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Days two and three

OK, day two started out with the Yemeni version of a “continental breakfast”, bread, honey, some really nasty (fake processed cheese) soft cheese, and hard boiled eggs. I am beginning to think that the constipation that is attributed to Qat might actually be a symptom of their diet. Chicken, eggs, bread, rice, potatoes… notice anything missing? I was really craving some fruit or something green that day, but no luck… Anyway, we were scheduled to do a “4 hour” hike that day to some villages that were only accessible by foot. We all asked about the conditions we could expect and the guide told us it was easy, we go downhill for a while and then it is flat. Fair enough… The first thing we did was to go see the view, and it was a great one. Kokabahn is at 9000 feet altitude and about 1500 feet over the plain below. We took lots of pictures and then piled into the truck. The driver took us to the outskirts of town and then pulled off onto a barley discernible trail. I remarked that the area we were going into looked like Mars and Luca agreed. Lots of rocks, not much else… After a time we started to see rockless areas surrounded by low stone fences. Even though it was out of season, we could tell that these were fields for farming. That had to be a ton of work, clearing all of those stones… Time went on and we started to think that perhaps we weren’t going to go hiking after all, we were going over some unbelievable terrain. Real 4 wheeling type of stuff, not all of the tires were touching the ground, not because of the speed but because of the rocks. Then the thought occurred to us that if they considered this car friendly, what was the hike going to be like? The terrain over all was pretty flat but punctuated with big rocks and ruts. He took us to a pretty nondescript village that had one interesting thing about it. It was a kind of castle like thing built right on the edge of a precipice. We had to pay the patriarch 100 riyals each to let us in. The place looked ancient, they claimed it was 600 years old but there looked to be two or three families living there along with their livestock. We were all anxious to get to the top so that we could see the view. Turns out all you could really see from the top was the roofs of the other buildings, but the staircase on the way up was amazing. It was a narrowish, curving affair with the rock face on one side and about 900 feet down on the other side. Quite an experience…

The driver then took us to some scenic overlooks. Wow. We had gained some altitude during the 30+ minute drive and/or the plain below had sunk down a bit. We stood on cliffs that were 2000+ feet from the bottom. Check out the pictures, it was amazing. I felt like I was in an airplane, everything was so small that you couldn’t see any details below. We were actually below some clouds that were coming through. Poor Alessandra doesn’t like heights, she had no idea that we’d be doing this… We took lots and lots of pictures, I put the best up on Flickr…

The next stop was a village named Bokur. We were let out 300-400 feet above the village and we climbed down the rocks to the farmland. It wasn’t particularly steep and kids and women traversed it everyday. We were met at the bottom by a gaggle of kids calling out “Colum colum, Sura sura sura!” They were asking for pens and for us to take their picture. I’ve asked around and no one can tell me what the motivation for either of these things is. There were a few that asked for money, but most wanted a pen. Seems a strange thing to ask for, but innocent enough. The picture thing I don’t understand at all. It’s not as though they ever get a copy, maybe they just like the attention from the westerners… I have no idea. They flocked around Nollaig and Alessandra. Nollaig’s Arabic is good enough that she could talk to them, I have since given her the moniker of “The Pied Piper” due to her ability to draw a crowd of kids wherever she went. The kids are adorable, but it quickly became tiresome to hear the constant badgering for pens and pictures. We made our way (slowly) out of the village to a million chorusses of “Bye Bye!”

Bokur is at the source of a spring and we were going to hike along the wadi (riverbed) to some other villages. The thing that catches your eye is how green it is there. All the rest of the places we had seen were either just rocks, or rocks and dirt. The green was quite nice… Most of that green was made up of Qat plants. It is the cash crop of Yemen and so wherever they can they plant it. We hiked down the wadi, scrambling along the rocks and skipping our way merrily along. It was somewhere along here that I landed a little funny on my right foot. I didn’t think much about it until I got my foot in that position again and my ankle just gave way. I didn’t sprain it but I had apparently twisted it a little bit. It gets better… One of the times that my ankle gave way I over compensated and managed to strain my right quad a bit. Now when my ankle gave out on me, my whole leg gave out. My hike quickly became an effort not to really sprain my ankle and not much else…

By the time we got to Boduger, my legs were really tired. I think they were a bit tired from the previous day’s climb and now I was favoring my left leg and climbing around. I was happy to sit down when we stopped. Turns out that we had come to a madrassa. That’s just a school, Americans usually associate that word with a religious school, but it could be any school. Well, when the kids got a peek of us, the whole place was in bedlam. Nollaig, Luca, and Alessandra wanted to go in, Christoph and I decided not to. I just wanted to rest, Christoph didn’t want to be bothered… That gave us 10 minutes or so of rest. A few kids that weren’t in school came around and chatted with us. Nollaig and the others brought a crowd out with them and they chatted with the teachers and the students for a while. Eventually, she came over and told me to go talk to them. They had been informed that I was an American and they thought that I wasn’t talking to them because I was an American. Whoops! Time to put on a show, put a smile on my face and go shake hands…

We hiked another hour or so with sporadic rests. My legs had turned to rubber and I was no longer worried about spraining my ankle so much as falling the 50-70 feet down into the wadi. There were really only a handful of places tht were potentially bad for me, but I had no problems. Keep in mind that we kept passing (and being passed) by women loaded up with all sorts of stuff. Everyone else was doing our hike in flip flops with no problems, so it wasn’t as though we were scaling K2 or anything, but my leg worried me. At long last our guide said “We’re almost there, your car is right there!” He was pointing down into the village of Wadi Al Hijur. We were about 800 feet above the town, we weren’t on a cliff really, but it was really steep. I was looking around to see how we were going to get down there but much to my dismay the guide just started straight down. I made it, but my legs were done… The call to prayer started right about then and it was quite nice. I have heard nothing but people shouting over loudspeakers in Sana’a. We thought it was a woman singing, but it turned out to be a boy. He had quite a voice and phrased things well. A nice way to end our hike.

The driver took us to Manaka. This was switchback city, up and over mountain after mountain. As we got to Manaka we drove into a cloud (we were up pretty high) and couldn’t see squat. It was dark and incredibly foggy and were driving along roads with no guardrails and who knows how far down the bottom was (around 1000 feet it turns out). None of this phased the driver, he kept going at the same speed as before, making the turns before we even saw them. All of us were scared to death, but we made it… We actually stayed at Al Hijjara, just outside of Manaka. The hotel was fun, we gulped down the dinner and then they started playing music. This was the first time I had heard Yemeni music that I liked. They played traditional instruments (mostly percussion) and even had some traditional dancing. This was all men of course. All of a sudden they started picking people from the surrounding patrons to get up and dance with them. I was on my feet before I knew what was happening. I was dancing with a 13-14 year old kid, lead legs and all. I will deny to my death that a video exists of this, Nollaig screwed it up anyway, she videoed it in the vertical format…. We all slept like logs that night.

The next day was pretty quick. We went to Manaka and another little village and got some nice shots of the scenery. Then it was down to Hutaib. This is apparently the third holiest site (behind Mecca and the Dome of the Rock) for Ismali Muslims. Not really sure what that means, but there we were. Then we went back to Sana’a, got back in around 1:30 in the afternoon. It was a good trip, even if it did take my legs two days to recover and I now have a huge pile of laundry to do… Let me know if there are any questions about the pictures.

Isaac

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