Aden is dusty and sweaty and there is little to enjoy, especially driving from the Maalla traffic roundabout to the Little Aden causeway. It is hardly a stretch of road that fires the imagination. Or does it?
Back in 1964, new and ugly moulded concrete lampposts marched alongside the twin carriageway; tyres drummed on the black ribbon, tarmac bubbling in the scorching heat. On one side a wide inlet of sluggish water, high, rugged cliff-faces on the other. Desolate? Uninteresting? We’ll see.
At the Maalla end the main pass to Crater climbs away from the roundabout in a frightening hairpin. A cemetery sprawls on the corner, looking so forlorn and unpretentious, it seems to be apologising for taking up space. The craggy face of Shamsan peers down on the scene. Past a mixture of whitewashed and crumbling commerce buildings on the left, past the junction with the Maalla relief road, comes a point where the road begins to hug the shoreline.
A fairly large harbour is choked with dhows, some newly built and gaily painted after the Arab fashion for brightly coloured contrasts. Others, sprung planks sadly rotting, their finest hours a distant memory, slowly die, collapsing upon their keels.
One wall of the dhow harbour forms a long, narrow jetty, which pokes out to sea at right angles. Here ends the first and last sea journey for goat meat on the hoof. Herds of small, orange-backed Somali goats are being driven ashore and hustled along the jetty. Bumping, milling, twisting, large brown eyes reflecting bewilderment and fear of the unknown. Drovers urge them on to their inevitable fates at Aden’s slaughterhouses.
Poorly named, sharp-eyed black kites (their plumage is really dark brown) soar high above ready to swoop on anything that looks like food. In the distance a flight of Hawker Hunter fighters blast off from RAF Khormaksar, circle and head north to support the British army fighting insurgents.
On the centre of the road, local fishermen squat repairing nets with the infinite patience of their trade.
Soon the sea wall breaks out into a jumbled rash of huts, small quays and boats. A signboard says it is the Marine Craft Flight. Through the tall white gate can be seen a smart, white air-sea rescue launch. The RAF’s navy. Over on the far side of the grey inlet Slave Island basks in the sun, home to dhows and a rusting, tall-funneled coaster.
Farther along box vans wait on a stretch of sand where the rock face folds inward. Aden’s Harry Ramsdens. They wait there during the day and come out at night to flog fish and chips outside married quarters and the Regal cinema.
Early evenings are when the fishermen appear in the inlet, scudding about in canoes, flinging lines overboard and hooking sailfish. Wonder who eats them? “Sailfish and chips” sounds wrong. Where the road curves and runs into Shenaz roundabout, the outgoing tide leaves a sheet of shallow water. No canoes here, the fishing rights are owned by crab plovers, long-legged waders who spend their time cracking open the shells of crabs.
The Aden end of the Little Aden causeway is at the Shenaz roundabout. Nearby, the unimposing block of Khormaksar civil police station looms up out of a dip. In the yard is an array of white posts and hurdles used to test the skills of driving licence applicants. They are set so drivers are sure to hit them. Considering the skill of an average driver, applicants fail if the barriers are missed. True! This is borne out by the number of the new lampposts already knocked over.
Aden is probably no different today…