MP on tour, or not

Socotra Day Two

27th October 2010
I was up at ten to five which was perfect as the sun rose 15 minutes later over the ocean. I’d taken my pen and pad down to the beach and wrote a few pages before the sun got too hot and I returned for breakfast.

Sunset over Omag Beach

Cheese, honey, jam and bread. Yemeni honey is as sweet and delicious as its reputation

Camel and crab tracks

Soon we were packed up and on our way eastward along the southern coast to Dagob Cave, a huge cave in the cliff in which a family lives and raises sheep. Apart from the overpowering stench of guano, it seemed very agreeable. And their noses probably packed up generations ago.

Medicinal plants on the coastal plain

Cave from a distance

Dagob Cave

I explored the cave while Ameer negotiated buying a lamb from the cave dwelling shepherds. Guano-fed I’m sure. The old lady he was bargaining with obviously wasn’t happy with the amount as her shouts of protest echoed around the cave.

Natural water fountain with heated negotiations in background

Sheep pen in cave

While the negotiations continued, I tried to sneak up to get a close-up of an Egyptian Vulture, but I just managed to get a picture of it flying away.

Road into cave

Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vulture flies away

Eventually the old woman settled and we drove away from the cave with a cute little lamb which we slaughtered and skinned a few hundred metres down the road.

Car on dune

Fifteen more minutes down the road we came to the sand dunes of Hahf and Zayek villages. We tooled around on them in the Landcruiser for a bit then I got out and climbed a tall one, mostly for the pleasure of running back down.

Ameer's finger and some bloke on a dune

Sand dunes

A sand dune’s a sand dune, or so I thought, and we didn’t stay long. We drove further along the coast until we came to an army camp complete with camouflage tanks. At least that’s what Ameer reckoned they were. They looked like rocks to me.

Town on Hill at wadi mouth

Passing a town perched on a hill at the mouth of the wadi, we turned inland and drove up the valley for about half an hour to a palm lined area next to a stream. I got out and sat myself in the shade drinking tea while Ameer and Salim  set about cooking a lamb feast.

Desert Rose on rock

After a while I went for a walk and found a strange looking rock covered in Desert Rose (Bottle trees). After a few more minutes another 4WD pulled up and I met Marco, a Bulgarian fashion designer from New York. He’d packed in his job and was travelling on his savings. He’d been at it a few years and seemed very weary with it.

Date Palms behind waterhole

Nice setting for lunch

He had found two girls to travel with in Sana’a but they only wanted to sit on the beaches while he wanted to explore more of the island. Perhaps he wanted to tag along on my trip. But he never asked and he was far too depressing for me to offer.

Lamb head, spinal cord, lung and other bits

Soon after he left. Lunch was ready and we sat down to lamb liver stew and great hunks of lamb on the bone. It’s amazing how much meat you can eat when a huge plate of it is sitting in front of you. Of course I was offered some of the rarer cuts to eat. I managed to dodge the head but had to eat some spinal cord, lung and of course the balls.

Egyptian Vultures scavenging our lamb lunch

We did manage to leave a few pieces for later. We sat at the stream for a while which was full of small fish and orange and black crabs. All through lunch we were accompanied by about ten Egyptian Vultures looking for a free feed.


Crabs and fish in stream

Each time we’d finish a bone we’d throw it to them and they’d fight for it until one of them managed to get a clean grip and fly away to perch on a rock and pick the bone nearly clean. Then they’d drop it in the stream where the crabs and the fish would take care of anything left. Nature in balance.

Small wadi town

Slowly, as we were full of baby sheep, we packed up and made our way further up the wadi on quite a precarious road (again, so I thought). All the way up we passed small towns with date plantations enclosed by stone walls to keep the goats away.

Mountains above wadi

Cucumber Tree

Mountain pass

More mountains

Towards the top we were suddenly surrounded by the high central mountain ranges, each ridge marked by a row of Dragon’s Blood trees. We met the tar seal again and quickly made our way down to the north coast and Qaria Lagoon.

Qaria Lagoon

We stopped there and I admired the scenery while the guys prayed. When they returned we scoffed the leftover lamb and set off. We picked up a friend of Emaar’s who lived in Homhil, our destination for the evening.

Homhil Plateau

Top of the mountain road

That’s when I found out what a precarious road looks like as Salim gunned the engine and we zig-zagged our way up a track that would give a mountain goat pause. You’d pay a lot of money for that ride anywhere else in the world.

Frankincense and myrrh

Frankincense Forest

We finally reached the top and Homhil, a fantasy forest of frankincense, myrrh, desert rose and Dragon’s Blood. there was even a grove of the elusive cucumber tree, all set against a mountain ridge looming high above us and a playteau strewn with rocks carved by wind and water into dramatic shapes.

Sunset over frankincense forest

It all looked doubly impressive with the setting sun casting shadows across the landscape. After a photo-taking frenzy I joined Ameer and Salim with the campsite curator for tea and what I imagine was storytelling.

Rocks and trees above campsite

Homhil Campsite

It’s hard to believe I had any room left but I found some for the spicy vegetables and chapatis that turned up. Dinner was followed by a lively discussion with Ameer about the Bulgarian, adultery, corporal and capital punishment. It was a moment when it became very clear just how isolated Socotra has been from the rest of the world.

Dragon's Blood sunset from campsite

My head spinning a little from thoughts of cultural collision, I went and lay under the stars before retiring to my tent about 8. Allegedly there is no malaria on Socotra because the population is too small to sustain it. Nevertheless I went through the familiar routine of killing all the mosquitoes in my tent before allowing myself to sleep.
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