Monday, 31 March 2008

Yemen - Stepping back in time...... March 2008

**The women goatherders of the Hadramaut** **Old Sana'a at dusk from the rooftop of our hotel** **Basket shop in Sana'a** **Blending in with the locals for our walking tour of old Sana'a. Our guide, Tony, Annie, Mark, Amanda and Gary** **Camels and donkeys are common modes of transport** **The immaculately presented assistants in the fabric shop - complete with daggers in their belts (didn't work out if they used them instead of scissors though!!!)**

11 - 31 March 2008

We had a great time in Yemen, I would recommend it to any one thats "been there, done that" and wants something different. The history is mind boggling, back to Noahs Ark times, artifacts 12,000 years old (water urns and tools) buildings from the year dot, you really did just feel that the three wise men were going to pop round the corner at any time.

We left Salalah in company with Gone with the Wind and Tactical Directions to head west along the Oman and Yemen coasts, through "pirate alley" and into the Red Sea. We were all tired of passages so decided to try and do short hops wherever we could. The first short hop however was an overnighter and saw us arrive late afternoon in the Yemenese fishing village of Nishtun, judging by our reception there we may have been the first yachts they had seen for quite some time. We were requested to up anchor just on dark and to come into the small harbour and tie alongside the big concrete wall for our own safety. We weren't that happy about it but had a peaceful night tied up. We had officials check our passports and boat papers but were not checked into Yemen by them. We had the chance to wander around the dock in the morning and watch all the fishing boats arrive in with their catches. There is certainly no shortage of fish around these parts. We were not permitted outside the port and were closely watched by armed personnel at all times but felt very safe.

Then it was on along the absolutely stunning coastline for another overnighter to Ras Sharma, an absolutely beautiful horseshoe bay tucked behind an easily accessible headland, it is simply gorgeous complete with a white washed building in biblical setting on shore, so good we stayed two nights. There is no village here but the few locals ashore were welcoming enough when we visited the next evening to sit with our sundowners to watch the sun dip into the sea. Next stop was Al Mukalla, a day sail along the coast. First and lasting impressions of Al Mukalla from the sea is WOW, like a scene from 1001 Arabian Nights. We experienced our first true multi prayer call in here, the acoustics into the bay were almost deafening, but just amazing.

We had a very easy check in through an agent (Maher) who organised shore passes for us straight away so we could get in and explore up close. Maher also did tours inland so we left Balvenie at anchor and along with the crews off My Chance, Yosun, Phonix, Tactical Directions and Gone with the Wind set out in 2 minivans for an overnight tour inland. The tour up into the Hadrawat Wadi (Valley) was incredible, this is where the Bin Ladens have been for centuries. We stayed the night in Seiyan in a good tourist hotel with ensuite for USD15, went to Shimban, "Manhatten in the Desert" built 1600 years ago, one square mile with all these highrises about 8 stories high!!!! Its not like they didnt have enough room!! We saw the women goatherders, totally covered in black in the searing heat tending their herds and doing all the farm work, they wear a conical hat unlike anything we have seen else wear in the world. This is a land untouched by modern ways and the women in particular did not welcome the attention afforded them by the few tourists around. Maher arranged all this tour, processed our visas, and escorted us along with an armed guard on each minivan and it was excellent. Yemen is certainly having its problems policitally and there have been some incidents involving tourists but we felt very safe and generally welcome where ever we went.

From Al Mukalla it was back to sea and into "pirate alley" . Again we were in company with TD and GWTW for the 2 night sail to Aden, we sailed during the day within sight of each other then closed together at night and motored in very light winds. It worked very well for us and the only other boat we saw was a Yemen Coastguard vessel that came alongside to make sure we were ok. When TD and GWTW said the only thing wrong was that they weren't catching fish the Coastguard vessel went off to a nearby fishing vessel and came back with two tuna each for them, now that's hard to beat!!! We had absolutely no issues with feeling threatened and personally think the closer to Yemen you stay the safer you are. We probably averaged about 15 miles offshore in Pirate Alley. While day sailing we were always within sight of land.

