Monday, May 08, 2006

From Aden with Love

Please forgive my typos...

Well, I was just about to study, but as the power has gone out I thought it would be a good time to write about my trip to Aden before I forget all the details.

Ahh… Aden. Yes, Aden. After missing out on the trip to Shahara and Ma’rib, nothing was going to make me miss this trip. And that is a shame as this was probably the trip I should have missed.

The foreshadowing of events to come began when we had to wait until about three in the afternoon before heading out to hire a car to take us to Aden. The reason this is an ominous portent is that it is about a seven hour trip.

The five of us (Myself, Evan, Aaron, English Tom II, and Alex) managed to hire a car for about thirty dollars. Normally they cram about nine people into the station wagon but we paid extra so that we could have the taxi to ourselves. The foreshadowing continued as the weather had turned rainy for our darkened descent down to Aden (Sana’a is at an elevation of just over 7,000 feet).

Our driver was not shy about passing slow moving vehicles regardless as to whether he had a decent line of sight and on about three different occasions I had given myself up for dead. During the descent the weather cleared up and the drive became more pleasant. Unfortunately, since we left so late it quickly became too dark to enjoy the scenery of the drive. As we got closer to Aden the road became noticeably worse with the driver having to slow to a crawl in some places.

We arrived in Aden at about 11pm and headed to our hotel. During our drive I had asked my companions for the luxury of staying at a decent hotel. I thought we had an agreement of sorts but no such luck. Although I saw several nice looking hotels as we drove into Aden, Aaron directed our driver to the Gulf of Aden Hotel which is located almost right beside the Al-Wafi Hotel.

I was quickly becoming nervous as the neighborhood through which we were passing wasn’t one in which a decent hotel would be found. If you look in Lonely Planet’s Arabian Peninsula guide (which I don’t usually do) you will see both hotels listed in their budget selection with Al-Wafi (I think that is correct but I’ve loaned my guide out and can’t check at the moment) being described as the best of a sorry lot (I think that’s what it said). Lonely Planet could have saved everybody a lot of time by saying the Gulf of Aden has a ton of cockroaches crawling over everything but that the Al-Wafi Hotel only has 1/3 the number of cockroaches (English Tom II had to knock two of them off his bed).

I was decidedly unhappy at this point and not having a good time. A couple points to mention about Yemeni budget hotels. They may or may not include blankets on the bed. They won’t have any cute soaps and shampoos, towels or washcloths for you to use. So, if you are like me and didn’t remember to bring soap, shampoo, towels or washcloths, you will probably regret it unless you don’t like bathing. I ended up bathing with some wet-wipes that I had in my backpack. If the above doesn’t put you off, you’ll be happy to know that the air-conditioning worked just fine and that the rooms were dirt cheap.

About thirty minutes after we checked into our rooms Aaron had us out the door to The Sailors Club. The Sailors Club was pretty much the same as the Russian Club and the Palestinian Club but actually a little nicer as it was located right on the water and there was a nice breeze to boot, and dare I say, I had the tastiest tuna fish sandwich ever.

For some strange reason, I thought we would be touring through the streets of Aden but Aden is no Old Sana’a. To paraphrase a line from the musical Chess, “You’ve seen one crowded polluting stinking town, you’ve seen them all”. Actually, the cisterns there are supposed to be interesting to view but that didn’t seem to have been on the agenda. No my gentle readers, the following day we were off to the beach!

There are public and private beaches in Aden and I recommend paying the two or three dollars to go to a private beach. We ended up going to the Elephant Bay Beach Resort which was rather pleasant. If you are in Yemen and decide that you absolutely must go to the beach, you could do worse. The Elephant Bay Beach Resort has rooms for rent that are located right on the beach (for a reasonable price) a nice dining facility/gift shop, a small but modern fitness room, and the manager there seemed quite capable.

As our time at the beach neared its end, the discussion of whether to stay a second night came up and much to my delight we decided to head back that night after dinner. Dinner was at the Sheng Sheng Chinese Restaurant. We all opted for the 10 course meal which ended up costing about eight dollars a piece. Such an excellent dinner it was! I can’t recommend it enough.

The ride home was no more enjoyable than the ride down but then, long, crowded car trips usually aren’t enjoyable and since we departed once again in the evening, I missed the scenery once again. We arrived back at the school at about 3:30am at which time I promptly took a shower and then spent the entire next day in bed!