Socotra - prep stage
I don't recall the last time I had to go through this many procedures to obtain a visa. I suppose I also don't recall the last time this many friends send me articles in the news about bombing. It is almost like the beginning of one of those cliche Hollywood movies where all signs point to "don't go" but your heart is still saying "no".
The drone bombings have been going on in the region for quite sometime now. Looking at the trajectory the area of biggest risk is the transit between Dubai and the island. Our guide opted to bypass Sa'naa for the more remote (and beautiful) port town of Riyan where a much smaller airport resides. By much smaller I mean it's probably someone's house with a backyard that doubles as a runway. Neither T nor I are sure this is a good move but I suppose the guides have probably figured their way around the drones for non-Americans plenty good they are probably doing it safe. Our counterparts over in the UK received their visa just fine. I guess it's a perk for countries that are not bombing anyone else.
I did some homework assessing the situation first hand. I spoke to a friend of friend who works and lives in Yemen. He said most of the perceived dangers are real. However, kidnappings typically occur for expats who have regular commute patterns. So long as you don't do stupid things that make you a sitting duck target, you'll mostly be fine. It is true that Americans have the highest price tags from AQ. But if you look Asians they typically will not think you are Americans. Being a woman might also be another layer of difficulty. I plan to wear a burka during transit. My brother spoke highly of Yemen. He loved the food, and the people were very friendly. But he is also not American. All in all, it looks like AQ danger is limited to transit points. Somalian pirates are probably more prominent on the actual island. Lately Somalian pirates are all the rage. NYTimes wrote a great Sunday reading piece on how a woman escaped from captivity. Then there's the Tom Hanks movie too. Another friend had just returned from working on TEDxMogadishu to tell me that the pirate situation have been more or less subdued by recent press and international military presence. It is quite a sad situation how most pirates come to be.
By now I have acquired 4square mayorship of the Yemen embassy in DC. I have explored the alternate side parking rules in their neighborhood. I have spoken to 3 people over 10 times between August and November. The consul in London has phoned the consul in the US twice, and when I finally received the visa -- only through virtue of camping out in front of their office for 4 hours (the tactic is called puppy-eye marathon) - I was once again reminded that the consulate does not issue visas at this time and that even though they will make an exception here I will be entirely on my own. Thanks boss.
The team arranging this trip is Pioneer Expeditions. This trip isn't listed on their website. If I remember correctly the owner is still working the logistics to see if it would be possible to do at a larger scale. For now, the only people who are going are the ones he contacted. If you are interested in finding a way there yourself, check out Jonah Kessel's blog. There's a wealth of information there, including the email address of the guy that got him the visa and arranged his trip. Note that he's coming from Shanghai - not the US.
10 more days to pack like a champ.