I’d love to visit Yemen and see the towering mudbrick skyscrapers of San’a and the ancient towns of the Hadhramaut; to experience a culture where men spend most afternoons spaced out on a homegrown weed called qat… In the Seventies we overlanders traversed Afghanistan; I relished more recent visits to East Timor, Burma and the Solomon Islands. Lots of once-suspect destinations warrant a closer look, including some on Dubya’s ‘Axis of Evil’.
But you won’t find me in Yemen just yet. There are just too many reasons why not, including the suspicion that will surely attach to independent travellers returning from an apparent nest of terrorist sympathisers. I’d rather not build up a case file with hyped-up security agencies.
Nigel Brennan had no local contacts or expertise when he set off to make his name as a freelance photojournalist based in strife-torn Somalia, which has no credible government and a fearsome reputation for famine, piracy, conflict and kidnapping. One regional airline used to urge passengers to arrange their own armed escort before departure! Within days, Brennan was abducted at gunpoint and subsequently spent more than a year held hostage. His family hocked their farm and private donors chipped in the balance of the million-dollar-plus ransom paid for his release. Now Brennan asserts that the Australian government didn’t care how long he (and his Canadian colleague) sweated it out in Somalia; the government, which refuses on principle to deal with kidnappers, retorts that it pulled together a whole team in Nairobi to work on the case.
There’s a long history of after-the-event complaints from former Distressed Australians, as the bureaucrats tag citizens caught short in foreign parts. Working with some of these cases was one of the most intriguing roles I ever had in my stint as a one-time consular officer in the Middle East. But I do think that even the most intrepid wanderer needs to accept that you just don’t try to go it alone in some parts of the planet. Lonely Planet thinks so: they’ve just pulped a guidebook to Libya, and their door-stopping Russian guidebook includes two pages spelling out why they won’t go to Chechnya.