I Hate Travel: Part 2
Yemen Still Behaving Badly
In which our hero legs it to Djibouti, eventually…
Before you go anywhere it’s always prudent to know something about the destination, perhaps to have a little currency and a guidebook; and a hotel reservation or a map normally come in pretty handy too. Surely no traveller would be so foolish as to just turn up? Well you would think, wouldn’t you?
Somehow all such provisions eluded me in the run up to this point and it wasn’t until the departure lounge that I stopped seeing red and began to contemplate where I was going. I had only $80 in my pocket and there was no ATM in the airport. There was no ATM across the Red Sea in Djibouti either. This was slightly alarming because I had no local currency for Djibouti, no place to sleep that night and no visa. I didn’t even have a bloody map! In fact it was fair to say I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. I had bought a ticket with the bulk of my last remaining dollars to this tiny African country because it wasn’t far away, but more so because it wasn’t Yemen. What a way to start travelling in Africa!
It was 20:30 and I was in seat 11J on a hot, smelly Yemenia Airlines airbus, preparing to depart Sana’a. It was like bathing in a filthy sauna with your clothes on while strapped to a seat sized perfectly for an eight year old. I was scared and nervous. Menacing looking men eyeballed me from across the aisle, rattling me each time our gazes met. I hid behind my diary and wrote, ‘what do they want from me – it’s not like I’ve actually got any money!
With that, I started to wish I was anywhere but here. I was a lone European amidst this plane full of returning Africans, with the exception of a French couple seated at the back. I had made a special effort to signal my own kind of eye contact with them as we boarded the plane, perhaps as if to underline some kind of unspoken unity I might have had with them, like ‘I don’t really belong here either’.
After a gruelling night flight from Yemen, I landed in a very dark looking airport by the coast. At the immigration queue the officer commandeered my passport and simply said, ‘Problem’. He’d sprung me for having no visa. I didn’t know much about this place but I did know that it was a former French colony and with that I quickly made an acquisition of my own – the only other white faces I could find in the immigration hall.
Fortunately the French couple from the airplane were nearby so I called them over. They were Christian and Ettiene, two good looking young teachers from Paris who lived and volunteered in Djibouti and I begged them to explain with the utmost urgency that I get my passport back tonight. They obliged and began shouting and waving their arms around in the air, that universal sign of Europeans communicating. The officer called over his police buddies and soon it made quite a scene. With French people it’s hard to tell the difference between a normal conversation and an argument, so I simply stayed mute, listening out for the occasional word I might understand.
Eventually it worked and voila, I got it back, visa attached. The sweaty officer handed me my passport and gripped my other arm in a firm handshake, looking me in the eye saying ‘Welcome to Djibouti!’ This was definitely Africa. Christian and Ettiene then offered me a lift into town to a hotel they recommended – a huge relief since there were no bureau-de-changes. The hotel took my card. I paid over the odds and settled into a new room in a new country on a new continent. To this day I owe that French couple a small debt: who knows where I would have ended up that night had it not been for them?
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.