Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yemen Day 5 : Hamdullulah !

It seems that posting a lot of pictures is a great way of disguising a lack of good content. Noted for future use.

And i just re-read my last post, and it was quite banal and boring. Sorry. This is the last Yemen post. The key is to change subjects very quickly :-)

On Sunday morning we informed dear Abdul that we had completely changed our plans, and would like to reach back to Sana’a that night. He was quite taken aback, but was a god sport, and suggested a route that would let us see some nice places, and still reach Sana’a. It is forbidden for tourists to travel at night, so we had to start heading back soon.

This time we started the day with a fish breakfast. Basically the same meal, just that we bought different fish this time, and direct from the fish market. And I decided to start the Khat in the morning itself, and give it a chance to work its magic all day.

P1000587 We took a sneak peak at Zabeet, and drove back towards Sana’a, skirting most of the tall mountain roads. I did manage to persuade Abdul to let me drive the Land Cruiser, something i had wanted to do for a long time. We again managed to break his heart by telling him that we had not chewed the Khat from the day before. Khat needs to be consumed the same day, while its fresh. As we abhor alcohol abuse, the yemenis frown upon wasting Khat.

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We passed through some of the same green wadi, and managed to buy some excellent mangoes on the way. I was chewing, so Navin got started on them, pronouncing them to be excellent. Part of the drive was actually IN the wadi, as the road was under repair. Quite fun, we actually hung onto the back of the jeep for a while to enjoy the scenery better.

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We managed to pass the last mountain village with just enough light to get permission to proceed to Sana’a. But it was great light. There was a fog. And for the first time I felt the land was introducing itself to us. A little bit of mystery, shadows in the mist, lights sparkling in the ancient villages. Its amazing what light can do to the mood of a place. This same mountain in the afternoon sun looked so drab.

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We had dinner at a local diner, and were once again surprised by the excellent food. Ordered the chicken thrice. Shades of Amritsar, and the Tandoori Chicken :-)

We encountered some trouble at the last roadblock near Shibam. The police did not want to let us drive that late. In the end, they agreed to give us two men as armed escorts, who dropped us off at the next checkpoint. Very nice folks. And that was the greatest find of the trip. This country has good hearted people, still awed and happy at meeting strangers, not jaded and commercially motivated, because they dont get too many tourists.

We arrived back to our hotel, got the same room, and sat down with our old friends in the Khat room.

And so we ended like we started, chewing and smoking, listening to great sufi music late at night in this ancient city, sitting in a 800 year old house. The music has rarely sounded better, it seemed to like the place :-)

Yemen Day 4 : Letdown

OK .. I admit I am getting a little bored of this now. What seemed like an excellent idea 2 weeks back, now seems like a chore. But what the heck, a promise is a promise, and I will complete the Yemen series :-)

Abdul gave us great hopes for the days ahead. Dinner and dancing in the mountains. Fresh fish in the market in  Hudaydah. Maybe it was the high expectations, but this was our most disappointing day.

We started out on a road towards the mountains, with a barren landscape all around us. The police roadblocks now had tanks in addition to the usual mounted machine guns. Admittedly they were circa WW-II, but imposing just the same. We gave a ride to some locals, who were happy to hang on to the back of the Land Cruiser.  But the mountain villages were seeming more and more similar. We were losing interest. ADD is usually the diagnosis for folks like us.

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We reached the hotel where we were to stay for the night (dinner/music/dancing/khat), and it was very uninspiring. The lunch was the worst we had in Yemen. At this point, the prospect of enduring the local music and dancing (obviously all male) was not looking attractive at all. So we made a decision to push on to the seaside, where we would at least get good fish. The argument being that in the mountains you cannot expect too much, the infrastructure was not good enough.


We did manage to visit ONE interesting village, where the Ismaili’s originate from. The mosque was simple and gorgeous. The small climb to the top of the mountain was nice, but all we found there was a bunch of locals chewing Khat.

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The drive to the sea was refreshingly pleasant. We passed through a wadi, with a river running through it. It was like a slice of Kerala had been pasted in the middle of the desert. Mango and banana plantations, lush green fields of other fruits and vegetables, extremely pleasing to the eye after 2 days of brown dust.



We reached Hudaydah in the evening. My first reaction was : This town could just have been transplanted straight from India. Any small town in Madhya Pradesh. And then we saw the hotel. A monstrosity. Someone’s misplaced sense of aesthetics was very evident. We did have A/C rooms, but at this point we just gave up. There was the sea, (the hotel is sea facing, on the beach) but NO beach ! Just rocks. And with what loving care we had packed our bathing suits. Our Abdul was quite distraught by all this, he was quite proud of his country, and was finding it incredibly hard to understand how we were not appreciating this excellent hotel, with the A/C rooms and all.

So we decided to explore the option of going back to Sana’a, and maybe just cut our trip short. Noura was contacted (very reluctantly yeah .. she had already warned us that there was nothing to do in Yemen for a week), and we found that we could pay more and come back on Monday. And while we were debating, ten minutes later we also found that Noura had already taken the initiative and changed our flights. Very proactive this woman.

It was so bad that we decided not to chew the Khat we had bought on the way. (Of course, how can we deny ourselves the option atleast). After a couple of shots of Vodka, we went with the peerless Abdul to eat at the famed fish. That was the one part of the day that was good as promised. Bought altogether too many fish, had them cooked, ate in the same way as before. Very satisfying, and VERY filling. Because there is no point in letting good fish go waste.

So at this point we realized that there were other reasons why tourism is not so popular in this country. There is bloody nothing to see !!!

No, I am being a bit harsh .. there are other island paradises rivaling the Galapagos, but those are on the other side of the country. But for people like us, with the attention span of a small fish, it was quite enough.

Thought for the day :  Any living should involve unlimited flexibility, or unending hedonism.