Last week, I went with several other Arabic students to Bait Baws. We went with a Yemeni guy I first met a few days before, Waleed. Total, we were twelve people. Really a much bigger group than I had anticipated.
First, we went to the fish market for lunch. I didn’t know that we were eating lunch before we went so I’d already eaten chicken and rice for lunch about an hour or an hour and a half before. Despite this, I managed to eat nearly as much as everyone else did, and I don’t even like fish.
Once we finished lunch, we all piled into a big debab (mini-bus) which drove us approximately 7 km, to the base of the mountain that Bait Baws is on. Bait Baws is an old and abandoned village on the outskirts of Sana’a. Once it was quite separate and farmers used to live in the houses at the tops of the cliffs and farm the fertile land below them. However, after Sana’a began to expand outside the old city in the 1960s, the land there became suburban Sana’a and the farmers sold their land at a large profit and abandoned the village, which required a serious hike up and down the mountain all the time.
We stopped a good ways from Bait Baws to take pictures of the houses on the cliffs while we were still far enough away to see the whole skyline. One student asked if we could walk to Bait Baws from there. Waleed said we could, and before anyone could really disagree we were walking down the road. It didn’t seem like it would be very far until we discovered that the only way up to Bait Baws was on the other side of the cliffs and we had to walk all the way around. The road looped around climbing gradually. It really was not bad at all. (The only reason I can complain is that we ended up doing so much walking and climbing the rest of the day that it was silly of us not to have the bus drive us all the way to the parking lot, from where it was only a short walk down a gully and back up to Bait Baws.
As we walked along the base of the cliffs, we went through a village / suburb. There were many cacti with ripe cactus fruit. One girl picked one of fruits, careful to avoid the spines. I’m not sure how she intended to eat it without pricking her fingers. One of the boys who lived there came up to her, took the fruit from her with some cardboard off the ground to protect his fingers, then deftly pealed the skin back and proffered her the inner fruit to eat. She was a bit upset because he’d held the fruit with cardboard off the ground. However, since you only eat the inside, which doesn’t touch the cardboard, I didn’t think she needed to be upset. As we continued our walk, the boy followed us, picking cactus fruit, pealing it and proffering it to each of us in turn. We also picked up a couple tagalongs, all of which spent the whole afternoon with us (nearly five hours).
Along our walk, we saw some guys with guns on the side of the mountain. Waleed hollered to them and one came over with his gun to let him shoot it. One girl asked to hold it and had her picture taken. Waleed shot one round then asked all the boys in the group if they wanted to shoot it. All of them declined (which really surprised me, but maybe it was because most of them were Europeans, where guns are much rarer and perhaps ‘scarier’ than in America.). I would have taken the chance to shoot the gun if I’d been offered, but none of the girls were offered and I didn’t speak up for myself fast enough. The gun was returned and we continued the hike up the mountain.
Just as we got to the parking lot for Bait Baws, it began to rain and soon it was raining strongly. Quickly we were all quite wet. However, we trooped on and entered Bait Baws. The significant attraction is the views of Sana’a from the cliffs. The ruins are not especially attractive. They look like all the other stone houses throughout Yemen and they weren’t in such a dilapidated state to be super impressive as ruins either. In fact, squatters too poor to afford housing anywhere else occupied some of them.
The rain let up after 30 to 45 minutes. During this time, and afterward, we wondered among the ruins going to each cliff edge, where accessible, to look out over Sana’a. While it was raining, visibility was quite restricted, but once the rain stopped the views were nice. After making a tour of the village, some women who lived in one of the houses invited us in for tea (which we paid for on our way out).
After touring the village, I thought we’d be going home. Already it had been a couple of hours and I was bored of looking off cliffs to see mostly the same thing. However, we wondered around some other cliffs next to those Bait Baws is built on. The boys decided to climb the cliff to the plateaus on top. Usually I’m all for hiking, but I was not so thrilled about doing it in the ankle-length skirt of my balto. I also had on long loose pants to further trip me up. In order to make it up the 30-feet (or so) cliff-face, I had to tuck my hijab into the balto—so my hands were free—and tuck my pants and balto up—so my feet were free. After wandering around on this adjacent mesa for a while we began to climb down. Fortunately, we found a less steep way down. We went down as far as the gully that divides Bait Baws and the other mesa from the rest of the mountain where the road was. Someone decided that rather than walking back down the road, it would be more direct the go straight down the mountainside. This was true, but it was just after sunset and it was rapidly getting to be full dark. With little choice but to stick with a group, but not happy about the plan, Moira and I, set off down the mountain. It was a little steep and difficult, but not bad. Normally, I would have had no complaints about going that way, but the lack of light and appropriate climbing clothes made it a bit dangerous. Luckily, we all made it safely to the ground without anyone falling or twisting an ankle.
We walked back through the village/suburb to where the bus had left us in the afternoon. Waleed then left us there on the side of the road to go and find another mini-bus to take us back to the old city. We waited in near total darkness for about 20 minutes, until he came back with a much smaller mini-bus than before. I could comfortably hold 8 or 9 plus the driver. Instead, we shoved 12 plus the driver in, including one girl sitting on my lap.
While the trip was fun, it was longer than it needed to be. By the end, I was wet, cold and tired, and ever so grateful to get home again.
Bait Baws in the back ground
Boy herding his family’s sheep near Bait Baws