Monday, March 02, 2009


Although I'm getting closer to Europe, my first taste of Yemen made me feel like I've never been further away. The time difference is only GMT+3 and yet it feels like I've entered a parallel world with familiar sights and sounds co-existing with, to my eyes, entirely alien scenes.

It's rare to be the only tourists in a city but in Mukalla we were the only yachts in the anchorage and the only tourists in town. As such there were plenty of men keen to practise their English with us. Men, as our interaction with women was limited to glimpses of their eyes from the narrow slit in their otherwise totally covered bodies.
On my first day's excursion, I was befriended by Mohammed, who helped me hunt down a working ATM, find some switches for the boat as well as acting as cultural guide, translator, negotiator and arbiter of good taste - he recommended Iraqi dates over dates from UAE ("much better flavour"). The shops are an interesting assortment of traditional with the floor full with sacks of flour, rice and spices, juxtaposed with more recent arrivals selling mobiles and electrical goods.
The first couple of days I spent reprovisioning and making essential repairs - the toilet once again has a stable seat, but the main task was filling the tank with diesel. Our agent Maher, supplied the diesel in leaky 18 litre cans. Transferring 200 leaky litres via dinghy in a roly anchorage from shore to boat vied for pole position of worse boat jobs alongside clearing a blocked toilet after a curry pot-luck or diving into the waters of a smelly port to free a fouled propellor. I wasted half the next day trying to rid the dinghy and decks of the layer of oily residue left by the refill.

One of the many familiar and yet confusingly different aspects to life is the way the Arabic version of Windows functions. The interface is a mirror image to a "western" interface, menus are ordered in the opposite directions, web browser back and forward buttons are reversed - (you press "forward" to go "back") and progress meters progress from right to left - looking, to my eyes, like they're going from complete to unstarted.

In summary, it's been a great break from braving the pirate infested waters of the Gulf of Aden with friendly, helpful people, great food (particularly the delicious clay oven baked flat bread, though I'm not sold on camel meat) and much to learn.

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