I've been travelling again. This was a short trip, only two days, to a few villages close to Sana'a.
The journey to the village of Shibam took us less than an hour, but we spent almost no time there as we were eager to get to the real prize of Kawkaban. Basically, Shibam is a small village at the foot of a cliff and Kawkaban is the larger village at the top of the cliff. I took the picture below standing in Shibam – you can see some of it in the foreground – and Kawkaban is the brown buildings sticking straight up from the top of the cliff.
And how, you're probably asking, does one get from Shibam to Kawkaban (assuming you're not Batman, of course)? You can drive up or... you can climb the steep stone path. Guess which route we chose.
It took us just short of two hours to make the climb. Triumphant, we arrived at the walled city of Kawkaban, where everyone kept telling me that cars were banned except I kept seeing cars. It seems that nobody bothered to tell the Kawkabanis.
We went immediately to Beit Yahya, the only working hotel left in the village (there used to be three), as one of our party had been there before. We were the first tourists the friendly owner Yahya had seen in two years. He gave us tea and we flipped through his guest books. Tourists had been coming to Yahya since the late 80s and his guest books gave a detailed picture of the past twenty years of tourism in Yemen. In the 90s and early noughties there were entries at least once a week, sometimes two or three on the same day. Things petered off in 2011; the last entry was a single Japanese tourist.
We all wanted to help Yahya so we decided to stay there for lunch. While preparations were being made, we were sent on a tour of the village led by Mohammed, his youngest son, and tailed by a string of curious schoolchildren. We were genuinely hungry by the time we returned, and Yahya did not let us down. A delicious Yemeni meal was rounded off by a few glasses of mint tea, and we were ready to continue.
We headed back down the mountain. Our plan was to go to the town of Thula and then go back to Sana'a. Our driver, however, offered to take us on a shortcut down the mountain. Although I fear the route ended up being no shorter, it did allow us to see possibly the coolest building I've seen in Yemen so far. Believe me, that's saying something.
Faisal, our driver, had never actually been inside the fort. But we wanted to investigate, so he gamely stopped the car. It turned out that the fort is inhabited by a caretaker, his wife and some donkeys. For 500 Rials (a little over $2) the caretaker took us in to look around.
And what a look! Like so many of Yemen's more impressive buildings, it is a massive stone edifice that seems to grow organically out of the side of a cliff. The rooms of the fort were mostly small and dark, with low ceilings. Part of the building had crumbled away, and at one point I rounded a corner to be confronted by a sheer drop, which certainly woke me up.
Our initial plan was to have a meal in Thula, but this was thwarted by the fact that there are no restaurants in Thula. The hotels, too, were long closed, so we decided to head straight back to Sana'a and have a meal there. A good plan.
Rebecca Winslow (USA) [2012-12-15]