CHAPTER X: ON TO SANAA
AT 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the ninth of January, my men were all settled in their quarters, and I found myself free to consult with the heads of the civil and military authorities at Hodeida with regard to my future course. There were two ways of getting back to Germany open to me: the one, overland, and the other, to continue on my way by sea. Marine charts I could obtain in Hodeida. His Excellency, the Mutessarif of Hodeida, whose name was Raghib, and the colonel of the regiment, also named Raghib, sat together in consultation with me that afternoon
I learned at once, and much to my regret, that the railroad did not exist. At the same time I received information with regard to the English warships then in the Red Sea. These consisted chiefly of a number of gunboats and auxiliary cruisers, that could be seen almost daily to the northward of Hodeida, and that were maintaining a sort of blockade line. To continue on the "Choising" under these circumstances was very nearly a hopeless undertaking, especially so in consideration of the probability that spies would very soon make our presence in Hodeida known abroad. The French iron-clad would surely hear of it, and could at once participate in the search for our ship, while her wireless apparatus could flash information of us to all the English and French war vessels in the vicinity. In waters as narrow as the Red Sea is, it would then be quite impossible for the "Choising," with a speed of but seven miles, to elude her pursuers.
The Turkish authorities assured me, moreover, that I would find the overland route to the north both safe and unobstructed, although it would necessarily entail some loss of time. Preparations for the journey by land would require about a fortnight; then we could start on our march, and, in all likelihood, would reach the railroad in about two months.
When this was fully settled, I waited for the darkness to come, and then, from the roof of our house, three times I sent off the signal with fire balls, as agreed upon, to the waiting "Choising": "Caution! Hostile ships! Proceed at once to Massowa." Later we learned that the "Choising" had reached her destination in safety.
Whereas the health of my men had been excellent up to this time, they now began to show the effects of the extreme climate. In Hodeida the days were terribly hot, the nights very cool. The men of our crew slept in the Turkish barracks along with the soldiers of the Turkish garrison.
In Arabia houses and barracks are constructed very differently from those in our own climate. The barracks provided for my men consisted of a framework of thin boards covered with matting and straw. They slept side by side on a sort of divan, the cushions of which were stuffed with straw. The water especially was unwholesome, and had to be boiled to make it fit to drink. As a preventive measure against malarial infection, we had to take quinine continuously. But in spite of all our precaution, cases of dysentery and malaria soon began to develop among us. I therefore decided to take my men into the mountains. Sanaa, which is the chief city of Yemen, was recommended to me as being a very healthful place, the water conditions good, and the climate closely resembling that of Europe. Since our journey overland lay by way of Sanaa, it was quite as well to await the completion of our preparations for it at that place as at Hodeida. I decided therefore to start on our march to Sanaa on the Kaiser's birthday.
Before leaving Hodeida we celebrated the anniversary of our Emperor's birth by ceremonies in which the entire Turkish garrison participated, as did also the entire Turko-Arabian populace, in their own peculiarly enthusiastic fashion. I had in the meantime succeeded in procuring new clothes for my men. Although this, their latest uniform, did not exactly conform to home regulations,- especially the tropical hat designed by myself after the pattern of the hats worn by the colonial troops, and decorated with a large cockade in red, white, and black, the like of which, it is safe to say, had never before been seen in the navy, nevertheless the men presented a very trim appearance, and made an excellent impression.
The entire garrison marched to the parade square for the ceremony. My little company of men stood in the middle, surrounded by the Turkish troops. Together with the Turkish commander, I passed the combined troops in review; I then made a speech in German in honor of the Kaiser, and ended with three cheers for him, in which our Turkish comrades in arms joined with enthusiasm. After the cheers for our Emperor had been given, the Turkish commander called for three cheers for the Sultan. A parade march by the combined troops closed the ceremonies. With band playing and banners flying, my men then marched off to a feast - mutton and rice - spread for them in the barracks. The officers were invited by the heads of the local authorities to a banquet - mutton and rice - at the palace of the mayor of Hodeida. Here, also, the heartiest good will was expressed in the toasts that were exchanged. At five o'clock in the afternoon we started on our march to Sanaa.
In the Arabian desert it is only possible to travel at night, as the heat of the day is too intense to be borne by either man or beast. Marching on foot is out of the question even at night. Everybody rides. We also had to follow this custom until we reached the foot of the mountains.
