Shaharah - Location of the 17th Century Bridge - A remote place in Yemen
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Yemen Trip Journal from March 17 to April 04, 2006

Follow this link to return to the Yemen Photos Pg. 1 and Yemen Photos Pg. 2.

Country: Yemen
Duration: March 17 to April 04, 2006
Distance Traveled in the Country:  ~ 3000 km
Memorable Impressions of the Country:  Yemen has exceeded our expectations in a very positive way.  Most people coming to Yemen are on organized tours, sheltered in pre-booked high end hotels, transported in convoy of 4WD's and escorted by police.  We truly feel we have experienced Yemen.  The motorcycle has given us the opportunity to be approachable anywhere we stopped.  Yemeni people will go out of their way to help you.  They are very proud of their country.  Even though it is a poor country, the people are happy.  We can't count all the smiling faces and laughing eyes we have seen.  The western media has blown the situation in Yemen totally out of proportion.  There are definite areas with civil unrest (and we have seen it), but in the most part the people are very peaceful.  Guns and daggers are very visible, and part of their culture.  At no point of our journey did we feel unsave.  In addition to its helpful and friendly people, Yemen offers one of most spectacular landscapes.  From the desert and no mans land in the west to enormous mountain ranges in the east.  Yemen has several World Heritage sites very accessible to the public.  We both experienced one of the most memorial days in our lives in Yemen. When I think of Yemen I get emotional, because it has given us so much, a true taste of Arabic people and culture and new found respect for the Muslim religion.  People here are much more affectionate toward each other, something that our western society has lost a long time ago.  As we traveled through this country we asked ourselves numerous times, who has a better life and there is no answer.  Most Yemeni people have a hard life and barely make ends meet, but they are still happy.  We will remember forever the dozens of people surrounding us at every stop, welcoming us to Yemen and asking a million questions. 
Gasoline Cost: Varies from place to place.  All gas is leaded and no per litre cost indicated at the pumps.  Approx. $0.40/litre
Hotel Cost: On average about $30.00CDN
Food & Drink Cost: Very Cheap. There is no consistency in pricing.
Special Thanks to: Adnan (Yemen), Addy (Yemen), Nader (Canada), Zahara (Canada), who helped us enormously to make this trip happen.

