In my last blog I wrote about Sana’a, the marvelous 2,500 year-old capital of Yemen, and I promised to write about our trip there and back. I’ll use excerpts from my book Voice of a Voyage: Rediscovering the World During a Ten-year Circumnavigation to describe the landscape and the trip. This is a bit long, but the landscape deserves it, and Yemen is not a place you are likely to go for a long time.
“From the sea, the Yemen landscape is dramatic, with sand dunes slipping up toward jagged rocky peaks a few thousand feet higher. Inland the feeling is of an incredibly forceful land with tall, barren rocky mountains, spires, and mesas jutting up from a sandy plain—dust and rock. In the short rainy season, apparently it is green, but that was hard to imagine during our stay when everything was in shades of brown.
Yemen countryside village.
The architecture comes from this land with rock and mud bricks creating stair-step meandering buildings wandering up the side of a hill with a fortress on top. Some are relatively new, most are hundreds of years old and in various states of repair, perched along their ridges looking like extensions of the rock. The periodic villages rising up toward ridges and rocky spires were made of the same soil and rock, seeming like a natural extension of the landscape—not really man-made at all, but some other form of this beige landscape, where even the air had a brownish tinge. Many of the older villages with their crumbling forts are remnants of the days of small chiefdoms, falling back to the dust and rock that created them, like the chiefdoms themselves.
Another combination village and old ruins on the way.
It was spectacular scenery, but exhausting to my eyes as I studiously tried to make out details through a sandy haze and the ubiquitous layer of reddish-brown dust. The only contrast was the sharp black burqas of the women as they moved about their outdoor tasks. Only these few women, the occasional neatly arranged terraced rock walls, and a rare glimpse of a small patch of irrigated green in a valley below hinted at any human habitation.
We traveled to Sana’a with another couple, cruisers also, who live in France, although she is from the Netherlands, he from England. Together we hired Abdullah to guide us and make the arrangements for a car and driver. While on our way, we were held at a police roadblock because of a demonstration ahead. They were concerned for our safety and were considering giving us a police escort. However, after an hour, they decided it was safe for us to proceed on our own.
Lunch on the way.
We went through twelve army and police roadblocks going from Aden to Sana’a and eight on the return trip (a different route). Each time Abdullah gave the officials a copy of our tourist passes, which had our names, nationalities, and passport information, and we were waved through. These roadblocks were for our safety to know if we made it from one point to another—the government wanted no more embarrassment due to dead tourists. [About a month prior to that, in Wadi Dawan, about 180 miles east of Sana’a, two Belgian tourists and their driver were killed by a group of insurgents to embarrass the government.] I wondered what the police or army would have done if we hadn’t turned up at the next roadblock—I suspected it would be nothing.”
We weren’t allowed to take photos of the military checkpoints. More on ironies of the trip next time. Yemen is not without its stories!