Yemen: 1000 Year Leap Back in Time

Yemen: 1000 Year Leap Back in Time


By: Nazar Musa

“What the hell are you thinking? How many people get kidnapped in Yemen? Naz, you’ve got two kids! This time your selfishness has reached new levels!”

My brother, for the first time, was truly upset at me for apparently putting myself in harm’s way. Last year, I entered a White Collar boxing event with just nine weeks of fight experience; he thought it a challenge worth taking. Then, when I kayaked through the potentially shark-infested waters of Northern Madagascar, he just said “bring me back a tooth or summit”. With this trip, however, he thought I’d crossed the line.

“Why on earth Yemen?” he asked. To me it was obvious. A country rich in history – it’s the home of the Queen of Sheba and apparently where Noah built his Ark – with a people integral to the development of the Arab race thousands of years ago, Yemen surely offered more than a risk of kidnap!

My partner and I ignored all of my brother’s advice, flew to Sana’a and knew the moment that we landed that we’d enjoy this adventure. Sana’a airport was probably sparkling new in the mid-seventies but hasn’t been touched since. However, even in its bareness, with the locals shouting at the immigration officers, it excited us.

After a rickety taxi ride, we arrived at The Sana’s Nights Hotel. Built 500 years ago, the people were clearly much shorter then, as we contorted ourselves to fit up the uneven staircase and through the tiny corridors to reach room 210 – a small but beautifully decorated room with an attached ‘European style’ bathroom, for just $20 per night. We shared breakfast with Kais, the hotel owner, whilst discussing everything from the weather to Yemeni politics. His English was perfect even though he’d taught himself the language from books and the radio!

Next we ventured into Old Sana’a. The city is a living museum, where every house, shop or office building has stood exactly where it is for the better part of a millennium. We wandered between the various Souks (including a knife Souk) to reach the famous Yemen Gate – Bab al Yemen – a vibrant square bursting with life and color, surrounded by the city’s original walls.

Over tea that evening Kais suggested a tour of the countryside and organized his father, Ahmed, to be our guide – we left early the next morning to see rural Yemen. The countryside was stunning, as we headed towards a mountain town called Manakha – near the famous town of Al Hajjarah. En-route we visited the Rock Palace, built hundreds of years ago for the Imam ruler of Yemen. Now a museum, the rooms, and the network of underground graves where pre-Christ mummies were found, were fascinating. We then drove through the medieval towns of Thula, Hababa and the mountain town of Zakati, before stopping at a friend of Ahmed’s house for lunch. Sat on the floor of his majlis eating freshly cooked food and Saltah (the national dish) was a true honor.

Next we drove to Manakha. The winding mountain roads were treacherous but with breathtaking views. With a hotel room booked in the centre of Manakha town (overlooking the town of Al Hajjarah), we walked around before a dinner of traditional foods and music in the hotel. The next morning we visited Al Hajjarah – an amazing town built on top of the mountains and continuously inhabited for the last 1,200 years. Then, to finish our trip, we ambled around Manakha’s weekly market, where everything was on sale from sheep to AK47s.

Spending a few days in Yemen is like taking a 1,000-year leap back in time. Whether it’s the basics of a hotel room built 500 years ago, the Rock Palace built for the Imam 800 years ago, the awe-inspiring views of Al Hajjarah, or just mingling with the locals in markets that could easily be a set from The Life of Brian, Yemen will surpass everything that you could ever expect.

Photo credit: Becky Wicks