Yemen - Part 1


الجمهورية اليمنية
Al-Jumhūriyyah al-Yamaniyyah

Republic of Yemen

GPS tracks and waypoints here.

4/2 After a surprisingly quick border crossing I'm in Yemen. The road down the mountain is excellent and looks as if it had been built by Oman. Straight away you can tell that this is a third world country. Buildings and vehicles look a bit like I remember India and there is a lot of rubbish everywhere. But the scenery is great and I thoroughly enjoy the ride down the coast. There are no direction signs anywhere, so the only way to know what a particular town or village that I'm riding through is called, is by looking at the GPS. I can't really get lost, though, as there are no tar roads turning off anywhere for a long time. The other roads that are shown on my LP map and GPS I can't see anywhere. They must be dirt tracks. Traffic is very light and the driving isn't bad, either. Often, when I ride throgh villages, people gasp at me, their faces light up and they shout "Hello!" or "Welcome!" I feel good.

I pass by Nishtun and here there is a brandnew highway winding its way through the mountains. Suddenly there are road signs indicating directions and villages. Some of these signs are huge, like what you normally find on a motorway. I wonder who donated this? A big surprise are several modern tunnels, complete with lights and ventilators, although none of them are working. It's easy, though, as there are coloured reflectors clearly marking the lanes and the road surface is perfect. In the last tunnel I notice headlights on my side of the road in the distance. As I slow down and approach the car takes off and commences a U-turn in front of me. As it stops across the opposite lane I notice something in the right lane: a pile of earth. There are people working here in the dark, digging holes beside the road and piling the dirt onto the road! If it had't been for the car I may well have ploughed right into the first pile. Apart from that the ride is a lot of fun through the mountains. Soon there are sand dunes level with the rocks. The GPS shows 190m altitude. The road winds down to the coast, the mountains recede into the haze and I find myself in a sandy desert going right to the beach.

The sand soon gives way to stones again, more or less. At lunchtime I arrive in Al Ghayda, where I can change money and get some lunch. This is also my first meeting with the locals and it's a pleasant experience. People are very interested in where I come from and where I'm going, alhough not much English is spoken. In the backstreet canteen my neighbour offers me food from his plate. Onwards. In the afternoon I stop in Sayhut, where I spot a Hotel. Immediately I am accosted by a begging little girl, who follows me into the hotel. I don't like the place much. Outside a young local indicates I should give something to the girl, but when I signal back that he should do so he just loughs. I don't like the atmosphere here, nor the hotel, so decide to camp on the beach and leave. Right after the town is an army checkpoint, one of only a handful, but I only have to show passport and rego. I share my campsite with a colony of large crabs. They can run very fast - sideways!

For a while the countryside consists of large boulders, but even here people scratch a living. When I spot a tar road turning towards the coast I take it and end up in a fishing village.

Finally I reach Al Mukalla and check into the Al Salama Hotel, recommended by LP.

7/2 I spend a couple of days putting my feet up and sorting out a few things. Against my expectations I find a new chain for the bike, even a front tyre is available over the counter. I order a new chain and sprocket kit in Germany to be sent to Stephan in Sharjah. Time and again people talk to me. I find the Yemenis a friendly lot. The women, however, are almost without exception completely veiled in black, with at most the eyes visible. While the streets are lively and in the evening there are men sitting everywhere talking, playing cards or domino, there is hardly a woman to be seen in the street. Quite a number of cars have posters in their windows of Saddam Hussein sporting a submachine gun. I meet a couple of Dutch women who have traveled all over Yemen for two weeks and have encountered no problems. A guy from the hotel takes me to the tourist police, where I get a permit to go to Sayun. Strangely, the hotel receptionist demands a copy of it. In the morning I find the front tyre flat and I remove a tiny piece of metal from the tyre. I take the opportunity to bash out the dent in the rim, using my favourite tool (BIG hammer). Here, I need assistance, as I don't have a BIG hammer and a man takes me on the back of his bike to the port to a mechanic. Nobody would accept any money for the work they do. The elegant palace supposedly housing a museum I can't find, but I explore the town by bike and the old own on foot. It's somewhat surreal to ride on 6- and 8-lane highways with next to no traffic. The town seems on the move: there are construction sites everywhere and large roads are being built. Pity that there seems uncontrolled building going on on the waterfront. On one building there is a colourful sign saying "Sewage Ejector Station". Now I know why the sea smells so bad here.

The school bus:

8/2 Waking up in the morning is no problem here. "Allah-hu akhbar" at about 5.30 and there is a minaret next door. I wonder when the first islamic state will hit on the idea to install loudhailers in peoples' homes... I leave for Wadi Hadramawt. Now, there is a main road to Sayun, presumably sealed and peppered with checkpoints. But to take it I would have to backtrack quite a way. Instead I try to find another route further South. I have no idea whether it actually exists. The map shows a track and the GPS a road. None of that means much, that much I have learnt. Without the GPS I would never have a chance to even find the beginning of the road, as there are no signs, as usual. After erring through a dusty village I actually find a beautiful new tar road. The turnoff is hidden, sort of behind a chai shop. For 30 km I am having fun winding my way up into the mountains. Then, as I expected, it peters out. Eventually, after a short detour through a wadi bed I notice that the now rough track is taking me away from the road on the GPS. So far my path has followed it fairly closely.

I stop to ask some people, but all I understand is that this is a dead end and I should ask the teachers at the Misni school. This is how all classes this morning come to a rapid end, as the kids pour out of the school to look at the alien who has just landed. The teachers invite me to their home for lunch and most of the village men also converge in the room. It's a lot of fun and we are having some interesting talks with the two and a half people who speak English. Again I am told that they hold Hitler in high regard, but other wise they are a switched-on lot. Why do they think Hitler was such a great guy, I ask? "He defended the world agains the Americans!" Aha... I don't think they know how many people he killed and what he thought about Arabs. Selim draws me a rough map on how to continue to the next village listed on my GPS map, but the others think the track is too rough and I should stay with them for the night and return to the main road in the morning. I am tempted to stay, but the millions of flies everywhere put me off. I don't know how I am supposed to sleep with one landing on me every second. When I explain this they tell me not to worry, that at night there are no flies, only mosquitoes. I decide to leave and try this track. It is rough in places but not too bad, although I ride in first gear a lot. The scenery is so great and people so friendly I don't regret it for a minute. At dusk I find myself at 1700m altitude and it's getting chilly. I pass a nice campsite in a canyon and soon regret it: the road keeps climbing, the country opens up and there are lots of villages. I end up camping at over 2000m. It's a clear night and the are many stars visible tonight. What a wonderful day.