A story scripted on a bike: 154kms of mountain roads, undulating paths and welcoming people make for a trip to Yemen that Omani rider Hamdoon al Hashmi will never forget. Team Y follows his trail.
Curiosity is the mother of great adventures. All great tales etched into the books of history start with the quest to travel and a thirst to connect with nature. And such is the story of one Al Sharqiyah-based Omani student, whose inquisitiveness led him to a place off the radar of most travellers: Yemen.
Today, travel can mean booking expensive flights, checking into five-star hotels, and snapping Insta-worthy pictures; but Hamdoon Sultan Salim al Hashmi has a different tale to tell – one that involves him, his trusty bicycle, and the benevolence of the people around him.
It all began when the 20-year-old mechanical engineering student drew up plans to explore the north-eastern towns of Yemen – a plan he says he had when he was a child.
Hamdoon says: “Something about Yemen touches my heart.
“Ever since I can imagine, I’ve heard distressing stories about the country. So, I’ve always wanted to visit the place and see if what’s being portrayed in the media is true.”
As expected, however, his plans had cold water poured on them by his sceptical friends, who were certain he would be “attacked and robbed”.
After all, his possessions – which included a regular bicycle, tent, and cooking equipment – were all fruits of the months of labour he had put in as a promoter after his classes in college.
Still, Hamdoon was determined to prove them wrong.
And just as the rays of the sun began to gleam through the cracks of the green and misty mountains of Salalah on August 6, he set off – armed with nothing but RO50 (for his visa and other expenses) in his pockets, camping gear flanking his bicycle, and an unwavering will to confound stereotypes.
“I began the journey from the centre of the city (Salalah) and was expecting the journey to be an easy one. After all, I had cycled about 350km within the Zanzibar island, and this, on paper, had all the tell-tale signs of being an easy ride.”
The total distance between Salalah and his destination, Yemen, stood at 154km.
But, he did not know that between him and the neighbouring nation lay treacherous mountain roads, winding paths and no pit stops to gather essential supplies.
On top of that, he then had to muster the confidence to pedal his way up mountains that towered 1,200 metres above sea level, in the town of Al Mughsayl, on a fully-loaded bike that tipped the scales at 20kg.
“It was the hardest I’d ever pedalled in my life,” Hamdoon sighs.
“And, I only realised then that I wasn’t involved in any simple adventure. This, after all, was a trip to Yemen(!)
It took the cyclist four days to reach the Oman-Yemen border.
He would set up camp in towns every night to regroup for the following day.
But, holding only limited supplies of Arabic bread, Nutella, biscuits, and water; and with funds dwindling quickly, Hamdoon was forced to consume very little, often resorting to simple eats over the course of his journey.
At one point, he also nearly succumbed to exhaustion when he ran out of water – and encountered a truck driver whose kindness meant he could soldier on.
“Sometimes, it’s best to trust in humanity. Because, if that trucker hadn’t stopped to give me water, I probably would have collapsed.”
His trust, though, was proven right yet again when he arrived at the Yemen border.
“Based on what my friends had told me, I was expecting a terrible welcome. But, that was not the case: the officers there made me feel comfortable, and even spoke to me about my journey.
“They even made sure that all went smoothly at the immigration counter – thus giving me a taste of what true Arab culture feels like,” says the young Omani.
Paperwork sorted, Hamdoon’s next target was to make it to the town of Hawf – one that he would reside in for two days.
But, following the suggestions of the guards at the border, he decided to ditch his initial plan and head to Al Ghaida – a town famous for its natural honey.
As luck would have it, en route to the town, he would then run into a Yemeni to ask for directions.
Hamdoon then says: “Once I reached Yemen, I needed the help of a local to direct me to the village. After all, I wasn’t prepared to make a switch from Hawf to Al Ghaida. But, I soon ran into a local: an unassuming man, whom I asked if he could help direct me towards the town.
“He quickly drew me the directions, but then also instructed me to go to a hotel – Taj Plaza – and asked me to alert the staff at the reception that I had met him [name withheld on request].
“I was a bit circumspect initially but nevertheless, decided to give it a shot. After all, I had nothing to lose.
“A tough 120km later, I reached the hotel, and followed the instructions of the man. Upon doing so, I was immediately applauded and told that I could stay at the hotel for free.
“As it turned out, the man I had met was the owner of the hotel. I was soon beginning to feel at home in Yemen.”
Hamdoon spent a whole two days in the town sightseeing and shopping with what was left over from his savings, before beginning his return trip back to Oman – only, now his bike was a whole five kilos heavier with the added honey and fresh fruits.
“The media and people around you have negative notions of Yemen, and a great deal comes from what’s happening within the country. But, I’ll tell you this: if you were to shelve the opinions of the people around you and follow what your heart wants, the world will oblige.
“That’s what I’ve learned from this journey: the people you interact with on a daily basis can make or break the impression of a place you’re at – even if it’s your home. But, if you have faith in humanity, then everything – and by that, I mean absolutely everything – will fall into place.”