A Travellerspoint blog

Sana'a Yemen

sunny 34 °C

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As I arrived in Sanaa this afternoon, it was reminiscent of Bangladesh, or maybe more chaotic. Yemen is the second poorest Arabic country in the world. Only Mauritania has a lower per capita GDP.

First impressions of Sanaa were not too good..... It is a chaotic, dirty, and obviously a very poor city. As my taxi arrived from the airport into the old town we passed some heavily armed military personnel and their Land Rovers. On the streets many people are screaming at each others and happy faces are hard to find. The first restaurant where I had lunch with the locals (Restaurant Al-Dubai) over-charged me big time! On the streets, most people don't seem to notice me even though I have not yet seen any other Caucasians on the streets. But hey, these are only first impressions and I'm sure they won't last very long. As I dig deeper into these people's culture, habits and mind sets, I'm sure to get an entirely new perspective of life in the desert. After all, since childhood, Yemen was one of the five countries I most fantasized about visiting (other four were Russia, Mexico, Egypt and Iran). Our plane from Dubai (Air Arabia) flew for almost 2.5 hours over the desert - an area aptly referred to as "the empty quarter" (of Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen).

Sanaa is apparently one of the oldest cities in the world and even referred to in the Old Testament of the Bible. The old quarter of Sanaa is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites and the houses look like those you see in kid's Bible story books! Life has really been standing still here, well, since biblical times!

Most people wear traditional clothing -the men wearing their Ma'awiis (long white dresses..which are mostly quite dirty) and women mostly wear their black abaya with faces totally covered - only the eyes are visible. Most men also wear their BIG clan dagger knife (Jambiya) in the front of their bodies, tucked behind their broad leather belts.

I'll spend the next seven days around Yemen. After collecting my police issued travel permit later today, I'll travel by public transport around several villages north of Sanaa and will fly (Air Yemania) to Sayun in the desert which will be my base to explore the nearby mountains and Shibam (another UNESCO World Heritage site).

The next seven days here in Yemen is going to be very challenging and I'm sure....very exciting. Wish me luck.

Ok, as expected, my first impressions have changed in less than twelve hours! Since early this morning I spent exploring the old part of Sanaa, as well as some area of the new Sanaa. Here's my observations:

1. Time sure has been standing still in the old part of Sanaa. I bet it looked just the same 200 hundred years ago! Since shortly after sunrise, the town has been a bee nest of activity as people do their buying and selling, and just hanging around in the Souq al-Mihl (central market)
2. Most men are chewing away on their bags of qat (the green leaves they chew into HUGE bulging balls in their cheeks). Apparently many people spend a considerable amount of their income on this habit - even young boys have this....bad habit!
3. Saddam Hussain is revered by many!
4. There seems to be an uncomfortable vibe in the air and I've seen some aggressive behaviour among the men.
5. Women are 99% covered in their black outfit except for their eyeballs. As they do their shopping in small groups, it seems that they are largely ignored by the men.
6. Am I in Afghanistan? I often feel like this could just as well be Kabul from what I have seen on TV.
7. Generally people are very friendly (much less so than Bangladesh...if I had to compare) and many allow me to take their picture. Photographing women is forbidden (or rather deemed rude) but I often sneak in a snapshot in a very diplomatic way. So far I have not landed into trouble. Some women have actually asked me to take another picture (but only in places where no other men are around).
8. I peeked into one of the famous Hammams (public bath houses) as I heard it is a "don't miss experience". Well, peeking in was enough. I opted to shower in my own hotel room, which by the way, is an old palace in the old part of Sanaa...a surreal experience indeed!

Tomorrow morning at 6am I am flying east, into the desert of the Wadi Hadramawt area to the town of Sayun from where I will explore the ancient towns of Shibam and Tarim. I return to Sanaa on Thursday night.

Posted by Globerovers 19:50 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Monasteries of Armenia

-17 °C

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Yerevan, just a little north of the Turkish border, and a hop, skip, and a jump north of Iran, is the capital of Armenia. Sure you knew that. With slightly more than a million people, Yerevan is dotted with cafes, an impressive Republic Square (Hanrapetutyan Hraparak), and a majestic Opera House. Several Soviet structures abound but not worthy any discussion. Ok, Yerevan has nothing really to offer! Except - the people are such fine human beings - you would never believe they served 70 years under Soviet rule!! Beauty abounds (oh those proud noses, sharp features, dark eyebrows, and piercing dark eyes).

Other than the people - the beauty of Armenia lies in its rural villages, mountains (notably snow capped Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark docked), and the ancient monasteries. The land here is dotted with extremely well preserved monasteries dating from between the 6th and 13th centuries. Most of them are located in spectacular settings - atop mountains, some surrounded by oak plantations, some by the shores of a lake, and others in quaint corners of little villages.

The country has a very old and rich history - packed with horror such as the Turkish genocide - the forcible deportation and massacring of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the government of the Young Turks from 1915 to 1917 - yip, the gruesome era of the Ottoman Empire! More than two million Armenians perished!

Welcome to Armenia! I'm in for a treat.


