Bike Trip to Massawa and the Red Sea

My first trip to Massawa, Eritrea, was by bike. In January of 1963, our first group of PCVs to Ethiopia, some 280 + of us, assembled for a conference in Asmara. On Friday, January 11th, between our workshops, four of us: Tim Bodman, Charles Michener, Ernie Fox, and myself, decide to rent bikes for the six hours ride down the mountains, into the Danakil desert, and to the Red Sea.

Starting before sunrise we peddled five miles to the edge of the mountains. At that level, we were above the clouds that enclose the valleys and encased the rugged mountains pikes and lay perfectly still, billows of white and gray, with the red sun coming up out of them like a sore thumb.From Amara to the Red Sea

It was cold when we pushed off down the mountain and for a while we were bothered with the wind that froze our fingers to the hand brakes, but soon we were too busy and excited to worry about the cold and all our concentration was centered on this spiral blacktop road. We descend single file down the edge of the mountain through hairpin and corkscrew curls. We bent into the turns from the outside edges of the road, cut the corners, and then leaned to the opposite side and maneuvered the next curve.

Out of the cold morning of Asmara we rode, into the wet clouds, thought the little villages of Embatkala and Ghinda, past the ancient monastery of Bizon, and onto the tropical climate of the desert where we stopped to eat a breakfast of wine, cheese, and bread and to watch a camel caravan move idly across the baked flatlands carrying bundles of wood and skins. In two hours we had covered sixty-nine kilometers. It would take us another four hours to cross the desert and reach Massawa on the sea, just in time to hoist our bikes on top of a bus for the three-hour ride back up the escarpment.

Danakil Desert

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  • Keep telling it as it was memory after memory. If for nothing else, it will warm those aging with who we were. Such days of innocent achievement and peaceful hopes I hope and we hope too surely will come for today’s youth as it came to ours.

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