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Published: April 29th 2010
Old City, Sana'a, Yemen
Walk around this fantastic place. It's safe and friendly, drink a coffee at a neighbourhood shop.
January to March 2010 Q's World was in Yemen, Sana'a City putting together a rural development project that will assist the poorest folk in the most remote areas. Check out www.foodworksasia.blogspot.com for details.
I travelled to Sana'a on Emirates via Dubai, just making a very tight connection - the security in Dubai can take some time if you are unlucky and I made the flight, but lost my luggage (came the next day). The scenery as you approach the landing is just spectacular and gets better and better. Sana'a is remarkable
. It is one of the oldest cities in the world with first settlement in Biblical times (remember, Marib City in Yemen was where the Queen of Sheba had her capital and where the Marib Dam is the oldest known example of large-scale water engineering). The Old City of Sana'a has been inhabited fro thousands of years and is still a vibrant and exciting place you can walk around in safely and freely.
We stayed in a delightful villa owned by the project but there is a range of hotels from the more or less 5 star Movenpick to back-packer hostelries in the Old City; I'd choose the
In the Haraz Mountains in the Central Highlands of Yemen
latter! Security in Sana'a is good, there are excellent restaurants (try the Yemeni food which is great, but you can get Lebanese, Indian or even genuine Italian pizza). There are two pleasant coffee shops, Coffee Trader's and Mocca Baan; MB serves a wonderful Spanish Omelette and you can sit in the garden. smell the flowers and sip a latte. Coffee trader's is a place where ex-pats and development folk meet to discuss projects, so it's a bit busier, but the coffee is equally good.
Even if Sana'a is safe enough (and we'd have a drink at the British Club - yes, you can get booze there - and return home a little the worse for wear without any concerns) the countryside is off limits. You need a government permit to go beyond the city limits and that's quite hard to obtain (at least for project folk like us). The risk is mainly from kidnapping by tribesmen who want to pressure the authorities to build a school or a clinic in their village. You'll be well looked after and released - eventually! There's fighting to the North where the Houthi rebellion still continues along the border with Saudi Arabia. And to the south the secessionist movement provides another source of tension and often violence.
If you can get out of Sana'a and Q's World eventually managed to, then it's worth the wait. The mountains are among the most spectacular in the world and the terraced agriculture and tiny villages built on apparently inaccessible ridges look as if they were a set from Lord of the Rings. Yemen is mostly mountainous in the central and west of the country where the population is dense. So it is remarkable to see cultivation systems that have been developed under unique conditions of high elevations (Sana'a itself is 7,000 feet above sea level) and a struggle to find water and cultivable soils.
We also got to Aden (in the south), which has a colonial heritage from the British Empire. The Kraiter Bazaar is a must for any tourist and again, the city itself is quite safe. Outside along the coast to Abyan we had to have an escort of heavily armed soldiers who manned an anti-aircraft gun!
Try and visit Yemen! Despite the hassles with security the people themselves are relaxed and very welcoming. The food is tasty and the history and scenery absolutely worth the travel. For more about Quartermaine's World please visit FoodWorks
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