Posted by Globerovers 20:17 Archived in Armenia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Azerbaijan - amazing

-17 °C

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A 4-four flight on Baltic Air brought me safely into Baku, Azerbaijan at 3:40am this morning. Azerbaijan (previously part of the USSR) lies on the shores of the Caspian Sea to the east, Georgia to the west, Russia to the north, and Iran and Iraq to the south. Quite an amazing place from what I have seen so far and people are very friendly. Its sunny and hot! Will write more later once I have explore the area.

Please come back later for more writings n Azerbaijan...I'll have more time to write over the next 3 days.azb17.jpg

Posted by Globerovers 20:14 Archived in Azerbaijan Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


sunny 19 °C

I'm back in the capital city, Minsk. Since I arrived, I saw the opera, AIDA in the Minsk Concert Hall, and also attended a spectacular ballet performance (Bolero) in the Palats Republici. The ballet was a stunning performance with an excellent troupe, orchestra, choir, and sopranos. I had the best seats in the house and paid a mere US$7. And.....I saw the resident Circus - in their permanent venue next to the river. A lovely old domed building in truly old circus style. And the performance - just like you remember it from your Grade 1 story books! Complete with clowns, acrobats, the ladies walking with pythons, the dancing girls, the band, the jugglers, and ending off with the lions show - such a cliche - but I wanted to go back in time to the old time circus. No better place than Russia or Belarus to still get that old time circus experience.

Ah Minsk...I have so much to write about this city. While this is a true dictatorship State, a communist regime lead by the idiot Lukaschenko, on the surface at least, it doesn't look or feel that different from Russia or any other Eastern European country. There is no visible police force staring at you. Their are no tanks on the streets. There is the KGB...and they do track your moves - I am told. And, its a very clean city. Streets are wide, buildings are grandeur, and - its sterile. Its like the role model for Singapore and over to....Bangladesh, please send your Minister of City Hygiene for a crash course in how to create a clean city.

Citizens can't freely move to another area i.e. rural to city. They need to get registered in the new area which is difficult. The result is that many people live "illegally" in their own country. Want to travel abroad - you need your exit permit. Want a friend from oversees to visit - he/she needs a visa, mandatory local Belorussian insurance, and register with the local police. If Lukaschenko decides to build a new library, he takes 5000 Roubles from every citizen - whether you like the new plans or not. All land is state owned and farmers live and work in communes run by the State. Only State sponsored religion is allowed - anything else is banned. Want to openly criticize Lukaschenko tonight - you'll be in jail before breakfast. This is a one-man show who is protecting his interests to the expense of all citizens.

I can see only Caucasians on the streets - no Blacks, no Asians, no Indians....no people other than Caucasians.

Every night I take a 45 minute minibus ride to the apartment where I am staying. I first go to the local supermarket and then come home to prepare dinner for my friend/host who normally works till late at night. It feels like I am living here.

I am really impressed with the Belorussian people. They are hands down the most friendly people in all of Eastern Europe - not that the competition is tough! If only they could speak at least some basic English - but that is as scarce as chicken teeth.

The beer bottle in the hand is the national emblem of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. As the sun heads for the horizon, the young heads for the parks, the town squares, oh anywhere will do, with the beer bottle in the hand.

I got registered with the local police today - thanks to Natasha who was so kind to spend half her day to take me through this stupidy of registering foreign visitors. So now I can hopefully leave Belarus without any problems. Next, I'll spend time in northern Belarus and then - Riga, Latvia, which will complete my visits to the Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia.

After Riga...I'm heading south into Central Asia. Life is.......goooooood.

Posted by Globerovers 19:47 Archived in Belarus Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Yazd, Iran

-17 °C

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I am in dead central Iran, in the ancient town of Yazd. A few hundred kilometers east is the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders. With its amazing badgirs (wind towers) and mud-brick old town, Yazd is (according to UNESCO) one of the oldest towns in the world. Almost all buildings in this old town is made of sun-dried mud bricks. A few hundred kilometers south is the town of Bam, also made of sun-dried mud bricks which four years ago was almost totally destroyed by a massive earthquake which killed 31,000 people.

Yesterday I did a day trip with a car and driver to the ancient village of Kharanaq and the Zoroastrian shrine of Chak Chak. Parts of the village of Kharanaq are believed to be more than 1000 years old - and it sure shows its age. I climbed to the top of the Qajar-era mosque with its 17th-century minaret which was a thrilling but very claustrophobic (in total darkness) experience. At the top, with its breathtaking views over the village, I was able to get a nice dance with the minaret - aka a "shaking minaret". The nearby caravanserai and ancient aqueduct offered great insight into the life of a bygone era. At Chak Chak with its Pir-e-Sabz fire temple, I climbed the nearby mountain - much more challenging than it looked - and was rewarded with some awesome views of the desert valleys and surrounding sharp edged mountains. Just outside Yazd I climbed to the top of the "Tower op Silence" - where for centuries sky burials were conducted. Deceased bodies were placed at the top of the tower and hungry vultures had to finish off the rest!

Food is great, people are truly friendly, the old part of town is a mud brick maze to get lost in, the market another lovely old maze of excitement - Yazd is a lovely town! A great base to explore the surrounding desert.

Posted by Globerovers 20:02 Archived in Iran Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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