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Yemen Revisited

Shibam, the "Manhattan of the Desert." © Charles & Mary Love

We have fond memories of our travels across Yemen in the late 1990s and are distressed to read about this country’s current problems. It’s the poorest among Arab nations, and recent civil strife there has only made matters worse.

We remember the days when adventurous Europeans were flocking to Yemen, to hike the rugged mountains near Sana’a, the capital, and drive across the desert (called The Empty Quarter) to the town of Shibam, which dates back to the fourth century AD. Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is known for its tall, mud brick towers, some of which reach 10 stories. Little wonder the town is nicknamed “The Manhattan of the Desert.”

Sana’a’s architecture is just as special. One might call it the “iced gingerbread city.” The three- to seven-story mud brick and stone buildings in the Old City are fronted by rows of arched, stained glass windows outlined in white gypsum. At night, when building lights are on, Sana’a is truly a fairyland.

Let’s hope that Yemen gets on its feet and, like Vietnam, recovers from decades of instability and war. But we aren’t holding our breath.

The respected travel company Mountain Travel Sobek (www.mtsobek.com) offers a remarkable Yemen itinerary that covers both the mianland and the island of Socotra, known as the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.” But visas are hard to get now. Stay tuned.

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