Giampiero Viale, a well-known Italian author, was rambling through the streets of Asmara last week when, by sheer coincidence, he approached me. Amidst our short conversation I was attracted by a souvenir he carried and the special story behind it. Giampiero travels solo in Eritrea.
In 2002 he covered a big part of the country travelling down to Tesseney, near the border of Sudan, as well as Tio, a small village in the vicinities of Assab. Read today’s Q&A as we introduce you to Eritrea through the eyes of a solo traveler and his heartwarming story behind the souvenir from Irafaile.
Hello. I am Giampiero Viale. I am an architect by profession but I have also authored eleven books in the course of eighteen years. (His latest book was inaugurated yesterday, 21st of October). Writing became my hobby inspired, mostly, by my travels. In fact, I have travelled in many places in the world. I have been to twenty eight countries on the African continent. I have extreme passion for the countries of the Horn, especially Eritrea. The Eritrean history and the curiosity I had about it urged me to visit Eritrea.
- First time in Eritrea was…
It was in 2002. I travelled solo around the country for some twenty days. I started my journey in Asmara. I was fascinated by the city, its buildings and the life style of the people. I then went to Keren, stopping, on the way, at the monastery of Debre Sina. I had to climb twelve kilometers to reach the monastery. There, I had the most humbling experience of being welcomed by the monks. Keren, too, was fascinating. I visited the Monday Market of the city, the handcraft stores and jewelries which are very popular and cherished by the locals. I visited the old train station, the Baobab Park and the cemetery of Italian soldiers. But the most remarkable were the piazzas of the city. It was truly an amazing experience.
- …On to Tesseney.
Then I went on an excursion towards Agordat, then Bisha, Mogolo and Barentu. There, I got to learn about the Kunama and the Bilen ethnic groups. A fascinating experience that shed light on the traditions of two Eritrean ethnic groups. Afterwards I reached Tesseney and couldn’t stay there for long for security reasons triggered by the border war with Ethiopia. I was advised by the military men I met there to go back towards Keren. I came back to Asmara and then headed towards Massawa. As the norm of local travelers dictates I too had to make some stops on the way. I made a stop in Nefasit, and in Ghinadae, where I toured the markets and an old square called ‘la locanda del buon sospiro’ and then finally reached Massawa.
- Recollections of Massawa: “the mix of many eras”
There are no words for Massawa. It has a deep essence and triggers melancholy. Most of the buildings are ancient and have traces of damages sustained during the many wars fought in the last century. The buildings make up a beautiful mix of cultural manifestations of different eras. Massawa is a port city after all. It has been a port city for many, many years. The Arab, Moorish, Egyptian and Italian styles truly make Massawa the pearl of the Red Sea. My wish is for Massawa to be preserved in its antiquity for the world to see.
- Drenched in Gergusum Beach
Eritreans love the Gergusum Beach. So I had to go there too. I spent one weekend there meeting many people and having lovely conversations. I then went to Emberemi and returned to Massawa.
Then I returned to Massawa and went south towards Dankalia. I visited Foro, Adulis and the archeological wanders there, Zula, Buri, Marsa Fatma, Sanda and Tio. The desert is interesting. The area is mostly volcanic and very scenic. After my drive back to Massawa I took the boat and started my adventure in the Red Sea to visit the beautiful islands and the Eritrean Coastal area. I went to Desie and Madote where I camped out in a tent for two nights.
- And now, nineteen years later
I am here for eighteen days and I am travelling alone again. In 2002 I did have a tour guide because I was just a first timer. My tour guide was Tekle. Now I can proudly say it is solo all the way! I had plans to take the longer and, naturally, more stunning way to Massawa, the Filfil-Massawa road. But since it is the rain season in Eritrea the roads are mostly barred for traffic. So I redid a big part of my first excursion, reliving amazing memories once more!
- THE SOUVENIR FROM IRAFAILE
I am carrying a photo I just developed after capturing it nineteen years ago in Irafaile. There, during my first excursion, I had the delight of being hosted in one family’s humble hut. I took pictures of the mother and her children, capturing amazing memories with every click. I think that’s when I learned the most that the Eritrean people are warm, friendly and caring. Part of my bucket list for my second trip was to deliver the photo myself to this beautiful family. I also wanted to see how they are doing as I had no means of keeping in touch with them over the past years. The children, back then, were not more than eight to ten years old. They must have grown up by now. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go. However, my family and some group of tourists who I have convinced to live the Eritrean experience will all be coming back in few months and then I’d like to go visit my ‘one night family’ in Irafaile with my family and friends, and finally deliver the picture I have been carrying dearly as souvenir.
- The safest of all
It is nice that you asked if I ever came across hazardous moments travelling in Eritrea. But, no. Here it is different. I did face life threatening situations in countries not far from here. On the contrary, Eritrea and its people not only make you feel safe and at home but they’re extremely helpful and friendly. Eritrea is the safest of all places I have ever been to.