Monday, May 05, 2008

Neda Was I Ere I Saw Aden, The Land Of Beautiful Palindromes

Friday morning is Sunday morning, so things were pretty dead when I got to the share taxi stand at 8:30. But by 9 we had the full complement of nine passengers, so off we went for Aden.

The roads so far had been small twisted affairs, even the main road connecting Sa'na and Hudeidah, two cities of about 3 million each. But from here on out the road was new and straight, so that good time was to be made. The land got flat and deserty, but with jagged mountains off to the side, kind of like the California desert. About 30 miles from Aden the rocks and mountains disappeared and we were back to the weed speckled sands of Arabia. At 11 we got to the taxi park about 15 km outside of Aden proper.

I was standing there in the hot sun trying to figure out where the bus company was when Abdul the taxi driver came up and made my acquaintance. He said the bus company was about a km away, but for 300 rial... His was the first Yemeni cab I had seen with a/c. What's more, Abdul had a 30 word English vocabulary, fantastic for these parts. So I hopped in.

It being Friday morning, the bus company office was closed. But various hangers on said that the bus to Al Mukallah left at 3 and 7 in the afternoon. No morning bus? Since the book says that it is a 12 hour ride, and one would think that...? Nope. 3 & 7.

So I paid Abdul some more money and he drove me the 15 km into Aden proper. Now Aden is a famous world seaport, owned by the British from 1839 to 1967, then the capital of communist South Yemen from 1967 to 1990, now part of just Yemen. It's built around a giant harbor that was formed by the jagged volcanic rock at the south end. On one side was colonial Aden, on the other was Crater, which has nothing to do with an actual crater, and in the middle was Meira. We headed for Crater.

When I finally found the hotel I was looking for it was full. Also, waiting for the 3 pm bus for tomorrow would throw off my whole schedule. It was time for Plan B.0.

We swung into action. Abdul headed off for prayers, while I went to chow down for my big journey, trusting that a good Muslim wouldn't drive off with my pack. I was correct, and at about 1 pm we had about an hour for Abdul to show me one of the Ends of the Earth.

It certainly has the setting. Weirdly eroded black volcanic rock intrudes into the town of Crater, which is hot and dirty and even poorer than the rest of Yemen. First Abdul took me to the Aden tanks, which are a series of centuries old water cachements built into the volcanic rock, and where discos and whiskey took place under the atheist communists.

Then we went to Sira Island, which is a 200 foot high volcanic rock with an old fort on top of it over a little bridge and with the blue Arabian Sea stretching off to the horizon. Incongruously nearby was a second Pizza Hut in Yemen, this one ever dirtier and more woebegone than the one in Sa'na.

Now past the Sheraton complex (whiskey and disco available) and over to the colonial side, the only colonial thing about which was a large, totally bare, lifeless British graveyard with crosses and all, in the midst of humdrum industrial stuff. Crappy place to have to die.

Me and Abdul were good buddies by now, and he was telling me all his political views.

Then through Meira, whose main business street has a mile long, communist era, semi snazzy for Yemen but all the same 6 story block of apartments. Then the 15 km back to the bus company.

It was now 2:15 and the office was open, but the unfriendly lady in black said all the tickets were gone. Well, how about tomorrow morning? No buses in morning. Only at 3. Okay, I'll buy a ticket for 3 tomorrow. We can't sell you one because you don't have a police permit.

Now all of this was being done in Arabic through Abdul. And now he finds out that if we go get the police permit I might be able to get on today's bus. So off se go the 15 km into Aden.

We walk across the big police courtyard, and then wait 15 minutes for the policeman to take his own sweet time filling out the permit. Then race back to the bus company,where is it now 3:05. Not to worry, since the bus is late. So then a quarter mile walk to photocopy the permit (which it turned out wasn't necessary), and then I got the last seat on the bus and we took off.

I was of course exhausted by now. But my new seatmate was chipper, his name was Adel, and he became my newest Yemeni friend. What's more, having been a seaman he had a 200 word English vocabulary. We looked out at a flat weedy bushy sandscape with a flat ocean always about 5 miles away. And the bus a/c purred away. Later they popped in an Arabic movie video, which was a disjointed comedic pastiche.

Thanks to a new road, the 12 hour bus journey was only 7 and a half hours, including a stop for dinner and two stops for smokes and whizzing in the desert. When we got to Al Mukallah Adel walked me a couple of blocks to a hotel, and by 11 pm I was safely exconsed in my air conditioned room.


At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cigar? Toss it in a can. It is so tragic.
Did I live on no evil I did?
God deliver a reviled dog!


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