Is Travelling to Yemen Right for Me?

Posted by Crooked Compass

Crooked Compass Founder, Lisa Pagotto, recently returned from exploring South Yemen. A country still torn by civil war and dotted with Al-Qaeda sub groups, it does offer an adrenaline fuelled adventure for the traveller with the right type of mentality and previous experience venturing through untamed lands, but how do you know if travelling to mainland Yemen is right for you?

Hayd al Jazeel, Wadi Dawan. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Hayd al Jazeel, Wadi Dawan. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

Whilst the below is written in jest, it does have a serious undertone to it. Yemen is not a travel destination that is easy to access or travel around. Safety can never be guaranteed. If you answer 'yes' to the below, then Yemen is for you. If you answer 'no thanks' to even just one of the below, then Yemen is definitely not for you. It's all in or nothing. Here we go... here are our tips on travelling to Yemen and how to choose if Yemen is right for you.

1. Prepare to travel in stealth mode and wear a cloak of invisibility (that cloak is an abaya, with headscarf and facial veil)

2. Prepare to travel in beat up cars to blend in with the locals - expect cracked windscreens, dinged and dented panels and no air con (think cruising in desert temperatures and your car is like a combustion oven)

Local cars - slightly dinged and dented, their still good. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Local cars - slightly dinged and dented, their still good. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

3. There is no speed limit so be prepared to travel at speeds up to 150km/hr with no seat belt

4. Seat belts are not allowed to be worn - at all. Ever. If you put on one, you will be asked to take it off immediately. This is serious. Absolutely no seatbelts allowed. You will be spotted as a foreigner immediately. #Fail

5. A female must sit in the front seat at all times as no one pays attention to females

6. If you are searched at a check point, it is the women who get taken into the small group for the rubber glove treatment (totally contradicts the above!)

7. Expect your drivers to be high all the time - they constantly chew cat to ‘keep them more alert’ they tell us

Drivers chewing cat, a plant based stimulant. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Drivers chewing cat, a plant based stimulant. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

8. Be ok with seeing many crashed cars and tipped over semi trailers - I will leave your imagination as to why this is the case

9. Get good at lying - create a fake persona, fake nationality, never tell anyone who you are, where you are from, where you have just come from, where you are going or why you are here. Use your cover story only. And change it daily.

10. Be prepared to not follow the itinerary you have been given - at all.

Stunning mud villages in wadi Dawan. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Stunning mud villages in Wadi Dawan. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

11. Where possible, try to travel with someone from the government even if they say they are only a ‘translator’ (refer to cover story above)...... you may never know who they really are but when an ‘incident’ has occurred, you will be glad to have them. (FYI - Incident means bomb going off)

12. Be prepared for information told by your ‘guides’ to contradict and clash and change daily and be ok with this - don’t challenge it - ever.

13. Be prepared for the same food daily - I hope you like tinned tuna mixed with baked beans and rice!

On floor dining - same same for every meal. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
On floor dining - same same for every meal. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

14. Be prepared for your shower to be over the top of your squat - just don’t slip!

15. Be prepared to bribe, bribe and bribe again - be ok with seeing wads of cash about 30cm thick regularly being hidden and moved around your beat up car

16. Be prepared to dress like a local - women in black abayas and veils, men in crisp white dishdashas with red and white Omani head scarfs - the women slip in naturally to the local scene - the men stand out like you know what...

Looking local - no-one even knows we are here. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Looking local - no-one even knows we are here. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

17. When you say no sugar in your tea, expect that this means just a kilo of sugar instead of the normal 5kg.

18. Be prepared for unwanted attention - staring, jeering, touching - not from the curious locals, but from your drivers

19. Expect abuse and rocks to be thrown at you if you try to talk to the local women or even worse, attempt to take their photo

We couldn't risk having rocks thrown at us again, best we snap sneakily out the car window. Photo credit Lisa Pagotto
We couldn't risk having rocks thrown at us again, best we snap sneakily out the car window. Photo credit Lisa Pagotto

20. Expect your shower to be a thin copper pipe that sticks out of the wall - don’t expect hot water

21. Be ok with jumping in wooden fishing boats which have a huge chance of capsizing as you motor through contested waters and on the fringe of the Somali pirate route

Cruising with the locals in a wooden fishing boat - we only capsized about three times and weren't sure if that shadow in the distance were pirates. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Cruising with the locals in a wooden fishing boat - we only nearly capsized about three times and weren't sure if that shadow in the distance were pirates. Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

22. Your guides know the best places for those stunning scenic shots - they generally have powerlines and piles and piles of rubbish in your shot - just accept it.

Were does your eye go? To the rubbish in the foreground or the impressive mud town in the background. Shame huh? Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Where does your eye go? To the rubbish in the foreground or the impressive mud town in the background. Shame huh? Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

23. Be prepared for the overwhelming stench of rotting fish. Everywhere. Even in the mountains. You too will smell like this after a few days.

Fishermen in South Yemen - Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto
Fishermen in South Yemen - Photo credit: Lisa Pagotto

24. Be sure to check in your semi automatic guns at the hotel reception - the process is the same a leaving excess luggage behind.

 

Who’s keen for Yemen?

 

Note: Crooked Compass does not currently offer touring services to mainland Yemen due to the current state of civil war. Passenger safety is our priority.