March 17, 2006.  Our journey toward the Yemen border begins.  The night before we talked to a local bus company regarding which border crossing entry to use and the conditions of the road.  All current Yemen Maps indicate about 500km of a dirt/sand trail through the desert to Saywun from the Makinet/Shihan border crossing (no pavement, only sand). Another crossing is located on the coast line and the road to it is spectacular as we explored it the previous day, but what might lay beyond is questionable.  It is hard to find anyone with any information about Yemen in Oman.  We get the usual “Do not go there” response.  We decide to try crossing approx. 300km from Salalah, Oman at the Al Mazyunan/Shihan border.  We head north to Thumrait and then west to Mudayy.  The landscape is desert, the cross wind is hauling and people are scarce.  The gas station in Thumrait had no power and in Mudayy the gas barrel was questionable.  Here we confirmed that the border crossing had gas.  From Mudayy we head north to Qataa and then west to Al Mazyunan.  3km from the Omani exit crossing.  Last fuel, we change some of our Omani Rial to Yemeni Riyal.  No Bank in Salalah had any Yemeni Riyal, we hadn't expected that.  We do have Euro on us for emergencies.  The Omani border crossing takes all of 10 minutes and the guard wishes us good luck.  As we ride the 7km no-mans land between the Omani and Yemen border posts, we pass the Welcome to Yemen sign.  The Yemen exit gate is chained closed which indicates that it isn't used very often.  We wait at the entry gate.  The time has changed back an hour and we arrive just before noon on a Thursday (Muslim Sunday).  A guard with a dagger approaches us, he speaks no English, but he opens the gate and signals us to park the bikes and get the passports out.  Our Yemeni Visa comes in handy, less paper work.  It only takes about 20 minutes. Then they ask for our Carnet de Passage for the motorcycles.  We hand over all the paperwork and all work stops as everyone goes to the mosque to pray.  We hang out for half an hour and then more officials appear.  It was hard to determine who was an interested local or an official, their was no specific dress code.  Everyone wears a dagger (Jambia) and some a machine gun.  Mike goes from one office to another to get the Carnet's signed, while I hang out with the locals, who try to communicate with me.  The official in the Carnet office can't pronounce Michael's name.  So Mike tries to give him an example, Michael Schumacher.  From their on he was addressed as Michael Schumacher.  Mike tried not to laugh.  Another hour passes as all our paperwork gets inspected by numerous officials.  Everyone was very helpful and friendly, offering food and tea.  Finally we are done, all that is left is to pass the final checkpoint.  Again Mike presents all the paperwork, as I get approached by the locals to try some qat (which are leaves from catha edulis trees).  Chewing qat is an important social activity, it is said to be addictive and people have huge amounts in their mouth, bulging out on the side of their cheek. All signs are in Arabic, which we are unable to read.  We pass through the small village of Shiham and don't realize that we miss our turn.  Heading off on a paved road we realize after some 30km that the GPS indicates we are heading south instead of north, but we didn't see another previous turn.  At 70km after the border crossing we enter a settlement with a representation of a gas station.  Instantly we are the main attraction of the locals.  We get the map out and try to communicate that we are heading to Saywan.  Realizing that they can't read the map and understanding that we are heading the wrong way, we are signaled that we should wait a few minutes and they will get someone who speaks English.  As we wait a truck pulls up and Mike is asked if we required escort to Saywan and they point to the machine guns.  No thanks.  So far the people have been very friendly and helpful.  As promised an English speaking person arrives and confirms that we have to head back to the border crossing.  Off we are to Shihan.  At the turn off to the right road we fuel up and are surrounded by people again.  They all want to know where we are from and where we have been.  After 7 military stops and 200kms the sun starts to set and we decide to set up camp at the last military stop.  With no sign of a town close by or on the map, it was the safest alternative.  It had been a full day of riding in the desert.  People in this part of the Yemen are tough to withstand the harsh conditions of this environment.  There is nothing out here, except of sand, camels and used tires.  We figured out that the used tires mark important turn-offs in the desert.  But we didn't see anything beyond miles of desert.  We set up our tent beside the military camp trailer, the make-shift dug out holes for defense and a noisy generator thumping away into the night to ensure that the Police sign was lit up.  On top of the hill, a lonely guard, watched for approaching vehicles and signaled our base camp. In total there were probably 10 of them with machine guns.  All very friendly, even inviting us for tea.  The next village was 70kms away.  We were low on gas and they offered to run into town to get us some.  That is how everyone is in this part of the country, they bend over backwards to help you out.  It had been a big day for us with a border crossing and riding all day in the hot desert.  Mike phones Randy on the satellite phone every two days to let him now that we are okay as we travel through Yemen.  As Mike walks into the desert away from the generator to make the call on the satellite phone he is surrounded by 6 military guys with machine guns, all very curious and watching our every move.

March 18, 2006.  Ruby's Birthday.  We pack up our tent.  They pull out a 20 litre gasoline canister and siphon the gasoline out for us, since no funnel is available.  Then we sit down on this old mattress behind a tarp, strapped to some used tires and drink very sweet hot tea.  It was even too sweet for me and I like my sugar.  They didn't want any money for the gasoline and even gave us some milk and cream cheese.  Cream cheese is huge in the Middle East.  We hand out some Canada pins to show them our thanks for their hospitality and we can tell they are very happy.  We wave good-bye and are on our way again toward Saywun.  The road followed the GPS route until 100kms passed Thamud.  Suspicious that after 30km we are way of track, we stop and consult each other.  There was definitely no other turn off that we could have missed.  We decide to keep on riding and hope that it will meet up with the road from Qabr Hud.  Unexpectantly, the landscape changed from desert sand to a large canyon.  We realize we entered the start of Wadi Hadramawt. It stretches about 200km in length and is the longest Wadi in the Middle East.  It is named after the people who lived there centuries ago and is mentioned in the Quran and the Bible. It is an amazing road that winds it way through the Wadi, but not at the bottom of the canyon, but at the rim.  The view is incredible and after half and hour we descent into Qabr Nabi (that is what we believe the town was called) and Wadi Masila.  Again the landscape changes from the barren canyon and deep gorges to a sea of palm trees, mud houses and fields of crop.  Civilization at last!  We follow the road that leads us to Tarim and are exposed for the first time to Yemen driving.  There are no rules, every one drives wherever and whenever.  From nowhere hundreds of 125cc 2-Stroke motorcycles appear, decorated with decals, and weaving in and out of traffic.  The cars are ancient and have seen better days. It takes some getting used to, especially since the locals don't realize we are a lot bigger than the little 125cc bikes.  There has been a couple of heart-stopping incidences as we are almost “taken out” in a few close calls.  We realize that the only danger in Yemen will be not getting into an accident.  The people are in awe of us and don't know how to react to us.  We have constant crowds around us and a lot of thumbs up. Somehow in this chaos of traffic we find our way to Saywun.  The travel book indicates a money exchange place.  We are in desperate need of Yemen Riyals, but after unsuccessfully riding up and down street, with traffic cutting in and out and +42 Deg Celsius, we decide to head for the Shibam Motel instead and get cooled off.  From Saywun, Shibam is only 19kms.  The Shibam Motel is located directly outside the gate into the walled village. It is expensive for Yemen standards at $35US/night, but as indicated in the travel book.  ‘Where else in the World can one stay in a Museum'. Shibam was build around 4th century AD and is called the ‘Manhattan of the Desert'.  To preserve its history and restoration it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982.  Quickly we clean ourselves up and walk into the walled village.  The souq is in full swing.  This is what we both talked about a couple of months ago, wondering what it would feel like being there and walking between the mud built skyscrapers.  Amazing, awesome, unexplainable.  One of the houses is open to the public and gives us a glimpse into a traditional family home.  It is six (6) stories high and each room is labeled in English to its purpose.  On the roof top a view of the other high rises.  The motel provides us with supper for 1000 Yemeni Riyal or $6CDN per person.  It is a four course dinner and as we are the only ones staying at the hotel we have the place to us. 

