SOCOTRA ISLAND: INDIAN OCEAN'S GALAPAGOS PART I


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Middle East » Yemen » Socotra
November 22nd 2009
Published: December 10th 2009
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A little information about Socotra for those interested, I myself have to read up on it, I only knew about this island 2 months ago when I googled Yemen to prepare for my trip there.As for the title some people dubbed it as "Indian Ocean's Galapagos" because of the diverse animal and plant life that exist in the island most are endemic.

S O C O T R A :

Socotra or Soqotra (Arabic سقطرى ; Suquṭra) is a small archipelago of four islands and islets in the northwest Indian Ocean near the Gulf of Aden. Nearly 190 nautical miles (220 mi/350 km) south of the Arabian Peninsula, the archipelago is 250 kilometers (155 mi) long, west to east, and protracts from continental Africa along the Horn of Africa. It is part of the Republic of Yemen.

The islands are known for unique flora and fauna, of which 37 percent of its plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species and 95 percent of its land snail species are not found anywhere else. Globally significant populations of land and sea birds (192 bird species, 44 of which breed on the islands while 85 are regular migrants) are supported on Socotra. This number includes a number of threatened species. The region's marine life also displays great diversity. In and around Socotra 253 species of reef-building corals, 730 species of coastal fish and 300 species of crab, lobster and shrimp exist.

This archipelago of rich biodiversity was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. The main island, as one of the most biodiversity rich and distinct islands in the world, has been termed the “Galápagos of the Indian Ocean.” Its name is believed to come from the Sanskrit 'dvipa sakhadara', which can be translated as 'Island of Blis




GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE:

Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth of continental origin (rather than volcanic origin). The islands of the archipelago stand on coral banks and are believed to have once been connected with the African and Arabian mainlands as part of the ancient southern supercontinent of Gondwana. They detached during the Middle Pliocene (ca 6 million years ago), in the same set of rifting events that opened the Gulf of Aden to its northwest.

The archipelago consists of the main island of Socotra (3,625 km² or 1,400 sq mi), the three smaller islands of Abd al Kuri, Samhah, and Darsa, and small rock outcrops like Ka’l Fir’awn and Sābūnīyah that are uninhabitable by humans but important for birds.

Socotra is the largest island in the Arab world, of an estimated total of 258 islands occupying an area of 6,811 km², dispersed throughout the region stretching from the Persian Gulf to North Africa's Maghreb in the Mediterranean Sea.

The main island has three geographical terrains: the narrow coastal plains, a limestone plateau permeated with karstic caves, and the Haghier Mountains. The mountains rise to 5,000 feet (1,525 m). The main island is a little over 80 miles (130 km) long east to west and typically 18-22 miles (30-35 km) north to south.

The climate is generally tropical desert, with rainfall being light, seasonal, and more abundant at the higher ground in the interior than along the coastal lowlands. The monsoon season brings strong winds and high seas.


FLORA AND FAUNA:

Socotra is rich in terms of biodiversity, comparing favorably with such island groups as Galapagos, Mauritius, and the Canary Islands. It has been referred to as the "jewel" of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea.

The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora. Surveys have revealed that of a total of nearly 900 species, a 37 percent are endemic; ranking it in the top five islands in terms of endemic flora. Botanists rank the Socotra flora among the ten most endangered island flora in the world, vulnerable to introduced species (such as goats), climate change, and modernization. The archipelago is a site of global importance for biodiversity conservation and a possible center for ecotourism.

One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari), which is an unusual looking, umbrella-shaped tree. Lore has it that its red sap was the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a medicine and a dye. Another unusual plant is Dorstenia gigas, a succulent that can grow to eight feet tall and have a trunk of up to two feet or more in diameter.

The island group also has a fairly rich bird fauna, including a few types of endemic birds, such as the Socotra Starling Onychognathus frater, the Socotra Sunbird Nectarinia balfouri, Socotra
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Dalisha beach camping alone
Sparrow Passer insularis and Socotra Grosbeak Rhynchostruthus socotranus.

As with many isolated island systems, bats are the only mammals native to Socotra. In contrast, the marine biodiversity around Socotra is rich, characterized by a unique mixture of species that have originated in far-flung biogeographic regions: the western Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, Arabia, East Africa and the wider Indo-Pacific.

(Excerpt from New World Encyclopedia)

Now the adventure begins......

