Thursday, September 29, 2011

San'a, Yemen

Our stay in Yemen was probably one of the highlights of our round the world cruise so far. `This was in 2007.   Erin, our oldest daughter, was with us as we sailed down the Red Sea and planned to make the crossing of the Arabian Sea to Cochin, India with us.   While waiting for the right wind to take us to India we decided to make a short trip up to San'a, the capitol of Yemen, an ancient city that looks like it was pulled from the pages of National Geographic.

Entering San'a by the front door, the Bab al San'a.

The architecture in San'a is unique.   The tower houses look like gingerbread.    In this picture you can see the painters putting a fresh coat of white borders around the windows and doors.    The windows have stained glass arches which make a nice effect both inside the room and outside at night when the lights come on and the windows are all lit up with color.

This is the market in the evening.

Some shops with their wares outside.

We met Noman at the Felix Arabia hotel.   He was our guide for three days while we toured the hilltop villages around San'a.    We paid him about $60 a day for his services including the car and gas.  We paid separately for the funduq's (B&Bs) which were about $10 each. 

Our first stop on the tour was to overlook Wadi Dhar.   Most of the greenery you see here are qat trees

Wadi Dhar is famous for the Rock Palace, pretty self explanatory in this picture.

Room inside the Rock Palace.   Each level of a tower house has a purpose.   The bottom is usually where the animals are kept.    This is more of a social room, but some of the rooms are gender specific.

Before stopping on the first night, Noman took us through Thule.    Here we met the most persistent salespeople of all time.    Even the kids were selling something and they wouldn't let up for a minute.


These guys were anxious to sell us something.   Every time we passed one shop, the man would shut the door, then leap frog in front of us to open up another one with all the same stuff in it.  It was pretty comical.  In the end I bought a door knocker and the shop keeper was a bit frustrated with me as I managed to get him down on the price by a lot.  He told Noman I was too tough, like a Bedouin woman.   I think that might have been a compliment.

We stayed our first night in Kawkaban which is perched on the edge of a cliff.   We passed through an ancient gate (I keep saying ancient... places around here were very old but still in use).   The drawings reflect political parties.. note the horse to the left and the sun on the tower.

In the morning, Noman directed us to a trail that led down the cliffside to Shibam the village you can see distantly in this picture.   The trail was steep, cut right into the cliff.   I was having a little difficulty, skipping out on the loose stones and this woman came down behind us, grabbed my hand and escorted me all the way down.    She was older than me, at least she looked it, but went at such a fast pace that I had to practically jog to keep up with her.  The picture to the right is our room while in Kawkaban.  Pretty comfy.

The women do not like to have their picture taken so we had to sneak them from time to time, which is why we got mostly their backs.   If they catch you taking their picture they will throw stones at you.    Their bourkas were different here, they look like tablecloths.

This picture is taken on the trail, looking back up to Kawkaban.  You can see what I mean by a steep trail built right into the cliffside.

Each town had a cistern for water storage.   This one is in Hababah.   Most of the younger people leave the hillside towns for San'a to get work.

On the way to our next village we stopped at the qat suq to buy some qat.    Qat is a scourge in Yemen.   Most of the men in Yemen have stuffed their cheeks until they pouch out with the green leaves and then slowly suck and chew on them.   This starts about mid afternoon and continues on into the evening.   The men will try and tell you it is a stimulant but not a narcotic, however, none of the men looked very stimulated to us.   They will spend up to 50% of their salaries on the stuff.    Yemen and Somalia are notorious for chewing qat, but Saudi Arabia and Oman have stiff penalties if you are caught with it.

 This was at one of the suqs where you could buy hashish, beer or marijuana if you like.   These guys were joking around.   The one has a jalabyah (dagger) held to the other's throat.   I wasn't amused.

When we got to our funduq, Noman offered to let us try out the qat.    This is in the mufraj where usually the men get together for their afternoon chew.    Neither Erin or I got any effect from the qat because I think you must chew it for some time to build the chemical up in your system.   Anyway, no harm done.  Better to just have some lunch.

 Later in the evening we were invited to a musical event.   The man playing the oud was somewhat famous in this area and has recorded.    We were also treated to a display of the jambyah dance where the men circle around each other waving their daggers above their heads.    Erin joined in.

On our road trip we had to pass through several checkpoints.   Noman told us if we revealed that we were American, he would have to have an escort and we would not get around so easily.   So we were "French" for the time being.   Since Erin could speak some French she would have to do the talking if we were directly questioned.

 Our last village was Al Hajarrah, Noman's home town
The hills were mostly dry on our trip.  During the wet season, they would have been verdant.

Climbing the long stairway to the gate, we were surrounded by children who became your best "friend" which meant that they were your guide and were expecting payment.  They also led us to little "shops" that would suddenly appear outside someone's doorway.    The entrance gate to the village was small, to keep out unwanted marauders.

Doorway to a house

When we left Yemen for India we crossed our half way point around the world.   Erin surprised us with a bottle of champagne and a bag of M&Ms, a tradition in our family when we celebrate important milestones.

Here's Erin navigating our way to India, our next stop.....Mumbai.

No comments:

Post a Comment