Aden, Yemen

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Aden

map-aden-harbour
Map of Aden Harbour

Sat 2 Jan 10 (cont)

Aden is built in the crater of an extinct volcano. It consists of four  separate districts, Tawahi, Krater, Khormaksar & Maala. The port is  located in Tawahi which is a very old part of the city. The architecture clearly shows evidence of the old British colonial days. Krater has more shops. Around the other side of the harbour is Little Aden which is a more modernised area.  Shopping is plentiful but most shops close between 1300 and 1600hrs then open up to trade into the evening. Just about everything closes on Friday. People are helpful and usually friendly.

 01 02
Typical Yemen coast –
mountainous with very little vegetation
Typical Yemen coast
04 05
A freighter passes testing it’s water cannons.  Its a reminder that pirates operate in these waters. Local fishermen In Aden
harbour.
06 07
Inside Aden Harbour which lies about 110 miles east of the Strait of Bab el Mandeb.  It  was first used between  5 and 7 BC. Residential housing as we approach the inner harbour where yachts can anchor.
08 10
Final approach to the inner harbour.  The distinctive clock tower centre photo was built in 1890 by  the British and known as the “Big Ben of the Arabs” or “Little Ben” Over the years the harbour has claimed many ships due to areas of shallow water. The harbour is littered with wrecks.

A highly noticeable habit is ‘gat’ chewing by the men. A green plant  often mixed with white powder from burning coal, tobacco and sea-salt is formed into a pasty ball which they chew. Sometimes it’s stuffed to capacity in their mouths to form a huge bulge in the cheeks. As one yachtie  puts it, as the day goes on and the longer they chew this stuff the loopier they become. But generally they’re a friendly bunch always ready to smile or laugh. The other noticeable thing is that just about all of the women wear black burka’s with the face veil showing just the eyes.

1330hrs: I’ve remained on board while Andy and Roger go ashore to complete formalities. They return to Jenzminc telling me it’s just as well I didn’t go with them; otherwise I’d still be over there writing all about it. Lots of offialdom and paperwork. The Yemenis do like their bureaucracy. They first headed for the Immigration Office to find its members sunning themselves under one of the pergolas on the Prince of Wales pier. All three of them could speak good English and when told what we want one of them says, “Yes, come with us, come with us”.

The Immigration Office consist of three desks and five chairs including the ones they sat on. They took our passports and because we didn’t have photocopies of them, gave them back with instructions to go away and get them photocopied. They also handed out gate passes to get out the gate.

Right: 12The Port Control Office on Prince of Wales pier

The boys then went to the Customs Office which turned out to be a small shed with a single room and one desk, two chairs and a mattress leaning against the wall. Two men and a woman were inside. One of the Customs men was sitting at the desk with the woman standing beside him.  She passes a large  hand written heavy ledger to the man sitting down and he writes up our  details. No problems. There is no fee, but that doesn’t stop him asking USD$10 baksheesh for his services.

The other guy turns out to be something of an agent who quickly insinuates himself to the exalted position of our local guide and driver. His name is Wal-Id (Wally for short) and is the absolute spitting image of the African-American actor Morgan Freeman but a much younger version. His car is nothing short of decrepit but is no different to most of the other vehicles on the road around Aden, even to the severely cracked windscreen and ill fitting panels. Roger gets into the back seat and tries to wind the window down but the handle is
missing. At the next stop Wally gets a ring spanner and uses that to lower the window. The required photocopies were obtained using using Wally’s services

Next they headed for a money changer where they changed £438 Egyptian to 14,400 Rials. They looked for menthol cigarettes for Andy but none can be found. They also looked for a Vodaphone or telephone office to buy a Yemen prepaid simm card as the Australian Telstra simm cards don’t work here. They find one which costs about 2,400 Rials for 20 minutes on international rates. Assurances were given that they could ring anywhere. Okay ….

Back at the port they find the  Immigration Office has closed but Wally’s not perturbed. He just says, “Don’t worry, come back later”. But the Customs guy must have seen them, comes over and takes the photocopies and passports, then puts his hand out for baksheesh for this little service. Okay. Our man then holds out his other hand but he’s got a big grin on his face. No harm in trying but nice try mate. Back to the boat.

Once Andy and Roger settle back onboard we motor Jenzminc over to the nearby Prince of Wales pier to take on fuel and water. We can’t get directly against the pier to have so tie up against some tourist boats painted white and yellow and fitted with bench seating. The fuel hose is passed over but it takes a while before someone comes down to read the meter before the fuel tap can be turned on.

Wally turns up and asks if we need any laundry done so we each hand over a bag of laundry. He tells us it will be ready tomorrow and asks if we want gas bottles filled. Hand over our empties. He says he’ll get them filled and returned tomorrow as well.

 13 14
The Price of Wales pier. Refuelling in progress.

