Yemen is certainly a world apart from Oman, more backwards, poor and traditional. Aden is build up on rugged volcanic mountains, many of the buildings have bullet holes, but it has an interesting appeal. Our first contact with the people was through the Officials, and the differences were there too, compared to Oman. We were asked a gift of $10 from Immigrations, didn't want problems so we paid it feeling a bit disappointed with what we will have to deal with here... On the other hand women are out in the streets, unlike Oman, but they wear the black burka, especially the young ones also cover their eyes.
Kathy and I left Graham and Bud to get fuel, while we went for a walk around town to find Internet, the market and laundry. Both were wearing trousers and t-shirts, which from our experience in Oman was adequate. We were wrong, either we got abuse, which didn't bother us to much as they were shouting in Arab, or we had over friendly males following us. After that the kids were begging and following us around. It didn't make us run back to the boat but we were very aware of our surroundings. We will have to cover our heads from now on, also tug the guys along... Meantime the guys were having a task to get fuel; it was a lot of baksheesh to bring fuel from petrol station through the gates. In the end they opted to use a barge that was 5 times more expensive, but less hassle. Once refuelled, again we were asked for a gift and seems that $10 is standard. Graham paid $5 and the man on the barge wouldn't release the lines until we paid more. Held at ransom we complied and paid another $5, but by then the barge man was upset and he did a real slow job, the bow of the boat almost hit the barge. What can we say...
To visit Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, we need a permit issued by the Tourist Office. Only managed to find the office with the help of a tourist agent, then it took another 3 hours to finally have the permit. Some sort of paper was always missing, it was a lot of going backwards and forward. The tourist agent, called Judy, was the most helpful and friendly, probably would have taken us 3 times longer without her, she refused money at the end. Still some hope...
At 11 am our group of two Germans, two Austrians and us were ready to go, but nothing is easy in Yemen. Stephan, part of our group, mentioned our trip to Sanaa and was taken to some office across the road by one of the Arabs. More Arabs came into the office, there was a lot of discussion amongst them, but we had no idea what was the problem now. Luckily our driver turned up and whisked us all away into the mini bus and that was the end of it. Finally we were on our way. Outside of Aden the civil war is even more visible, lots of ruins and unfinished constructions. There are dozens of check points, with armed guards all the way to Sanaa. We couldn't help thinking of the danger of being kidnapped. After all, this is Bin Laden's country... But luckily we were travelling with 2 Yemenis, recommended by friends, who know the rules here. The driver and the guide were the very pleasant, nothing was a problem for them throughout the trip. Approaching Sanaa the scenery changed to paddy fields, beautiful villages built over rugged peaks and amazing views.
We opted to spend the first night at a $10 hotel and it looked like a place to accommodate homeless people, the positive part was that it was next to a great little cafe. For the second night we decided to move to the Dawood Hotel, in the middle of the old town and a lot nicer. The day started with a visit to the Egyptian Embassy to arrange visas in advance. By now we noticed that Arabs are very bureaucratic and have a love for long winded procedures, Egyptians are no different. Lacking time we given up on the idea and did some sightseeing instead, on the outskirts of Sanaa. Then the group stopped for a quick lunch in a typical Yemeni restaurant. In a corner were two sinks. I thought nothing of it and washed my hands. Later our driver told me off. That was the men's washing area, surely I caused a bit of uproar in the restaurant. This is the norm here; even in Internet shops, women has a separate area from men, not to mention buses, the mosque, restaurants... Coming back to Sanaa we drove through an area with lots of men sitting on the floor with tools. This is where you can pick up a builder or plasterer and painters, in the middle of the street. Poverty is shocking, there is a lot of disability within men and begging, which is a task for the women and kids.
In the evening we walked around old Sanaa, progress hasn't come here yet, it was like stepping back 500 years. Old bakeries using clay ovens and wood for fire, carpenters hand carving wood window frames, tool smith making wares by hand. Even the goods sold in the market were archaic. The men either wear the white robe or earthy tone wraps with shirts . All from about the age of 10 wore traditional heavy belt and the Jambiah, a traditional Yemeni dagger. Yemen has a strong gun culture, many shops sell old guns and all kinds of Jambiah. The curiosity of the people was immense, Graham was approached often and asked where we come from and a very common question was "What is the difference between your country and mine?". The answer, just to keep it short, was everything. The Yemenis are very friendly and welcoming.
Two days in Sanaa went very quickly, soon it was time to go back. This time we didn't fancy the 7 hrs drive back to Aden, the roads are precarious, full of slow trucks falling into peace. One truck in front of us lost one of the wheels, a near accident. Our bus was detained in one of the check points for a while, our driver was on the phone sorting things out. Not sure what happened but eventually the armed guard let us go. At one point a police car escorted us for a while. Eventually we arrived back to Aden without any problems; one should have faith in Allah... For Sanaa, it was a highlight on our trip around the world.
Time to leave. Yemen has been the most politically unstable country we have visited and it has a reputation of a haven for Islamic militants. Although our experience has been positive, mostly people were friendly and kind. Besides, the season is changing and we have little time to make Egypt before the wind turns against us. The next challenging part of the trip is Bab-el-Mandeeb ,the strait which marks the entrance for the red sea, known as Gates of Sorrow. The Gates are narrow, surrounded by high mountains creating an acceleration zone and boisterous weather.
Before leaving we witnessed a tragedy, a very sad one. Last night returning back to our boat, we noticed a gathering of people and armed coast guards around the dock. Just as we got back to Nomad Life, anchored 30m away from the dock, a fishing boat escorted by coast guard docked in. We wondered why the fishing boat was attracting attention, so sat watching the events unfold. Suddenly the fishing boat turned upside down and hell broke loose, there was a lot of shouting, people jumping in the water. Arabs like commotion and to get involved, but sadly there was no one taking charge and actually doing something proactive. There were a lot of people in the water and at the same time speed boats coming by to help, which was more of a danger, of running someone over. Anyway, today we found out that the fishing boat was from Somalia overloaded with 110 refugees. All were so desperate to get off that the boat capsized, crushing against the wall and drowning 7 people. They came for a better life and died just 2 m away from land... Early morning the dock was washed with diesel to remove the blood bath.
Note: The day after returning from Sanaa, a suicide bomber tried to kill a group of South Koreans in the capital, no casualties within the Koreans.