I'm getting a bit ahead of myself with this post, because I haven't caught up with the last part of my trip. I'm sitting here at Starbucks in Muscat, Oman (free Wifi). So much for the adventure.. but on a trip like this, the breaks in the capitals are a must, to sort out the visas.
Until now it's been pretty easy, the only visa I had to plan in advance was the Iranian, and it was a breeze. All the other countries needed no visa or I could get one at the border. Even if Oman had just hiked the price of their visa from 7 to 20 rials (40 €), mere days before I crossed the border. Damn.
But for Yemen it's a different story. They've stopped issuing visas to tourists without support from a travel agency (even though I had a report of somebody getting one in Djibouti without questions asked). You need to hjave somebody sort out the authorization from the foreign affairs and interior ministries in Sanaa, then send the papers to the embassy where you pick up your visa. I got in touch with this travel agent who assured me I can't ride on my own and they need to send a pick-up to the border to load my bike and bring it to the capital (3 days away). That was disappointing enough, but then to add insult to injury he wanted more than 1000$ for this. That was just insane.
Meanwhile I tried the other solution, the transit visa through Saudi, then the ferry from Jeddah to Port Sudan (so I would have to secure a visa for Sudan too). Reports on the internet shows that it is very unlikely to get one from the Saudis. I managed to find a contact in Saudi who could write me a letter of invitation, so with a glimpse of hope I headed for the consulate in Dubai, a huge complex in the diplomatic district.
I ran into the most obnoxious and unfriendly people I've ever met in an embassy (and that's saying a lot). They wouldn't even talk to me; in fact they had outsourced the whole process to a private company who would gather the necessary papers and forward them to the consulate. But that company had instructions only to deal with UAE residents, so they flatly turned me down. Maybe I should have tried the proper embassy in Abu Dhabi (the capital), but I was running out of time, I had to leave for Oman for a holiday with my girl-friend (more about this later). I would try my luck in Muscat.
Then I got lucky: after some more research I went across this post by Margus on HU who was doing the same route and after much work had found one agent in Yemen who would do the paperwork without requiring to hire an escort. Now we're talking business. I contacted Mohamed and he said "no problem, just send me 300$ and I'll do the work". Ouch again, but less ouch. This was clearly my best option so far, and I felt I could trust the guy since Margus posted that he had just entered Yemen and was riding to Sanaa. So I sent the 300$ (a long story itself, Wester Union wouldn't do it since I'm not an Omani resident; Money Xpress did it but the money arrived 20$ short..). Note that Margus paid 200$, so the inflation is pretty bad in Yemen..
Now 2 weeks later, after another visit to the embassy, I'm told that the papers would finally arrive tomorrow and that I would be able to pick up the visa right away. I haven't been drinking coffee all this time, even though it's the preferred drink of Omanis, I had a great time around the country (stay tuned), but now I really need to move on.
Muscat is a pretty expensive place to stay (20€ minimum for a hotel room). Plus, there's the big Eid holiday starting on the 15th, and the country's 40th anniversary on the 18th. Everything will close down during this time so I have 2 days left to sort it out.
I will then have a quick (!) 1000km ride on the highway crossing the desert to Salalah, which all Omanis rave about, and which sits close to the Yemeni border.
If AQAP and the Yanks don't turn this country into their new playground, that is. Inch Allah.