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Chairman Capone
Dec 17, 2008



From July 31 to August 7, my girlfriend and I will be in Asmara, Eritrea on vacation. For years, I've been interested in the city's architectural history with its 1930s/40s Italian Modernist buildings, and last year I decided to finally bite the bullet and commit to going there on a trip. So by now, I have everything cleared - visas, hotel reservations, plane tickets are all done. I have a list of the buildings I want to see, and other sights in the city and its outskirts that are worth seeing, and suggestions on places to eat and drink. We're going the week of the Festival Eritrea, which should also provide a lot of interesting things to see and experience.

So on paper at least, I have a good outline of things to see and things to expect. But I figured I might as well make a post here to see if anyone else has gone to Asmara, and if so, if they have any suggestions based on actual experience - whether things to see, or avoid, or anything really. I know Eritrea isn't exactly a popular place, but figured, worth a shot!

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Saladman
Jan 12, 2010


I've looked into Eritrea quite a bit since there are boatloads of Eritreans arriving here all the time trying to escape slavery* and I see them all over the place walking around. I don't know any though, so can't help you too much on specifics or anything firsthand!

Lonely Planet is the only forum I've seen where anyone's been to Eritrea and can tell you much, but even there the forum is a ghost town: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/eritrea/community but it might have useful stuff when you flip through it. Eritrea and Asmara have surprisingly complete Wikitravel entries too.


*the government will conscript men and women and force them to work for free from like age 18-50 for "military" service which includes such core military components such as mining copper ore and civilian building construction, i.e. not only does it easily last for 20+ years but it also has nothing to do with the military. I guess the Eritrean leadership figured that the way that pure libertarian capitalism makes wage slaves to fund the elites' lifestyles is too complicated, and they might as well just cut out the "wage" part of it as a shortcut.

Groda
Mar 17, 2005



Hair Elf

I'm interested in hearing about this trip.

Chairman Capone
Dec 17, 2008



When I get back, I'll write something up for here. Just finished the last of the vaccinations over the weekend - actually not a lot, Hep A and typhoid and those were both only recommended, not required, but I figured, definitely going to err on the side of caution on those.

Geriatric Pirate
Apr 25, 2008

by Nyc_Tattoo


How was the visa process? That's always held me back, though it doesn't seem as impossible as other countries I've managed. Will you be allowed to travel outside of Asmara?

Chairman Capone
Dec 17, 2008



The visa process was not difficult at all. Filled out the form, sent it in with the check for processing it, my passport, and a self-addressed return envelope for them to mail it back, and that was it. I got a call from some guy at the embassy to just talk about it but it was like a five minute chat and that was it. The whole process took a bit of time but given I imagine their embassy is pretty short staffed, it wasn't anything bad.

We only applied for the Asmara visit simply because we thought there would be enough to do there for the week or so we'll be there, so we didn't apply for the pass to go to any of the other cities. From what I understand, though, the Asmara permit extends for some distance outside the city so there's still space for rural hiking. And if we do decide to go to Massawa (probably our main choice) from what I've seen, a travel permit can be purchased from the Ministry of Tourism in downtown Asmara also.

Geriatric Pirate
Apr 25, 2008

by Nyc_Tattoo


Cool, shouldn't let that deter me from going then!

Chairman Capone
Dec 17, 2008



So apologies for not responding here sooner... we got back the beginning of August, but I was super busy for the next few weeks and this kind of slipped my mind. But that being said, here's some of my feedback for those who are interested in going:

First off, I had an amazing time. The food and especially the coffee were phenomenal. We had to stop at cafes to get coffee and patries and ice cream two or three times a day. The beer and especially the gin was pretty good, too. And the architecture was fantastic... really. The city was just an incredible visual feast, and completely walkable and safe, too. We never felt at risk, even when walking around at night.

However, some things to keep in mind - we used the Lonely Planet guide to Ethiopia and Eritrea from 2009, as it seems like later Lonely Planet editions don't cover Eritrea (though they still cover Somaliland... go figure). A lot has changed since 2009, mainly thanks to the economy. There are a lot more beggars on the streets now, though they don't tend to be too aggressive - the kids on the main few streets in Asmara will sometimes follow you for a while. But more pressing, a lot of the food options are reduced. Not that we had any trouble finding food, but a lot of the fast food places are just juice bars now, and a few of the better known restaurants (the Pizza and Spaghetti House and the Italian Social Club, for example) are closed. The government money exchanges also operate on a reduced schedule, which can be frustrating since most flights into Asmara seem to be very late (ours definitely was). So bring some 5, 10, and 20 dollar bills to get you through before the exchanges open.

