Friday was the start of our road trip around the country. Armed with a Land Cruiser, driver Abdul and his broken english, and multiple copies of our travel permit, we embarked on the first leg of the journey, even waking up at the relatively ungodly hour of 8 in the morning.
The first checkpost was encountered about 15 km from Sana’a. Two jeeps with mounted machine guns stood guard, while every entry and exit vehicle was checked. As a tourist, you need permission from the tourist police to venture out (and in) of any government controlled area. Which are essentially the cities. Hey, we are talking about a country where two germans were kidnapped and taken to inaccessible mountains 60 km from Sana’a :-). After various gestures towards us and explanations from Abdul (who used the word Amreeki many times), we were allowed to drive out.
The first stop was Imam Yahya’s house. The thing is perched on a rock, and built almost as a vertical extension to it. Very amazing place, thick stone walls, and great views. Charming could be a word to describe it. Some locals were disinterestedly dancing outside, maybe that was part of the push to promote tourism. Abdul (“you no worry, Abdul here, luggage safe. No problem, take much time”) was a little disappointed that we came out without spending too much time in there.
He was even more unhappy when we refused to take pictures of a “very pretty village” on the way. “Italiano, Espania, they take too much pictures”. He did manage to borrow some money from us to buy Khat. Yeah, he started early that day. At his insistence, we did stop at one village, which had some almost european looking narrow houses surrounding a pond, and a mosque to top it off.
We stopped to buy some local grilled chicken, and reached Shibam for lunch. Some local woman has converted her house to a restaurant, and gave us some great food. There was a TV crew outside which wanted to get our reactions to Yemen and the lunch in particular. And a group of tourists accompanied by a AK47 toting bodyguard. “No problem, too much Kalashnikov in Yemen”. We paid a princely sum of $10 for the sumptuous meal, and declined Abdul’s offer to let us trek to the next destination, Kawkaban, a village about 500 m directly up, overlooking Shibam. Highlight of the meal : a very pretty Yemeni woman, who had taken of her veil while washing her face. Yummy ! And so was the dessert of pastry covered with honey. We visited the local Khat market again to buy supplies (which featured bodies of old trucks being used as shops). More expensive this time. The Khat budget is increasing day by day now.
A nice drive to the top. I was quite surprised by the road infrastructure there, was not expecting something as good. Kawkaban looks down on a vast plain, and there is a vertical drop of about 500 m. Great spot for paragliding. Or base jumping. We were in for a little letdown here. The hotel was small, but not quite as nice and charming as the Golden Dar. Got some excellent light though, and some good pics. Tried meditating on the edge of the cliff, but were constantly disturbed by some local kids trying to sell us stuff. Again a little disappointing, this was the first time someone had shown this tourist-philic behavior.
The evening was spent in the Khat room, in the company of two swiss guys, who in retrospect seemed to be gay. Well, Abdul did spot them showering together the next morning, naked and all. But that might just be being european. I did have some food that evening, even though the Khat was working its magic. Long conversations, about random topics. I could not sleep, and this is where I wrote the first of the Sana’a blogposts.
So in the course of the day, I did catch some words which are used in Hindi/Urdu. “Ajnabi”, “Chai” .. And my mouth was quite sore now because of the Khat. Both sides.