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Middle East » Yemen » Socotra
November 26th 2009
Published: December 11th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY


While the people help make Socotra a haven in a hostile world, the island is also a natural wonderland. From the aqua lagoon at Qalansiya to the snow-white dunes at Ras Momi, from the alpine meadows of the Haggier Mountains to the desolation of Nowgad, Socotra is a land of surprising contrasts. Rising to over 1700 meters, the Haggier Mountains loom over Hadibo, Socotra's administrative capital. The red granite of the peaks has been stained a ghostly gray by the lichens, which grow thickly above tree line. Perennial streams radiate from the misty heights, green ribbons of life teaming with endemic fish and freshwater crabs. Limestone plateaus fan east and west, providing alkaline soils for the iconic Dragon's Blood Tree. Bottle trees grow in such profusion that entire hillsides turn pink following winter rains. Cucumber trees, statuesque relative of the melon, provide fodder for starving animals during times of drought.


Socotra is home to more than 900 species of plants, some 305 of which are endemic to the island, and there are certainly many more plant species that have yet to be discovered. For example, Dr. Tony Miller of the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh recently collected the first known specimens of a tiny carnivorous plant, which grows on moist tree trunks in the higher reaches of the Haggier Mountains.

One of the most famous Botanical curiosities of Socotra is the Dragon's tree, the tree is so named because any injury to the bark results in a deep red liquid excreting from the scar - compared in the past to the "Blood of Dragons"


The island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008. The European Union has supported such a move, calling on both UNESCO and International Organization of Protecting Environment to classify the island archipelago among the environmental heritages.

DAY 4:

Drove up to the mountains again. Beautiful sunny day lots of colors, the soil is red, sky blue, perfect. We passed through several villages and stopped at some viewpoints for pictures again havent seen any tourists in these areas. Close to noon time we stopped at a small wadi to rest and so Ali can also pray, he decided we should have lunch here, he needs water to boil the rice/pasta he said he is going to get water from the wadi. The wadi is dirty and slimy I disagreed with him, I said I dont think it is safe to use this water for cooking, lots of fish and small crabs live there but also trash is strewn all over the place. So we left without having lunch, I took out my stash of snacks from Sana'a and that was lunch.

We can see the beautiful mountain ranges of Hajer and Salmajan. The soil and rocks are reddish hue then when we arrived at Ros Momi the rocks were white like corals, the landscape here is out of this world! They seem to have had a lot of rain the dirt road is muddy, we lucked out today is sunny, we stopped at a village where Ali's brother in law and family lives herding sheeps and goats. There were lots of dragon blood trees here, so I went for a walk while he drinks tea with his family, the coral rocks looks like it has white icing on top I believe they were lichens, it gives a cool look as

bottle trees at glow in the afternoon light
if people painted the rocks white. when I came back half hour later he is still inside the house, I sat in the jeep waiting for Ali meanwhile the kids stood there next to the jeep watching my every move, It was a bit uncomfortable for me, they cant speak English so I can't shoo them away.

There were a lot of caves in Ros Momi area but most of them are small and besides I am not a big fan of caves so we drove on to Homhil. Ali told me 5 minutes to take foto, so I hurriedly had a walk down the canyon then back up the shed, this is also a camp ground where you have to pay, a protected area. I said to him let's go so we went to the car, I sat in the jeep while waiting for him to get in, then he tells me take my things out cause we are sleeping here, there apparently is no place to camp other than here, fine but I told him next time be clear, as the days go by his English is getting worse and I can understand that, I was told his English is so so in the beginning but what ticked me off is he says "yes" all the time every time I repeat what I thought he said, we had an argument, he said to me we are staying here, it's in the itinerary! To make things short I just said fine we stay here but next time dont agree with me if you did not understand what I said! We did not speak much that night. I set up my tent away from the main shed where 2 older Italian women were staying.

I went for a walk and took fotos of the beautiful landscapes and plants, bottle trees and dragon blood clinging to cliffs. There is a wadi here but almost dry and what patches of water there is left there were heaps of crabs, small ones, I was tempted to catch them and have them for dinner but Sala' the caretaker of the place who speaks better English told me no one can cook he prepares food, we pay for it. Dinner was brought to my tent that night, Ali did not come to see how I was doing, The moon was out and the stars, but is quite windy and cold. $5 for dinner and $3 for breakfast.