March 19, 2006.  We have breakfast on the terrace of the motel overlooking the palm garden.  We decide to give Saywun another try and see if we would have better luck in finding our way around.  From the main road we spot the Sultan's Palace, which towers above the rest of the town and head for it.  The old souq is buzzing and traffic chaotic.  We make our way through the masses and park beside the Sultan's Palace, causing a traffic jam, due to the locals gathering around us.  The Tourist police arrive and ask us kindly to move our motorcycles in the Palace.  A local man takes us to an exchange office, where we are able to exchange a 100 Euro to 22500 Yemeni Riyal.  Mike's wallet is bursting at its' seams with the stack of bills.  The old souq looks inviting and we take a stroll through the market, try some strange looking oranges and get offered other fruits to taste, which we have never seen before.  Everyone welcomes us to Yemen.  It is almost noon and very hot.  We enter the Sultan's Palace and pay the 500 Riyals each to visit the Museum.  The museum is small, but it has some very interesting artifacts and some very good history of the area.  A Calgary petroleum company, Nexen, has provided funding for some of the displays.  The Palace Museum also contains two photo collections from the 1930's that allow use to see how some things have changed, and how many things remain as they were then.  The map indicates some archeological sites south of Tarim.  Unfortunately the travel book is very general and limited in information about Yemen.  Signage is also poor.  The GPS has helped a lot, even though we are only using the World Map as a base.  So far we have been lucky and stumbled onto points of interest.  But not this time.  Since we didn't know what we were looking for we finally gave up and detoured instead into a village and explored its dusty tiny roads between houses.  Mike's thermostat indicated +47.8 Deg. Celsius, as we stop for a picture.  We are both drenched from the heat.  It is time for us to head back to the motel.  To get a good view of Shibam at sun set, we hike up a nearby mountain.  The view does not disappoint.  It is most amazing to see the mud skyscrapers from this angle and we question the engineering behind it 2000 years ago.  A picture that will be imprinted in our minds forever.  Just along the road between Saywun and Tarim, the locals produce the mud bricks.  It is an interesting process to watch and quite interesting to see that this 1000 year old process is still used today to build the houses.  Mud and straw are mixed and then poured in a rectangular form, approx. 3 inches thick on the ground.  There are 100's in a row wide and deep exposed to the sun.  After they are dried by the sun, the mud bricks are stacked and ready for sale. This is all done by hand.

March 20, 2006. A quick detour into Saywun to exchange more Euro to Riyal.  So far we have not found a bank machine.  As we pass Shibam we have one last look in our mirrors to say good-bye to an amazing ancient town.  From Shibam, it is our goal to make it to Ma'rib, which translates to 420km through the windswept desert and unbearable temperatures.  The journey took us about twice as long as we thought, since we had to pass through over 20 military stops.  Ma'rib was in the news quite a lot over the last year and especially in January 2006 for the kidnapping of the German Consulate and the four Italians.  All were released unharmed.  The area around Ma'rib is in civil unrest and the government does not have control over the area.  Consequently, at about 40km from Ma'rib we were escorted by the military.  We did not have a choice in the matter.  The military vehicle was equipped with an anti-aircraft gun.  Four soldiers with machine guns in the vehicle and five more in the back of the pick-up.  Since no photo's are allowed I did video tape via helmet cam.  As we enter the town limits of Ma'rib we are handed over at a military stop to the tourist police who escort us to a hotel.  The hotel is called The Land of Two Paradise and is gated with a guard c/w machine gun standing at the entrance.  There is a nightly curfew and tourists are not allowed to leave the premises unless escorted by military or tourist police.  It had been a long day, at every military stop we are questioned for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Being on the motorcycle attracts more attention then usual.

