Yemen ~ Socotra

19 April 2021

First time to see one of Socotra's famous dragon blood trees (with guide Wagdi).

Since 2014, the mainland of Yemen has suffered from a multi-sided, complicated civil war and an ensuing humanitarian crisis.

Yemen's island of Socotra has escaped the fighting, and is increasingly coming under the "protection" of the United Arab Emirates.

● Socotra is 82 miles long (132 km) and 31 miles wide (50 km).

● Its population is only about 60,000 (with 9,000 in the capital Hadibu).

● Socotra is known for its many unique plants, especially its otherworldly bottle trees and dragon blood trees.

For me, Socotra was extra exciting because Yemen is one of the remaining three countries that I'd not yet visited.

Getting airline tickets and a "visa" to visit Socotra is not easy but Untamed Borders organized a great week for five of us. From our hotel in Hadibu, we took day trips to many parts of the island (diamonds above).

Socotra's dragon blood trees (dracaena cinnabari) when cut bleed a crimson resin that fully justifies the name. Found mostly on the Dixsom Plateau, they really look like they are from another planet.

Another plant from a Martian fantasy is the Socotra desert rose or bottle tree (adenium obesum socotranum). We were lucky the pink flowers were in bloom, having replaced the few green leaves. 

Never tired of seeing the various configurations of bottle trees and dragon blood trees scattered around Socotra.

Spectacular beaches with glorious turquoise waters.
At Deleisha beach with Farida.
My favorite beach Shuaab or Shouab
(first shot with Farida;
second shot with Ahmed and his boat).
Ditwa or Detwah lagoon from a distance.
Arher beach near Hoq cave.
Amak beach on the south (Indian Ocean) side of Socotra.

Strong ocean winds have piled up dramatic dunes on some mountainsides.
And part of the island's south side has a large expanse of dunes.

And there's more. Socotra has many caves, some of them quite large. One day we easily visited pretty Dagub Cave. Another day I somehow survived the long, steep uphill trek in sweltering 90° heat on a rare windless day to get to the big Hoq Cave which is three kilometers long.

1: Always had a picnic/barbeque lunch on our daily field trips.
2: Drivers Omar and Weyl with guide Wagdi.
3: Greeters at the Qalansiyah fishing village
4: Seller in the morning Hadibu market.

Nice long walk to the beautiful pool in Wadi Difarhou fed by a mountain stream. Never seen or floated around in any natural pool this beautiful, refreshing, and perfect.

The mountain ridge behind Hedibu was eye-catching, but you wanted to avert your eyes from the dirty town itself with its growing dunes of pastel plastic bags.

Socotra's small villages looked something like this one, always with a mosque.

We rarely encountered foreign tourists outside of Hedibu. A few times we briefly crossed paths with a group of six Ukrainian campers or with two American divers, and a couple of times with this woman and her crew (origin unknown). This morning her boat looked like it was levitating in the turquoise waters near Shuaab beach.

What a week. And I did not even get around to posting photos from our snorkeling (at Dihamri) or seeing the most dolphins I've ever seen at one time (50? 100? near Qalansiyah) or dining on freshly caught fish every evening at most popular and packed crazy local grill.

You'd never have guessed Yemen was in the midst of a tragic civil war. At the same time we were hiking and swimming in Socotra, fighting intensified on the mainland in the crucial battle for Ma'rib. Whatever happens, this small special island's fragile ecosystem (already jeopardized by grazing goats eating young dragon blood trees) might not withstand an invasion of many tanks or, for that matter, too many tourists.

I feel fortunate to have been able to spend a week seeing so much of this strange, wonderful island.