Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Monday, 26 December 2005

Cleanlines, Insanity, and other forms of Travel

My first full day here I also got a chance to go to the Yemeni hammam. I wanted the experience, so I'm glad I went- but I forgot the cardinal rule of not going to a hammam that is older than my grandfather. Yeah, it sounds interesting and romantic, to be in a hammam that is 500 years old in the old medina. But then remember that, except for hot water washed down, most traditional hammams are never cleaned. This was true to form. I forgot my hammam glove, so I got scraped with a used one. Unlike Morocco, you sit on a stone tablet here to get scraped, instead of lying down. You don't strip down to the underwear, but instead take off all the clothes and wear a used sarong to cover the lower portions. (No idea what happens during the women's time.) It's much more crowded as well than in Morocco, with smaller rooms and many men all in one place. And then the crowning moment is when they dump all your clothes out for you in the middle of the carpeted floor- and not as an uncharitable act either, but just part of the normal course. I went back to the hotel afterward, took a long shower, and put all those clothes in the dirty clothes. Not good when you have to take a shower after going to the public bathhouse.

Got to see the palace of Imam Ahmed down in Ta'izz as well. A previous visitor, Eric Hanson, describes it as reminding him of his time growing up in the 40's America, and I can totally see that. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed, but this was a guy who enjoyed clutter to the extent that it would put my grandma to shame. (And she was impressive. 2 houses packed ceiling to wall with stuff, so only a narrow alleyway was available to walk through. I inherited her bus from her, and kept some stuff inside, and then threw out 1/2 a dumpster's worth of junk, just inside the bus!) Ahmed had one room devoted to guns and swords, another filled with watches, and my favorite, a room devoted to cologne. I mean, 6 large jars of the same kind, or one bottle of another, amounting to probably a thousand bottles in there. Reminded me of the parable of the rich man. Who could possibly use that much cologne in one lifetime? Or if so, have any friends?

But the trip back up to Sana'a was interesting. They use camels as beasts of burden here- in Morocco their just rides for tourists, and afterwards excellent meat. I didn't take a camel, but rather a bus of the national line. That was an unfortunate choice- it probably would have been better with the camel. (Which is saying something for those of you who've ridden camels.) Normally it's a 5 hour bus ride, but the bus broke down. So we all got into taxis instead. These are shared taxis, but with three in each row, three rows, and very cramped. I was in the back row, in the middle, on the hump, and so had no room for my legs either- for 7 hours. And every time we stopped and I needed to get out to stretch, I had to get 3 guys to move, as we had to push the seat in front of us forward. One time we stopped for gas. Another because we got a flat. Of course, it would have been far better if the guy next to me hadn't been every minute, for one minute, the entire 7 hours (I timed him- I had nothing else to do once it got dark), pulling on his hair and cleaning it. I think it was for lice. I'm not sure.

I'm back in Sana'a now, trying to find a way to get to the North. Shibam Hadremowt (Hadramawt), no problem, though I need a travel permit. Marib, the ancient dam, a problem. I need a travel agency, as I am an American. (All Westerners need this; Japanse et.al. have no problem :-( ) But to go by myself cost $300. And I can't afford that. I've been trying to find someone else, at least one other person, as the price is fixed, and then cost can be split, but no luck. So I went back to the tourist police to get the permit to go to Shibam Hadremowt, which I had been told was no problem, as long as I didn't get off the bus in Marib, which is on the way. (Mild civil war going on there right now.) Well, the police told me that I couldn't go to Shibam Hadremowt by land without a tour agency either. I pointed out to them that the guy 3 days ago had said it was no problem, but this was an uninspiring argument to them. I established a relationship with them, talked with them and joked around, spent two hours drinking tea and chewing qat- and was told there was no way to do this. If I was Japanese or Moroccan, no problem. But they're not allowing Westerners, particularly Americans, to go through, because of kidnappings. Not without a tour agency.

So it was off to the airport to get a cheap ticket- well, somewhat- $170- to go to Shibam on the old frankinsence trail in the Hadremowt. It's either that, or stay in Sana'a for 5 days- I can't travel to the East or the North much with this nationality. I thought briefly of changing that, but it seemed like too much trouble at the moment.

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