The animals placed at our disposal were horses, mules, and donkeys. Our baggage was transported by means of a special caravan of camels. It was no light task to keep this newly organized company together at the start, for this was the first time that some of my bluejackets had ever been astride of a four-footed creature. The fun began at once, with the mounting, and there were some very ludicrous scenes. Some of the men took advantage of the time before we started on the march, to practise rapid dismounting, many of them taking their saddles along with them in the attempt. However, relations of friendship sufficient to insure against the occurrence of any serious misunderstanding had soon been established between each rider and his mount, and the caravan was ready to start. We were escorted for some distance by the Turkish officers and garrison.
Soon Hodeida was left behind us in the distance, and we were in the heart of the desert. As far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but sand, - low flat sand hills grown over with dry grass. Roads, of course, there were none; tracks in the sand, made by the passing of other caravans, - that was all. Our march was frequently interrupted by a halt, for in the beginning especially, it happened every little while that one of the men devoted an over-amount of energy to guiding and mastering his steed, and the ensuing duel usually came off to the humiliation of the rider. The next thing to be done then, was to catch the riderless beast that was making the most of its freedom, a duty which usually devolved upon the officers, as they were the only ones who could ride. With the donkeys and the mules this was no small undertaking. Hardly had we come up to one of these animals when it would turn and kick out vigorously with its hind legs, and it would then require a resort to all the diplomacy and cunning at our command to get hold of it again. That these diversions should not cause us too great a loss of time, one of the officers always rode at the rear end of the caravan to round up the riderless steeds, and the steedless riders, and form them into a sort of rear guard.
As the nights were clear and bright with moonlight, we found our way very easily. We rode the whole night through, stopping only occasionally for a half hour's rest. Then we all flung ourselves down in the sand, just where we happened to be, slung our reins around one arm, or tied them to one of our legs, and so found rest for our weary bodies, weary from the strain of the long continued ride.
The region through which we were traveling was not considered a wholly safe one. Robbery and attacks upon small caravans were the order of the day. As early as the second night out, we had an experience of this kind ourselves. Suddenly, in the moonlight, there appeared to one side of our road a dozen or more men mounted on camels. The Turkish gendarmes that had been sent with us as an escort and to guide us on the way, declared them to be robbers, and immediately got their rifles ready to shoot. When the men on the camels saw the size of our caravan, they vanished among the sand hills quite as suddenly as they had appeared.
On the third day we had completed the journey across the broad strip of desert which lies at the foot of the mountains, and we were now at the entrance into the mountain region. Quite abruptly, almost perpendicularly, the mountains rise from out the flat desert country, and attain a height of some 3600 meters. The route now became more difficult. Over loose stones, through dry beds of rivers and brooks, we climbed slowly upward. At last we were again surrounded by trees and bushes, and the vegetation became quite luxuriant. On many of the highest peaks of the mountains Arab castles were to be seen. The Arabs of this region seem to delight in placing their dwellings on as great and inaccessible a height as possible. At every point where a steep cliff or a narrow defile makes the upward way a difficult one, some Arab had built him a castle, frequently large and imposing in appearance, a veritable little fortress in itself. It was almost as though we had suddenly been transported back into the Middle Ages.
The people were very friendly, and we met with a pleasant greeting everywhere. Our periods of rest were usually spent in the caravansaries provided for the Turkish troops. For some days our road lay through a picturesque mountain region, and then brought us directly in front of a lofty mountain ridge that seemed to block our way completely, so that we did not know which way to turn. It was a steep, well nigh perpendicular wall of rock. A serpentine path, most difficult to climb, brought us to the summit of the ridge, after hours of exertion. It was a road by no means free from danger. On the one side of us the wall of rock rose straight up; on the other side it dropped straight down. A road, in the ordinary sense of the word, it really was not. It was no more than a bridle path worn into the rock by many long years of travel, often blocked by a great boulder, and made dangerous with many rolling stones.
The pack animals showed a wonderful ability and power of endurance. Often we came to places so dangerous that I gave orders to dismount, and lead the animals. As a whole, however, the men had come to be quite good riders by this time. We bought eggs and milk on the way whenever we had an opportunity to do so. We carried our cooking utensils with us on one of the animals. An officer, the cook, and another man always preceded the caravan, as a small number of men can travel faster than a larger company. In this way our meals were always ready for us when we arrived at the appointed place. This was a distinct advantage for the men, for the journey was a very fatiguing one, and every hour of sleep was of importance.
