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I headed back to Chris and Sheila’s where they laid on an early lunch. I had another swim around the bay. After a while, I realised that I was not really satisfied with the surface, there was too much going on below me, so I nipped back to the caravan and took the snorkelling gear. I went into the coral on my own this time, and felt much more at ease and confident. I looked in the deep. It was a shame in many ways that Chris wasn’t there because he was so much more knowledgeable. I saw Sponges and sea cucumbers and could recognise the black spiny urchins a mile off, but the myriad of coloured fish were still a mystery to me. In a way I didn’t care that I didn’t know the names, I just lapped up the atmosphere, the wonderful world that is only a few feet beneath the surface. I then lapped up something I wasn’t really looking for, a huge globule of salty water. I coughed and spluttered and came bouncing onto the surface.
I decided to spend my last few minutes in the water just relaxing on the surface. I leant back and the extra buoyant salty ocean supported me with ease. I lay there and looked up into the brilliant blue sky. I gently waggled my feet to make me turn full circle, and for the last time I look at the mountains to the south, the mainland to the east, Chris’s compound to the north and the Red Sea in the east.
Then it was time to leave. The taxi man rolled into the compound bang on time, but far too early for me. Thanking Chris and Sheila so much for such warm hospitality, I sat in next to the taxi driver and set off for work and another week in Asmara. We retraced our steps, over the causeway and the streets of new Massawa, then across the wide desert, including over the Wadi where the concrete bridge was out, past the railway yard, and up to Ghinda, then up and up the valley, criss crossing the railway track.
Then up the true escarpment past all the old accidents, to the very top and the stupendous view back down, then over the lip and in amongst the very tame suburbs of eastern Asmara, before I really felt on home territory as we headed down the narrow straight road to the hotel turn off in the south of the city.
Along with my excursion to Massawa through some of the most dramatic scenery in Africa, the friendliness of the people in Eritrea helped make those two weeks very memorable. The little Italian touches – Pizza and pasta, many different coffees, mixed with the Arabic – the sweet teas, the clothes, and the African; the wicked sense of humour. The crew I worked with were all different characters; Mehari the boss was a quiet man, but had an icy stare that showed that you should never get on the wrong side of him. I learnt that he had been a major force in the Eritrean army during the war with Addis. I was fearful for him when the war broke out again. I was fearful for the whole of Eritrea; for the people who had told me “When we got independence we laid down our guns. We never wanted to fight. We just wanted our land back and now we have it, we need never fight again”. I never understood why they took up the arms again against the Ethiopians for that scrap of land on the border. I hope they never have to do it again, as the majority of Eritreans were the kindest, most generous and deserving people in Africa.