The International Writers Magazine: Yemen - A Red Sea destination
two dozen tourists glued to the windows, our bus labored up the
pass blasted through the rocky Haraz mountains in the Republic of
Yemen. Our ship had anchored in the Port of Hodeida (Al-Hudayah),
an ancient Red Sea city on the southwest coast of the Arabian peninsula,
and now we were climbing through jagged mountains interspersed by
cultivated terraces and the occasional stone dwelling clinging to
darkened the sky and a volley of rain drops drummed on the roof of the
bus. Our guide, who earlier said the road was impassable during the
rainy season, now assured us October was not that time of year, but
as we climbed toward the village of Menakha, the rain increased. I visualized
flash floods roaring down the wadis.
Haraz Moutain Village
was dicey by the time the bus reached the sprawling, three level
hotel, Al Twfiq, where we were to have lunch. Inside, we were directed
up a stairway to a large, unfurnished room with windows occupying
one wall. The floor was covered by a red carpet bordered by a plastic
runner that held plates, bottles of orange soda, and platters of
rice, some kind of minced meat, eggs in tomato sauce and honey cakes.
No chairs were in sight so we folded ourselves on the floor to watch
a Yemeni floor show during luncheon.
opened with a pair of musicians, one strumming a lute-like instrument,
the other beating on small drums. One sang in a howling falsetto. The
next act featured two barefoot male dancers wearing white robes and
tablecloth turbans. Moustaches bristling, teeth gleaming, they linked
arms, circled, spun and leaped in a succession of traditional dances,
closing their act by pulling one of the ship's passengers up from the
floor to join in.
At the conclusion of the entertainment, the schedule called for us to
continue up the mountain to a remote village where the attraction is
the spectacular view. But by this time, the rain had become torrential
and visibility was dropping dangerously. The expedition was scrapped
and we piled back on our bus for the return trip to Hodeidah.
The 125-mile serpentine road that winds from the coast to San'a, the
capital, is a miracle of engineering by the Chinese who did the job
in 1958 under a contract with the USSR. Jagged peaks and vast outcroppings
of rock were starkly beautiful and mercifully, any sheer drops at the
edge of the road were obscured the mist.. Within the hour we had driven
out of the clouds and the rain had stopped.
The next hurdle was an encounter with a truck lying on its side in the
middle of the road. It would seem that in this land not yet fully introduced
even to the 20th century, traffic tie-ups would be unlikely, but this
was not the case. Trucks, busses and cars were lined up for what could
have measured a city block. Engines were shut off and we exchanged stares
with neighboring drivers, many appearing to be afflicted with golf-ball
sized facial tumors. According to our guide, the lumps were wads of
qat, a plant whose leaves are chewed until nothing remains but a ball
of fiber to be tucked away in one cheek. A mild narcotic, qat is chewed
ritually although the government reportedly discourages the practice.
Eventually the police showed up and the truck was moved aside. From
then on our driver made good time back to Hodeidah, a port that does
not adhere to anyone's romantic image of Arabia. Grey concrete structures
built by the Soviets stood beside crumbling buildings, some totally
demolished and lying in their own rubble. The streets, barren of greenery,
were littered with what was surely the accumulation of years. Only a
few women, all in black veils, were to be seen in the center of town
which teemed with cars, wagons, donkeys and the occasional camel. The
air was thick with the stench of dung and smoke.
An adventure not to be repeated in the foreseeable future, our glimpse
of Yemen was well timed, bringing into focus the wisdom of the advice:
'Go when the going's good.'
Raddison Line 'Song Of Flower'
© Betty Schambacher
schamb at eburg.com
Betty does the
Journeys and Destinations in Hacktreks
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