Excursion to Shihara
Sana'a Travel Blog› entry 15 of 25 › view all entries
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Now, for our next adventure ... Shihara (Photo 1, Photo 2), yet another medieval city built in one of the most inaccessible places. Our trusty series III Toyota Landcruiser (ie. very old) managed the paths cut into seemingly sheer cliffs with no problems. The trip was a 4X4 lover's dream.
With Shihara, half the excitement is getting there. We required armed guards in an escort vehicle to minimise the risk of kidnapping .
FYI, there are different grades of risk for travel within Yemen, and this will be the "highest". I've so far done the "no permit required" areas. Much of the country is in an intermediate risk grade where one has to obtain a travel permit (granted relatively easily for a fee).
I've seen that many Americans pretend to be the same nationality as their travel companions (Brits or Canadians) when not required to show passports at checkpoints. They claim that Americans are sometimes not let through as the Yemeni government can't afford to have anything happen to Americans.
The Yemeni obsession with Qat (a kind of chewing leaf; arguably a drug) is even more obvious in the highlands where they are grown.
In Shihara we stayed at a local guest house which could have been out of the middle ages. It was built from cut rocks and plastered on the inside with mud. The floors supported by tree trunks which had been plastered over too.
Shihara is the wild west of Yemen. Although we had about 6 armed guards (with machine guns) looking after us on our trip, one vehicle in our convoy got run off the road by opportunistic machine-gun toting locals. Thanks to the armed guards following close behind, we didn't find out what their fate would have been otherwise. The near-victim in this case was a German woman who had been in Yemen for about 8 years ... she claims that this is her first incidents and events like this are rare.
In the highlands, guns and machine guns are a way of life ... possibly in the same way that daggers are a way of life in the city. Perhaps the arms are necessary to protect the valuable Qat.