ANCIENT TOWNS AND QAT TERRACES


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Middle East » Yemen » Manakha
December 4th 2009
Published: December 16th 2009
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Got woken up as usual by the 3am call to prayer, Josh was snoring but not as loud as the chants from the mosques. beautiful sunny day after shower headed for breakfast with Josh at the rooftop, no one was there but us and as a treat Amin boiled some eggs for us and only me ate them all, Josh left after breakfast to find the driver he wanted for our trip to Manakha in the Haraz mountains, he need to do research about plants there and i am just tagging along for the ride.

Josh and I went out to photocopy our travel permits in town, no power in some so we have to walk a long way until we find one that has power, I had 20 copies made. going back to the hotel I bought huge oranges for the trek in Manakha. At the hotel, we left some of our things in the storage room and sorted our discounted bill with Abdul, then Josh made a deal for our private transport with Mutiah a young dude who hangs around the hotel, he is always joking and he is getting in my nerves, you dont know if he is telling the truth or not, he even said the driver Josh was looking for died in a car accident with his wife and parents, we dont know if it's true or not! Maybe he just wants our business. Anyhow he charged us about $45 a day for transport and Josh paid most of it as he has some "funding" for his research work i paid him about $10 as he requested, works out well for me.

We stopped at Mutiah's parent's house to say he is leaving for Manakha, we went back to the hotel so he can give money to his brother and other relatives, we paid him in advance, the streets here in the old town are so narrow it takes awhile to navigate it, we were going round and round until finally we are off, lots of traffic and this dude drives like a maniac, and with his Arabic music on full blast clapping and hollering, I wish he'd just concentrate on his driving. We stopped to change money, Exchange rate is good except that I have an old $100 bill from 1985 and the guy will only change it at a lower rate, i have no choice but bargained hard, i got $12 less than the new bills. We drove out of town, crazy drivers on the streets our driver included.

Just out of town we encountered the first check point, we handed over our travel permits(photocopies), we have to pull aside and wait 10 minutes while they verify it and off we go, Mutiah came back to the car saying we have to go back to Sana'a, our permits aren't valid, Josh and i basically ignored him lying again we reckon. We drove on out towards Manakha, then again another checkpoint this time very quick, handed another copy to the police, they just ask where we are from and off we go, easy. We stopped again to get gas, then to buy their qat at a small village, the scenery is nice, dry arid mountain ranges and valleys and occasionally you see qat fields, Mutiah's driving made me nauseous and had to shut my eyes for the most part, oh and we picked up his brother along the way. Thank goodness we eventually made it to Manakha, horrific driving, very abrupt in sharp turns I want to kick him!

Al Hajjarah
Al Hajjarah trekAl Hajjarah trekAl Hajjarah trek

town of Al Hajjarah
hotel is where we are staying the family who owns the place are so nice we got separate rooms with discount rates as i bargained hard from 4,000 a night($20) with dinner,I got it down to $15 only if I stay at least 2 nights which I will anyway.We had an enormous lunch then the fellas started chewing qat, there is this weird fella who works in the hotel who sat next to me and started asking me in good English about USA what language we speak there, is it just one straight road from Washington D.C to New York, is Boston in China? is USA as good as North Korea, I thought, from what planet did this man come from? Or is it the qat speaking? he has a massive stash of twigs well actually branches with him sprawled in the floor next to me. I looked at Mohammed who is the son of the owner in disbelief, this guy is off his tree! When I asked Mohammed regarding taking a guide to trek tomorrow, he pointed that crazy loon next to me is the best guide to hike the Haraz, I told him if he wants my business he better get me another guide!No way will I hike with this loon. He butt in again on our conversation, he asked me why i don't chew qat, when I told him i could not sleep at night if I chew qat, he showed me how to get over it,he made a sick gesture (of spanking the monkey!). i moved over to a vacant seat next to Josh and Mohammed and tried to avoid any other conversation with this man.

I left the guys chew qat, Josh included, and chill out in my room then power cut came. 30 minutes later it went back on. After a good dinner there is a song and dance performance from the guys at the hotel, very good music! The lead dancer is the buffoon loon from earlier, Josh and I started laughing. Good performance nevertheless and i participated as well with the dance, When it was over, Mr. Loon tried to sell me cds of their performances, I politely declined. They played crads after while I went to bed.

At breakfast Josh told me that Mutiah(looking gloomy) the driver whom we hired to get here wanted more money,Josh hired him for 3 days but he wanted 4 days of payment(because he doesnt know how to count). We got ready after a big meal, Ahamed one of the brothers running the hotel will be my guide for the day to Al Hajjarah trek, which goes to the towns of: Al Joma'ah, Bayt Doman, Husn al Haymi, Bayt al Amir, and then back to Hajjarah.There is a taxi waiting for us outside, going through town on the way out we stopped many times to greet their friends, already men were buying qat in the market before breakfast even. The drive took a good 15 minutes or so and we were dropped off at the town of Al Hajjarah, I was told that Jewish people used to live in this town nestled above a rocky cliff, when the Arabs came they came down in the valley, there is only one entrance to the town which in the olden days were shut in the eve to keep invaders at bay. Cool village lots of tall buildings, the kids follow us again they wanted me to visit their shop, i told them i don't have money which is true, i left them at the hotel, they wanted me to see their shop anyway, so I peek for 1 minute then move on. The rock foundations in the buildings were massive, and it's puzzling how they got it up there, very clever settlers. Lots of ancient doors and windows and things.

