Looking out of the porthole in the diningroom at breakfast next morning someone said, “There it is!” and our attention was immediately attracted to the land we were now approaching. We finished hurriedly and went on deck.
What a queer place! It just appeared to be one huge rock coming out of the sea without the slightest sign of vegetation anywhere. It was something different from anything I had seen previously.
It was dry and hot, with the bare rocks running from the water’s edge to the height of a mountain beyond. We were partly prepared for something like this, as the morning before when passing Pt. on the coast of Africa we saw a rocky and sandy coast through the field glasses also without anything growing thereon. But we were now closer to this strange land and watched it in amazement.
We anchored in the bay and were quickly surrounded by native boats laden with all kinds of goods which they hoped to sell to those on board. In this instance they were not allowed on board as at Colombo.
We were scarcely stopped before I heard them yelling and screeching “Shirt a shilleen! Pyjama four shilleen!” and at the same time preparing to throw lines on board so that the members of the crew could pull up packets of goods for their inspection. I could not wait to see how the bartering was actually finished, but I presume the goods were marked in some way and the natives knew exactly what was sent up in each packet.
It was stifling on board while we were waiting our turn to go off in the launch. I was wearing a tropical suit I had bought at Colombo with only a shirt underneath and yet I was soaked with perspiration. I could not help thinking of those at home just at that moment. There was hot and dry Aden that we were going to see, a place where they had not had rain for about ten years and that morning in the wireless news I read that there had been floods in both north and south islands in New Zealand, so that the Easter holidays were literally washed out.
We duly arrived at the stone steps where the launches deposit their cargo. These launches were old, dirty and carried a native smell.
We wandered around the shops and compared the prices and quality with those of Colombo. We were glad we did not wait for Aden for shopping.
But the place was interesting. In Colombo we did not see a single horse and the method of transport was bullock cart or motor car. In Aden there were comparatively as many motor cars, but the beast of burden was the camel. There were many of these in the streets, and of course I wanted to photograph them.
The Arabs would wait quite patiently, but immediately after the photo. was taken they expected and asked for the “Buckshee”.
There were beggars always ready to get something from the tourist. There were taxi drivers who left their cars to follow us saying with much force and gesticulation, “Me make mooch better cheaper tlip”.
There was a short man with a jet black face, a few coarse long hairs on his chin which served as a beard, a small round red hat with a tassel such as is worn by the Sultan of Turkey, a dirty white coat and a loin cloth, who wanted you to buy “real ivoree, take it and see, not shell – real ivoree!” Then there was the man decently dressed and before you were aware of what he wanted he would be saying, “Good sires, ‘is gooood man, ‘im give buckshee?” In every street at every corner and almost wherever you turned there were the lads selling cigarettes. “Shilleen ‘undred – any kind”. I have had 4 or 5 of them around me at the same time when I was hesitating as to whether one would make a photograph and in desperation I would hurry off saying, “No smoke – no smoke!”
In the same way when I would see a native in some characteristic attitude and would stop to take a photo, before I could get it over the picture would be spoilt because about a dozen others would crowd into it in order to get their share of Buckshee. I gave pennies while they lasted and then I got some annas (9 to the shilling).
Most of the shops were built of stone and the floor in every case was made of stone blocks. As the whole place was rock there was plenty of it for every purpose.
The natives were not nearly as good at selling as those in Colombo, neither did they show their goods in the same way or keep their stores as tidy.
It was 12.30 and we had been mooning about in this hot, dry, dirty miserable hole of a place for nearly two hours, which took more energy out of us than a day’s walking at home.
We saw some friends from the boat in a refreshment room having some tea. I went in and asked, “Is it alright?” They said, “Buy a packet of biscuits and get some tea”. This we did. We were darned thirsty, but even so we could not enjoy that tea. It was different. Whether it was goat’s milk or bad condensed milk or the water or what, but we cracked hardy and go out with our thirst still not properly quenched.
At 1.15 we took our seats in the blue bus which we had booked for the “Tour of the sights”. It was when this bus started on this trip that we found we had made a mistake. We saw things, but we could not photograph them.
I asked the driver to stop several times, but some of the passengers thought I was making it too hot and consequently although I saw things I cannot pass on the pictures. What I should have done was hire a car for the day and take it just where and when I liked. This is what was done by Mr. Jeavons from Dunedin, and he told me afterwards it only cost him 10/- per head and he saw much more and took as many photographs as he liked. It cost each of us 10/- and I gave an extra tip to the driver, but I still did not get the same value for my money.
We drove past the fort which is built on one of the hills of almost solid stone.
We went to the wells, which is one of four in the principal side. These wells, or tanks, are supposed to have been cut out of the solid rock by the Queen of Sheba over 2,000 years ago. It must have been a marvellous piece of work for those days and there must have been many more than the 46,000 inhabitants who are now there.
They will hold 20,000,000 gallons of water and draw in a high catchment area of 1,000 acres. They were restored as lately as 1854 A.D., but I could not find any person who had seen water in them. This could hardly be expected for they seldom needed rain. The guide told us that it was about 10 years since he had seen rain in Aden. Now they are no longer dependent upon the wells for water because they have a remarkable supply of drinking water from artesian bores which are sunk at Sheikh Othman, an oasis about 12 miles from Aden.
After leaving the wells we visited this oasis, but it was disappointing to me. It was just a small area where there were a few date palms and some other tropical shrubs growing, but as Elizabeth said, “What more can you expect in a desert?”
We then went on to the salt fields. This would have been very interesting, but we did not have time to stop and the guide told us nothing about them. I asked a few questions and found that the hot water is pumped up from the sea by means of a number of wind mills. It is run into large pools which are banked up all round. It takes about a fortnight for these pools to dry up and then it is just a matter of shovelling off the salt. There were thousands of tons of salt in big white heaps waiting for shipment.
We passed a Royal Air Force aerodrome where a number of camels were tethered, but I did not see any planes. There were barracks large enough to hold some hundreds of men, but I did not see any about. We passed by the queerest golf course I have seen in my life. It was made on the desert. Bunkers were made all round the “greens” in the orthodox manner, but the greens were just a round spot about 60 feet in circumference,which was kept watered so that some kind of a surface for putting could be obtained. There was not a blade of grass or green anywhere.
We went through another native village where many of the houses were built of mud. This was more vile and dirty than the others. At one spot in the middle of the village we saw a number of camels and goats tied up. We were told it was the “animal bazaar!”
I saw many goats about the streets and yet could not see any food for them. I noticed one eating a large piece of paper and this made me ask the guide where they got their food. He told me that grass is brought into the town from the country many miles away.
We reached the launch to return to the boat at 3.25 and the boat was due to sail at 3.30. Ours was the last launch and as I was the last man off on account of taking a photo. of a native in a canoe who wanted to sell me some curios I was politely requested by one of the officers on the boat to please hurry up the gangway. The lines had already been cast off and we were moving towards the Red Sea before I had reached my cabin, where I quickly undressed and got under a shower.
Before going ashore we had been warned not to be exposed to the sun, as cases of sun stroke were not uncommon and dangerous. Rozie arrived back feeling sick. We thought at first it must have been the tea with the bad milk, but as she grew worse during the night we saw it was a touch of the sun. All next day she was sick and had to stay n bed, but she was able to get up for lunch on the following day.
On both of these days we were in the Red Sea. We had been told that a trip through the Red Sea was terrible, but apparently we were lucky, as we caught the breeze and it was quite cool comparatively. The sea was calm, but we were still out of sight of land in just the same way as when we were on the ocean. On the third day from Aden the water in the swimming pool was down to 77o and we felt that we were now leaving the hot weather behind.