DAY 5:

The Italians were having breakfast already when I joined them, they were very friendly they showed me a book of Socotra plants and told me the bottle trees were 2 types on that grows up rocks and crevices were actually called gigas, the one that is tall and grow on soil is bottle trees, to me they are all the same! They gave me tips on what to see and do on other places, they have been here 2 weeks now and absolutely loved it. This is just my day 5 so quite looking forward to some more.
Sala' made me chose whether I want to stay the night here again in Homhil and hike the smaller caves of Ros Momi or hire a guide to walk me to Hale beach then I can see the huge cave near the shore, this place is beautiful but I want to get moving so I chose to hike down to the beach. I hired a local guide to show me the way for $10. He does not speak English so I just followed him. Ali drove down to meet me in a small village below. Wadi Shiffa is the name of this wadi, in the rainy season which is now it is supposed to be full of water but now is almost dry due to the drought. WE walked down it and followed a path towards the sea, when we get to a turn the view opened up to this magnificent beach, a gasped as I take fotos, so beautiful!

My guide waited for me patiently as I keep stopping for fotos. We hiked down the mountain and met 2 gringos, British, the woman asked me if I have seen the frankincense grove at the back of the cliff, of course I did not se it because Ali did not mention it to me grrr..too late to go back now. She comforted me by saying I will see some more in other areas, sure...
When we got to the bottom of the mountain we passed a village, my guide helped a woman fixed the plastic pipes that brings water from the mountain wadis to the villages, I wait in the shed, and listened to the people as they greet each other, so rhythmic, it seems like they are asking about how is everyone, your parents, sister, kids etc...very polite to each other and they greet by rubbing noses or something.

We got to the pick up point, the village of Rekele, we sat outside one house while waiting for Ali. All the kids around the area, about 8 came up to us and greeted the old man guide of mine, then they sat face to face with us, everyone staring at me, watching my every move, I brought my hat down past eye level so i cannot see them. I noticed some kids have something in their hair, henna. Good shampoo. It seems they are being given a bath but ran off when they saw a foreigner come to town(me) to have a look. I felt so uncomfortable be watched, they tried to sell me things too some handicrafts and frankincense beads but I politely said no. Then Ali came I quickly jumped inside the jeep and we left for the village of Terbak where I will pick up a guide for the Hauq cave. On the road we saw young men walking and one on a bike, we stopped and Ali said the guy on the bike is your guide, Sala' is his name he jumped at the back of the jeep and we drove to town where I have to write my name on the book and Sala' grabbed a lantern for the cave.

Ali took off to the eco lodge called Roush where we will meet up later after the cave.There are clouds in the sky but still quite hot and the 1st 30 minutes I struggle to climb up thih hill full of rocks, the trail winds around trees, boulders, great view of Hale beach, we stopped a few times to rest, Sala' will pull out some papers and read out loud something, which I cannot comprehend, so i took the paper from him and realized he was greeting me in English, he has a cheat sheet with English translations from Arabic, but was pronouncing it wrong, so i taught him to pronounce it correctly.

We managed to get up the Hauq cave, no one there but me again, we rested at the mouth of the cave, I took fotos climbing up rocks to get a better view. Then we walked inside it full of stalactites and some stalagmites, huge cave, we keep walking till we are in the belly of the cave, very dark and his lantern keeps fluttering, good thing I brought my torch with me, some bats fly about, and some trash which we picked up along the way, we must have walked more than half hour until we get to the end of it where there is a pool of water, Sala' took some water from it to drink. We walked back, I was trying to see if I can find some writings in the cave, i was told there are writings in walls and tablets inside caves here left by ancient people, either merchants stopping in Socotra or settlers no one knows, but I did not see it.

On the hike down we saw this man stripping the bark off this huge tree, he greets me in Socotran they converse and we sat to rest watching him do his work, Sala' explained to me what the man is doing and what the tree will be used for but I could not get it so he stopped explaining. The way down is a bit harder I thought because of loose rocks. We got to the eco lodge of Roush, all protected area camp sites like this you pay $5 a night for camping and lunch and dinner is $7 each, We sat in this hut and got served enormous lunch, tea afterwards. Ali said to me I can eat crabs tonight here, he went to the beach with a dude from the camp to get them from the beach, I was excited of course. Then they came back the crbas were all small! I asked if I can go and try to catch them myself, this young dude said he will come with me, we brought plastic bag with us and headed to the beach, before then Ali asked me to pay the guide so he can go on his way,I asked Sala' how much, he said $15, so I get the money, when I handed it to him he wanted $5 more, I just laughed and left him.

