Most foreign countries are advising against all travel to Yemen as of yet, to read up on the US advisories on travel in Yemen visit travel.state.gov
An otherworldly island located just 150 miles from Somalia and 220 miles from mainland Yemen out in the Indian Ocean in an archipelago that was isolated millions of years ago during the Miocene Epoch.
Technically a part of Yemen, (only since 1967 it became part of South Yemen and in 1990 the Republic of Yemen) Socotra didn't even have a currency until joining South Yemen in 1967!
The language spoken in Socotra is Soqotri and is an ancient Semitic language spoken nowhere else on Earth. The people of Socotra are even unique: many of the females on the island have a DNA haplogroup found in no humans anywhere else in the world.
Socotra is full of many endemic plants and birds found nowhere else, leading to it's nicknames: The Galapagos of the Indian Ocean, The most alien looking place on Earth and The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Three of the most notable species are the endemic Dragon's blood trees, the Socotra cucumber tree and Socotra desert rose or bottle tree. The isolation Socotra has had for millions of years is what has led to all the endemic species present there.
This is still my favorite destination to date, and the photographs I have make it easy to see why. I'm going to break this down into a day to day itinerary of where we went and what we did.
If you are looking for info on acquiring a visa and a good tour operator to work with or to read about my time in mainland Yemen go to my Yemen page.
I chose to break up Yemen from Socotra because let's face it: Socotra is a world away from mainland Yemen.
Day 1: Arrive in Socotra, lunch in Hadiboh, short hike to the reservoir, and camping at Adeeb Eco-Lodge
I was dropped off at the Sana'a airport for my Felix flight to Hadiboh. I got on the plane pretty quickly. It's open seating, so I plopped down in a window seat a few rows back. The plane began to fill and a short time later a man asked if he could sit next to me, but through hand gestures because we had no common language.
He tried to to communicate with me, what I got was that he was Socotri and was going back home after a visit to mainland Yemen. He seemed friendly enough. I told him I was from Alaska and showed him on a map.
About 2/3 the way through the flight he began rubbing the bottom of his bare foot on the top of my foot and smiling at me. I still don't know what this means.I'd seen pictures of the way Yemeni men greet each other which is quite different from any greeting I've ever seen... But nowhere did I read about foot-on-foot rubbing. Wasn't sure if it was some kind of new-friend footshake or maybe he liked me, no idea.
As I walked into the airport in Hadiboh I was quickly greeted by Radiwan, one of the men working with Socotra Eco-Tours that I had spoken to while preparing for the trip, and my guide Sami. Sami found my bag and we walked out and hopped into the Land Cruiser, where I met my driver, Ahmed. We drove over to the office in Hadiboh and on the way Sami was pointing out bottle trees and cucumber trees. Ahmed would occasionally point and say something in Socotri and Sami would translate it for me. I was staring the entire time, weird plants, blinding white sand, cliffs and emerald water.
We arrived at the office, I asked if I could pay and they told me not to worry until my tour was over. Next we went a few streets away to have lunch real quick. Sami asked me where I'd like to go that day. He said most people go to Delisha Beach the first day, but he said he would like to take me on a hike to a reservoir to see how well I did and then decide if we should do the hike into the Haghier Mountains.
After lunch we left to Wadi Ayhaft to the reservoir and did the short hike up there. We made it in no time. Sami decided I was ready to do the hike tomorrow. I was excited to go up into the mountains the next day.
After the trip up to the reservoir we did a slow drive over to Adeeb Eco-Lodge where we would be camping for the night. We stopped off on the way so Sami could show me a cucumber tree.
I spent a lot of the day trying to get to know Sami and Ahmed since I had just decided that now they were my friends. Sami was one year older than me (28 at the time) and was single, which is uncommon at that age here. He feared marriage because it's arranged by the parents there. His parents had arranged a marriage for him in the past and he declined. He was scared of ending up with a mean and demanding wife.
