Paul Holmes

Tuesday 13 May, 9.30pm

Intrepid Journeys likes to serve up challenging travel – and since broadcaster Paul Holmes is at home dissecting the happenings in war zones and political hot spots, his trip called for another level of challenge. Sending him to Yemen certainly delivered.

Trouble at the border; trying to export a goat called Nigel back to New Zealand; and a mad drive through Al Qaeda country were just some of the moments in a trip that Holmes describes as a ‘revelation’.
Choosing such an edgy destination was a personal risk for Holmes, but – for viewers as well as the intrepid man himself – it allowed the chance to see Yemen’s stunning landscape, cultural routines and a different side of a country suffering from a serious image problem. “People said to me, ‘Where are you going to go?’ I’d say ‘Yemen’ and people go, ‘Oh gosh, are you going to be alright? The last tourists killed here were killed just a few months ago’,” points out Holmes.

Yemen is in the Middle East on the Arabian Peninsula and is one of the oldest centres of civilisation. It is an Islamic state so all laws are based on the Qur’an. “We think Al Qaeda, we think 9/11, and we think the USS Cole. My mother was very worried,” Holmes admits. “She sent me an email saying, ‘My God you’re going to be killed, be careful, be so careful!’ But the amazing thing is I cannot recall ever going to a friendlier country than this. Even people who are taken hostage, and a lot of people are taken hostage here, report that they’re treated beautifully by the people who have taken them hostage. So they’re welcoming even when they’re holding you prisoner. Fantastic.”

During his time on the ground, Holmes packs in a diverse itinerary. He befriends a goat called Nigel and decides to try and adopt him, suffers through several nights of uncomfortable camping, and even goes undercover to get a sense of daily life for the women in this culture. “You rarely see women, you never see their faces. You either see the fully covered head or you see just the eyes,” he says. “You never see men talking to women in the street.”

Holmes admits the travel wasn’t always easy, comfortable or smooth. Having missed a connecting flight back to the capital San’a, he had to brave a road trip across the Ma’rib desert. “They call it the empty quarter and it’s dangerous,” Holmes explains. Travel advisories put this area on the same warning level as Baghdad in terms of security risk so it is a road trip not to be taken lightly.

This Middle East adventure also had a serious brush with the law. The crew’s equipment was confiscated on arrival (a first for the Intrepid Journeys production team). “I’m thinking what a great start, I’ve been here half an hour and the camera has been confiscated,” Holmes says, “Welcome to Yemen.” His journey airs this week, Tuesday 9.30pm on ONE, thanks to his diplomatic negotiating to retrieve the equipment.

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