Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea
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on January 30, 2000
Autobiographical in nature, Eric Hansen takes us from a shipwreck on a desert island in the Red Sea in the late 1970s to a decade later in Yemen.  Prior to the shipwreck, Hansen had spent a number of years traveling the globe and had kept journals of his travails and encounters around the world.  He buries the journals on the island once rescue is imminent for fear of losing them to people who might destroy them.  Ten years later, he decides that he needs to come back to grips with that parts of him life and returns to Yemen in the hopes of retrieving the journals.  Hansen spends months in Yemen meeting anyone he thinks might be able to help him pull the right strings, and write the necessary permissions to allow him to return to the little island which is deep in militarily strategic waters.  Although we hope he eventually does retrieve the journals, the stories, the smells, the tastes, the experiences and the wildly odd-ball people he encounters make for an extremely engaging tale in the meantime.  He chews qat, he visits bathouses, he climbs mountains, he suffers in the oppressive heat of the deserts, he avoids being taken as a western hostage (a common practice among Yemeni tribes in their negotiation efforts with the government), and he makes some very unusual acquaintances.  "...in a country where Allah was calling most of the shots, there was little sense in distinguishing between five hours and five weeks." ...we are left with very slight feelings of desolation for the lives of the Yemeni and the state of this country, fairly unknown to the Western world.  To anyone who has traveling in the Middle East, or even those who have done the `young single person in the world' trips in Asia, Africa, or Latin America, will enjoy the spots Hansen gets into and the spirit and resourcefulness he uses to get out of them.
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on April 20, 2001
Within three hours of finishing this book, my copy was flogged by a friend who's off for a year in India on an antique motorbike. These adventurers must have some kind of tribal recognition.
"Motoring with Mohammed" is a book in three parts. The first bit is true adventure, storms at sea, a shipwreck, a desert island, the revelation of character among the survivors, brigands, and an unlikely rescue. It's great writing, deft and light, touching beauty and terror.
The second, and major, part of the book recounts Hansen's return to Yemen ten years later to look for a personal treasure he left on the island. In truth, not much happens, but in Eric Hansen's hands it always manages to not happen in an interesting way. His introduction to the local narcotic "qat", his subtle dance with intransigent bureaucracy, his unwise wanderings in high, misty mountains and along the edge of great deserts of The Empty Quarter make this a great read.
Hansen never meets an uninteresting person. Even the hostile and the dull are intriguing or comical in his hands. He gets to travel with sheep and mystic woodsmen, to meet an ageing Frenchwoman under a tragic spell, a toilet inspector, and the ghost of his grandmother. Along the way, he gets to play with his favorite theme: the essence of "destination". He doesn't labour it, but you know what he means.
The third, and briefest, part of his story is an unexpected twist, which neatly closes the circle even if by that stage we hardly require it.
A friend of mind informed me that Yemen ranks bottom of the world for gender equality. Certainly no woman could have written this book. The more reason for us to be grateful for this window on a little-known world. Eric Hansen has written a beguiling and joyous story. When you've finished enjoying it, seek out his even more extraordinary account of his Borneo travels, "Stranger In the Forest". But with all these books, don't expect to hang on to your copy for long.
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on December 10, 2002
I read this book nearly at one sitting, literally sitting, up in bed one night when I should have been sleeping. Four or five times I awakened my husband, shaking the bed with my laughter, especially when Mohammed moved a sheep into the back seat of his taxi for the next five days, saying, "The sheep won't mind."
Eric Hansen has scored with this book, and I've recommended it to probably 40 people and given it as a gift to 5-6.
Read it and enjoy in - on many levels.
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When Eric Hansen, an American, found himself shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Yemen in 1978, he buried his journals in the sand. Ten years later, he returns to try to retrieve these journals. This book is a result of those travels.
The sights, sounds, and smells surround his narrative, whether describing a storm at sea, impressive architecture or the scent of perfume that follows the veiled women.
There are government restrictions, of course, but he still is treated with hospitality wherever he goes. He joins the men in their communal qat-chewing sessions where whole afternoons are spent under the intoxicating effects of this slightly narcotic drug. He hikes for miles over extremely dangerous terrain. He visits the baths, the bazaars, the prison. And considering the fact that he only speaks English, he manages to have conversations with a wide variety of people. Always, his observations are clear and show his respect for the people of Yemen and their culture.
As an armchair traveler I was delighted with this book. It was wonderful seeing the world through Mr. Hansen's eyes. However, he is a man and so therefore his experiences were that of the male world. This is no fault of the book or of his writing. After all, he only could write about what he experienced.
I recommend this book heartily. It brought me to Yemen, taught be about the land and the people, and expanded my appreciation and depth of understanding of a place I will likely never visit. For this I thank the author.
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on May 10, 1998
I read this book shortly after returning from my own trip to Yemen with my husband and children. Eric Hansen caught the spirit of the people and presents it to his readers without falling into that all-too-common trap of criticizing that which he may have found unpleasant.
I learned much about Yemen by reading this book and asking my husband about it later. I still refer to chapters in his book when discussing world events with friends.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys exploring forgotten lands, and for anyone who is happy tagging along for an interesting cab ride around the beautiful land that was once part of the ancient Kingdom of Sheba.
It's easy to become entranced by the people and their way of life, and Eric Hansen presents it well.
Enjoy....
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on December 2, 2001
Hansen's STRANGER IN THE FOREST is one of my favorite travel adventure books of all time. I found ORCHID FEVER fascinating and funny, albeit too short, but MOTORING W/ M, his earliest tome is just not as well-written as the others. Sometimes the descriptions are lacking and sometimes the narrative isn't easy to follow, probably because Hansen doesn't know where his quest will take him. I found his adventures interesting, the lack of sanitation in Yemen, and his ability to deal with it, amazing... but I found myself wondering how he managed to eat in squalid "restaurants" and never become ill? Since he doesn't detail his health, but details the filth, it was an area I wanted to know about. His trek into the mountains, without a permit, and his run-ins with the Yemeni military were fascinating and frightening, but ultimately, I found his final journey to the island, where he'd buried his journals 8 years before, unsatisfying because he rushes through the final adventure and doesn't detail the actual dig for his journal. 200+ pages of Yemeni history, culture and adventure and then a few scant paragraphs on the finale of his 8 year quest left me wishing he'd written more about his experiences trying to find his buried journal on the island. This earlier work also made me realize how much he has improved as a travel writer... Hansen is still one of the best, but this earlier work is not the best example of his writing prowess.
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on April 20, 2001
Within three hours of finishing this book, my copy was flogged by a friend who's off for a year in India on an antique motorbike. These adventurers must have some kind of tribal recognition.
"Motoring with Mohammed" is a book in three parts. The first bit is true adventure, storms at sea, a shipwreck, a desert island, the revelation of character among the survivors, brigands, and an unlikely rescue. It's great writing, deft and light, touching beauty and terror.
The second, and major, part of the book recounts Hansen's return to Yemen ten years later to look for a personal treasure he left on the island. In truth, not much happens, but in Eric Hansen's hands it always manages to not happen in an interesting way. His introduction to the local narcotic "qat", his subtle dance with intransigent bureaucracy, his unwise wanderings in high, misty mountains and along the edge of great deserts of The Empty Quarter make this a great read.
Hansen never meets an uninteresting person. Even the hostile and the dull are intriguing or comical in his hands. He gets to travel with sheep and mystic woodsmen, to meet an ageing Frenchwoman under a tragic spell, a toilet inspector, and the ghost of his grandmother. Along the way, he gets to play with his favorite theme: the essence of "destination". He doesn't labour it, but you know what he means.
The third, and briefest, part of his story is an unexpected twist, which neatly closes the circle even if by that stage we hardly require it.
A friend of mind informed me that Yemen ranks bottom of the world for gender equality. Certainly no woman could have written this book. The more reason for us to be grateful for this window on a little-known world. Eric Hansen has written a beguiling and joyous story. When you've finished enjoying it, seek out his even more extraordinary account of his Borneo travels, "Stranger In the Forest". But with all these books, don't expect to hang on to your copy for long.
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VINE VOICEon December 20, 2005
I reread this book in preparation for coming to the country. It is exquisitely written, and immensely helpful. The author captures the Yemeni as well as their culture, while recounting his adventures without pretense.