On the pier is the Port Control Office as opposed to the Harbourmaster’s Office, which seems to be more to do with tourists and local small boat traffic at the Prince of Wales pier. It’s an old brick colonial building decked out with flashing fairy lights. I suppose the lights are from Xmas and New Year. The building is basically open sided with the interior walls covered with photos of ships and a large map of the Aden area, plus a small shop selling souvenirs and postage stamps. A security guard is constantly located at a wooden desk immediately outside an iron gate. Beside the Port Control Office is a large multi-story building which is empty, save for pigeons roosting in the bare rooms on the top floor.

A Yemeni man gets off a nearby boat onto the pier while we’re waiting for access to the water hose. He has a badly bent left leg almost at right angles at the knee, which gives him a most awkward gait. Lots of yelling going on. Anyone speaking Arabic must be required to speak it in a loud and urgent manner. Finally the water tank is filled together with a 20-litre jerry container. We can have a good wash tonight. Getting a bit smelly after the exertions of the last few days.

Approx 1500hrs: Several boats speeding by set up a rough wash against the pier so it’s with a bit of relief that we can get Jenzminc out of there and take her back out onto her anchor. We get ourselves settled . Andy dons his scuba gear and dives under the back of the boat
to check if any nets have fouled the propeller or rudder. He cuts away several floats and about half a bucket of net that had wrapped around the prop shaft and hooked up on the rudder. The rest of the hull is clean.

14a

Right: Andy surfaces after clearing the fouled propeller and rudder.

1700hrs: A yellow and white tourist boat pulls up alongside after having spent the last half hour or so trying to get its motor started. Wally is standing on the bow alongside a deckhand with a huge bulge in his right cheek stuffed with ‘gat’. It wouldn’t be possible to fit more of the stuff in there and when he talks it’s so muffled it’s hard to understand.

The deckie hands over a bill from the Port Control Office for the water totalling USD $15. Unbelievable! $10 for the water and $5 to pay the driver of the tourist boat. Wally looks at
us somewhat apologetically and shrugs helplessly towards the Port Control Office. I think he’s trying to say it isn’t his doing. So now we know to pay as we go.

1730hrs: Turn the motor on to charge the batteries and take the opportunity for a hot
wash now that we have plenty of fresh water. It was beautiful. Fresh clean clothes – great! Sundowners in cockpit.

15b 15c
15a Top Left & Right:
A tanker believed to have been broken up in the Suez Canal  and brought here to be used as a breakwater and channel markers.
Left: Sailor’s Club

1800hrs: Get into dinghy and go ashore. Present our gate passes to the  security officer sitting at a desk who writes down our names and nationality in a big ledger book.

Head off walking to the left on the main road towards the market area in the local Tawahi District. The streets are noticeably clean compared to any place in Egypt. First impression by night is that the footpaths and roads are in good repair, kerbing is painted at appropriate places with yellow and black paint. However the buildings generally are a mess, mostly run down and badly in need or repair, or about to fall down. Some of them look like they already have. Roger tells me that some of the other districts are much more modernised and upmarket than they are here.

More women appear on the streets at night than we’ve probably seen anywhere in Egypt but they’re usually in pairs. You can tell them because almost all of them wear the full black burka with just the eyes showing. Though there are some with netting over the eyes as well.  Some go way out and embroider bits of bling or even have coloured strips along the edges. The eyes tend to be quite distinctive. Some wear make-up under there. The women are generally slim and small in stature compared to Egyptian women who often tend towards plumpness. They stare fixedly ahead when they pass by and often stop talking until they get past us. Pretty sad to my western eyes really.

As we approach the market area there are many raggedy individuals sitting around the footpath in the darker areas on a piece of cardboard, with worldly possessions arranged in piles about them. They lounge about chewing on ‘gat’ or simply smoking a cigarette. Seems like everyone smokes cigarettes in Aden. There’s no real street lighting as such though some buildings have an orange light shining over the street. We find several streets of an entire block with stalls selling all sorts of goods. Lots of fish of just about any kind.  Good quality fruit and vegetables. Just about every stall has its own portable gas pressure light lined with aluminium foil so as not to blind the customer, creating almost a candlelit effect and old world atmosphere.

15d

Right: One of the better lit back streets by night.

We look for a restaurant for something to eat but can’t find anywhere we’d be comfortable to eat at so return along the road back towards the Port Control Office. Nearby is the Sailor’s Club. This establishment was the wonderful recipient of a write-up in one of the Indian Ocean Pilot Guide books so we go inside for a look. Apparently it’s also one of the few places in Aden where alcohol can be purchased. Inside are a couple of local men at the bar drinking what looks like vodka, and some tables and chairs.