Ahmed was only a couple of years older than us. He was happily married and had 5 kids, 5! He'd been busy.
We arrived at Adeeb right was the sun was going down. We walked into the yard and Sami ran up and smacked a man on the belly and they all laughed. Sami said that he was Abdullah, the owner and that people think he's the happiest man around because he looks like he has a baby in his belly. Sami said Soqotris think that skinny people are depressed and fat people are happy.
I may as well never go home.Abdullah's family all helped run the campground. They cooked up a big meal of Yemeni flatbread, fuul (beans, tomatoes, onions and chilis that you dip bread in, and Shai (sweet tea).
This was my first run in with the most dangerous thing about Socotra and its people: They want to feed you to death. Finally a place where I can shamelessly showcase my main talent, which would be the amount of food I can eat.
Our 'rooms' here were little houses made of sticks, with a mattress and mozzy net inside. It was quite nice considering I thought I was going to be sleeping in a tent that night.
Day 2: Hike into the Haghier Mountains, camping in Wadi Derher.We woke up around 5am to have breakfast and then leave quickly to begin our hike into the mountains. Sami said the hike would be a few hours roundtrip. We drove up onto the Dixam Plateau and then turned onto a dirt road up towards the mountain pass and parked.
Eventually we ran into a patch of dragon blood trees. They were even more odd in person than in the pictures. They look like giant inside out umbrellas.
We finally arrived at the top and it was time for lunch: Some flat breads, brine cheese and tuna. Yum.
There were even goats up at the top.
We made our descent back down, and were back at the Landcruiser with Ahmed before we knew it.
We had to drive past some of the Dragon blood trees in the Dixam Plateau when we were making out way down into Wadi Derher.
We didn't stop for long because we had a long bumpy ride ahead of us and wanted to get camp set up before sundown.
The drive down into the Wadi was insane. You would have to know how to drive offroad incredibly well to make it down in there, as there is no road, just a trail (not much of one at that). I am still to this day thoroughly impressed by the places Ahmed could get that land cruiser.
Ahmed and Sami sang Socotri songs to me the whole way down the canyon. They are more used to singing because they don't have electricity outside of Hadiboh. They did play some local Socotri rap music they had on an mp3 player for me. I would get used to their singing over the following days with them. I do miss it now.
Once we arrived Sami and Ahmed set up camp fairly quick and began making dinner. They literally do everything for you. I tried to help because I feel weird being waited on hand and foot, but they kicked me out and sent me over to the wadi pool to take pictures. You definitely get more than what you pay for with them.
No one lives down in the wadi. Which is quite a surprise because it is a beautiful place with a stream running though it, as well as a pool (a natural one). The legend is that genies live in the canyon, and the people of the hill tribes fear genies.
Day 3: Wadi Derher pool, Dixam Plateau, Dagub Cave and Omaq Beach.
We changed and got ready to go jump into the pool down the wadi that was formed by the way the rocks have blocked off the stream. It almost had a water slide formed by some big boulders at the top, so I slid down it a few times.
After a short swim we drove back up to Dixum Plateau to spend some time with the Dragon blood trees there.
After the plateau we headed down from it and onto Dagub cave and then on to Omaq beach.
Dagub cave is huge! I'd never seen a cave this big. This isn't even the biggest one on the island. Then finally we went to Omaq Beach. It was desolate. Not one person around. Which is hard to believe given just how pretty it is.
I ran out there and jumped in.I was unsure if I should go in with all my clothes or switch into a swim suit (given that I was in a muslim country) Sami said it should be fine because this isn't a beach Socotris tend to go to. I took a sarong in the water with me just in case so that I had something to put on if people showed up. Late in the afternoon we drove over to Hayf sand dunes to watch the sun set over there. This was the first time in my life I had ever been on sand dunes.
