in to the taxi beside him, he said something I didn’t quite understand, something about waiting for a colleague of his.  I realised he probably wanted to talk to him before setting off.  My weekend bag was in the back of the taxi, I was in the front, camera and water bottle on the floor.  We sat for another twenty minutes or so. The rest of Asmara gradually woke up, and the traffic along the dual carriageway outside the hotel increased.  Eventually, a second yellow taxi turned up.  The taxi driver got out and went to speak on the phone.  I looked through the passenger mirror.  I saw the boot lid raised and the taxi driver was getting my bag out.  I thought, eh up, what’s going on.  When I got out, I was introduced to the new man, and it suddenly dawned on me that I was not going with the guy I had agreed the price with. He was just the broker.  I got into the cab.  The new taxi driver was a much younger man, probably around 25, quite tall and wearing black trousers and a black leather jacket.  He had little English, but that didn’t matter.  I was there for the ride.

2 thoughts on “Massawa and the Escarpment – Arranging Travel

  1. Massawa and the Escarpment – Arranging Travel – String Knife and Paper

  2. Massawa and the Escarpment – Arranging Travel – String Knife and Paper

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