A Travellerspoint blog

Escape to Aden

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large_5550_11661305864975.jpgAden from our hotel window. The mountains are part of the crater rim.
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This weekend, I was (together with a Brit) adopted by three Americans ... the five of us taxied down to the port city of Aden [Aden-travel-guide-1319372]. Didn't like the Aden compared to Sanaa ... Sanaa's old city undoubtedly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status.

Aden is a bit of a dump. The unusual thing about it is that a lot of it is built in the crater of a volcano. Some of the jagged edges you see in the picture [http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ship/cole-aden.jpg] are part of the crater rim.

Being a port city, entertainment exists in Aden .large_5550_11661305905977.jpgAaah! Nice cool dip... unlike in Sanaa. We went to "The Sailor's Club" for drinks and dinner ... belly dancers, dancers on table tops, men literally sprinkling coins and small notes on to the dancers ... perhaps it isn't acceptable to tuck them into the dancers' costume here. Of course, at a place like this, daggers have to be left at the reception before entry is granted!

Swimming and seafood is good in Aden, so that's how we spent most of our time there.

To balance off the well-adapted people on our little jaunt, there had to be one who hadn't adapted at all. This US Navy guy takes Imodium (anti-diarrhoeal) whenever he does day trips (or overnights) away from Sanaa ... so he wouldn't have to use the local loos.

On this excursion that I had my first and only taste of qat ... the leaves that most Yemenis (including children) chew as a stimulant. It tasted awful at first but after a while you don't notice it. It didn't produce any pleasurable sensations for me ... won't waste my money on it again.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

After a week of learning Arabic

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The language is written using a consonant script, like some other languages such as Hebrew. This means that it is written somewhat like SMS (TXT messages) ... quite confusing as "bnk" could mean bank, bunk, bink, binak, banik etc. Additional vowel signs are shown by marks above and below the proper script to assist students and dumbos, or when accuracy is importance (as in the religious context).

I guess it isn't the most practical way of writing, especially when the script is being applied to a non-Arabic language with non-compatible grammatical structure ... little wonder countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Azerbaijan have switched to alternates like the Roman and/or Cyrillic alphabets.

I can read now but am a bit slow ... my conversational skills are still limited. As children in school we referred to the Arabic script as "beansprouts [http://www.bookmytable.co.uk/images/beansprouts.jpg]" and didn't pay much attention to the teacher! Much of the script have the same beansprout look and apart from the dots to distinguish between them. Hence it is very unforgiving to missing dots and also bad photocopiers.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

Another trip with friends

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large_5550_11661279603141.jpgFortified town of Al Hajjarah, built on rock.
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Another day trip

I am really being a social butterfly. Being the second day of the weekend, I did another day trip ... this time with the Europeans.

The fortified mountain town of Al Hajjarah is one of the most impressive in Yemen. There were many other villages each with different character.

Al Khutayb stood out as there were many Muslim Indian pilgrims in the pastel blue, green or pink outfits. Very un-Yemeni. The site is special to the Ismailiya sect - my teacher frowned when I told him I visited this place. Hhmmm ...

Yemen and Yemenis

Yemenis, as with other Arabs (except opportunistic Cairo con-artists) are a friendly bunch.large_5550_11661305652568.jpgMarhaba!It is very much a tribal culture unlike in the Levant where I've had most of my Middle Eastern experience. They're dark Arabs (as I call them) compared to the fair-skinned Arabs of the Levant. There are also some Ethiopians and other Africans.

In keeping with tribal tradition, most men (and some young boys) wear a dagger on the front of their sarong ... yes, even in town, shopping, on the bus etc. We were treated to a traditional dagger dance at one of the villages we visited. Four generations (including Little Johnny) waved their daggers and pranced around to the rhythm of the drums. So refreshing to see ... at no stage did Mum shriek to Johnny "Put that knife down!" or "Don't run with the scissors"!

As for the women, they're in full black robes and also have their faces covered except for the eyes.

A favourite Yemeni past-time is chewing of qat, a leaf with mind-altering properties (perfectly legal). The leaves are accumulated in the mouth with saliva to form a ball [http://www.ye.cz/image/qat/lide-a-qat-02.jpg] that protrudes through one cheek like one-sided mumps. I've been told it doesn't impair one's judgment but is more of a stimulant ... drivers chew it while on the road. Many of my new friends chew qat but I haven't tried it yet.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

Weekend trip with new friends

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large_5550_11661305373297.jpgThat's Kawkaban at the top ... we climbed up. Well, we tried looking for a taxi to take us round the back but no luck.
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It is Thursday, first day of the weekend. What else do you do in Yemen apart from walking and climbing to remote fortified mountain villages?

