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?
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)
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
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.
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!
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…
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
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
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.
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.
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.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.