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And whenever we got out of the vehicle, with our soldiers in tow, nobody in any town treated us any differently.
It was as if the soldiers weren’t there and the soldiers certainly didn’t investigate anything, except for one town where they seemed to become a little more serious about their protective duties for a few minutes.
And while those are all present for a reason, the chance of a traveler encountering anything but a smile or nod of the head from the soldiers or any gun-carrying individual, is not very high at all in my opinion. Speaking with my guide on the Yemeni mainland, it seemed as if he had just as many stories about female travelers he had recently shown around the country than about male travelers.
And many of the females came either on their own or in a group of a few women.
It was the same when I was high up in the mountains, stumbling upon tiny villages only accessible by foot, and when I was walking through the nearly hidden back lanes of the main market in the historic Old City of Sana’a.
Of course, for some travelers, the sight of soldiers and tanks, dozens upon dozens of checkpoints (there are at least ten checkpoints between the Sana’a Airport and the center of the city) and the odd kaleshnikov-carrying man walking down the street might scare you away.
But surprised was I when I started to learn that a few travelers are making their way to Yemen and that traveling in these parts is not nearly as difficult, or dangerous, as I had once thought.A few minutes later, we entered Shibam, where we had a great lunch, wandered through the friendly town and made a quick visit to the village of Kawkaban, clinging to the edge of a mountain nearby. Not only that, whenever we got out of the jeep to visit a place such as the Al-Zakati Fort or the rocky cliffs near Bokur or to walk around the town of Mahweet, the soldiers got out of their truck as well and followed us around, never wandering too far away.Upon returning to our hotel in the afternoon, just in time to chew some qat of course, I realized that, not for one moment, had I felt unsafe, at all. Even more surprising was the fact that this was quite a well-coordinated effort.When I started researching how I could travel to Yemen, I must admit that I assumed it would not be possible at all.Given the strongly worded government travel warnings about this country, coupled with the fact that any positive news about Yemen seems to be in great shortage, I just figured that things such as obtaining a tourist visa and even finding good, safe accommodation options would be impossible, paving the way for only the craziest of the craziest travelers to dare venture here.