Monday, September 05, 2005

Sana'a - what an amazing place

Yes, we arrived in Sana'a, capital of Yemen, safe and sound late yesterday evening. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't cold at all and that the BBC must have made a big mistake with their weather forecasts. It is about 27 during the day and maybe 18 at night, so quite comfortable, for a city at 7,000 feet high.

Getting in late as it was getting dark was good as one could only gain a sense of what the city was like. But from the start it was quite an experience to see all the men walking around in their sarongs and jackets with mighty knives protruding from their lower bellies, like some Papuan penis gourds! No machine guns, thank goodness.It took a while for our taxi driver to find the place we wanted to stay at - the Taj Talhah Palace hotel, a beautiful early 18th century palace, six stories high, only very partially renovated, with stained glass windows, steep steps, simple rooms, a qat chewing area near the top and a terrace on the roof, overlooking the whole of the Old City, looking out towards the mountains.The staff were friendly and we were welcomed with a drink, before we set off for a walk around town before dinner.

It is always exciting taking one's first tentative steps out into a new town in a new country, especially here in Yemen, which ahs such a bad reputation. As it happens, the worst they normally get up to is kidnapping tourists in order to get funding from the government for a new school or irrigation project. The tourists are normally loooked after extremely well and are shown places way off the beaten track and shown very warm hospitality. Many is the time that the captives didn't want to leave, by all accounts. A British security trainer we met at the airport said that there had been a kidnapping last week, but that this had not been released to the press..... alledgedly.

Anyway, off we went into the dark evening towards the souq. Initially the streets were empty, but nearer the souk they were busier and ity was an incredible site to see all these men lying around high on qat, many with their cheeks swollen with a stash of qat. Many of the stalls were selling the beautifully made knives (jambias), with sheaths and belts, much like the one my father had from the days (in the 50's) when he lived here.


I am sorry to say that we are running out of time at this so-called fast internet place, and the system is looking increasingly unstable as I try to install the drivers for the camera to show the photos. So.. no photos and no more blog for now.Tomorrow we go into the mountains to the west of Sana'a to visit some villages and palaces and doing some trekking. It is douubtful that we will find any internet cafes there, so this may be the last post for a while. A pity as the pictures we took today were really good.

The people we met on the streets were unerringly friendly towards us and many wanted their pictures taken (men only). We were given things and shown around and were very well looked after. We are going into the mountains with a set-up called Radfan Tours and they seem to be very competent and we feel very confident with them... one of whom brought us to this internet cafe.Fred has made a good recovery from the nasty bang he had on his head when walking into a doorpost.

We are thinking we may stay in Yemen longer as there is so much to do, but we will probably stick to the plan and think about returning here another time. We are very glad we made the decision to come here.

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