March 21, 2006.  We arrange for the tourist police to escort us to the tourist sights.  Our first stop is the Mahram Bilqis (also known as the Bilqis Temple or Awwam Temple).  It was build before 800 BC and dedicated to the sun god.  As we walk around the ruins we are accompanied by two soldiers with machine guns and two more sentries stand watch over the motorcycles.  Excavations are in process at the Mahram Bilqis and the site is off-limits for tourist.  We were able to take pictures from several spots and talk to the archeologist. From the Temple we head to the Arsh Bilqis (also called the Bilqis Palace or Bilqis Throne).  Archaeologists believe that the temple with its five-and-a-half columns was built in about 2000 BC and dedicated to the moon.  Here we were allowed to walk in the ruins, with the soldiers showing us the way.  One of them even gave me his machine gun.  It was a bit weird. (see pictures).  We were even able to buy some original artifacts from the site.  Where in the world are you allowed to take part of ancient history home.  The next and last stop was the eerie silhouette of Old Ma'rib.  It was bombed in 1962 in the civil war.  We had the exclusive tour of the place provided by our friends the soldiers.  Some of the places we would not have known existed if it wasn't due to their help.  After completion of our sight seeing we were escorted to the exit military stop of Ma'rib and we said our good-byes.  From their we were free to go, but still had to battle our way through numerous military stops and were almost killed three (3) times by head-on traffic in our lane.  Every military stop was surprised that we didn't have an escort and they didn't know what to do with us.  Approx. 100km outside of San'a we start to climb in elevation to 2250m.  The landscape changed to mountains and the temperature drops to only +30 Deg Celsius.  We head directly to the old city of San'a.  Adnan, a native Yemeni, had arranged a reservation at the Arabia Felix Tourist Hotel.  The hotel is located in the middle of the old walled city.  We end up lost 700m from our destination.  As we battle our way through a souq (again there is some incredible video footage on the helmet camera), we stop and ask for directions.  We instantly cause a traffic jam as a crowd of people surround around us.  Everyone wants to help, after some time we communicate that we are looking for old San'a and get directions.  As we drive down Wadi as Saila (a paved wadi that sometimes floods after heavy rain), we again are lost and stop to ask for help.  Another helpful man understands where we want to go and tells us to follow him.  Amazingly we were only 50m away from our destination hotel. The roads in the walled city of San'a are only one (1) car wide and stopping anywhere causes traffic jams and a lot of noisy honking.  At the hotel, the locals swarm around us, wanting to help.  We move the motorcycle inside the garden.  The Arabia Felix Tourist Hotel is a charming traditional tower house built around a garden.  Thanks to Adnan, we got the best room in the place on the 3rd floor, which by Canadian standards translates to 6th floor because of the high ceilings of each floor.  The steps are enormous, who needs a StairMaster, when you have to carry your gear up all these steps.  The view is amazing and the room is beautiful. We decide to make San'a our base for the next four (4) days.  Exploring the old city, as well as visiting sites of interest in the surrounding area.  We eat in the garden of the hotel and visit with Adnan and his friend.  They are amazed at our journey and can't believe that we made it this far without more road permit troubles.  We advise him of our plans and he plans to join us to Shaharah in a couple of days.  After 9pm we strolled into the old town centre and visited the amazing souq, which didn't seem to have an end to it.  To give some more information on the old walled city of San'a.  It was declarded a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986.  It is said to be the best-preserved medinas in the Middle East and has as many as 14,000 homes built from mud.  San'a claims to be the oldest city in the world (2500 years) and features about 50 mosques still standing.  It truly is a joy walking through the old part of San'a and the bustling souq.