We climbed steps carved into a 500m cliff from Shibam to Kawkaban (top of cliff [http://www.ylcint.com/touryemenpics/new/kawk.jpg]). Beautiful Blonde Becky ('BBB') started in her abayah (black robe and headscarf) but it was all too much in the midday heat and the layers came off until she was in her T-shirt and jeans. She did restore her full decency just before we reached the village at the top.

At another village, we were offered USD1000 plus two shops in exchange for BBB.large_5550_11661305422119.jpgUp at Kawkaban.Some of the men thought she was Syrian or Lebanese as she spoke fluent Arabic with a different accent.

The most impressive village so far was the fortified hilltop village of Al Hajjarah ... Picture 1 [http://www.yemenia.it/gabbana/images/Al%20Hajjarah01.jpg] and Picture 2 [http://www.routard.com/images_contenu/partir/destination/yemen/photo/YEM-P0005-0021-02.jpg].

My new friends

The hostel has a good mix of people from the USA, UK, Western and Eastern Europe. Numbers wise, Americans dominate ... which is really suprising as I've seldom encountered them in previous Middle Eastern trips (but we are talking about Syria and Iran).

Most are fluent in Arabic. Some are doing a circuit of courses through different countries to supplement their degree (language or political science usually) ... a few have studied in Syria, are now in Yemen and plan to continue in Morocco.

While I'm often the linguist when travelling with Kim, I feel like a complete dumbo now. And its not just language-wise. Some of them have adapted so well:

* They wear the local moa or sarong. They can even tuck their cellphone (and money) in the 'knot' of the sarong ... and even retrieve it when it rings ... without unravelling the sarong or having it fall around their ankles.
* Some wear the traditional dagger or jambiya [http://oriental-arms.com/photos/items/05/000105/ph-0.jpg] every day.
* They don't use toilet paper but water (and left hand).
* They can tear chicken off the bone with a piece of bread in their right hand (without even raising their left or unclean hand).


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

First impressions

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large_5550_11661301279470.jpgView from my hostel kitchen.
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I cruised through immigration with a free 3 month stay whereas most foreigners had to queue three times (common in the region; once to change money, second to pay the visa fee, third to enter the country).

Yemen? Yes, Yemen ... in the corner of the Arabian peninsula next to the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia and Somalia) ... one of few countries on the New Zealand's government's "no go" list, ranking up there with Iraq. Makes the previous trips to Beirut and Tehran seem tame right?

The ranking ascribed to Yemen is due the kidnapping risk. There have been tourists kidnapped by tribes and held ransom as barganing chips for new roads, release of political prisoners etc.large_5550_11661301328146.jpgStained glass window in my hostel room.

Yemen is known for its traditional architecture and buildings which are built in the most inaccessible place. That's why I'm here.


Yemen's capital Sanaa was supposedly founded by Shem, son of Prophet Nuh PBUH (Noah) after the great flood. It is some 6000 ft above sea level. Naturally, I had my share of problems with during the first few days coping with the medieval multi-storey buildings with no lifts.


I've got a room at the hostel of a college within the University of Science and Technology. The room rent for a month is about the same as a one night stay in a First Class hotel. I've enrolled at the college for 2 hours a day of Arabic lessons.

The college and hostel are located in highly-decorated medieval buildings in Old Sanaa. These old buildings typically have an internal stairwell with big steps as if it had been built for horses. The ground floor was traditionally for domestic animals.large_5550_11661301364457.jpgI wake up to this every morning ... but at about 6 am yawn!The next floors up are living areas for the extended family and the very top is always a mafraj or lounge for the men ... the room with the best view.

Examples in Picture 1 [http://www.ye.cz/image/marschal/Old_Sanaa13.jpg] and Picture 2 [http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~guenther/images/Old-City-of-Sanaa,-Yemen2.JPG].

I have my own very huge room on the fourth floor (huff, puff, pant pant), sharing the only sitting toilet in the college with two other people!

Apart from the ornate exterior, the buildings are also decorated with stained glass [http://www.globoreisen.at/images/Jemen/sana-haus.jpg] panels (often semi-circular) above the windows. So beautiful to wake up to the coloured lights on the white wall next to my bed.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (0)

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