DAY 1:

The flight from Sana'a left at 7am, Felix Airways, no overhead announcements at all i just followed a group of Czech tourists when they went inside the departure lounge, when people get up, I did too, luckily I got on the right plane, my ticket says Felix, but the tag is Yemenia, hmmm. A stop at Mukhalla in the Hadramout region then to Socotra, we got served a meager sandwich and a drink, I was asleep most of the time, I was wired last night could not sleep a wink, perhaps the ill effect of qat! We arrived in Socotra I was passed out, I woke up people we already getting off the plane. beautiful weather, a bit of clouds but sunny otherwise. Ali my
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Dalisha beach
driver was waiting for me at the luggage conveyor belt, very happy to see me and his English seems very good, My backpack came out and we headed out of the airport.

The drive towards the town of Hadibou was incredible, the coast was brilliant torquiose blue wow! We stopped at one area where they have the bottle trees, took a bit of fotos then we drove on, the road is well paved and winds around the curve of the coast then we got to ugly trash ridden, goat infested Hadibou, It was a let down, from gorgeous scenery to a trash laden streets. We had a quick lunch, then Ali drove me to Taj Socotra hotel where most gringos stay, I told him no, I want to stay and camp on the beach tonight, he said it's possible at the beach. First he took me to the Ayeft mountains(the names of towns and places here is how I understand their pronunciation, they cant spell in Roman letters so I have to write it as it sounds like) . Anyway at the start of a dry wadi i climbed the hills for a bit, lots of Egyptian vultures, white
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Dalisha beach
vultures, some goats and weird plants, I can hear some locals having a picnic further out on the wadi, the mountains have collected a number of dark clouds by now and rain is threatening, so about an hour later I went back down to the jeep and we moved on.


Next stop is Dilisha beach.No one was there, there was this massive sand dune pile on the side of the mountain which I will climb later. Ali helped me set up my one person tent, then he left me there, he said he will buy food for the night and will come back later, so I was all alone in this beautiful beach, I went for a walk, well a hike towards the dunes, it was quite difficult to climb it, slippery and full of pebbles. beautiful scenery, but halfway through I noticed something is close to my tent, I thought the kids from the village went to inspect it, I did not padlock the door so I scurried down rapidly only to find out it was just goats nibbling around my tent, i shooed them then had a read inside the tent having some snacks, some locals
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sand dunes in Dalisha beach
were walking down the beach and waves at me then continues on, very polite people.

It was getting dark and Ali is not back yet, I started getting worried, there was a lagoon nearby so I waded in it and in the corner I saw a big crab that I startled and i went after it just for fun then I saw how huge this thing was and I immediately thought of dinner, so I threw rocks at it and somehow I hit it and it got pinned under this rock I found a stick and poked it and I killed it! Dinner will be ready soon!! When Ali arrived I showed him the crab and he just stares at me as if to say what do you want me to do with that thing? He said they don't it crabs here! He had his wife grill some fish for us and that was dinner, I have no choice but to keep the crab in a plastic bag and hopefully he cooks it tomorrow. All through the night sand crabs march around and over my tent! I saw some climb up and end up on the other side, some
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road to Dalisha beach, cracked windowshield, Ali's car
I flicked! Like I said they are not eaten here generally so they thrive everywhere!! It drizzled a little over the night my tent got tested, I stayed dry, good. I did not sleep so well, probably still excited being in Socotra. No other tourists in this beach just me!


DAY 2:


Had a simple breakfast of this flat bread common here in Yemen and some laughing cow processed cheese and jam. We broke camp and then drove back to Hadibou to buy more supplies for the night camp in the forest up the mountains. I dreaded going back to Hadibou but is a necessary evil. Before that we stopped at the local fish market and we bought fish for dinner, lots of fish, very busy place but noticed they have no squids or shrimps or crabs and other critters, I think they only eat fish here nothing else. We drove up the mountains to Diksom, the National park area for dragon blood trees, a unique specie found only here. The road went up the mountains then eventually we hit dirt road and stopped to a viewpoint from there the drive was rough, the roads are
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some tree
really bad big boulders along the way, the jeep was luckily in good condition,we slowly went down towards a wadi, we stopped a few to foto the bottle trees in bloom, really nice dwarf species, cool shapes.

The rough ride went on and on going down the wadi and we eventually stopped there for lunch, the wadi is called Derhar I think. Ali cooked lunch while I explored the vicinity, I found water but its green and slimy and full of bugs, but I followed the wadi further down and it opened up to this swimming hole some areas deep enough to jump and dive! And what's really cool is I was the only one there. I did a Chris Winterman for a bit just to prove my point, Chris an English dude I hiked Torres del Paine in Chile and who stripped down for the camera as he and his buddy has this running dare..you know the story..
Anyway it would have been fun to have done this with friends but most of them chickened out when they realized Socotra is in Yemen. Not blaming them though, safety is main concern in Yemen but actually Socotra is very safe, away from the happenings in the mainland.Although months before I found out from a backpacker from Oz that you also require a permit to come here as there are checkpoints, but now quickly back to normal.