March 22, 2006. A day of maintenance for both the motorcycle and us.  The bikes are in need of a much overdue oil change.  So far we have done 8500kms since arriving in Dubai a month ago.  We plan to change tires and due a complete service in Amman, Jordan.  We can't believe the amount of km's we have done already, way over our original estimate.  Our first goal is to find a bank and to withdraw some money.  The first bank we stopped at (Saba Islamic Bank) indicated the plus system on the ATM machine, but we could not complete a transaction.  After trying to communicate with the bank representative, he sends us on our merry way to the Arab Bank.  The bank machine allowed the use of our debit card, but only gave us US Dollars, which we then changed to Riyals.  This process took us a couple hours.  The amazing souq of old San'a draws us for another visit.  Mike starts to bargain on a traditional Yemeni dagger (Jambia) c/w belt.  It looks good on him.  A souvenir and a reminder of a place that we still can't all take in.  We relax at the Bab al-Yaman gate, the only gate of four still intact and watch the locals.  Or maybe the locals watch us.  We are approached continuously, invited for tea and asked if we need help.  We can't count how many times we heard "Welcome to Yemen".  We explore further and deeper into the old city and on our way back to the hotel find a small shop that sells batteries and oil.  Words can't describe what we see every day, every moment of the day.  It is too much to even try to explain.  Pictures do not do the people and Yemen justice.  It is like stepping back in time.  We stand out like a sore thumb, but are treated most welcome. Even as a women, I don't know how many times I have shook hands and had my picture taken.  They all want to know if we are married.  But back again to the small shop, stacked with old batteries, oil and tires to the roof.  We communicate that we need motorcycle oil.  There appears to be no 4-stroke motorcycles in Yemen.  Mike gets the motorcycle manual, to try to confirm the correct oil to buy.  We end up buying Mobil SAE 40 (API SF), which is okay with the BMW manual.  We return with the motorcycles and change the filter and oil in front of the shop.  We have a huge audience, as they have probably never seen a women change oil or for that matter seen a BMW motorcycle of that size.  Everyone wants to help.  We return to the Souq al Milh in the evening to have supper with the locals.  Busing with activity we sit in the middle of it all, eating Lula Kabob, pita bread, a tomato salsa mix and drinking hot tea until we were stuffed, all for 400 Riyal or $2.40CDN.

March 23, 2006.  We plan a day trip from San'a to Shibam, Kawkaban and Thilla (Thula).  The map indicates 48 kms to destination and it takes us a couple of hours.  Why? Navigation is the greatest obstacle we have to deal with in Yemen as road signs are limited and mostly in Arabic.  It gives us ample opportunities to meet with the locals as we try finding our way.  In Shibam, the morning souq is in full swing as we make our way with the motorcycles through it.  We park the motorcycles in front of a small shop.  The shop owner immediately wants us to store our possessions in his store for save keeping.  We change from our motorcycle gear to hiking clothes, with 30 onlookers watching every move we make.  One of the locals takes us to the start of the trail up to Kawkaban.  Kawkaban, a village located on top of a 2800m mountain (Jebel Kawkaban) overlooks the grand canyon of Yemen.  The one hour hike up the steep mountain side is a joy.  At the top we enter Kawkaban through the ancient gated door way.  The village has seen better days, but gives us a glimpse into how Yemeni's still live today.  One of the must sees is the old, still used, cistern for storing water.  Back down in Shibam we walk past one of the oldest mosques in Yemen and return to our motorcycles.  A thunderstorm moves in as we ride to Thilla (Thula), located only 7kms from Kawkaban.  The travel book doesn't give it enough credit. It is a traditional village, very well preserved, with stones houses, stone roads, and decorative windows.  We didn't spend much time walking through the village, as it was pouring rain, but wished we did.

