The city of Asmara is very high up (about 2,400m) and almost as soon as you leave, you drop down often on hairpin bends through beautiful valleys. Once you’ve identified the correct bus, it doesn’t take you too long to leave the city behind and escape into the dramatic countryside.
On one hike in the Durfor valley, we walked along the railway which clung to the mountain side: no need to worry about trains: the railway itself was not used for many years and now, although back in repair, only runs on Sunday if there more than 10 passengers. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the required quorum together and so did the next best thing of wandering along the line getting the spectacular views on foot.
There’s a great sense of space out in the open – huge wide valleys which are really rocky (lots of quartz and granite here) and yet somehow people still manage to farm in what are pretty tough conditions especially in the heat of the day. We’re in Eritrea after the rainy season but it still looks pretty dry and the rivers are no longer running although there are various reservoirs that have still got water. Our local guide was very enthusiastic about the bird life and also seemed quite keen to see if he could disturb sleeping hyenas just to show us (we were less keen on this and very much took the view “let sleeping dogs lie”). Other potential hazards to avoid are landmines (although much of the area has been cleared) and, of course, snakes but fortunately we came across none of these.
While waiting for a bus to return to Asmara at the end of one of our hikes, we were surrounded by a group of local school children (8th graders) who were all on their way to school (the children either go to school in the morning or the afternoon and are easily identified in their brightly coloured (in many cases, well worn and a bit thread-bare) shirts which comprise their school uniform). One of the girls pushed forward her exercise book open at an algebra problem. Sensing this was more within Peter’s level of expertise, I pointed her in his direction: it was actually quite complicated as both “x” and “y” ended up as negative but I have faith that he got it right and the girl seemed very grateful/excited and it was a fun way to while away some of the bus waiting time.