The sand dunes were blinding white and squished between the mountains and the Indian Ocean. Once it got dark we went back over to our campsite on the beach. By that point there were some more people staying at the camp. It was a group of engineering students from the University in Sana'a. They were drinking shai and smoking sheesha and sounded like they were having a great time. They were all here as a school project trying to find ways to bring electricity to all of Socotra.As we had gone over to eat our dinner that had been prepared for us by the family running the camp, the students all put headlamps on and chased crabs around the beach. Then I realized they gotta find some kind of entertainment since there is no electricity outside of Hadiboh.
That night we camped on the beach, no tents. Sami said he was surprised that I hadn't asked or been worried about Somalian pirates, given our proximity. He said most the people he guides ask about them. He said it was incredibly rare for them to turn up here. In the few instances they had they usually were out of gas or shipwrecked. Villagers would supply them with some food and gas to get them out of there and they would go on their merry way.
In the middle of the night I was woke up by something crawling up my leg, under my blanket. It was a crab!
Day 4: Zahek sand dunes, Qaria lagoon and Homhil protected area.The next morning I woke up to a vulture standing just behind my head peering down at me. Must have thought I was a dead treat that washed up over night on the beach. It finally hit me at breakfast today why I had no problem getting up super early in the morning. Electricity. If there is no electricity to turn on a light or watch a tv or stare at a phone screen then there's nothing else to do at night other than to go to bed early.
I never had really noticed how important a role electricity played into insomnia.We packed up for the day to go to the Zahek sand dunes, the Qaria Lagoon and to the Homhil Protected Area.
The Zahek sand dunes were even nicer than the ones at Hayf. There isn't much to say about it that the pictures don't say for me. So I'll just shut up.
Not long after we left Zahek we saw a camel and I said cool a camel, I've never just seen one out and about like that! So Ahmed stopped and we got out. The camel belonged to the boy in the picture and it wasn't feeling well that day so he was trying to get him home.
Then we headed off road toward Qaria Lagoon. We ended up in an oasis where we had to cross the stream in a couple of spots. We ended up running into the three tourists from Hong Kong here. Their land cruiser was broke down. Sami and Ahmed hopped out and helped their driver and had them up and going in no time.
Here is where I got to see the very strange Socotri greeting. Ahmed and the other driver did it. Only men do this: They press their foreheads and noses together. It's very different.I started talking to the other group while we were waiting there. They were college friends on school break and had read about Socotra and decided to go.
Before long we had headed off and had made it to Momi Plateau.
Next we got to Qaria Lagoon. Sami said he was born there.
Homhil is covered in Dragon blood trees, bottle trees, Frankincense trees and Maryah. After we had a quick look around we had a lunch of chopped tomatoes, onions, chilis, peppers and tuna.
Later in the afternoon we headed over to the the natural pond overlooking the Arabian Sea. You do have an amazing view here being high up on a plateau that is littered with trees.
Here I met a group of Slovenians. They were on a large 22-person tour. After a nice afternoon in the sun with the Slovenians in the pool, we went over to the patch of Frankincense trees to watch the sun go down.
There are some kids up here that collect the incense from the trees when they're not at school and sell the Frankincense for $1 a packet.
Then Sami brought me over to a dragon blood tree and showed me how they collect the varnish from them. When you slash the bark of the tree a red sap comes out making it look like its bleeding.
I noticed I could hear a baby goat somewhere. Sami ran over to a pile of rocks and started moving them. The people up here started burying baby goats under rocks during the day while they are out working. House cats were brought to the island, which has led to a stray problem and they kill the baby goats. So this is what the people do here to protect them.
After the sun went down we had a quick dinner of fuul, goat meat and flatbreads and called it a night. Tonight we had to sleep in tents because of the mosquitos.
Day 5: Arher beach, Arher sand dunes and Arher creek.That morning we began our trek down from Homhil. It was a somewhat long and steep hike down.
When we reached the bottom we would meet Ahmed at the land cruiser and continue on down the coast until we reached Arher.