We ask the constantly smiling barman if food is available.
“Yes, yes, yes. No problem”.
Ask for chicken. “No chicken…sorry. No fish…sorry. We have bif?”
I order the beef not knowing what to expect but what the hell. Also order a bowl of lentil soup and a plate of french fries after much confusing negotiation about what is actually available. Roger asks for an omelette and Andy goes for the fish.
“Yes”.
I assume the fish must be available now. This’ll be interesting …

Some Heineken beers and a Pepsi Cola arrive at the table. One of the locals tells us to try the white wine as he is leaving, “Really good” he says.
The boys ask the barman for white wine and he brings over two bottles. One is a bottle of white West Indies rum and the other a non-alcoholic sparkling red. Forget the red.
“Two glasses of this white rum please?”
“Sorry… no glass … (something uncatchable)”.
He can’t sell by the glass. We must buy the whole bottle.
“How much for the bottle?”
Our man goes away and brings back a calculator. Labours away at it for a while then produces the result.
“7000 Rials” (about US$35).
“Okay, we’ll take the bottle then”.
The boys have a little rum sippies to have with the meal that hasn’t come yet.

The meals arrive. Mine’s a mixed grill. Well cooked except the onions are charcoal. The beef I’m not sure about. I’ve never seen beef bones like these. They remind me of dog or maybe goat or some other small mammal. One small plate of bone looks suspiciously like the top part of a skull. In any case it’s edible enough. Roger enjoys his omelette. Andy finishes his fish, which looked like a steak of small mackerel.

Pay for the meal. Roger asks for a bag to carry the rum bottle as it won’t be allowed through the security guard’s gate at the Port Control Office. Customs thing. They also won’t allow tobacco through. The barman decants the bottle into a small water bottle. Doesn’t work at the gate though. The security guard is wise to this ploy, takes the cap off the bottle and sniffs it. Shakes his head. His mate comes over and sniffs it. He shakes his head. Long conflab starts. Andy takes the bottle and starts walking outside.
“What’s he doing?” the guard asks.
“Tipping it out”.
“No, no, no he don’t have to do that”, he says in an alarmed voice.
The pennies drop. A bit of USD $10 baksheesh and suddenly the bottle can leave with us. This rum has started to become a pretty expensive drop.
Back out at the boat the two boys have a coffee and a Dos Maderas while I go to bed.

Sunday 3 Jan 10

0600hrs: Roger alerts us that Jenzminc has dragged on her anchor overnight and our stern is sitting about a foot off Kari’s  bow. Pull the anchor in and reset it. Back to bed.

1000hrs: Go ashore. It’s very blowy today and the harbour is a bit chopped up so we get wet bottoms sitting on the side pontoon of the dinghy. Wally is at the pier waiting and leads us to his battered old Toyota Cressida. None of the doors line up, the windscreen is badly cracked and the bonnet pokes up amongst other modifications.

15Left:Driver Wal-Id and his battered car

The first thing I notice is the Yemeni driving method. There are no rules. If a street exists it’s to be driven on. Doesn’t matter if it’s one way and everybody else must get out of the way. It’s just like driving dodge‘em cars and a contest to see who has the longest sounding horn. You try to drive the fastest and miss the others but if you don’t then never mind. The second thing is that any car over a few years old is understandably battered and dented, usually quite badly. Bumper bars tied on with rope and flapping about is not unusual. Despite all this everyone seems quite patient and tolerant, responding to horn blasts with a smile and a wave.

Wally is no different. At one point in the day he does a U-turn against oncoming traffic right in the face of a fast oncoming car. While everyone else tries to push their feet through the floor he spins his car around, crosses in front of the other vehicle and gets into the
other lane. Thankfully the oncoming vehicle keeps going straight on in the same lane, flying past with his horn going. Wally has a big grin on his face. Nudges Andy in the front seat and says, “How about that eh?”

First stop is the Harbour Master’s Office. The man himself isn’t there so we are introduced to the Deputy. We want to know what the status is with pirates between Aden and Salalah in Oman, and in particular around El Mukallah. This section of coast is notorious amongst yachties and known as Pirate Alley. It’s where the highest percentage of pirate attacks has historically occurred. However as far as we understand it the targeting appears to be more towards the south now that the waters are being patrolled by various countries.

The Harbour Master looks sympathetically at us and says, “What can I tell you?” and shrugs. He doesn’t have any up to date data, or if he does he isn’t going to share it. All he would tell us was that pirate attacks have increased over the last year. When asked whether the pirates tended to target the big ships instead of yachts he again shrugs, “They take what they can get”. He also warns us they use guns and RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades).

His best advice is to travel no more than 10km offshore and the best I can gather from his weaving answers, is that he doesn’t think it’s necessary to deviate in a long low loop around El Mukallah. That’s probably fair enough too.  If we go too far south we’re more likely to run into some Somali pirates anyway. Better to stay closer to shore and just run past any Yemeni pirates who we hope are just opportunistic fishermen. A final piece of advice is to visit the Yemen Coast Guard. He understands they escort convoys from time to time.

