I Hate Travel: Part 1
Yemen Behaving Badly
Sana'a, Yemen's capital city, is not the place for our grumpy backpacker...
‘You need visa for Djibouti!’ barked the young lady holding my passport from behind her veil. ‘No!’ I barked back much to her surprise, ‘I’ll get it on arrival’. I’ve learnt over the years that nothing beats direct eye contact and a firm, confident answer in these situations, even when you're wrong. In fact, especially when you're wrong.
I was in a bit of a bad mood after five days in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, and just wanted to leave. Even from the moment I arrived it was madness. The plane door opened to bright blue skies and a blast of hot dry desert air as I stumbled down the steps. A military helicopter’s rotor blades whirred away somewhere to my right kicking up dust into the air while a MIG fighter jet roared over the airfield very fast and low indeed. One minute I was inside a cool, air conditioned plane drinking Jack Daniels; the next I was amidst a raging battlefield. Where was I?
After sharing a short taxi ride with a local Yemeni man I was dropped off next to the old town of Sana’a, an ancient and beautiful mishmash of Islamic architecture and freestanding 700 year-old mud-brick houses. I hadn’t slept for days and stood with my huge backpack under the searing desert sun, staring at all the signs (in Arabic, which of course meant nothing to me). I was tired, lost and had no place to stay.
Several attempts at communicating went ignored by uninterested passers-by until finally a man in a tailor shop gave me seat, some water and made some phone calls to a friend of a friend who must have run a hostel. I never caught his name nor did he accept any of my money, but he did graciously put me out of my self-induced misery and soon enough I was sleeping off the drunken journey in a Sana’a dorm bed.
Unfortunately the rest of the people I encountered in Sana’a were decidedly unfriendly. Twice in a day groups of young men approached me as I wandered through the old town, sternly pointing out that I was not welcome and must leave quickly. I was escorted from certain neighbourhoods several times rather like a naughty schoolboy being frog-marched out the classroom for disobedience. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw a sticker of Saddam Hussein surrounded by white doves on the windscreen of a taxi during one such eviction.
Asking for directions, even in Arabic, was met with shrugs. All this and not a drop of alcohol anywhere, as it's an Islamic country. At one point, completely lost and in the heat of the day I paused at a grocers for some shade and directions. The enterprising young Yemeni apparently couldn’t understand my questions but that didn’t stop him from reaching into the freezer and pulling out a beer. ‘A taste of home for you!’ Of course I bought it, only to find it was non-alcoholic Heineken. Great!
When I tried to check out of my hostel later that day a posse of bearded, robed men with big ceremonial daggers tucked into their waists blocked my exit. They demanded an extra night’s rent so I began arguing. Probably not the smartest move I ever made, at least not in Yemen where, over the years, almost 300 kidnapped westerners have ominously never checked-in for their flights home. I reluctantly agreed to pay half their ‘ransom’ and stormed out, raging all the way to the airport.
So I was a little upset by the time I got to check-in, anyway. And the poor lady snapped at me for a visa. Needless to say, she quickly waved me through immigration after the way I spoke to her. But not having a visa was the least of my worries...
To be continued...
About the Author: Andy McGinlay
The bottom line is this: sometimes, travel sucks. Our grumpy backpacker is mad as hell about that, and he's not going to take it any more. Join him as he complains his way around the world - he bitches about it so you don't have to, and let's be honest, sometimes he's got a point.
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