Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Saturday, November 04, 2006 04:46:31|
Arabia 2006: 6 - Egypt to Yemen
Thursday, November 2, 2006
After a good night's sleep the world seemed a better place. The hotel's service record was tarnished a bit when I waited as long as I could for breakfast, and didn't arrive until after I asked for the bill for a juice and was leaving. In spite of that I'd highly recommend the hotel. The price is reasonable, airport transfers free and efficient and most services excellent. The in-room internet was the fastest I've come across, and at lunch they even showed proper respect for beer by keeping it in an ice bucket.
The representative from Egypt Panoramic Tours was at the hotel early with a taxi, so we made the drive across the city, past the Citadel, to the El Maadi area where the travel company offices are. This is a nice residential area with tree lined boulevards, landscaped traffic circles and gardens. I was very impressed with the efficiency of Ted Cookson's staff; it is evident why he can get away to travel as much as he does!
Their client who wants to visit Costa Rica, my main reason for being there, didn't show up, but I picked up my Abu Dhabi to Doha (Qatar) plane ticket, and went over some itineraries, books and maps on Costa Rica that I'd brought along with Roger, the ticketing agent. The taxi waited to take me to the airport, where there was a lot of security, including mirrors to check under vehicles.
Cairo traffic is heavy, with many cars bearing battle scars, but it kept going with the assistance of a lot of horn honking. The city is sprawling out across the desert, with a tremendous amount of construction of big apartment complexes and business buildings on the outskirts.
The driver took me to the wrong terminal, so I waited for a taxi to get to the correct gate. I'd given all my Egyptian Pounds to the first driver, but the fellow who took me between terminals accepted US dollars happily. The airport is quite confusing due to an enormous construction project.
Formalities were quick and easy. It was surprising when airport announcements were only in Arabic, as this is an important international airport, but there were frequent TV monitors with accurate information so no problem getting to the right place at the right time.
The Egyptair 777-200 was comfortable and on time. On board announcements were in Arabic and English. A very few minutes after take off we were over desert, and shortly after were alongside the Red Sea. Only the odd dirt track snaked across otherwise trackless desert. Wind, and it seems water from infrequent rainstorms, have carved the hills below into fantastic shapes and patterns.
About halfway to Jeddah the ground vanished under a blanket of cloud, but fortunately it cleared again as we arrived. The city is huge, much larger than I had expected, with a vast network of superhighways. Docks stretch for miles along the Red Sea.
The airport is large and quite modern (we entered at gate 59), yet has no jetways, so transfer from the plane was once again by bus. The large first and business class sections combined had only 8 people in them, two of whom were met at the plane by limousines. The other 6 of us had a bus big enough to hold a dance in.
Upon entering the terminal I inquired as to the whereabouts of the transit lounge, and was immediately taken under the wing of a uniformed employee. He had me sit while he went to get a boarding pass for my next flight, and then escorting me to the lounge where his brother was in charge. There was reasonably good free internet and everyone was most friendly and helpful.
Women have few rights in Saudi Arabia. This is from the Canadian Government Travel Web Site: "Women are not allowed to drive cars or to ride bicycles. Dancing, music, and movies are prohibited. Women and men are not allowed to mingle in public unless accompanied by other family members. A woman can be charged with prostitution if she is found associating with a man who is not a relative. Restaurants have two sections, one for men only and the family section where families, accompanied females and unaccompanied females are served. Women and children need the permission of a male relative to depart Saudi Arabia."
The fight to Yemen on an Airbus 310-300 was comfortable and on time. My seatmate was a Yemeni who did not speak English, but we had a great time communicating via photos and descriptions in the in-flight magazine as he told me about his country - he used the Arabic section and I used the English section. On arrival there were only four of us in the bus from tarmac to terminal, and so there were few people in the immigration line.
When flying in Arabian countries it really is worth the extra money to fly business class. Aside from the obvious advantages leg room and good meals, the lounges in each airport provide hot and cold food, comfortable waiting conditions, most have computers with internet and the staff ensure you will be in the right place at the right time for your flight. Special buses ensure arrival at immigration counters well ahead of the rest of the passengers.
In this case it worked less well. My visa was arranged through the Yemeni tour operator and I had a printout of the document. When we entered the terminal building the line for visas was over 20 people long, but knowing I had one I went for the four-person immigration line. Mistake! When I got to the counter I was handed back my copy of the visa copy and the surly official pointed to the visa line-up. I protested that I had a visa, which resulted in more pointing and waving forward the next person. No officials spoke English.
There was a fellow in a suit wandering around, so I asked him. He had enough English to tell me the visa line was necessary, as I needed the original of the visa. There were now 34 people ahead of me, and only one person issuing visas. In the first half hour I advanced two 12-inch floor tiles. Besides dealing with the line-up, passports were continually being handed in the back door of the booth and processed immediately - I was told this was either for people with connections or that had bribed someone. To make matters worse, other people would shove into the front of the line and thrust their passports and visa fees into the window. The guy doing the visas would always look after the line-jumper. He seemed to take fiendish delight in the howl that would go up from the long-suffering people impatiently waiting. Talk about the urge to kill! I did not see a single smile from any immigration or visa official - a great group to welcome people to the country!
I entered the immigration area at 10:50 PM, and finally got a visa and cleared through immigration at 12:45 AM. The guide and driver had arrived an hour before landing time and had been waiting ever since. They transported me the 15 km to the Movenpick Hotel where the car was thoroughly gone over, including mirrors for underneath. A pickup time of 9 AM was suggested - I counter with 10 AM, which they readily agreed to, and it was directly to bed, where I couldn't get to sleep for a long while because I was so furious.
Should anyone be planning a visit to Yemen, here are some suggestions:
Get a visa in your passport from a Yemeni Embassy or consulate before arrival. If I'd had a visa in my passport I would have been out of the airport in 10 minutes. If you don't have a visa, join the visa line to get one, but first ensure you have Yemeni currency - they will not accept anything else in payment. There is an exchange window just to the right of the visa window where the exchange rates are good - I changed money while waiting in line. If your travel company arranges a visa before your go to Yemen, you will have only a copy. Do not get into the immigration line; go directly to the visa line, where the visa sticker will be put into your passport. There is no cost on arrival, as it will have been prepaid. Your local tour operator must bring the original of the visa to the window where visas are issued just before your flight lands, something they must pay someone in the airport to do, as their people are not permitted in the area. If the original visa is not there, you must purchase a new one.