A Travellerspoint blog

Yemen Arab Republic

Out of Yemen; Into Dubai

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Leaving Yemen

Leaving Yemen was sad for me. Sanaa [Sanaa-travel-guide-1314202] had been my home for 5 weeks. I've never been to a school that's been so cool. Where in the world would you find your teacher wearing a gun holster (with bullet holders) to class?

I also loved the climate in Sanaa ... at about 7000 feet the temperature was always perfect ... sometimes a bit warm in the sun by never oppressive.

I have grown very attached to my friends from Holland, South Africa, Finland, France and the USA. We had enjoyed many meals together in and out of school. I will always remember fondly the dinners on the balcony and the tea and cakes (Arab sweets) on the rooftop at night with the view of Sanaa by night.

I hope there will be another opportunity for me to visit Yemen for an extended period again. I really do wonder about the travel warnings issued by even liberal governments like NZ. They can't possibly be written by people who have real-life knowledge of these places ...


We arrived in modern and cosmopolitan Dubai two days ago. There are many westerners, Indians, Africans and Russians as visitors and as shopkeepers / traders. Then there are the Arabs who look like westerners, Indians, Africans and Russians. It is just so deceiving even for us ... we went into a shop run by Russians and somehow assumed that the people in the next were Russians too but they turned out to be whiter Arabs!

Our hotel is the middle of everything ... from electronics to car parts. It was heaven for Kim.

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Queen Arwa's home

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Ibb was a base for us to visit Jibla, seat of Yemen's historic Queen Arwa (1067 AD to 1138 AD). She was reputed to be a wise woman and ruled Yemen for 40 years.


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Quickstop in Taizz

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Taizz is a (yet another) pretty walled city at the foot of a cliff ... if it weren't that, it would be a pretty walled city on top of a cliff ... that's Yemen for you.

We stopped here for lunch and explored briefly before deciding to continue to Ibb, so we'd set ourselves up for a faster return to Sanaa ... in preparation for our impending departure for Yemen.


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Hot, hot, hot!

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large_5550_11661306889442.jpgThe drive from Sana'a to Zabid.
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Finally we explored the lowlands and surrounding highlands in the west of the country closest to the Red Sea.

Zabid is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. It has even more minarets than Sana'a per square inch ... wish us luck with sleeping.

It is reputedly one of the hottest places in the world ... and you'd believe it too from the way Kim carried on when the power went off (as it does in Yemen), cutting off the air-con in our little hotel. It was definitely uncomfortable but a just beyond bearable for me.

We also visited other cities along the way, namely Taizz, Ibb and Jibla [http://www.thymos.com/mon2/yemen/yemen7.jpg]. Being Yemen, these naturally had beautiful fortified mountain towns as their centres.

With our travels in Yemen, we've realised that each region (and its people) is so different. In the east, people appeared quite Malay/Indian. In the west, rather African.

By the way, our travels in the region were all by shared taxis (old Peugeot 504 station wagons). They seat a total of 10 people including driver. 3 in front row, 4 in second and another 3 in the rear row. We travelled with Eelco (a Dutch school-mate), so the three of us would buy all four seats in the middle row to ensure reasonable comfort.


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Excursion to Shihara

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large_5550_11661306783973.jpgThe stone bridge at Shihara ... nice but really, getting there was nearly all the fun ... as they say, the journey is the destination.
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Now, for our next adventure ... Shihara (Photo 1 [http://www.anytravels.com/photo/yemen04.jpg], Photo 2 [http://www.auraphoto.it/imagebank/archivio/categoria4/gallery80/AP001534.jpg]), yet another medieval city built in one of the most inaccessible places. Our trusty series III Toyota Landcruiser (ie. very old) managed the paths cut into seemingly sheer cliffs with no problems. The trip was a 4X4 lover's dream.

With Shihara, half the excitement is getting there. We required armed guards in an escort vehicle to minimise the risk of kidnapping .large_5550_11661280421497.jpgOur armed police escort on the way to Shihara... I've seen pictures from those who have been and there was a machine gun mounted on the accompanying ute [http://www.aazphoto.com/travelogue/yemen/Yemenmarib_1431.jpg]. I've been told it is a kalashnikov but I wouldn't know.

FYI, there are different grades of risk for travel within Yemen, and this will be the "highest". I've so far done the "no permit required" areas. Much of the country is in an intermediate risk grade where one has to obtain a travel permit (granted relatively easily for a fee).

I've seen that many Americans pretend to be the same nationality as their travel companions (Brits or Canadians) when not required to show passports at checkpoints. They claim that Americans are sometimes not let through as the Yemeni government can't afford to have anything happen to Americans.

The Yemeni obsession with Qat (a kind of chewing leaf; arguably a drug) is even more obvious in the highlands where they are grown.large_5550_11661289824687.jpgThat's the biggest qat ball I've seen. So much land is devoted to this pricey commodity that there doesn't seem to be enough land devoted to nutritional agriculture. I guess you could say Yemenis are Qatholics (as their second religion after being Muslims).

In Shihara we stayed at a local guest house which could have been out of the middle ages. It was built from cut rocks and plastered on the inside with mud. The floors supported by tree trunks which had been plastered over too.

Shihara is the wild west of Yemen. Although we had about 6 armed guards (with machine guns) looking after us on our trip, one vehicle in our convoy got run off the road by opportunistic machine-gun toting locals. Thanks to the armed guards following close behind, we didn't find out what their fate would have been otherwise. The near-victim in this case was a German woman who had been in Yemen for about 8 years ... she claims that this is her first incidents and events like this are rare.

In the highlands, guns and machine guns are a way of life ... possibly in the same way that daggers are a way of life in the city. Perhaps the arms are necessary to protect the valuable Qat.


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