(Correne Coetzer) Television paints a picture of protesters, political turmoil and violence in Yemen, but veteran Swedish explorer Mikael Strandberg experienced another Yemen.
End of 2011 he, along with two Yemeni companions and a camel, set out on a 380-kilometer trek across rough terrain in the Arabian Peninsula. Strandberg tells ExplorersWeb about the Yemen he experienced. He also tells why he wants to go back.
ExplorersWeb: How safe is it to travel in Yemen? Is it different from what we see on television?
Mikael: It is definitely different. Travel in Yemen has historically never been easy. This extra ordinary beautiful, this cradle of all Arabs and extremely friendly country have been isolated for most of its existence for foreigners. During the latest upheavals called the Arab Spring in the Western media, we, me and my family, wife Pamela and 16 months old daughter Eva, spent October to the end of December in Yemen, mainly isolated in Sanaa.
Of course we were worried when the mortar fire came too close, but most of the time, our visit was completely different to how it was portrait in media - basically saying that Yemen is the most dangerous country in the world.
So I did this short, but demanding trip from Zabid to Sanaa to prove the difference and of course work on my documentary, which I hope will give a very different picture, a positive one, of Yemen. This beautiful country is a very misunderstood land.
So, I find it as safe as any other country in this region. As I see it, normal expedition challenges.
ExplorersWeb: What about women travelers?
Mikael: I don´t see any major differences from what I would see as challenges. Basically cultural. One has to, of course, respect the culture and that makes it slightly more challenging, but not a lot. So, my answer is, no problems.
ExplorersWeb: What attracts you to the country?
Mikael: Well, I have always been very interested in the Arab World, Islam, and my hope is that my travels and my documentaries from here will give a different perspective on this very misunderstood world. Muslims and Islam is very misunderstood in the West and I want to build a bridge of understanding both ways.
Yemen is kind of the cradle of all Arabism and the prophet had only kind words to say about the Yemenis who in many ways did the hard work in expanding Islam as far north west as France and as far east as India; a time where Islam was the cultural base of mankind. And this spirit still exists amongst the colorful Yemenis.
And it is also one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with high mountains, great deserts, enthralling cost lines and islands.
I believe that the future developments in Yemen, which is very different to the rest of the Arab World like Egypt, Irag, Libya and Syria, will in a positive way become a role model for the rest of the region. The answer lies in Yemen!
And of course, Yemen being so unknown to most of human kind, is of course extremely interesting!
ExplorersWeb: If someone wants to travel in Yemen, what travel arrangements have to be made?
Mikael: It is today relatively easy to get a 3 month tourist visa at any Yemeni Embassy.
ExplorersWeb: Tell us about some of the people you have met in Yemen?
Mikael: Ahh, the people are just such a colorful bunch of people! The Yemen north including Sanaa and the north east is very tribal. One will never understand Yemen if you don´t understand tribalism. Compared to their quite boring neighbors, the Yemenis are loud, outgoing, full of life, extremely curious and full of humor. There´s not a dead moment in the company of Yemenis!
ExplorersWeb: What is your next expedition in Yemen?
Mikael: Well, I realized the first part, due to the situation, that I wasn´t fit enough and I didn´t enjoy not running the show my way, e.g. taking care of the camels as I see proper, so returning as like beginning all over again. Loads of paper work, meetings, chewing khat, before one can get going.
My idea is to set off with 2 camels and a young partner and then navigate around the restricted areas and make my way east until I have to return home for the birth of my second daughter.
I am happy if I reach the Omani border, but doubt it. So I will walk from Sanaa heading east and my big worry is the heat. Due to the pregnancy, this is the only time I can travel, which means the hottest time of the year, the major part through one of the hottest deserts on earth, Rub Al Khali. Really, really stupid as you well understand. Desert travel today is all winter. But I have no other choice.
I will just head out and see how things go. People are great, and the idea is meeting people, so I will survive. I guess.
During ‘Expedition Yemen By Camel’ October – December 2011, Mikael Strandberg traveled through Yemen in the midst of having a possible civil war on his hands, together with two friends, Amin and Ahmed, and the camel Antar. They walked from Zabid to Sanaa; “380 km of really rough terrain just to show the world that Yemen is something totally different to what global media says.”
Mikael is prepared and ready to go back to Yemen any day now. He got his visa, but a few serious obstacles keep him still at home, “The reason with these problems is the drone war initiated by the Cia; everyone is scared, I am by myself now, this will be very, very difficult,” he updated ExplorersWeb.”I have walked from the coast, Zabid to Sanaa during the war last year and now I want to walk from Sanaa and as far east as possible. If Sanaa is closed again, which the rumors say, I need to find another starting point.”
Since 1986 Strandberg had done numerous cycling, horse riding, trekking, canoeing and skiing expeditions in places like South America, Africa, the Middle East and Siberia. Read more here.
Video of press conference Bab Al Yemen 2011/12/22:
ExWeb editorial: Yemen misunderstood? Not so fast
Focus Egypt: 'Three Poles' Adrian Hayes to ExWeb, "Gulf States are watching with some concern."
From the saddle: Arita Baajiens inside Egypt, "those kids really pulled it off!"
Strandberg’s Yemen 2011 dispatches
Strandberg’s Yemen 2011 Blog Articles
More photos of Expedition Yemen by Camel 2011
Mikael will be sending daily updates from Yemen over Contact 5 during his 2012 expedition. Follow his dispatches on ExWeb’s live stream and on his homepage.
Strandberg’s Yemen 2012 dispatches (homepage)
ExWeb List of Expeditions
Visit our new website