Saturday, June 17, 2006

a month in yemen

Finally out there for you, some pictures and stories from our Yemen trip of last January. Welcome.

Started off as an innocent blog post featuring one image per day

our travelogue has expanded into a landslide of impressions and information. Please feel free to surf on your prefered wavelength with the special Yemen navigator to the right. All images big and small are clickable for enlarged viewing.

Hopefully some of you are looking for information while planning a (bicycle) trip to Yemen – when we were in your position last fall, there was nothing much out there. Please pass us your feedback or questions as a comment below. For more and better informed stories on Yemen, try Freya Stark’s A Winter in Arabia from 1936 and Tim Mackintosh-Smith’s more recent Yemen, the Unknown Arabia. You’ll see we included some quotes from those books in our posts.

Apart from being Candida’s first bike trip ever, this was our first trip on Bike Fridays. A Bike Friday is a travel bike small enough to dismantle smartly into a suitcase, but sturdy enough to hold gracefully – fully loaded – on rocky Yemeni terrain. Inspired by our “not a single puncture on 800 miles of rough biking” thank you note, Bike Friday did a story on our trip on their website!

Yemen is roughly as big as France, so we only saw a couple of regions of it on our trip of a month. Click on the map above for more info on our itinerary.

The first week we left the bikes in the suitcases though, for a tour with Omar and Kamal from local travel agency Yemeni Dreams. They took us around the mountains west of Sana’a and down to the Tihama on the Red Sea coast. On two hikes we staggered down Yemen’s fabulous mountain scenery, on and off in international company.

Then we flew to Socotra for a six-day bike trip around the island. A real expedition, as decent maps and even roads are missing for most of the island.

After another stop in home base Sana’a, we traveled east across the desert and unpacked our bikes again in Tarim, in Wadi Hadramawt, a wide valley plus ancient trading route. The remaining two weeks we spent on our faithful goats, following the string of settlements in the canyon, diverging into a smaller side canyon, climbing up to the rim of the canyon, crossing the stone desert beyond the rim and finally descending down to the Arabian Sea, where we chilled out for a couple of days.

Why Yemen? a lot of you ask.

There’s this spread from Kubaki, my favorite childhood book (left), and there's the view on the Upper West Side from our terrace (right), which from day one reminded me of Kubaki's Sana’a.

But there’s definitely something else. Yemen appealed to us as a highlight on the world map of fairly unaffected places. Yemen doesn’t look like anywhere else in the world. Especially not like the plastic theme park emirates you find all over the Arabian Peninsula.

We like to think that proud and stubborn Yemen hasn’t sold out, not to all sorts of colonizers, not to the Saudis, not to the dictates of globalized market economy. On the other hand, there’s little oil in Yemen, so there’s not that much to sell anyway. Yemen scores abonimably bad on worldwide economic figures. With a GDP per capita of $751, Yemen ranks 175th out of 180 IMF members, between the Congo and Burundi, below a whole bunch of African countries. But somehow, with an economy that’s mainly internalized – tribes trading stuff with other tribes and to the city – and largely dependent on agriculture, those figures reveal little about life in Yemen. Income might be very low, but so are poverty (and crime) rates, both in cities and on a thriving countryside. Less visible misery in Yemen than in New York or Brussels, as family ties and tribal networks are still very strong.

But I’m digressing. Why Yemen? Just flip through some of our pictures…

Jan & Candida


Blogger Into The World said...

Hi Jan & Candida,
We are 3 ppl really keen to cycle to Socotra this winter. We ve toured Africa full circle by motorbike and along the Silk Road to Mongolia, but due to political unrest and troubles with vehicle documents we are not able to go to Yemen, a country we want to visit for a very long time. This is our blog:
We wonder if you can help with some pointers. First, can you please kindly tell how did you ship your bikes to Socotra? Felix or Yemenia no not respond to emails or Facebook messages and we cannot check if cargo for bicycles is available or not. or what is the price. Then the situation has clearly changed, but it looks that you did get your visa through a Yemeni travel agent, but you did not go on a tour with them while on the island. Nowadays as far as we could check they have to sell a minimum of 2-3 days on tour before they could allow people to ride on their own or provide a visa. Can you please enlighten how you did?
Big thanks and hope you are still checking this blog somehow. And BTW, awesome reporting and awesome trip.

Ana & John

4:47 AM  

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