At the beach this guy showed me some critters, I think they are sea slugs, they cling to the rocks, he cracked one up took the suckers out and rinsed it and ate it, he tapped me on the shoulder and explained in sign language that it is an aphrodisiac, natural viagra! We both laughed, he gathered some more and I tried it, actually it's quite good, with a crunchy texture, the taste is like raw clams. Then he showed me some rock oysters, small but abundant, that one i loved, so many of them. I keep cracking them and helping myself to oysters then he pulled me to say to time for crabbing. We went along the rocks and hunted for the small crabs, heaps of them but they are fast, this guy was very good he caught many. We saw big fish in the sand he told me it belongs to fisherman, they fish with lines then leave it on the beach to get picked up later.
There are also heaps of sardine like fish on shallow ponds, they are used as baits apparently, i wanted to take them back and fry them, yummm.

Back at the camp I gave to the guys a fruit called Anip from a tree that Sala' climbed on when we were trekking, he said its edible, i tried it but its bitter and then sour, i did not like it so I saved mine. I handed it to the young fellas in the hut with me, they all have the same reaction as me we all laughed, i think only sala' loves to eat it. I decided to set my tent up on the shed near the beach. After their evening prayer, Ali invited me for tea with the caretaker, he took some things out, frankincense, dragon blood sap in a ball and other things, he was selling it to me, i politely declined even when the prices went down, I have no use for it really. Dinner was huge and they cooked the crabs as well, very good but time consuming to eat, i rather that they are bigger like the one I caught in Dalisha beach. Slept very well that night, good breeze from the sea.

DAY 6:

Woke up to the sound of locals walking the beach, after breakfast I paid the bill and we left quickly, we drove towards Arsil beach, sand dunes on the side of the road really cool, we stopped briefly at this camp site, near the streams coming down the mountain, Ali said we camp here tonight but first off to the beach. The Germans were already there, tents all set up. We drove to the beach and had a walk then we drove further out to villages, we stopped at this fishing village where I helped the men push the boat up to the beach. Ali would just stop at places and say we stay here awhile then goes off somewhere, not explaining where we are what is to see there. A bit annoying. On the way back we saw all these women in colorful dress gathering water from the well and kids playing soccer in the beach.

We drove back to the camp site just below the Areher sand dunes. I decided to camp near the dry river bed, the germans were in the oasis, I want to stay away from them. After a good lunch I had a bath at the wadi, very nice water, I think the stream springs up from the ground as I saw in some places water is oozing, bubbling out from the ground. There are lots of fish too.
After my bath I decided to climb the brown sand dune to the right, the tallest. I struggled to get up there, the sand is loose, huffing and puffing i got halfway up and looked down I got dizzy! I did not realized how high I was, so I paused and chill a bit then continued on, At the near top I walked on the shoulder of the dune, great view from there. I went and followed it further out hardly anyone goes there, no foot prints, the sand here is harder and hence a bit difficult to walk on. I came back from the side, great view of the bay even if it was cloudy.

At the camp I had another bath in the wadi stream, then chilled out a bit. Then later in the afternoon I hiked up the other dune. This one to our left is a bit whiter and the color difference is more noticeable at the top where I sat for 30 minutes enjoying the view, meanwhile one German was climbing the other dune. Over sunset I walked down the beach but the beach here is not as nice, craggy, rocky outcrops really.
While having dinner 2 big hermit crabs entertained us, I wanted to keep them till tomorrow but they disappeared fast in the night. It
Hajer mtnsHajer mtnsHajer mtns

frankincense tree
rained heavily that night and was relieved that my tent held up, a bit damp but not wet inside.

Additional photos below
Photos: 100, Displayed: 33


Hajer mtnsHajer mtns
Hajer mtns

Salmajan village

12th December 2009

Very nice
Loved the blog post and the pictures... They are beautiful....

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