(One good thing, however - despite the economic downturn, the Fiat Tagliero building is actually under renovation.)

For getting a pass to leave Asmara, it was completely easy. However, they require you to bring photocopies of your passport and visa, however, so save time and make copies at home before you go so you can be prepared. It also costs fifty nakfa per transit request (so for example, my girlfriend and I each applied to go to Massawa and Nefasit, so that was 200 nakfa total). The train also sadly was not functioning while we were there.

One word of warning when leaving - if you're flying through Cairo, as we did, keep in mind that if you get something duty-free in the Asmara airport, you will need to bring it through Cairo security again, and they will not accept liquids in the Asmara duty-free bag. I bought a bottle of Asmara Gin there, and it was confiscated going through Cairo because it wasn't in the Egyptian duty-free bag. Which sucks... the gin was really good. (Though on the flip side, when we passed through Cairo to get to Asmara, it was very easy to arrange a tour of the pyramids.)

That's pretty much the basics - if anyone has specific questions about the city or the trip, I'd be more than happy to go into more details!

Casimir Radon
Aug 1, 2008



At one point Reporters Without Borders gave Eritrea a worse press freedom score than North Korea. I've never been able to find out how they managed that one.

Saladman
Jan 12, 2010


Casimir Radon posted:

At one point Reporters Without Borders gave Eritrea a worse press freedom score than North Korea. I've never been able to find out how they managed that one.

Maybe North Korea is open to Potemkin village styled reporting, but Eritrea is not open to journalism under any circumstance whatsoever? (No idea about Eritrea, but journalists can go to North Korea, they just have a hell of a time actually finding something to report on.)

Thanks for the summary, Capone. Probably somewhere I'll never go.

ReindeerF
Apr 20, 2002

Rubber Dinghy Rapids Bro


It's hidden in plain sight:

https://www.google.com/search?q=jou...chrome&ie=UTF-8

Chairman Capone
Dec 17, 2008



On the subject of press freedom, while I was there I met a crew from ESPN who were doing a documentary on two Eritrean runners (Meb Keflezighi and Ghirmay Ghebreslassie) which included going to their villages and recording stuff there, and they said that while they often got stopped by soldiers, once they showed them their passes they were let on their way. And I originally got interested in visiting Eritrea after seeing a series of reports from the BBC who sent a crew to the country and walked around interviewing people (interestingly BBC just announced a few days ago they're starting an Eritrean service). There was also no internet censorship, at least as far as I could tell, and the Eritrean TV picked up CNN, BBC, French and Russian news, Al Jazeera, among other things. One restaurant we stopped at for lunch at random was showing Argo playing on TV.

So while I'm sure that local journalism is absolutely terrible and authoritarian, I also can't really imagine any of that being allowed in North Korea.

Saladman
Jan 12, 2010


Huh, interesting! Maybe someone at Reporters Without Borders just has an axe to grind with Eritrea in order to somehow put it below North Korea and Turkey.

PT6A
Jan 5, 2006

500 CIGARETTES!


Maybe North Korea has, technically speaking, imprisoned/abused fewer journalists simply because no one even tries jack poo poo in DPRK anymore (and if they do, we don't have any idea about it), whereas there have been more journalists who've been imprisoned/abused, that we know about, in Eritrea. Press freedom is about more than just the openness of information, too -- showing CNN or Al Jazeera doesn't mean they allow journalists to do their job openly and without harsh censorship.

Casimir Radon
Aug 1, 2008



I think it would be a lot harder to do press suppression in Eritrea than North Korea. North Korea only has two land borders and one of which is heavily fortified. Eritrea has three relatively wide land borders. There's ongoing border disputes with Ethiopia but still I imagine it's a lot easier to cross than the DMZ. Then there's the already mentioned uncensored internet. Yeah they can toss journalists in prison all day long but it doesn't seem like they have anywhere near the capacity to coerce their citizens as the Norks.

Geriatric Pirate
Apr 25, 2008

by Nyc_Tattoo


Chairman Capone posted:

So apologies for not responding here sooner... we got back the beginning of August, but I was super busy for the next few weeks and this kind of slipped my mind. But that being said, here's some of my feedback for those who are interested in going:

First off, I had an amazing time. The food and especially the coffee were phenomenal. We had to stop at cafes to get coffee and patries and ice cream two or three times a day. The beer and especially the gin was pretty good, too. And the architecture was fantastic... really. The city was just an incredible visual feast, and completely walkable and safe, too. We never felt at risk, even when walking around at night.