Wally takes us to the Coast Guard. This requires climbing several flights of cement stairs
and by the time we get up there the cheeks of my bum are aching from the effort. Having been onboard Jenzminc for a fortnight I’m not used to this type of exercise. We’re shown into an office and a couple of high ranking officers come along and sit down in cane chairs with us. We learn they don’t do escorts of convoys but they can supply a team of a minimum five to 10 fully armed men to travel on the yacht with us. This will cost USD$10,000 and will only cover us to the Yemen/Oman border.
“Sorry … but that’s the policy”, the officer says. “If it was up to me I’d be happy to provide escorts (shrugs and smiles apologetically) but that’s from higher up”.
Suddenly he asks, “What’s the name of your yacht?”
Jenzminc”.
“Ahh…” he says moving over to pick up a piece of paper off a nearby desk.
“We have all your details. You arrived from Egypt yesterday”.

Back downstairs. Next on our shopping list is a battery to replace our clagged one. Where ever Wally takes us directly to a shop that just sells batteries. Andy shows them the old
one and we get shown every other kind. Finally, after pulling a few down off the shelves ourselves  we find one that seems to be what we want. A closer look and sure enough it’s 12 volts 75 Amp Hours, low maintenance and best of all the same size as the existing one so that it will fit in the battery box onboard.
“How much?”
This seems to provide some consternation. I’m getting the impression that Wally is muddying the waters a bit by getting involved in the conversations but we eventually get our answer, “16,000 Rials” (about USD$80 as far as we can work it out).
We’ve now got our battery.

Off to do some shopping. Pull up at a small shop that has different rooms and fill a trolley. We even manage to find a packet of yeast AND a small jar of Tiger Balm. Fancy that. Outside a group of women wearing black burkhas crowd around holding out their hands. They’re quite pushy about it. Lots of plaintive “my sisters”, “my brothers”, “hungry”, “want food”, “you give money”. Big moo cow eyes stare into ours. Some are quite young, perhaps
late teenagers. Very persistent crowding all around. They even poke their head or hands into the windows of the car as it starts to drive away. Wally tells us they are Somali women who have come as refugees and make a living by begging.

Approx 1300hrs: Shops are about to close and won’t open back up again until at least 1600hrs. Back to the boat. Sleepy time. Offload all the booty. Feels good to have some food back on board again. We’d been getting just a little bit low. Take a rest.

 16 17
Windmill next to salt flats
near the airport.
Buildings are built right up
to the rim of a extinct volcano.
18 19
Downtown Aden An old British colonial
building.
20 21
Typical of apartment
accommodations.
A suburban street.

1700hrs: Go back ashore. Wally waiting. We need an Oman courtesy flag, some 20-litre fuel containers and some more shopping, this time for meat, fruit and vegies. Wally takes us to a back street to a tailor shop owner who can make us a flag. A couple of shops down the road I notice a 0-litre white plastic jerry container.
“Do you have 20-litre container like this?” I ask.
Takes a while but he finally figures out what I’m asking.
“Black ones”. He says. “How many you want … two?”
When told we want four of them he takes off across the street. Returns shortly after carrying four black 20-litre jerry containers with good screw caps. He wants 3,000 Rials (about USD $15), at which price there’s no need to bargain, just grab them while we can. We’ll have to return for the flag later.

In Krater District is a huge supermarket known as Lulu’s. We travel around the airfield past large tracts of shallow saltwater evaporation flats dotted here and there by little windmills. None of them seem to be working. Very few of them actually have any sails. Flocks of pink
flamingos are standing around, wading or feeding.

On arrival at Lulu’s we pick up our meat, fruit and vegies. Impressively large place. Really modern including air-conditioning. Upmarket shops. Lots and lots of women out shopping, many with kids and husband. Idly wonder how the kids manage to find their mothers if they get lost. They all look pretty much the same dressed in their black mini tents. I suppose they just run from one to another until one pats them on the head.

Return to pick up the flag but it won’t be ready until 2100hrs. Wally will pick it up later tonight and give it to us tomorrow. Pick up our laundry which costs the grand total of 3,000 Rials for all of it.

23Left: Sun sets on Aden Harbour

Approx 1900hrs: Back at the Prince of Wales pier. Get all our goodies out to the boat. Andy installs the battery and runs the motor to charge the batteries up again. Late sundowners.

Approx 2030hrs. Dinner cooked onboard by Andy. The Sailor Club is having a disco tonight. The music is incredibly loud. It’s the usual Arabic style; quavery voices that don’t seem to match the distinctive middle eastern music. Unfortunately we’re only about 100 metres from the club so we get the full benefit. No one is dancing. Don’t have to put our own music on because we can’t hear it anyway.

MORE TO FOLLOW

 

 

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