The anchorage in Aden is ok, not great but a secure area and reasonably sheltered in the inner harbour. The weather had been settled so we decided to fly up to Sana'a, Yemens Capital, just USD108 return and only 45minutes for an overnight excursion. We didn't prebook but stayed in the in the old city, in an original tower building USD35 share bathroom (between 2 rooms), it was absolutely amazing and would be the most authentic of anywhere we have ever stayed and had a great location. The walled Sana'a old city is incredible, all women either completely covered in their black (as with everywhere in Yemen and Oman) or some of the older women (they were stooped so guessing they were older!!!) had brightly coloured shawls (but all same pattern) but still completely covered, heavens knows how they see out. The men either had the "thobe" white robe or earthy tones wrap with shirt but all from about age 10 wore traditional heavy belt and dagger, just amazing, you really felt like you had stepped back in time couple of hundred years, had to be there really, words can't describe it. Annie and I went with a local girl for a hammam "turkish bath" which was quite an experience, the surrounds looked about 1000ys old and most probably were, then had our hands and feet hennaed. The market was amazing, the street scenes out of biblical movie sets, the architecture stunning and we even got interviewed for Yemen television as they have so few tourists.

I really can not speak highly enough about our time in Yemen, it is definately not for those not used to being off the beaten track, and you should check out the political situation first (not that we did), but it was outstanding., the most welcoming people we have come across, good food, interesting shopping, spectacular anchorages and good fishing, 10 out of 10.

From Aden we moved ever westward heading for the Red Sea, we had an overnight stop in Ras Imran a excellent sheltered bay, then the next night at Ras Al Arah which sits on a low, windy sandspit, its not great but we were leaving at 1am to head for the biggie "Bab el Mandeb" - "The Gates of Sorrow" the southern entrance to the Red Sea on 31 March 2008.

Yemen Anchorage info:
Nishtun 15 49.11N 52 11.73E initially anchored here in 6.5m, quite choppy and just outside the breakwater and dock (CMap not accurate and shows this as other side of bay). Just on dusk we were instructed to move into the tiny harbour and tie alongside the big concrete jetty. Armed guard either protected or watched us all night! Although not that happy about tying to the wall we complied and had a very calm and comfortable night. We were processed by someone in a uniform who checked our papers and took details but did not check us into Yemen
Ras Sharma 14 49.37N 50 01.29E 9.7m horseshoe bay, excellent protection and holding
Al Mukalla 14 31.59N 49 07.98E 7.0m mud bottom, good holding 7boats in there with us and started to fill up as a couple of wrecks to be aware of (easy to see)
Aden 12 47.53N 44 58.84E 8m mud, holding ok, chopped up some in strong winds. Not a huge anchorage but think we had about 14boats at one stage which was snug
Ras Imran/Jabal Aziz 12 44.50N 44 42.57E 6.2m flat water even though rolly outside
Ras Al Arah 12 37.30N 43 54.73E 11.4m flatish water in 25knots. No shelter from wind, bleak looking place but good jump off around 1am for dawn arrival at Bab el Mandeb

Yemen Cruising info:
Security - We had a boat boy onboard in Al Mukalla (shared 1 between 2 boats) while we did our tour. We didn't bother in Aden. We felt very very safe on land and at sea in Yemen
Phone/Internet - Our Oman SIM card worked here also. Didn't find WIFI but good internet at internet cafe in Lulu's mall
Checking into Al Mukalla - Maher (who looks about 16) turned up at the boat to take away our papers, we checked with the boats that had arrived the previous day to check he was some sort of official! He doesn't charge a fixed price (always tricky) we paid him YRL4,000 on departure. Visas for the 2 of us were YRL20,000. We would not have required these if we had not done the inland travel, we would have been issued only with shore passes which are free.
Checking out of Aden - No charge, do it yourslf all within walking distance of anchorage
Tour from Al Mukalla - Our tour was YRL22,000 including van, driver, guard and Maher. All meals, entrance fees and the accomodation were extra (but cheap).
Tour from Sana'a - Return Flights from Aden were USD108 each. Dawood Hotel USD35 double, we got taxis to/from both airports.
Provisions - Huge Lulu's but I actually thought the one in Salalah was better. Top up to get you through to Hurghada in Egypt. Can get nearly everything except pork products. Prices much same as Thailand. Last chance for milk powder (can't even get in Turkey)
Fuel in Aden - There is a fuel dock you can go alongside to. We filled our jerry jugs at USD.715 per litre. Its a drawn out excercise, with plenty of people to see and forms to fill.
Money - USD1 = YMR200 16 Mar 2008. USD available in cash machines in Al Mukalla and Aden - stock up on USD for the Red Sea, no where takes credit cards. Any fuel, food, tours, checkin/checkouts will need USD or local money changed from USD. This is your last chance to get it

