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Yemen

Part 1: A bikeless tour of Yemen

The experience:

We all know how to describe Yemen don't we?   As Lonely Planet says, most folk think of it as a hotbed of hostage taking, terrorism and tribalism; a cauldron of kidnapping and Al–Qaeda conniving.   So, why go to Yemen?

Cos I'd just completed my bike tour in North Africa and I had some time to kill awaiting a visa for Sudan and rather than hang around Cairo – love the place, but the air quality is just so crook that anywhere, even a 'terrorist' haven, was preferable to slowing choking on Cairo smog – plus the flight to Sana'a was really cheap. So, why not?

I spent a short time in Sana'a and the surrounding mountains and the northern Red Sea coast in February 2009. It was truly awesome!   And, surprise, surprise, I didn' run into any Al–Qaeda hostage takers...

Getting ready to go:

Visa:   Everyone needs a visa but tourist visas are easily available for Oz citizens on arrival at the airport, tho getting an extension is said to be a long and labourious exercise

Vaccinations:   I didn't bother...

Once you're there:

Accommodation:   The hotels I stayed in were pretty good - clean, comfortable (and all the plumbing worked as well... )   There are both cheaper and more expensive options available – including ritzy 5* jobs – tho the cheapest cheapies apparently don't always welcome foreigners

Food:   While kebab is probably the most common thing you'll find, there's much more to Yemeni food; in general, food is pretty basic but cheap, filling and very flavousome. Probably the most ubiquitous dish is a scalding hot 'stew' of beans, lentils, spices (and sometimes) meat, called salta – it's delicious

Bottled water is available, cheaply, everywhere. Tea (mostly black) is abundant, as is coffee, but not so much coffee as we know it but a spiced brew made with coffee bean shells – tastes much better than it sounds

Money:   ATM's abound, at least in Sana'a, but it seems a bit of a lottery whether or not your particular plastics works – some ATM's dispense US dollars. Changing foreign notes into riyals isn't hard, the rate being ever so slightly better on the street than in the bank

Roads:   The only major road I travelled on outside Sana'a was to a major port on the Red Sea (Al–Hudayda) it mostly pretty good tho often there were pretty rugged pavements and nothing in the way of verges. As the road wound thru the moutains, it was very a winding route with a lot of sheer drops with few of the 'guard rails' that are common in Oz and Europe on 'dangerous' bits of road. Signage was in Arabic with some in English too, but overall it seemed fairly spotty

Traffic:   While the roads seemed mostly OK , traffic is another matter...   While it's nowhere near as anarchic as in Iran, the chaos on the roads has to be seen to be believed!

The most frequently asked questions:

By folk outside Yemen:   Is it safe for an   – insert your nationality –   to go to Yemen?

The 'terrorist' haven stereotype seems to be an over-fevered creation. I found warm and friendly people, tho to be fair, there was also a strong (and very heavily armed) police and military 'presence' everywhere

By folk inside Yemen:   Would you like to chew qat with me?

As I said, warm and friendly people...   Qat is a local shrub whose leaves contain a mild amphetamine–like stimulant and all work ceases in the afternoon as almost everyone retires to their home or to a park and indulges