Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tihama And Transport Trials

I had dearly wanted to visit the north of Yemen, which is supposedly very beautiful and "authentically" Yemen, but due to the risk of "having troubles" travel to the north can only be done with a tour agency i.e. you need to hire a car and driver. Unfortunately I was unable to find anyone with whom to spread the costs (there aren't many independent travellers in Yemen) and so had to abstain from going there, something of a moot point now because a few days ago fighting broke out it the north and all trips by tourists there have been forbidden.

Getting around in Yemen by public transport, especially in the more mountainous areas where buses fear to go, is an adventure in itself. Generally there are two types of public transport. The first are share taxis, invariably battered old Peugeot 504's, in which resourceful Yemenis manage to pack up to 10 passengers. These can be rather nippy but can be a bit hit and miss as my last ride needed to be hotwired to get started. The other option are the hopelessly misnamed Toyota Hilux pick-up vans. A ride in the back costs half the price of a share taxi and gives unparalleled views of the countryside as it flashes by. The only drawback is that along with your lungful of fresh air you're also likely to get a mouthful of dust.

As you cross the western Haraz mountains you drop down into the Tihama, the coastal plain by the Red Sea and immediately I was doubting whether my decision to head south for the Winter was a wise one as I was hit by stifling heat and humidity. The Tihama is more like Africa than Arabia, in the acacias that dot the scrubland, in the round reed huts that can still be seen dotting the landscape, and in the faces of the local population, whose dark complexion and delicate features betray a long history of contact with their Somali and Ethiopian neighbours across the narrow sea. The speciality here on the coast is fish, which is a pity as I am allergic to fish and it would have made a nice change from ful (broad beans, usually mashed into a paste) and bread which is the staple here in Yemen. It's cheap and filling, but haute cuisine it ain't. Instead I did the next best thing and went down to the fish market in Al Hudayda, the main Red Sea port. It reminded me in its bustle, hectic activity and auctioneering of the fish market in my hometown of Aberdeen, however here the fish were far more exotic: 2.5m sharks, swordfish, stingrays and barracuda were among the few that I could actually name. In the middle of all this were kids with wheelbarrows running to and fro transporting fish from dhows to sellers to buyers and onto waiting trucks.
Al Hudayda being a port town there are a fair number of sailors and unsavoury types, which doesn't do much for a town's reputation, but it does mean that I was able to find some pretty cheap accommodation in a lokanta (doss house). And although I was charged double the going rate for a "room" (more like a cupboard) it was still significantly cheaper than any place I have stayed so far in Yemen. I only mention this because it reminded me of my last blog-post: the walls of my cupboard were plastered with pictures of Saddam. At least in that form he was more harmless than my room mates the mosquitoes.

1 comment:

Erik said...
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