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April 20, 2002

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Check the atlas, from Jeddah we flew into a traveler's dead end: Asmara, Eritrea. Our knowledge about Eritrea and an empty paper bag is exactly equal to an empty paper bag. From Asmara's small international airport we wandered into the parking lot. People think we're foreign aid workers, not tourists, because tourists don't visit Eritrea. Luggage handlers or taxi drivers don't pester us. Eritrea impresses us as an easy going place. We catch a bus into town for 1 Nakfa, the local currency. The first thing to learn in a new place is where to change money. The official rate is 13 Nakfa = 1 US dollar. On a street corner we approach United Nations soldiers from Italy and ask where to change our money. We learn a healthy black market rate is 19 Nakfa = 1 US dollar. The soldiers bring us to a leather shop that offers a good rate. After placing Nakfa notes in our pocket we find a large double room overlooking Asmara's mainstreet, Liberation Avenue, in the heart of town, for 50 Nakfa per night, which means we could stay here for three years and pay the same rent as one month in San Francisco. PS. Leaving Saudi on an expired transit visa proved to be a scary experience. The customs officials threatened to send us back to immigration but eventually they let us go with a reprimand. This proves it's easier to leave Saudi Arabia than enter it.
The Catholic Cathedral is the tallest building in downtown Asmara.
The view from the Cathedral's tower shows a modest and easy-going capital.