I had arranged for a longer halt to be made at Menakha. This is a small town situated on the highest point of the principal mountain ridge. From thence the road winds gradually downward until it reaches an extensive plateau on which Sanaa is located. In Menakha we were given a pleasant welcome by both the Turkish troops and the people. At a point some hours distant from the little town, we found the commandant, together with his corps of officers and the troops, awaiting us. A crowd of several hundred people had come with them. Together with the Turkish soldiery, we covered the last part of the way to Menakha, while before us went the great crowd of picturesquely dressed Arabs carrying on a sort of performance, and dancing to the accompaniment of a peculiar kind of song.
Excellent provision had been made for us at Menakha. On account of the weather conditions here, the buildings are all of stone. My men found large barracks awaiting them in which every comfort had been provided, and where an abundant and appetizing meal was in readiness. For the officers, accommodations had been prepared in the hotel of the town, the only hotel that I ever saw in Arabia. It could even boast of real beds. So far we had slept on "cursis," which consist of a wooden framework filled in with a matting of bast. Menakha lies at a height of about 3400 meters, and we often saw the clouds below us. The days were cool, and the nights were bitterly cold.
We remained in Menakha for two days. I took advantage of this time to visit a number of the Arab dignitaries in their homes. The rooms in all Arab houses are white throughout, while the windows are set with bright colored glass - blue, red, and yellow. Along the walls are low comfortable divans and cushions. On the carpet, in the middle of the room, stands a large brass table on which are the nargilehs [Oriental water pipes.]. According to the customs of the country, we were always offered a cup of Mocha on these occasions, and we spent many a pleasant hour smoking and chatting as best we could with our Arab hosts.
From Menakha our way lay downward again. The Turks were improving the condition of their roadways here, and for some distance from the town we followed a fine, broad and newly made road leading down into the valley, a highway that compared favorably with any in Europe. Our journey now took us through some wonderful mountain scenery. To see camels grazing by the wayside, nibbling at the tops of low trees, never ceased to be a marvelous sight to us. Occasionally, too, we caught a glimpse of a lot of baboons, but never got a shot at one of them, as often as we tried it. By this time the horsemanship of my troop had improved to such a degree that we could maintain a very respectable formation, and now and again could even ride at an easy trot.
The seventh day of our journey found us approaching the capital city. From the heights, on our way through the passes, we could look down upon a wide and fruitful plateau, sprinkled with many villages and towns, among which Sanaa could readily be distinguished by its size. Turkish officers had ridden out to meet us. just outside of the city the whole garrison stood lined up, and received us with bands playing gaily. "Deutschland, Deutschland ueber Alles" greeted our ears. The heads of the civil and military authorities came on horseback or in carriages. The people also showed a lively interest in our arrival. Even the French consul, who was being detained in the city as a measure of retaliation, appeared on the balcony of his house. We had come in contact with his English colleague on our way hither, although without meeting him face to face. It must have given him a shock of surprise suddenly to hear "The Watch on the Rhine" sung in his home in the heart of the Arabian mountains.
Unfortunately Sanaa was not as healthful a place as we had hoped to find it. Owing to its great altitude it is very cold there even during the daytime. It takes some time to get accustomed to the climate. A few days after our arrival, eighty per cent of my men were sick with the fever, and unfit to continue on the march. We suffered especially with sudden and severe attacks of cramps in the stomach, and with colds.
The city of Sanaa is a most interesting one. It is divided into three sections, - the Jewish, the Arab, and the Turkish quarters. The city is entirely surrounded by brick walls, and is so built as to form a fortress. Within this fortress the three quarters of the town constitute three distinct fortresses, each enclosed within its own wall, and within each of these, every individual home is itself a distinct little fortress. All the streets and roads are enclosed within high walls, and are so laid out that, like our trenches, they can be swept throughout their entire length by rifle fire from certain vantage points. The reason for building the towns in this peculiar fashion is to be found in the very unsafe conditions that prevail. Yemen has always had the reputation of being the most turbulent of the Turkish provinces, and in past years violent encounters between the Arabs and the Turks were the order of the day. Frequently these were of so serious a nature that the towns were besieged by garrisons. Sanaa, also, had been starved into surrender to the Arabs only a decade ago. Since that time, however, peace and quiet have reigned in the land.
After a fortnight spent in Sanaa, we learned that the difficulties of the journey overland were so great, that, after all, it would be impossible for me to get my men safely through by this route. The sickness among them compelled me to remain another fortnight in idleness. By that time, though still weak, the sick had so far recovered as to be able to ride their animals.
So we started on our return journey to Hodeida, there again to entrust ourselves to the sea.
“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
– Colossians 3:12