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Published on 23 May 2007
Eritrea is a remarkable country. Despite extreme poverty and a thirty-year struggle for independence, visitors are still afforded the warmest of welcomes. Moreover, crime levels are low and there is a genuine sense of civic pride, despite lying within the Horn of Africa, a region infamous for war and famine.
A particularly pleasant surprise awaits the railway enthusiast, who may travel behind 1930s, Italian-built Mallet steam locomotives on the railway between Massawa (the main port) and the capital, Asmara. This is one of the most spectacular lines in the world, and climbs almost 2400 metres in only just over 100 kilometres amidst breathtaking mountainous scenery.
The experience is all the more improbable since the line was inoperable for thirty years, and was ravaged during the war of independence. Refurbishment has been undertaken almost entirely by the Eritreans themselves, guided by those who worked on the railway prior to its closure, many of whom are now in their 80s!