Impressions of Yemen
The difference with the neighbouring oil and gas countries of the Arabian peninsula could not be bigger. There is hardly any oil and gas to be found here, so forget the Maybach cars, flashy villas, hotels and malls. Yemen is pretty basic. Instead of oil and gas, there is incense, since ancient times a rare and expensive commodity. And, there used to be coffee, ‘the’ arabica: ‘used to be’, because coffee growing has in recent decades been seriously abandoned for the far more lucrative cultivation of qat, a soft drug leaf that grows on arrow-like trees all over the arable part of the country. Ordinary plastic bags full of qat leaves have become part of the common attire of Yemeni men, unceremoniously knotted around the handle of their traditional daggers; by 3pm their presence of mind has visibly diminished, commensurate with the growth in size of the bulge of chewed qat leaves tucked into their cheeks. Yemen is also the place where AK47s and rounds are being sold from open-air market stalls, along with tomatoes, dates, myrrha and camel milk. And then, there is the vendetta, the tribal wars, the recurrent war games stirred up by international strategic jockeying. In summary, Aden is not quite to be confused with the Garden of Eden. And yet, Yemen is a fascinating country to visit with its impressing adobe high-rise architecture in Sanaa and the Hadhramaut cities. The Yemeni desert edges of the ‘Empty Quarter’ offer majestic landscapes of enormous dunes and pointy mountain ranges which are scarred with abrupt abysses and valleys. And … people are actually much more friendly than suggested by the loaded riffle on their shoulders and the afternoon effects of qat consumption. In between two wars, go there, it’s absolutely worth it!
Before visiting the place of your choice:
Near Bir Ali the circular crater of the extinct Balhaf volcano is filled with a lake of turquoise-greyish freshwater. Beyond the volcano rim appear in a spectacular and intriguing contrast, on one side, the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, and on the other side the desert in which sand and wind play a non-ending game among the low hills of black, volcanic basalt, traces of eruptions in the Holocene, some 12,000 years ago.