March 24, 2006.  ONE OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE DAYS IN YEMEN.  We arranged to be picked up by Adnan, his friend Addy and his Toyota 4 wheel drive to go visit Shaharah, located 156km north from San'a.  The previous day we also had met Olivier, a hitch-hiking French man, who hooked up with us for the day. We leave San'a bright an early and only make it to the first military check stop, located just outside San'a.  We are advised that we have to wait until 9am for military escort and then wait again 20km down the road in Amran until 11:30am for military escort to Shaharah.  At the speed we were traveling it meant that we would have to spend the night in Shaharah.  Both Adnan and Addy try to persuade the guards to let us go, but they have no luck.  Addy calls in a favors with a friend of his. Salim, is with the Yemeni Police force and usually in charge of the security of VIP's visiting the government.  While he makes his way to our military stop, we detour to the close by Wadi Dhahr and Dar al-Hajar. Dar al-Hajar, is the five story summer house built on pre-Islamic caves by an Imam in about 1786.  It allows us to walk through every room and gives an excellent view of the surrounding landscape and houses. On the road again, as we approach the military stop, we see Salim, dark sun glasses, blue cap and machine gun waiting for us on the side of the road.  The Toyota fully loaded with 6 people, we are finally on our way.  At the military stop in Amran, we are stopped again and even with Salim present, we are not allowed to proceed further.  A military escort shows up and leads the way. Passing through the villages along the way we loose the military escort and keep on heading toward Shaharah.  I keep track of our route via GPS as we head through the Wadi from Al-Qabi toward a huge mountain range.  It is approx. 18kms from Al-Qabi to Shaharah on a road that is indescribable.  It takes us 1 1/2 hours to reach the base of the mountains and then the road winds its way through small mountain top villages from 1200m to 2700m.  The Toyota in 4 Wheel Drive low for most of time, works its way up steep switch backs without any guard rails.  One wrong move by Adnan and we are history.  All the way up, we can't believe the brutality of the road, but keep on climbing, enjoying the incredible view.  Every mountain displays countless stone terraces.  Who built all of these, we ask ourselves.  On every mountain top, a village hangs on the cliff edge.  We are truly in awe.  As we are half way up the mountain road, we get our first glimpse of the famous 17th century stone bridge.  It takes us another 1 1/2 hour to get to the top of the mountain and reach Shaharah.  The last 800m ascent into Shaharah are so steep that the even the Toyota in 4 Wheel Drive low, slips and the drop offs are heart stopping.  This is adventure at its best.  Toyota would be proud.  As we enter the village of Shaharah we have kids hanging of the Toyota from all sides, smiling, laughing and talking continuously.  They are so happy to see us, their eyes bursting with life.  The village of Shaharah is of much significance to Addy, who's father was born up here and this was his first visit to where his ancestors came from.  Their family home is sub let to a local family who has turned it into a funduq (hotel).  They are excited to meet Addy and lead us to the famous 17th century stone bridge.  The locals explain that it is said that the bridge was built by one person out of limestone bricks to connect two mountain top villages through a 1000m deep gorge.  The bridge doesn't disappoint.  Standing on the bridge Salim offers the machine gun to Olivier and Mike to try.  Both give it a try and shoot into the deep gorge, the echo is deafening.  Back at the fundug, they have prepared dinner for us.  Cross legged we sit on the floor circling the local food and dig in with our hands.  It was delicious.  We could tell that even Adnan, Addy and Salim were in awe of the place.  Addy calls his Dad and tells him of his surprise visit to Shaharah.   A huge thunderstorm moves in and we discuss staying overnight, or returning to San'a, as the sun starts to set.  We are all concerned about the road conditions and the steep descent on the slippery rocks in the wet, but Adnan is confident.  We start our descent around 6:30pm, retracking our GPS coordinates.  The village is framed in a full rainbow.  We don't want to go and leave this place behind.  Words don't describe what we felt, but we all did feel it.  At this point in my life, it probably is the most incredible place I have been to.  Nothing in my past compares to this. It takes us 5 hours to return to San'a, compared to our 6 hours getting to Shaharah.  We can't thank Adnan, Addy and Salim enough for making this day happen.

March 25, 2006.  As we didn't return from our adventure in Shaharah until late at night, we decide to stay another day in San'a and update the Journal and download pictures.  We also mail back some of the souvenirs we purchased in Yemen. 3.5kg package cost us 9,700 Riyal or $60.00CDN. Adnan meets us in the evening and we go for drinks to say good-bye.

March 26, 2006.  San'a had been an excellent base for exploring the surrounding country side, but it was time to get on the road again.  This time we head west toward Manakhah, about 90km from San'a.  It feels good to be back on the motorcycles and especially on a twisty road as the one from San'a to Manakhah.  Elevation in San'a is 2300m, the road initially gains altitude to 2800m and then descend into a Wadi to 1700m.  The sky is a deep clear blue as we get our first glimpse of Al-Hajjarah, located 5km west of Manakhah at 2400m.  Al-Hajjarah is a spectacular 11th century hilltop village surrounded by the Haraz Mountain Range.  The ride takes us 2 1/2 hours, arriving at the village, we are approached by a 11 year old boy who speaks English and wants to show us around.  We agree and wander the ancient and still very well preserved village.  We are invited into a house, situated on the edge of a cliff.  The woman of the house is making bread and bakes it in front of us.  We leave with some fresh bread and a hand stitched belt. The boy is very knowledgeable and explains that the original village was divided into a Jewish quarter and Muslim quarter. The Jews fled to Israel in the 1950's.  The original Muslim quarter can be entered only through one existing main gate, which to this date is still locked at 8pm to keep out intruders.  As always we are fascinated by the history and the stone houses.  We deviate from our original plan and take a funduq.  The Al-Hajjarah Tourist Hotel & Restaurant is 4000 Riyal or $24CDN, which includes dinner and breakfast.  We arrange for the boy to take us for a 7km hike down into the Wadi and the nearby village for a nominal fee.  The walk up at this altitude could definitely be felt by both of us.  Totally exhausted we rest for a couple hours before dinner.  Dinner is in the traditional sitting rooms.  Cross legged we are served an excellent meal.  Everyday it seems that we eat until we think our bellies will explode.  The food is excellent on this trip and we have been eating better then we do at home.  Luckily our days are filled with non-stop activities, otherwise we would look like Santa Claus soon.  After the meal the locals get out their music instruments and start to play some of the traditional music, complimented with some Yemen dancing.  It is a joy to watch Yemeni men dance together.  Of course, I was asked to join in as well.  Even with two left feet, I was enjoying myself.

