The war in Yemen has affected nearly the entire country. Nearly. This small corner of southeast Yemen, near the sea and the border with Oman, is unaffected. This has become the most accessible part for people who want to visit Yemen without running through a war zone.
It’s also sprouted a business for some local tour guides in Salalah, Oman with family ties to people on the other side of the border, because they have easy passage at the border and can get tourists across for day trips. Extended trips are possible but involve a ton more paperwork, much higher costs, and a ton more logistics. The day trip was perfect for me.
We coordinated everything through text messages, met at my hotel at 7am, and we were off. I was impressed by the Lexus that showed up for what great condition it was in for its age. Its age? Yeah, it had a tape deck.
The main tour guides who run this tour are related to one another, and I went for the youngest in the group after hearing he was the friendliest and most laid-back. As we drove through the beautiful countryside, we talked about his family being divided by the border even though they’re one clan, heard some traditional music from the area, and then even realized he’d done this tour for several people I know. It was funny seeing pictures of them in his phone for his personal history of how many tours he’s done.
The drive to the border was really beautiful. We stopped for a great photo op at the distance marker.
From here, we were approaching the border and while looking at the countryside I got the run-down on how the border process would work.
We would pull up to the Oman side of the border, get stamped out, and check that the car documents were in order. Then, we’d do Yemen formalities. Because he’s not a licensed tour guide in Yemen, the guide would leave his passport at the border to make sure he was coming back soon. I paid my crisp “must look very perfect” $100 US bill for visa on arrival (and probably included ‘a little something’ for the guards) and get stamped in.
Some workers at the border area were building barracks for the guards, and the workers seemed much more official than the guards. Half of the guards were sitting around with no shoes on, no shirts, and relaxing in the shade. Super official. Having a guide who knows people who work at the border and is from the same family clan as the guards on the other side made things easy as can be. I was in Yemen in under 20min.
Hawf is the small town closest to the border. There’s less than 5,000 people in the whole district, including the farms surrounding the town.
I immediately noticed a huge difference in the architecture on the Yemeni side of the border, even though the people come from the same clan. The roads were also noticeably different (worse).
We stopped for the obligatory picture with the Yemeni flag on the hilltop over the town. Then, we drove through the town to the farthest point the guide is comfortable going with his passport still back at the border and having to return the same day.
We passed along the beach, and I wanted to go to the water’s edge. A surprise wave soaked my shoes. Swimming was out, since I wasn’t prepared. Since my suitcase was once again lost somewhere, I had no clothes to change into, so I couldn’t afford to swim in anything I was wearing.
This also eliminated me from playing soccer with some kids we passed. One of my friends actually stopped and played with them, and the kids apparently refer to him as Ibrahimovic, because he’s tall, white, and has a ponytail.
The town was cool. I found the buildings super interesting.
This gas station supposedly has gas sometimes, but not today. I also saw a chameleon, which was awesome.
My guide kept insisting I use his binoculars to look at things, which was funny.
We drove out to the point which would be where we’d turn around, and we ran into some local guys looking for fish and/or anything they could sell for money. They wanted to take selfies with me on their phones. I’m sure they went home and told people, “I met an American today.”
I’d only gone 15 km / 9 mi into Yemen. With the current situation in the country and not wanting to do tons of paperwork / pay a ton of money, this was the best it can be at this time. We turned around and headed back into town for lunch.
We went to 1 of only 2 restaurants, sat on the floor, and ate rice + spicy tomato sauce with our hands. The locals played a rousing game of “stare at the white guy, wonder what he’s doing here”, and I waved and smiled. I’m sure they don’t see a ton of outsiders. However, on the same token, they probably see more outsiders than 99% of the rest of Yemen. This is the safest part of the country.
We passed back through the town and got some more pictures before returning to the border.
Remember what I said about the border process with documents and my guide knowing people?
On my flight to Salalah, the night before, I’d wound up seated next to a guy reading a book about Yemen. I asked him if he was using Salalah to get to Yemen, and he said that he was taking a group tour of 6 days through Yemen. In the morning, when my guide picked me up, I saw him outside my hotel. Their van was picking up someone staying at my hotel, and we headed for the border at the same time. We arrived first, because my guide drove fast, but they couldn’t have arrived more than 30min later than us.
4 hours later, they were still sitting at the border when we returned. Their documents weren’t in order, and they were calling people who were calling people to go do some documents in Yemen and get things straightened out. Rough start to a 6-day tour. This was the first time this tour agency had done a tour to Yemen, so there are always bugs to work out. However, it’s not like you can just “hang out” at a border crossing. They had to stay in the van for the full 4 hours waiting.
We were off, got our stamps, and headed back to Salalah. For the constraints that Yemen has right now, I did the best I could and enjoyed learning about the area with my guide.This entry was posted in asia, Hawf, Middle East, Yemen