With the travel ban lifted, we are back in business on moving about the country. So, this weekend (weekends here are Thursday/Friday), we went to Manakha, three hours east of Sana'a. Manakha is only about 100 kilometers east of Sana'a as the crow flies, but because of the topography, it turns out to be quite a drive. That, and we got stopped at the checkpoint outside of Sana'a for an hour on the way to Manakha, so that they could send us a security escort from Sana'a. Of course, the security escort just turns us into bait. It practically puts a giant neon sign in Arabic above our buses saying "Important American Tourists Inside." The security detail consisted of a truck with five guys with AK-47's and a 30mm machine gun in the flatbed of the truck. Obviously, these guys probably won't do anything to actually stop an attack, but they sure as hell will kill anybody after they've already attacked us, since nobody is going to go after the security escort first. Obviously, with the security escort and the recent events in Marib, the atmosphere turned macabre fairly quickly, with people cracking car bomb jokes every time we stopped moving. But mostly it was all just really dramatic, with the trip being totally uneventful. It was nice to get out of Sana'a and into the countryside, and the countryside was pretty breath taking. The drive to Manakha goes past the highest point in Yemen, which is also the highest point on the Arabian peninsula. Manakha itself is a small, uneventful town built into the side of a cliff. At night, it looks like a beach town, because you see the lights of the city, and then just aboslute black-ness, with the emptiness of the cliffs substituting for the water of the ocean.
Our second day in Manakha, we went on what was describe to us as "a little walk." It turned out to be a three and a half hour epic journey along the rim of a huge valley. I've seen some pretty rugged territory in China, Oman, and throughout the States, but nothing even came close to the severity of the scenery there. It was just ridge after jagged ridge of mountains, for as far as the eye could see, which was pretty far up there. We stopped in numerous semi-abandoned villages along the way, where the houses were built on rocky outcroppings that shot straight into the air. No wonder the Ottomans had such a hard time conquering this place, each little village is built like a castle. Anyways, the drive back to Sana'a after all this was also uneventful, and now we're all gearing up for the big trip, the four day excursion to Wadi Hawdramaut, the Yemen's version of the Wild West in a country that already looks like the Wild West pretty much everywhere.