Went back to the camp, Ali and an old shepherd man was having tea, he prepared lunch, it was good, Ali brought cooking paraphernalias including gas so we can cook. Goats and vultures abound waiting for our scraps, this island is run over by goats, everywhere! In Hadibou they eat trash and cardboard boxes. So when Ali asked me if I liked goat for dinner I said no without hesitation, fish it will be for the next 10 days! We broke camp again and drove back up the mountains going the other side, occasionally stopping to take fotos of the dragon blood trees, amazing trees! they are like giant broccoli tops! We kept driving on until we ended up at this place, a small village atop the mountain range called Fermehen, we stopped here and camped for the night, Ali said to me I can walk around in the forest so i explored the place, it was late afternoon, gloomy and hot,
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bottle tree
I followed the gravel trail and saw a camel hopping trying to get away from me, the feet tied together to avoid escape. I ignored it but took fotos anyway as it looks cool with the dragon blood trees for background. I found a scraggy cliff to climb on Bottle trees and Dragon trees co exist here and some other strange plants. Again, alone no tourists. After I set up the tent it started drizzling and then it rained hard for a few minutes, I was tired so i stayed in the tent while Ali cooked dinner, he drank tea and prayed with the local family, a young kid helped me out finding a suitable place to set the tent. After dinner was served, crashed in my tent and sleep well despite the rains. I love seeing the shadows of the dragon trees at night its like I am in fantasy land!

DAY 3:

Around 3am I think I woke up to a loud sound, I think it was the morning prayer. Then some more noise from the small village as if calling the animals to herd them for the day. It was a cold night but good
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Hadibou pests, the goats, eats everything, even plastic
sleep. beautiful day sunny and bright, took last fotos of the forest then we headed back down the way we came over bad roads and into the highway, today we head towards the shore ,going down the road I caught a glimpse of this massive white cliffs, my driver called it Kaire mountains, I believe Socotra was under the sea millions of years before as the top mountains have lots of coral type rocks, from there we are headed to Degap caves, massive caves, but nothing inside but trash and dust, I hiked up the top of the cliff and I saw for the 1st time tourists, 3 jeeps coming our way. They are German groups. We left before them and we stopped in this town where there is a military barracks and we filled up with gas.

We stopped at Nojed beach, nice empty beach with small dunes, we are staying for lunch at this ecolodge called Amaq, 1,500 rial for lunch($7). Ali and I took a nap while waiting to be served, the food was massive, between the 2 of us we cannot finish the kingfish and rice, Ali wrapped the rest up for dinner tonight. From
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Ayeft mountains from a distance
there we drove to the sand dunes near the area called Zahaq. Intense sun very dry, I struggled to walk the dunes, not good for fotos too bright.

We proceeded to a wadi after the sand dunes but the wadi was ugly, trash all over and in the water! I went for a bit of a hike, the German group is there having lunch with their tables and chairs. After 15 minutes I returned as it was not impressive to me, the wadi is called Dishidan, maybe during rainy season this is nice and lush but they have a drought here at the moment and it is drying up fast. The rock formation here are interesting, red rocks with lots of sediments. I waited for Ali to finish praying and when he finishes he smoked and threw the cigarette butt in the pond!

For the night we will be camping at Mafrehen beach, we followed the convoy of Germans and we settled near the sand dunes, behind the shore is a massive cliff full of holes which I take are caves. After setting my tent atop a dune I walked around and saw tons of sand crabs out
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view from the short hike Ayeft mtns
on a stroll, they have this mound of sand as well all over the beach which i realized were the houses of these crabs. Some birds are also here, I saw an eel in the shallow water and some fishies, i have no snorkelling gear so cant see them up close. This beach is really nice. After dinner I went straight to bed, it rained a little bit again and a bit of wind, slept with the sound of the waves lapping the shore, ahhh paradise...



Additional photos below
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Ayeft mountains, trees
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Ayeft mountains, trees
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big dune near Dalisha beach
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Dalisha beach delights
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the crab I caught at the lagoon
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sunset behind the mountains


10th December 2009

Hi
Was in Djibouti last week. I met some people who are living in Sanaa and spoke to me about Socotra...Travelblog make me think that the world is truly a small place. Not in the area though anymore....would have been fun to bump in each others, I'm back home in Bangkok...different place! Great blog you've got!

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