Yemen

The Basics: I traveled around Yemen for 25 days in November 2008 -meeting super hospitable locals, seeing some amazing scenery, practicing Arabic and trying to look as Yemeni as possible.
 
Photo Gallery - Updated December 2008

November 20 | Sana'a, Yemen

I must admit that I was a little afraid of traveling to Yemen as my travel date neared; the American embassy had recently been attacked, there were occasional
kidnappings of westerners, and recent rainstorms had devastated some regions. Yemen is probably not the place most travelers would put high on their list of must-visit travel destinations. Nevertheless, I had heard fantastic reports about Yemen from travelers in-the-know who spoke about the unrivaled hospitality and old-world Arabic culture. Luckily, I made the trip and met some of the nicest people on earth and saw Yemen’s spectacular scenery.

I spent my first week in Sana’a, the capital and one of the oldest cities in the world famous for its 6,000 mud brick tower houses -some which have been standing for over 800 years. My hotel room was on the fourth floor of a mud brick house and located near the famous Souq al-Minh, which is full of colorful merchandise, spices, and just about everything else you can imagine. Along with taking a few Arabic lessons and exploring the souqs (they should really be called mazes), I was able to meet up with a local couchsurfer named Ibrahim who drove me around Sana’a and treated me to some amazing fresh fish and kebab dinners. Typical Yemeni food is Salta, a thick stew cooked in huge coal bowls along with chicken and rice eaten with bare hands. 

Traveling independently through Yemen using public transportation was exciting
and allowed for countless interactions with helpful, friendly locals. Any time I needed help with directions I would always find a local willing to escort me to where I wanted to go. Taxis in Yemen are cheap, but I guess they should be since it really consists of cramming 10 people into a 1970’s era Peugeot station wagon designed for only six. 

My first stop after leaving Sana’a was the Harazz Mountains to  the east. I went on two guided day hikes from Hajjara and saw some beautiful sites but the climb was rough on my legs. These mountains are rugged, but the locals have survived for thousands of years by farming an incredible system of manmade terraces. Everyone lives in tiny villages perched on rocky peaks with many of the freestanding stone houses literally built on the edges of a huge cliffs. Daily life doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years and everybody seems content.

The Red Sea is a hot and humid desert region with industry primarily focused on fishing and growing mangos. Zabid, the old capital of Yemen and now an
endangered UNESCO village, is famous for the architecture of its mosques and houses decorated with intricate friezes made of mud.  The dirt paths winding around the white buildings and mosques set up an old Arabic feel. I was lucky enough to attend a wedding that took place in my hotel -free lunch is served for everyone followed by copious amounts of khat chewing and traditional Yemeni music with dancing.  

Normally Beit al Faqih is a sleepy desert village, but every Friday traders come from miles away to create the largest market in Yemen. Everything imaginable is on sell here: camels, baskets, fruit, incense…etc. I arrived at 6:00 AM by hitching a ride in a Toyota truck loaded down with two cows in the back and a dozen farmers with who-knows-what stuffed into their bags. 

A four hour Puegeot ride out of the desert brought me into Yemen’s third largest city, Ta’izz, with it’s surrounding mountains offering panoramic views of the city. Up the twisting road to the north is Ibb, a beautiful city where I became friends with restaurant owner, Ayob, and his family. The family was so kind and really intent on leaving with me the greatest impression and memories of Yemen. They took me on some gorgeous daytrips including a drive up into the mountains to see views overlooking their city where a spontaneous Yemeni dance ensued. For a few days I hung out around the restaurant and went on business errands around town with the owners as they bought fresh vegetables and conducted business. It was interesting to tag along and see how things get done in Yemen. Every afternoon I joined them for the ritual of purchasing khat leaves from the open air market and then chewing them while talking with friends, working, or watching TV. 

Gamdan, one of the restaurant brothers, offered to take me to the southern port city Aden along with his friends Fikury and Marad. The road to Aden was surreal as the climate changes so much from green mountains to a desolate desert. There are some really nice beaches in Aden and I’m so happy that I was traveling with my friends who knew the best beaches and had a private car.