However, some things to keep in mind - we used the Lonely Planet guide to Ethiopia and Eritrea from 2009, as it seems like later Lonely Planet editions don't cover Eritrea (though they still cover Somaliland... go figure). A lot has changed since 2009, mainly thanks to the economy. There are a lot more beggars on the streets now, though they don't tend to be too aggressive - the kids on the main few streets in Asmara will sometimes follow you for a while. But more pressing, a lot of the food options are reduced. Not that we had any trouble finding food, but a lot of the fast food places are just juice bars now, and a few of the better known restaurants (the Pizza and Spaghetti House and the Italian Social Club, for example) are closed. The government money exchanges also operate on a reduced schedule, which can be frustrating since most flights into Asmara seem to be very late (ours definitely was). So bring some 5, 10, and 20 dollar bills to get you through before the exchanges open.

(One good thing, however - despite the economic downturn, the Fiat Tagliero building is actually under renovation.)

For getting a pass to leave Asmara, it was completely easy. However, they require you to bring photocopies of your passport and visa, however, so save time and make copies at home before you go so you can be prepared. It also costs fifty nakfa per transit request (so for example, my girlfriend and I each applied to go to Massawa and Nefasit, so that was 200 nakfa total). The train also sadly was not functioning while we were there.

One word of warning when leaving - if you're flying through Cairo, as we did, keep in mind that if you get something duty-free in the Asmara airport, you will need to bring it through Cairo security again, and they will not accept liquids in the Asmara duty-free bag. I bought a bottle of Asmara Gin there, and it was confiscated going through Cairo because it wasn't in the Egyptian duty-free bag. Which sucks... the gin was really good. (Though on the flip side, when we passed through Cairo to get to Asmara, it was very easy to arrange a tour of the pyramids.)

That's pretty much the basics - if anyone has specific questions about the city or the trip, I'd be more than happy to go into more details!

Thanks, very useful.

Did you change money at gov't exchanges or privately?

Chairman Capone
Dec 17, 2008



Geriatric Pirate posted:

Thanks, very useful.

Did you change money at gov't exchanges or privately?

I went to the government-run Himbol exchange on Harnet Avenue twice, and our hotel (which I guess is private but allowed by the government) exchange money for us once.

One thing about the money exchanges is that they all follow daily standard rates set by the government, so wherever you go in the country, you'll get the same exchange rate.

Edit: I should add that the Himbol times were one of the things from the 2009 edition of Lonely Planet got wrong. According to it, the Himbol in the airport will be open whatever time flights arrive and leave (which was not true for either of our flights), and the Harnet Ave Himbol would be open 7 days a week (it was only open in the morning on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays).

Chairman Capone fucked around with this message at Sep 27, 2017 around 01:28

Geriatric Pirate
Apr 25, 2008

by Nyc_Tattoo


Chairman Capone posted:

I went to the government-run Himbol exchange on Harnet Avenue twice, and our hotel (which I guess is private but allowed by the government) exchange money for us once.

One thing about the money exchanges is that they all follow daily standard rates set by the government, so wherever you go in the country, you'll get the same exchange rate.

Edit: I should add that the Himbol times were one of the things from the 2009 edition of Lonely Planet got wrong. According to it, the Himbol in the airport will be open whatever time flights arrive and leave (which was not true for either of our flights), and the Harnet Ave Himbol would be open 7 days a week (it was only open in the morning on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays).

Isn't the official exchange rate wayyy off the unofficial one now? Did they count your money at the airport? (I've had that happen in Uzbekistan lol)

Chairman Capone
Dec 17, 2008



When I was there, the official exchange rate was 1 dollar = 15 nakfa. No idea what the unofficial exchange rate was. Didn't have my money counted either entering or leaving, although I had read travel warnings that it might happen.

Saladman
Jan 12, 2010


Chairman Capone posted:

When I was there, the official exchange rate was 1 dollar = 15 nakfa. No idea what the unofficial exchange rate was.

More like $1 = 50 to 60. OTOH I guess everything was so drat cheap who cares if you paid over the black market rate?

The US treasury even keeps a list of the black market exchange rates of currencies that it uses to tax people who live abroad making earnings in those countries (e.g. Venezuela, Algeria, Angola) to make sure they're not royally hosed by the official exchange rate. Wish I had a link handy as it's probably the most definitive source. (i.e. The minimum salary in Venezuela is something like $250,000/yr at the official exchange rate, but the IRS will actually tax you as if you make the $15/month you actually make.)

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svenkatesh
Sep 5, 2016
Probation
Can't post for 12 days!


Is this it?

https://www.irs.gov/businesses/smal...ecember-31-2016

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