Then we headed down to the valley where you can see the coffee and qat plantations in the terraced hills. More qat is planted now here than coffee which used to dominate the crops around here, the reason being that qat is more profitable, and all of Yemen is addicted to it especially the men. Ahamed told me that qat makes the men here horny! As we walked along I saw more villages perched on top of cliffs, women gathering water, donkeys plying the trail with supplies to towns, kids chasing us and asking for pens but not very insistent, the walk is nice and scenic and got a bit warm the sun is very strong and we are at high altitude here around 2,000 meters or more. i heard fire crackers and loud music with instruments, Ahamed said to me there is a wedding going on, they start in the morning till night, then later gunshots!! Kalashnikovs being fired in the air, again for the wedding.

The people in the villages here are poor and simple, life can be hard in the dry season, the scenery is beautiful, mostly brown and patches of green here and there, Ahamed said in the main rainy season in May this is all green. We stopped at a place for tea and in this house they have fotos of their president and Saddam Hussein! I asked Ahamed if these people are Iraqis, he laughed, he said no they just like Saddam for whatever reason. I pulled out my orange to peel to go with tea, a young boy appeared in the room and I gave him some, shokran he said and quickly left. The tea came and another young dude sat with us, one of the brothers who live in this house, he wanted to practice his English, when we said goodbye he asked if we could stay more but we declined.

We walked back slowly towards Al Hajjarah, we met 2 gringos from Czech Republic, we kept going past the road being built then back to the town where the taxi driver was waiting for us, along passed a 4 wheel drive jeep with 3 Spaniards, they greeted me and Ahamed said they will be staying in the hotel as well. Arriving in the hotel, it was noisy and crowded and full of Asians! I think they are Japanese, a big group here for lunch, music came after the meal, I stayed in the room to rest, then later Ahamed knocked on the door and lunch is ready, what a big meal again, i had my fill then chatted with the Spaniards whom we met on the road, very friendly dudes, they now live in Malmo, Sweden, they are heading to some island in the west coast eventually. There were 4 American women there too they left while I was having lunch. The men came in the room with qat ready, it's time for their session, I chatted with this fellow who teaches Arabic to gringos in Sana'a, he is pushing me to learn it, I said I cant be bothered I only have a few more weeks here, He said it will be handy in the places I will go on my own, i will wing it I told him. He wont relent, he would speak to me in Arabic, so i ignored him and excused myself out of the room and had a nap.

Still having tummy pain I struggled to get out of bed and put some clothes on to get ready for the hike, I decided not to have breakfast as it might make it worse, Ahamed my guide said he will knock on the door when the driver arrives, meanwhile i lied down and curl up like a ball, heaving tummy not good. We left and we got dropped off at Al Hutaib, a community of Esmaeili sect originating from India. Nice mosque made of white marbles, silver doors and golden dome, few people linger about, we walked up to the other side and saw the school buildings a sort of madrassa to teach people the Indian language apparently and a stable for animals and garden etc. We walked up hill and started the hike to Qaheel. Stomach iffy I walked gingerly, Ahamed told me I can go behind rocks if I need to but its not really like that, i dont have the urge to go, my stomach is heaving as if being squeezed.

The scenery is the same as yesterday, brown arid valley with patches of greenery, most of which are qat and coffee plantations. We got to Qaheel and walked up the top of the village where we sat for a bit, i refused offers of tea, suspecting it might be the water or glasses, whatever. I heard greetings of "arigato" again, I ignored them not in the mood to argue and correct them, Ahamed did that for me, "not Japanese, American" in Arabic. Along the way to the next place we met some of his friends, that sells silver jewelleries, jambias among other things, I politely declined, we walked with them to the next village cause they live there! Very polite dudes, all smiles and observing everything i do with the camera, and accasionally getting the nerve to speak in English. We bade them goodbye and kept walking and stopped in a few viewpoints. Villages below or up cliffs, terraced fields same as yesterday and equally picturesque.

Al Hajjarah and Manakha are visible from the top of the mountains we climbed on, great views of the towns, farmers tend to their fields, some picking tomatoes others watching their animals graze. Finally we arrived in Hajjarah and the taxi is waiting for us, getting back to Manakha, i chilled for a bit in the big social/qat room. Later a couple of Italian dudes arrived, very friendly we chat for a bit, they work in Dubai, one is a CFO and the other an Engineer, good jobs in Dubai, they are here for only 3 days. Then lunch is served, music performance ensued again for the Italians, I hung out in the balcony to catch some sun, its a bit cool so its nice to have some warmth, a young boy sat with me outside, immitating the dance moves his father is doing inside, very funny boy. After the performance the italians went to get henna done and I went to my room for a nap. Took a shower for the 1st time in 3 days! just being lazy really, there is hot water and took advantage of the power still being on, it goes for an average of 30 minutes about 3 times a day, twice in the eve.



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