After his first seven-day tour in Zanzibar, Hamdoon Sultan Salim Al Hashmi’s thirst for exploring new lands and cultures only multiplied. Already visiting Salalah at the time, this young curious man took up the challenge of cycling across the southern border of the Sultanate and venture into the Republic of Yemen. In the recent past, Yemen has faced many external and internal challenges that had affected its reputation even amongst those that lived across the borders and when Hamdoon shared that his sudden plan of visiting Yemen, those around him warned and tried to convince him not to go. “My friends told me that If I went there, I would have to come back without my cycle or my belongings because they were convinced I would get robbed,” Hamdoon said.
All the warnings and all the stories didn’t deter curious Hamdoon, he was convinced that good or bad, he needed to see and experience this for himself and with that, camping gears packed and bicycle readied, he took off on his very own adventure. The initial plan was to ride 154 kilometres from the centre of Salalah all the way to the Oman and Yemen border, completely unaware of what was to be expected, Hamdoon came across his first hurdle.
He said, “What I didn’t know was that up ahead was 1200m tall of mountains waiting for me. Once I reached Mughsayl, I faced my first long up-hill route which was a surprise but managed to overcome it. Not before long, whilst rejoicing over this first win, I realized that there was another steep uphill ride that was unknown to cyclists. Locally known as Aqban Qeshan, those living around the area told me that they had never met anybody that had attempted to cycle across this steep hill, along with the many others that came along the way.”
Once at the top of the hill, Hamdoon was welcomed by the regions nomadic Jabali tribe. The Jabali people to this day lead a simplistic life on the mountains of the Dhofar region. Staying to their customs, culture, and traditions, their main source of livelihood and food are their livestock of cows, camels, and goats, they are known across the region and the country for their selfless hospitality, generosity, and honesty.
“Once I reached the top and looked for a place to set camp, the Jabali locals welcomed me into their homes and asked me to sleep in their sitting room instead of camping in the open amongst the wilderness. The host’s wife prepared a delicious feast along with fresh hot milk and dates as dessert, during this time I learned more about their lifestyles and their language, Jabali. The kids, excited about a new visitor, tried to teach me a few words of their language but whilst I tried my best to pronounce with difficulty, the kids had fun watching me try. I had always heard about the goodness of these people but since experiencing it myself, I can safely say their hospitality was one of the best I’ve ever received.”
Followed by another long journey, Hamdoon had finally made it to the Oman side border where the guards warned him again. Advising him against going further, they told him what he had already heard before but this didn’t stop him, Hamdoon stuck to his plan and went further as he finally crossed the Yemeni border.
What he witnessed had him in awe! Nothing like the tales he had been told, Hamdoon cycled into a country whose people welcomed him with open arms. He said, “At the Yemen border, I met a man who told me about a little town that was another 120 kilometres away and this would be the perfect place for me to stop at to experience the culture and traditions of this fascinating country.”
“Since my long journey during the monsoon season, a lot of my camping gear was wet and I wasn’t sure where to stop and this is when this man offered to set me up at a hotel. I was welcomed by a humble man who I assumed was the manager but later to my surprise found out it was the owner! I would have never guessed considering how down to earth and welcoming this man was.” Hamdoon added.
It didn’t take long for Hamdoon to settle in and realize that all the negatives he had heard were nothing but stories. Like everywhere else, there was good and bad but the people of Yemen were nothing but welcoming. He said, “Rich or poor, young and old the people of Yemen were down to earth and welcoming. They lead simple lives and are happy to share their culture and traditions with others.”
With a full belly after their famous mandi meal, Hamdoon’s experience of Yemen was complete.