Places We Go / Yemen

Landscapes Of Yemen

I’ve been profiling some of the cities and towns of Yemen for you, dear readers… However, you know that I also strive to show, as much as possible, what a place is really like aside from just the highlights. And it should not be shocking to hear that there is a lot more to Yemen than just its towns and cities.  What about the countryside? What about the drive between the towns?  What does THAT Yemen look like? Read on…

Below, is our driver, Mohammed, an ex-military man who knows how to expertly work the soldiers and militia members at checkpoints across the country – joking around with them and occasionally handing over some khat… However, he always keeps his pistol tucked within easy reach in his waistband should a swift “Plan B” become necessary:


The “official” capital of Yemen is Sana’a. However, given the “facts on the ground” in Yemen at the moment, this really means very little. Regardless, of its political status though, Sana’a is a remarkable city and deserves an article of its own. However, the intent of this article is to focus on the places “in between” and, as such, we’ll start our journey outside of Sana’a and will intentionally skip over cities and specific points of interest.

Heading out from Sana’a one will find the countryside to be much greener than might be expected. Sana’a is up in the mountains though, resting at an elevation of approximately 7,500 feet, and so the region receives enough water to sustain the agricultural operations you see below:


A typical village of the area:


Many refugees have ended up in this region, likely as a result of the proximity to Sana’a – with its attendant NGOs and UN agencies – and also possibly due to opportunities to be found in the agricultural sector. Whenever we stopped in this area for fuel or food or khat for our Yemeni companions, Syrian refugees would approach us to beg for money.

I distinctly remember an exceptionally beautiful and striking Syrian woman that, obviously humiliated to do so, asked me for help in perfect English with a crisp British accent. As beautiful as she was, there was a bitter coldness in her eyes that betrayed the hardships that she and her family had endured. It can’t be easy to live through the civil war in Syria, only to immediately plunge into a civil war in Yemen. Nothing good will come of the forces that have been recently unleashed in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere…

One of the many refugee camps in Syria:

refugee camp

Winding up through the ring of mountains surrounding Sana’a now in order to drop down to the plains along the coast… These mountains are known for the quality and quantity of the khat they produce:


Yemen, as in Somalia, has a very strong culture of khat consumption and production. Below is a field of khat extending across the terraced hillsides to the far mountain:


Once the descent to the coastal plains begins, the drop is a swift one… Note the village in the center of the sea of greenery:


The rain shadow effect created by the mountains soon gives way to parched foothills:



A military outpost in the foothills… I don’t know if the tank was still operational following the heavy fighting here:


Some of the soldiers we visited at another military outpost:


The foothills soon give way to this stark landscape:



But, there is life here…

The heat and lack of building materials make grass huts a common sight and one could be forgiven for thinking that this picture was taken in Africa:


Significantly, there are some rivers that flow down from the mountains:


Rivers that are used to turn the desert green in some places:


A farmer in one of these man-made oases… It is actually not uncommon to see women working in the fields or herding the goats as the men are frequently off looking for money or food:

farm in yemen

I am not an expert on the matter, but khat seemed to be grown exclusively in the mountains, while the plains appeared to be devoted entirely to food crops and grasses (for hay and construction).

The lads below are transporting one such freshly harvested load of grass to a market:


And the food crops often end up at a camel-powered mill, such as the one below, where they are ground down for oil or to a more desirable size or consistency:


Lunch on the road… Truck stops offer great food and great prices:




Other Yemenis that had stopped for lunch:


We would also frequently purchase freshly baked bread (seen being made below) to snack on throughout the day:


The older villages and towns of Yemen are quite picturesque and enjoyable to visit. However, modern towns have sprung up along the main roads and these are anything but aesthetically pleasing. Remarkably, wherever they are located, they all look exactly the same. This is a typical example (and notice the cheek of the passenger bulging out from the size of the wad of khat he is chewing):


Below is a typical traffic jam in a medium-sized Yemeni town – every vehicle is pointed the wrong way and no one considers yielding a millimeter… The traffic jams in the medium-sized towns are the worst because a smaller village does not have enough traffic to create a jam and in a larger city such as Aden or Sana’a, the infrastructure will be sufficient to keep traffic moving (most of the time):


And given the current civil war in Yemen, the sides of the roads leading through these towns are often lined by a mix of AK-47 and RPG-toting militia members, government forces and locals just looking to protect what is theirs:


Looping back up into the mountains from the coastal plains… It just looked better in sepia for some reason:


Fog rolling down a mountain pass:


A typical mountain village outlined by Yemen’s morning sun:





One thought on “Landscapes Of Yemen

  1. The rural areas of Yemen are certainly beautiful. Far more diverse than one might expect. Your photographs excel in portraying this.

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