Yemen: impressions of a trip...

Finally the long-dreamed Sana'a with its marvellous houses was a sight for sore eyes. We remained spellbound from the fascination of that city, founded by Sem from whom it gets its name.
Even today this city holds it original architecture, its beauty made by its inhabitants: the aesthetic of the perfect features of tower houses seem to be in competition with minarets, to see who'll touch the sky first... Painted colours everywhere, almost an impressionistic painting where dominates the clear blue for the sky, the white for the windows, sand colour for the houses, green for the gardens which can only be imagined when street doors get opened.
The crowd, the warm, the smells, the humidity, the cries of the crowd, moats of animals on display, laughter, people negotiating business, veiled faces who reflect their mystery, white crowd as far as the eyes can reach, here it's the domain of the immaculately-dressed men in traditional costumes: we are at the big market place of Bay El Fahid. Here you can buy and sell anything: ropes and reins for animals, food and cattle, here already before the sunrise, the crowd gathers from everywhere for the big day ,with the hope of making a good deal. The air is so saturated with the scent and the humidity that it leaves you light-headed, touching your senses so much, that you wonder if you are tourists or Yemeni....

White sand, palms, wooden boats, deserted beaches, humid and muggy nights, rope huts, this is the kingdom of Ahmed, the manager of a small guest house on Red Sea, and Ahmed waits always sitting on a battered straw-bottomed bench for travellers who have lost their way. A swim in the tepid sea at dusk, the smell of a fish on the grill and Al Rora becomes for us the most beautiful beaches in the world...
The trip continues to Marib where the mystery of the Queen of Sheba is still in the air and our meeting with Ali, our driver, is her gift. He didn't want to pick us any tourists so he could return earlier to Rada because he wanted to kiss his newborn son, whom he hadn't had the chance to meet yet. In our itinerary we had thought of making a stop in his town to admire the old alabaster windows and so he accepted us like travelling companions, we were also invited to stay a couple of days in his home. Ali knew everything: besides knowing the best places, he helped us meet interesting people, who turn helped us understand better Yemenite culture and traditions and also to discover Shibam...
On leaving the dry and arid Rub Al Khali, after 12- hour trip accompanied by Bedouins with Kalashnikov rifles and sharing tea in the desert, Shibam, calling also the Desert Manhattan, arrives like a mirage in a crystal ball. It's the same sight that had the desert convoys going on the Spices Route... Shibam, with its skyscrapers of eight floors protected by UNESCO, between its walls reverberated the laughter of children, hooves of goats searching for food, women's gossip, dark shadows who walk very carefully to not fall on the uneven sidewalks...
Shibam, where painters sit ephemerally on fragile swings at about 30 feet above the ground, decorate windows with white chalk, white like snow, singing all the while...

Shibam, where at dark the light plays with the coloured windows, whispering fantastic tales, and where the late passing shadows transform in sultans and odalisques...
Sbibam, on the neighbouring djebel, brightens at dusk to reveal itself as the moon render restless the shadows of the palms, and Sbibam, falled into silence takes with her our dreams and records an impression in our memories...
And daylight raises upon Bokur... this isolated village on high plateau, seems to be waiting for her prince like Sleeping Beauty. Whether illusion or reality, these houses play hide and seek with the mountains, permeating the rose- coloured grains of sand to reflect the rays of sun concealing them in the mountainside, trying not to be discovered?
Yemen is like that: it's hidden yet only to be discovered, its proud men are always ready to defend honour, and only the careful and patient traveller can find the deeply intense soul of Arabia Felix...



ALI the driver can be contacted: arabia-felix@y.net.ye or http://site.voila.fr/yementours or in Sana'a goes to Arabia-Felix hotel and ask for ALI

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