26th October 2010
It’s early morning on my first full day in Socotra and I’m sitting on the crest of a sand dune watching the waves roll in on a long sandy beach.
Sandstone and limestone cliffs like those throughout the Middle East run behind the beach into the horizon. Unlike those other cliffs, these are alive with life from the recent rains.
That’s the scene set, now for the journey. The flight from Sana’a was uneventful. Passed over the terraced mountain farms where qat and occasionally food is grown.
Then down across the Arabian Sea until Socotra came into view. the first sight is of the cloud-shrouded mountains, then the coastal plain.
I caught sight of what looked like a huge lagoon behind an enclosing sand bar. Ameer, who we’ll meet soon, tells me we’ll be visiting there later.
Banking steeply, we descend heading back towards the sea and land at the charmingly ramshackle Socotra International Airport.
It’s at the airport that I meet Ameer, my Socotri guide for the coming days, and wait by an amusing baggage carousel which is actually just a conveyor belt. If you don’t get your bag in time it is unceremoniously dumped in a pile on the floor.
Bag secured, we head out to the carpark and meet Salim the driver and all get into a flash newish Landcruiser which is to be my base for the trip. Ibn Battuta I ain’t.
We immediately start up into the hills behind the airport and onto the plateau above. It isn’t long before I spot my first Dragon’s Blood Tree, lifting it’s umbrella like canopy above the scrub.
Soon we are surrounded by scores of the trees. They are more impressive in the flesh as they are in photos. However there is a problem. When I ask what the juvenile plant looks like I’m told there are none.
Apparently the introduced livestock love to eat them. Sounds like a job for a geneticist and someone who can build goat proof fences. They don’t seem to respect the signs telling them to keep away.
Off on the road again we go off-road down to the wadi (valley) floor where we park and get out. Ameer leads me a few hundred metres down the stream and we come to the most amazing little swimming hole.
A small waterfall leads into the deep pool which has been partially dammed at the other end who knows how long ago. I’m very glad they did.
Ameer leaves me to go cook lunch and I spend the next half hour or so alternately swimming about the pool and sitting in the natural spa at the base of the waterfall. Paradise indeed.
Two soon Ameer comes to get me for lunch. Universal bachelor food, everything in the cupboard and a tin of tuna. Tastes good though. While we are eating a pickup full of locals arrives and I see for the first time the Socotri greeting. Two men shake hands then lean in balancing on one leg and while looking each other straight in the eye touch noses. A hard place to keep a secret.
Soon another pickup arrived from the opposite direction and also stopped. A bunch of women with babies piled out and headed into the scrub for secret women’s nbusiness.
The men spread out across the wadi. It soon became apparent it was time to pray. So I threw a quick thanks to Darwin & DNA for biodiversity.
As the people returned and the pickups departed I saw why they both stopped at the base. They wouldn’t want to meet each other on the steep narrow track up each side of the wadi.
Lunch cleared up, we too headed back up the track back to the road and after a few more photos drove south down to the coast, the hills giving way to coastal plain just before we reached Omag Beach, where waves broke along white sands which extended to the horizon to the east and west.
After camp was set up I went for a sunset swim past the breakers. Ameer had warned me not to try and swim to Australia but I was content to float about watching the sun set over the date plantations behind the campsite.
There were three other groups at the campsite but each had their own shelter so it wasn’t crowded, although Ameer thought there were “too many tourists”. After dinner of spachetti and vegetables I went for a walk amongst the dunes, enjoying the starfield and then later the moonrise. Nearly 9pm so it was time to crawl into my tent where I fell asleep quickly and slept soundly.