This is not the ordinary travelouge, as it is a quest, a mystery, a search for the lost journals. It even starts with a shipwreck, where most novels wait till the climax of the story to introduce such a development. And then Hansen begins the long journey of trying to weed through Yemeni beaurocracy to get permission to recover the journals. Having experienced the difficulties just recently of trying to even enter the country, I can relate very well to Hansen's writings. Getting things done here doesn't so much depend on having the right forms as on having the right relationship, building a relationship of comradery, food, and jokes; having an emotional connection. This comes through very clearly in Hansen's journey.

It is an immensely personal work, where we learn as much about Hansen as we do about Yemen. I appreciate this. He writes in such a way as to allow the reader to identify with the author, to see the world simultanously etically as an outsider, and emically, within Hansen. Even though speaking little Arabic, he enters into the Yemeni world of humor, qat, and relaxation.

There is much here that I want to see and do once in Yemen, and so the book becomes a guide as well. Hansen's visions of the ancient dam of Ma'rib and the skyscrapers perched on cliff edge are enticing. One of the best travelouges I have ever read.
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on April 26, 2000
This book not only makes me wish I could afford to travel, but it makes me wish I was a man(Well, kinda). Since most of the interesting stuff can only be experienced by men. Eric Hansen has an easy to read style that easily draws the reader into his story. It's a delightful read, especially since he is not an arrogant traveler and tries a lot of things that other tourists might snub. He also gives a lesson on the Yemen culture, without the reader ever suspecting that they're learning something. This is a great book for travelers at heart.
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on December 15, 2015
Every since learning of this book I have been looking forward to read it simply because it involved traveling in Yemen, a country that has a long and interesting history and is a place that is not accessible to much of the world's citizens currently. Having had the opportunity to visit Sana'a, Yemen for a week in 2009, and knowing that it was a rare and unique experience that I will not have again for a long time, I have become interested in what the country is like outside of Sana'a. Reading the news lately, it really seems like it is the "wild west" out there. I can only imagine what it is truly like.

Eric Hansen's book reveals so much of the culture of life in Yemen in the late 20th century, and I am truly grateful to him for this gift of wisdom. Plus, what an adventure. He went through many wonderful travel dreams that many of us have thought of, but in reality they are probably just as dangerous or even more so than what happened to Hansen during his first trip to Yemen. I still focus on his description of the beauty of living in solitude after the shipwreck with his companions and, for a certain time, being free from the constraints and expectations of the outside world. How many of us have not dreamed of spending some time on a deserted island?

What also resonated with me was the basis of his return to Yemen ten years after the shipwreck. Ever since reading "Into the Wild", I learned of the possible utility of burying valuables and coming back for them later. This was beneficial and successful for McCandless, but for Hansen it turned in to a adventure that by necessity gained him access to the colorful spectrum of Yemeni culture that could only be experienced by a "Westerner" years ago, and even then it was fraught with difficulty.

This was the second book I have read by Hansen and I am truly impressed and fulfilled by the way he creates the narrative. This book is a beautiful and brilliantly unique journey and it was amazing to experience it through his eyes, ears and spirit.
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