Sometimes Travel Sucks – Part 1 -Yemen

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Why I Hate Travel: Part One

‘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.

Yemen Behaving Badly

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.

Unfriendly locals

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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