Monday, 10 March 2008

Indian Ocean north to Oman ... Feb - Mar 2008

Oman 01 - 10 March 2008

***All the hubble bubble pipes ready for action***The local men, sipping tea, smoking their pipes and gossiping at Mugsail***It's an Omani Camel up close - perhaps a little too close***The very tight anchorage in Salalah**

On Feb 21 we took to sea and arrived in the Oman after 9 days. We had a good passage with fair winds always in front of the beam and only the last day as we closed on Oman did we get unfavourable wind and choppy seas. Balvenie arrived at the port of Salalah in good shape so after catching up on some sleep we did not have too many boat jobs to do and became tourists for a change.

Gone with the Wind had stayed longer in the Maldives and arrived a day after us so we shared a hire car for about 30 USD a day (organised thru Mohammed onshore in the harbour) and drove all over this corner of Oman. Most of the country resembles a lunar landscape with a few dust blown towns dotted around but very interesting and very different from any thing we have seen before. One day we drove east to Mirbat on the coast, we felt sure this is where "Saving Private Ryan" was filmed as whole parts of the town looked totally bombed just as its filmset was. We did not discover the reason to this as Oman has not been in any recent wars. On the way back we drove inland to a couple of nearby wadis (lush areas where water gathers). It was nice to see some greenery in this very dusty landscape.

The following day we went west towards the Yemen boarder. This is an amazing road, newly built with an incredible switchback section that is a serious feat of engineering. We stopped at the Mugsail Blowholes which although the sea wasn't blowing up through them the updraft of air was enough to blow Marks cap off!! Next day we went north and drove up onto the huge desert plateau, it is miles of nothingness, rubble rubble and more rubble. We are convinced Apollo 11 landed here and not on the moon, looks just like it did on TV.

The people have been very friendly and we have experienced incredible hospitality and enjoyed some local food. There are very few Western tourists here so everyone wanted to know where we were from and why we had come!! We didnt see too many women around, it is place is very muslim and any women we saw wore the full burqa with full veil also. There were a few coalition warships from the US and UK in port, they patrol the "pirated" waters between Somalia and Yemen.

Our little haven of "normality" the Oasis Club which is like an English pub for the ex pats and is the only place around that sells alcohol was close to the port area and we generally ended up there for a cleansing ale after a sandy dusty day traveling and now I know first hand what having a throat as dry an an Arabs sandal really means. A great spot in downtown Salalah for eating was the Balbeck Lebanese, yummy, its on 25th (I think)July Street. Lulus supermarket was as good as anywhere and the fruit and veg shop next to Lulus was ok just let him know you want his best ones and out they come!!!!

Anchorage info: 16 56.23N 54 00.30E 4.5m average depth, sand over very hardpackd base. Very tight anchorage with poor holding, boats dragging in light winds, sheltered but in commercial port
Cruising info:
Weather - we had strong winds closing in on coast but fine while there. Boats ahead had sand storms/gales and very rough seas
Security - secure as restricted port area, felt safe everywhere
Phone/Internet - local sim card available, worked in Yemen also. WIFI at Oasis Club (pay) also at Brownies Cafe in town (free)
Checking in and out - checkin relatively easy but can take time before cleared off boat- cost OMR15 for boat, OMR12 for one month visas for the 2 of us, can pay by credit card
Money - OMR1 = USD2.60 at 01 Mar 2008. ATM machine on way into town and in town. Most also despatched USD or Rials
Tours/Getting around - remote port location, taxi to town more expensive than car hire for a day. Only place walkable is Oasis Club. Hired car for USD30 per day, interesting countryside like nothing we had seen before and easy to drive on deserted good quality roads
Provisions - excellent, can't get pork products at Lulus but there is a big cold store by naval base that has some, and of course can't buy alcohol to take away and only Hilton, Oasis and another big hotel sell it to drink on the premises and not cheap. There is another Lulus in Aden if you forget anything
Fuel and Water - no diesel at anchorage. Diesel jugs taken in hirecar to fuel station and filled by us (sorry cost not recorded but cheap). Water on dock to fill jug

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