Penetrating into the forbidden Ma’rib through the back door

by Jorge Sanchez - 1 year ago

After spending a lovely week in Socotra Island I flew to Sana’a, in the Arabian Peninsula, in order to pay respect to seven Spanish tourists who were killed in Ma’rib by the terrorists of Al-Qaeda in a suicide car bomb, on the 2nd July 2007. In that coward attack, six more Spaniards were severely injured and two Yemeni guides were also killed. The terrorist also died in the attack, and I hope that Allah will not have pity on him...

That was a group of tourists coming from the Spanish cities of Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao; two of them were friends of two good friends of mine. I felt that I had to visit the place.

Owing to the fact that oil deposits were found around Ma’rib, the town has become a dangerous place and a terrorist nest. Tourists, on order to get there, needed in the past a special permit, and always had to travel there with military escort because the danger of death and kidnapping. But since the July 2nd 2007 terrorists attack the Yemeni authorities do not allow you to go there anymore, only to the Hadramaut Valley via Al Mukalla.

How to get to Ma’rib, then? I risked and went to the bus station to buy a ticket to Shibam, in the Hadramaut, that has to cross Ma’rib on its way. In the bus office I was informed that I had to get to Shibam via Al Mukalla to avoid Ma’rib, and was refused the ticket; they said to me in Arabic:

-         Matar, matar, taira, taira! (Airport, airport, airplane, airplane!)

I tried in another bus company and received the same result. Then I tried a third one, near Bab el Yemen and… I bought the ticket for only 1600 rials (about 8 US Dollars). The journey was beautiful. When I reached Ma’rib it was already dark and decided to visit it in my way back to Sanaa, since going to a hotel would mean being discovered by the police.

In all the hotels in Yemen you have to leave your passport in the reception every night, not exception, even in cheap places to stay such as dormitories in bus stations.

In Ma’rib I saw many soldiers carrying weapons and ordinary men armed to the teeth. After spending several days visiting Shibam (UNESCO wonder, considered the Manhattan of the desert) plus Seyun and Tarim, I bought another ticket bus to Sanaa via Ma’rib. This time the scenery was infinitely more stunning because it was day time. I saw canyons and rocks in the middle of the desert with a beauty beyond imagination. The journey remembered me the one I made hitchhiking many years ago from Denver, in Colorado, to Taos via Santa Fe, in New Mexico. But the one in Hadramaut was much more magnificent for it was unexpected to me.

Reaching again Ma’rib I went to the terrorist attack place, in the asphalted road, and tried to buy seven flowers or seven candles, one per tourist killed, but, of course, in the middle of the desert you do not find these items. Instead, I stayed in the place and kept silent during seven minutes, meditating and praying. After that I, instinctively, made the sign of the cross. Some young men passing by saw my gesture and started to talk about me for what I did.

That was enough, I thought, time to leave, and decided to quit the town at once. I walked rapidly to the bus station (in fact there is not bus station in Ma’rib, but a cafeteria where the buses stop for half an hour for toilet and food) and waited for the first available bus back to peaceful and wonderful Sanaa.

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