March 27, 2006.  We retrace our route to San'a and then head south.  350kms to destination and it was very stressful.  Yemen driving is unexplainable.  You can never let down your guard.  The near death incidences were too many to count.  Head on traffic is the worst.  We believe they are just not used to big motorcycles and therefore pull out to pass and forcing us to the edge of the road.  We have adopted some of the Yemeni driving habits to survive. From San'a we pass through Ma'bar, Dhawran, Yarim.  Approx. 30kms before Ibb the landscape changes.  As we reach an altitude of 2800km and descend into Ibb the mountain range becomes very green.  People are working in the fields.  Tractors are seen seldom, most fields are worked by hand and plowed by donkey's, cows or camels.  Back breaking work, as our ancestors did 70 years ago.  The temperature also rose from 18Degree Celsius to 38 Degrees Celsius.  We enter Taizz and stop to get our bearings.  We are looking for the Taj Shamsan hotel located close to the old town centre.  An English speaking man stops and tells us to follow him.  After a couple minutes and numerous turns, we knew that there was no way that we would have found the hotel.  Again an example of how helpful the people are.  The hotel is situated only a couple hundred meters from Bab al-Kabir, the main entrance to the old town.  We feel adventurous and as we walk through the souq try different kind of Yemeni spices and food.  One of the spices looked like a date, but actually was a very hot spicy thing.  We both ate it and were on fire.  Mike started to throw up within half an hour.  It won't stop us for trying/experiencing other foods.

March. 28, 2006.  Adnan and Addy trying to arrange a ship for us out of Al-Hudayda to Egypt.  What ever bug I caught knocked me out for the next two days.  Unfit to travel we stayed in Taizz for three (3) nights and regained our strength. The only cargo ship heading to Egypt from Al-Hudayda was scheduled to leave April 01, 2006 and arrival was estimated the earliest April 12 and latest April 20, pending on if the ship got stuck at a port on the way.  We also were not able to travel with the bikes.  The possibility of 20 days of lost travel time and without motorcycles was not really an option for us. Since I was not allowed to operate a motorcycle in Saudi Arabia, the only other alternative was air freight.  Addy connected us with a freight forwarder to fly the bikes from San'a, Yemen to Cairo, Egypt.  Waleed Al-Khayat from Marib Travel & Tourism Cargo Devision (, speaks very good English and arranged all the bookings.  It was definitely not cheap. Air freighting the two motorcycles was $1884.00US and one way flight for two people another $600.00US.

March 29, 2006.  Our original plan was to head up to Jebel Sabir and visit the Qalat al-Qahira Fort in the morning and then head toward the west coast and the Red Sea.  Instead of finding our way on the motorcycles through the labyrinth of streets, we gave the taxi system a try.  The main taxi gathering point in Taizz is at Bab al-Kabir, the main entrance to the old town.  As usual there is an array of people approaching us and we communicate by pointing to Jebel Sabir and a taxi.  We get into a 1970's 4WD Taxi and take a seat.  After 10 minutes we are asked to move to another taxi across the road in the front seat and then after another 5 minutes we are moved to the adjacent 4WD.  In total the ordeal took us 45 minutes.  We had to wait until the 4WD taxi was completely full, which was 4 of us in the front seat, 4 in the back seat and 8 people crammed in the luggage part.  Then a couple people hang off the back (this vehicle is the size of a Land Rover).  All loaded up, ready to begin the journey, the vehicle won't start.  Several people start pushing us through the busy morning souq.  We questioned how we would ever make it up the 3070m high mountain with this vehicle, but after a few stalls, we were plodding our way up the steep mountain road.  On the way we would unload people and take new people on.  There were several stops for qat and some negotiations.  The 4km long road took us all of an hour.  At the top we were dropped off along with some other locals and the taxi took off.  The question now was how we would make it back down.  The small village at the top was excited to see us and we had kids asking for pictures.  Since there was no vehicle or for that matter taxi in sight, we started the walk back.  After a brisk 30 minute walk, we finally flagged down a taxi.  It would have taken us 3hrs to walk down the winding road.  It was quite an experience, which both of us don't really want to repeat.  At this pace it would take us a year to see what we have seen in two weeks.  Upon our return to the hotel, I was knocked out by the nasty flue for the rest of the day. 