I spent most that day swimming around in that perfect water and snapping pictures. I had it to myself most the day. I crossed paths with the Slovenians for a little while again today in the afternoon.I told Sami that this was the most impressive beach I'd ever seen in my life. He said just to wait because Shua'ab would beat this hands down. I kind of didn't want to believe him because this place was something you'd see on a postcard.
Yup, we climbed that later that afternoon. The dunes that we saw a couple days prior were not very steep so it didn't prep me for this. Climbing a sand dune is hell. Every step you take, your foot sinks back 3/4 of the way back to where it was before. I said I'd like to never do this again, but guess what idiot was in Namibia doing exactly this not even a year later? Yup, me. King of the dumbasses.
The hike was worth this view though.We set up camp along the creek at the bottom of the sand dune. We sat around a campfire eating fish we caught out of the creek and spent the evening talking and laughing. We slept outside again. Oh and ps: this was like bush camping- no toilet. I don't know if you've ever pooped in the sand before, but I'd never felt so much like a cat before in my life.
Day 6: Hoq Cave, Terbak Village and Dihamri Marine Protected Area.
Our first stop on day 6 is Hoq Cave
Hoq cave is ENORMOUS! It was about a 1 hour hike up the mountain to get to the cave entrance. Once inside we hiked about another 2 kms down inside of it.
Hoq cave has not been fully explored. It could possibly be the biggest cave in the world.There were giant stalagmites and stalagtites. Until we got so deep in the cave that even with flash lights you could barely see anything.
After we descended down from Hoq cave we rode over to Terbak village quickly and then over to the Dihmari Marine Protected Area.
Tonight was yet another night spent camping tentless on the beach. And that is not a complaint.
Day 7: Qalansiya Village and Detwah Lagoon.We made a quick pit stop in Hadiboh to stock up on more supplies before going out to Qalansiya for the remainder of my stay in Socotra. Sami also wanted me to have a chance to see the fish market in Hadiboh. That was our first stop and it was a wild place. Fish EVERYWHERE.
After the fish market we ran over and bought some Qat before heading out of town. Sami and Ahmed said I had to try it before I left since it is such a huge part of Yemeni culture.
It was a long drive out to Qalansiya.
It is clear at the opposite end of the island from Dihamri. We began to chew our Qat on the way out there. It's really bitter and you have to chew peanuts with it to make it more bearable.
I went out for a swim once we got out there before the tide got too far out. I met two kids from Qalansiya village while I was out there. They both had wanted to practice their English with me.
They saw that I had a camera. The funny thing I found about Socotri people is that they love to pose for a picture for you, because they want you to remember them when you go home.The remainder of that day was spent relaxing on the beach. Late in the afternoon another group of kids from the village had come down to the beach and they had started telling me that I should go out in the lagoon with their Uncle Abdullah: The Caveman to catch some fish. Sami saw them and came over and he said that that was the surprise for me the next day actually.
By dinner time I had spit out my qat. It didn't feel like it was doing anything and it was making my cheek hurt. We had a nice dinner of shrimp that night that had been caught in the lagoon that day. Sami said him and Ahmed loved shrimp but every time they ate them it made them both itch really bad. I told them they were allergic to it and that is why and that they should be careful eating it. I gave them both all of my Benadryl I had brought with me for their future shrimp dinners.
We spent the evening laughing because they were rolling around itching all over. This is when the side effects of the Qat kicked in. I could hardly sleep that night.
Day 8: Detwah Lagoon with Abdullah: Caveman.I slept a little later than I had been this day because of the Qat session the night before. I was actually woke up by a hungry goat chewing on the corner of my blanket near my feet.
First thing Abdullah did was show me how to throw out the fish net.
Not long later I had some of my own.
There were so many critters out there in that lagoon!
We even came across a squid. I made him ink cause I scared him trying to catch him with my hands. Abdullah was able to catch him though.
Then we even got a conch. I'd have loved to have that shell.
The big blow fish was my favorite thing we caught by far. They don't eat these guys so he got to be set free after we played with him.
