Scuba diving in the land of Queen Sheba [Archives:2009/1222/Last Page]

January 5 2009
Ed and David with farming hats on.
Ed and David with farming hats on.
Nadia Al-Sakkaf
Ed lock is a young British civil servant living in London. He and his friend David Wilkes, an accountant also living in London had read about Yemen and were intrigued, so they gave it a shot especially as they imagined that there would be some excellent scuba diving, given the location and the lack of other divers.

Their journey started in Sana'a where they stayed for a couple of days. Then they flew to Socotra where they spent a week scuba diving and trekking. Next stop was Mukalla in Hadramout, where they did some more diving before taking the bus to Sayoun and Shibam. From there they flew back to Sana'a before driving to Al Hudiedah from which they hoped to visit Kamaran Island and get to experience diving in the Red Sea, then a bus to Aden and Taiz before returning to their final stop in Sana'a and heading back home.

Because of the good time they had in Yemen, Ed and David have recommended Yemen to others, especially those who crave unusual diving experiences. And they hope to come back again, but next visit must include Kamaran Island.

Another attraction for them was the cost: compared to other diving holidays they were able to travel more widely and do more dives, whilst still keeping enough money to buy Jambiyas to take home for their families. Ed and David speak Arabic and were very impressed by the purity of the spoken language on the mainland. They have recommended Yemen as a possible destination for those studying Arabic in London.

Before and after

Ed explained that much of the coverage of Yemen in the European media emphasizes the security risks in the country. So they were slightly nervous before setting out.

“I'm happy to say that we didn't have any serious troubles when we were in the country. We were also expecting a very different culture to that in Europe. It was, of course, very different,” he said.

Ed and David were particularly impressed by the natural beauty of the country. They enjoyed wandering around the Sana'a market, which they thought of as one of the great pleasures of the Arabic world. The Haraz Mountains were beautiful and excellent for trekking. But the highlight of their trip was scuba diving in Socotra.

“Socotra was fascinating. Above ground there is an enormous number of very unusual plants. Under the water the diving was fantastic- lots of fish, beautiful corals and excellent visibility. And of course, no other divers,” Commented Ed.

They were slightly concerned about whether the rules of the nature protection zone were being observed, as on one dive they came across a dead dolphin which had been tied to a ship wreck so as to encourage more fish for the fishermen.

“It was a disturbing sight” said David “we had been very impressed by those responsible for nature protection on Socotra, but when we came across the dead dolphin lashed to the ship we wondered whether the protection of the environment on Socotra was taken seriously by all those who live there. It would be a disaster if the conservation of this unique island is not successful” said David.

Something to remember

Ed remembers a funny story from their visit to Sayoun. When they arrived they discovered that it was the day of the local football match. There were hundreds of people sitting around a pitch marked out of the sand. So Ed and David spent an interesting hour and a half fending off questions from bemused locals who were understandably curious to find out why two British people were watching their local football match.

“Some of them seemed to think that we were Manchester United scouts looking for the next David Beckham” recalls David. “We were also keen to stay out of the way of the local man who kept the boys away from the pitch by threatening them with an enormous stick!” laughed Ed.

They also had an interesting run in with the police when we arrived in a small town in the south of the country hoping to visit (what the guidebook described as) a beautiful nature reserve and famous hammam. The locals were clearly not used to seeing westerners and before long they were surrounded by thirty or so people each asking them to take their photographs. Whilst there was much smiling and fun, no one had ever heard of a nature reserve anywhere nearby, and the hammam was shut!

“After about 10 minutes two vans of heavily armed policemen arrived with their lights flashing. We were worried that they might give us trouble or even arrest us, but in the end they were just as interested as the others to find British people in their town. Amazingly two boys opened the hammam for us so that we could bathe. But we never found the nature reserve.”