March 30, 2006.  Still weak we decide to make a run for Zabid.  Heading west out of Taizz, we are at the coast in no time.  The humidity is starting to increase and the cloud cover thickens.  We reach Zabid in good time, but are a bit disappointed.  The travel book indicates a charming historical town, but to us it was dirty and run down.  Zabid is a World Heritage site and was built in AD 820.  By chance we found the old gate entrance to the old town.  Since Zabid didn't seem to have much to offer, we headed onwards to Al-Hudaydah.  The wind started to pick up and so did the sand blowing across the road.  Somehow it does end up in every corner of your body.  Tired and beat we stayed at the Al-Jazira Hotel across the Hadiqat ash-Sha'b (people's garden) for 4500 Riyals ($28CDN).

March 31, 2006.  With the air freight arranged, the earliest flight for the motorcycles was April 5, 2006.  Flights only leave on Wednesday and Thursday and we have to drop the motorcycles off 1 1/2 days in advance for paperwork and check-in.  Therefore we had some time to kill.  Adnan recommended a visit to the island of Kamaran and its coral reefs, located approx. 75km north west from Al-Hudaydah.  With good intentions we set out.  Our first military stop takes a good 15 minutes, as they are examining our passports.  Finally we are allowed to go.  The road winds its way along the coast and we reach the port of Salif.  Here again we are asked for our passports, calls are made and we wait and wait.  Finally we decide it is too much hassle and turn around.  Since no English is spoken, they are unable to read the passports.  We inform them in Arabic that we are Canadians.   This process always takes about 10 minutes, while sitting in the scorching sun fully dressed in your motorcycle gear.  Some military stops are 20 minutes apart on the road, but we get stopped again and it starts all over again.  I would like to ask them, how they think we got through the last 20 military stops.  Why do we have to sit here again for 10 minutes and show our passports.  It is a major obstacle when traveling in your own vehicle as a foreigner through Yemen and sometimes a bit frustrating.  On the way to Kamaran, we had seen a couple of straw huts along a deserted beach and decided to set up camp in one of them.  To be out of the spot light of the main road passing by we hid the motorcycles behind the straw hut and set up our tent inside.  Within a couple of hours we were visited by two separate people on 125cc motorcycles, asking us for our passports and copies of our passports.  We told them we didn't have any copies.  Now our mind started to kick into overdrive in respect to the resent kidnappings.  Where these people checking us out for kidnapping etc.  Needless to say we spend a restless night listing for vehicles slowing down, people approaching the tent etc.  At one point I told Mike to get the big tire iron from the bike.  Not really of any use when you are surrounded by machine guns.  We called Randy in Canada on our Satellite phone to give him an update and told him that if we think the situation was getting out of hand we would call him back with our GPS coordinates.  In the end, we made it through the night and there were no incidences.  The mind and darkness can play tricks on you.  Prior to all this we did have a great day sitting at the beach and looking for shells.

April 01, 2006.  We decide to head back to San'a a day early.  The road from Al-Hudaydah to San'a is just amazing.  220km of winding road and great scenery, which takes about 4 hours, and a dozen near death incidences by oncoming vehicles in our lane.  Driving in San'a is a breeze now, we have adopted the Yemeni honking system instead of using signal lights and the chaotic traffic cutting in and out of your lane doesn't intimidate us any more.  There are 4 vehicles in two lanes wide, everyone is only millimeters from each other.  It is remarkable that we can stay calm now.  It is an obstacle course where every second is unknown.  We believe this has made us better motorcycle riders.  We have never before ridden this aggressive to stay alive and keep the motorcycle upright. 

April 02, 2006 to April 04, 2006.  We deliver the motorcycles a day earlier to Walid for crating.  The carnet de passages need to be processed.  The usual government bureaucracy and the carnets are not signed on April 03 and even on April 04, we leave Yemen without the carnets.  Walid promises to attach all documents to the waybill.  Mike's birthday we celebrate quietly in San'a on April 03.  The reminder of our time we spend hanging out around the old city of San'a and even get a chance to tour one of the many vegetable gardens located within the old walls.  We flew out of San'a on April 04 around 5pm to Cairo, Egypt.  The San'a International Airport is very small and security wasn't that strict.  It was interesting to see woman board the plane, as they have to present their passport with faces fully covered.  They disappear into a separate room to unveil their faces to compare to the passport picture.  Good-bye Yemen.


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