You could hold the fish under water and he'd fill up. Then when you brought him out, if you squeezed him a stream of water would come out his mouth, exactly like a Nerf gun. I got in a couple tries. He was real slimy.We then loaded up all of our catches and took them up to the cave to cook them. Abdullah has a cave he lives in during the day and brings tourists that he finds and takes out in the lagoon there to eat their catch.
Abdullah has a great view from his cave. He told me a little more about himself while he was cooking. He had 6 kids, who were back in Qalansiya village with his wife who was pregnant with their 7th baby. She loved clams, so I told him to bring all the clams we caught back to her for dinner that night.We fried up all the fish, squid, and conch we caught and devoured them.
Then I spent yet another late afternoon on the beach at the lagoon.
Day 9: Boat out to Shua'ab Area. Back to Adeeb Eco-Lodge.
My last full day in Socotra.We caught our boat early in the morning from over in Qalansiya village out to Shua'ab. Sami said this was the most beautiful beach in Socotra.
Sami and the boat driver sang Socotri songs the whole way out there.They had said somewhere on the way we'd probably run into the dolphins that usually frequent this area. We barely left the village and found them.
It was a stunning boat ride out there.
I spent my time there just walking up and down the beach, taking pictures and swimming in the crystal clear water.I wish I could've stayed there longer.
We arrived back in Qalansiya with the lobster for lunch.
We took him back over to the lagoon to cook him up for a late lunch. It made me wonder what they do with the rest of the lobster back in the US. I only see lobster tail on menus. The whole DAMN lobster is good.
A bunch of kids ambushed us coming off the boat and wanted a picture. They had been out playing some soccer (I know, I know. Football)
After lunch we had to leave. I was sad to leave such a magical place. We made the drive back out to Delisha beach to stay at Adeeb's again since it was much closer to the airport than Detwah is. I flew out around noon the next day.
I spent my last night in the same place it all started.
Day 10: Hadiboh, flight back to Sana'a:I was sad that morning. I wasn't ready to leave. I hadn't felt like I was camping for last 10 days without any western amenities. I kicked around out in the water on Delisha beach after breakfast before we had to load up and go back to Hadiboh.
We went by the office and I paid my bill for the tour. It came out to $1300 USD for 10 days out there. I felt like this was an inexpensive trip due to the fact that the $130 a day it cost is actually the cost for the guide and driver as well as food. Lets face it: You just need to show up with a bag of clothes (medicine and sunscreen if you need it as well) It is still $130 a day if there was a car full of you. (However, there is a supplement when there are more than one person for food per day) but really not that bad in my opinion.
Sami asked if there was anything I wanted to buy before leaving Socotra, and he took me to go buy a jar of Socotri honey to bring home with me.
We went to lunch at the same place we had lunch the first day. Although this time the goats were out and they were jumping up on the tables and stealing people's food. It was pretty funny. I wish I had a picture.
Ahmed's next group was already there and ready to go so I had to say my goodbye to him a little earlier. I gave him his tip money and said goodbye.
Radiwan drove Sami and I to the airport. They checked me and my bags in for the flight. I gave Sami his tip and said goodbye.
I can't wait for the day I can make it back here. I hope that I will see Ahmed and Sami again, they were so much fun.
One of the funniest things I remember about the trip was when we were driving down the only paved road in Socotra and Ahmed had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting a goat. When we came to a stop he just turned to me, giggled and said "Dinner". We all about died laughing. I cannot, however remember when in the trip this happened. Dinner was one of the few English words that Ahmed did know which I think made it even funnier.
I hope that Socotra stays as it is. I love the fact that most the island is protected. I hope there never is a hotel or a giant building that goes up near any of those beaches. I hope it remains a place you have to be willing to tent camp with no toilet facilities. I hope that a mountain resort never gets put up on one of the plateaus where the dragon's blood, frankincense and bottle trees are. And most of all I hope that they stay protected from the war going on in mainland Yemen right now.