Yemen + the mysterious island of Socotra (where ?)

Yemen + the mysterious island of Socotra (where ?)

Postby planenuts on Sun 12 Feb 2017, 5:36 pm

Hi chaps,

This month marks 10 years since I took an amazing trip to Yemen, the poorest of Arab nations.. Even then it wasn't the safest place on the planet, with not many foreign visitors. Only 6 of us in the group all from UK. Since then, of course, the situation there has descended into complete breakdown of social order, and on the brink of civil war, with Saudi-led coalition bombing the Houthi Rebels and a lot of civilians. The UN currently estimates that 10,000 people have died since the conflict started, and declared a humanitarian crisis, with whole communities literally starving to death, especially the rural ones in the east.

It's all a far cry from my visit. I found that generally, the Yemeni people to be very kind and welcoming to outsiders, and the kids even more so, crowding around us in fascination. It's a country with plenty of interesting history, with a population of 21 million, and 45 million firearms, especially Kalashnikov rifles.

At the start, we stayed in a rickety 7-storey mud 'hotel' in the old part of Sana'a, Yemen's capital. This part is a UNESCO world heritage site.
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Sana'a is completely surrounded by mountains, and at 2250 metres above sea level, is one of the higher capitals in the world.
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The main market was huge. This date seller was sporting the ceremonial dagger that all men there seemed to wear.
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The national recreational pastime for adult men seemed to be chewing a drug called Qat (illegal here). They chew the leaves until starting to feel the effects after about 30 minutes. After a number of years, their cheeks will stay permanently bowed outwards, a combination of the chewing and effects of the drug.
In this tiny room, a camel is turning a large stone to grind the leaves into a pulp for marketing in another form. All very cruel for the blindfolded camel.
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The market sold typically spices, packets of incense, the clay pots to heat the incense, and of course those compulsory daggers.
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After a couple of days around Sana'a, it was off to Marib, the desert area to the east. This was the ancient kingdom of Queen Sheba, and I discovered why she managed to so powerful in a barren landscape. Her culture had built the world's first large construction dam in the 8th century BC, producing a fertile valley beyond and able to grow all manner of produce for trade. The wall itself has not been there since the 6th century AD. The photo shows the restored sluice tower at the end of the dam, with the other one just visible in the distance right. Sadly, this restored tower was damaged by an airstrike in 2015.
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The whole Marib area was volitile, with various tribes and factions ready to have gun battles with each other, or capture a foreign tourist for a big ransom. So for 2 days, us and a few Germans had a military escort, with 6 army soldiers and a jeep with a huge machine gun. These 2 loved having their photo taken.
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Up the fertile valley from the original dam, a (rich) descendant of the Queen oversaw the construction of another dam to supply the area with clean water.
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The ruins of the ancient town of Marib date around 3000 years old. This woman is wearing typical attire for the area. The locals there following us were constantly begging, including for taking a photo of them. I quickly learnt the importance of eye contact, especially when that's all you can see......
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Then we headed out into the deep desert to witness something truly majestic, the sun rising in complete silence. Will never forget this experience.
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After taking some air out of the jeep tyres, we raced each other across what really can be described as 'the middle of nowhere'.....Exhilirating !!
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We stumbled upon an old bedouin and his family, including a dozen camels. We drank sweet tea in the main tent, and were given ancient tool-heads.
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Mr Bedouin posed on his favourite camel for us before we left. Rather strangely, he was a massive football lover, and a big Arsenal fan (not kidding).
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This is Shibam, another UNESCO world heritage site. It's very old (3rd century AD) and known as Manhatten in mud, the oldest skyscrapers in existence.
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Can't remember the name of this other town in the fertile Hadramaut valley, but I remember they (the bees) made the best honey ever.
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When I was 10, I got a big world map, and was intrigued by a large island off the coast of Somalia, called Socotra. I wondered what it was like there, being neither Africa or Arabia. Didn't give it much more thought until an advert popped up on an email at work in 2006 for Eco holidays with a difference. It mentioned the island of Socotra, being part of Yemen (250 miles away), yet closer to Somalia (100 miles away). What I didn't realise was that it was an amazing place, quite untouched and unknown by the outside world, and dubbed the 'Galapagos of Arabia' due to its unique wildlife. When I went, only 400 foreign visitors a year were allowed to go there, as the Yememi government had protected it, and yes........it's all a UNESCO world heritage site. But it's not small, around 75 miles long and 28 miles high, with an area around the same size as Cornwall. In the middle, you don't feel you're on an island at all. The only 'town' on Socotra is Hadibo on the north coast. A small airport built in 1999 only gets 2 flights a week (cute), and due to fierce monsoon winds for half the year, boats cannot get there. So the typical worker there spends half the year fishing, the other half farming and harvesting date trees. It's a strange place !!

The landscapes on Socotra are a right old mixture, from mountainous, to plateaus, to pastures, and barren desert. This bit was more tropical.......
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As for wildlife, there are dozens of unique species of plants, birds, insects and small animals.........and yes, this spider really was THAT big.
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The beaches are amazing (empty and clean), and because of the monsoon winds, get swept dramatically onto the nearby cliffs.
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Hadibo is a bit run-down, nestled by the Hagier mountains. This was the island's only football pitch. Seriously. The line of rocks are the touchline.
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Every morning, outside my motel room window, a pair of Egyptian Yellow Vultures came to say hello. Hadibo was full of vultures and goats. Our local cafe for meals had goats coming to attack us for food, with vultures waiting on a nearby wall of a building in which they baked wafer thin bread. It was all very surreal. As Yemen is a teetotal country with no pubs, I named the cafe the 'Goat and Vulture'. The rest of the group started calling it that from then on.
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Not quite a car boot sale, but this guy was mending boots and shoes out of (only) the back of a car. A novel way of keeping the sun off.......
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Now for the bit I was really looking forward to (that's me posing). In the middle of the island grows what is known as the Dragon's Blood tree. When you cut the bark, a blood red sap comes out. It was used by the Romans as a bind for wounds, and is used by locals as a dye, rust remover on cars, and lipstick !!
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There are thousands of them across the plateaus and mountains of the interior, but their future is threatened through a mixture of disease, and poor seed distribution causing them to not reproduce well. These are largely down to the fragile ecological environment being impacted by human interventions.
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These village children were in the right place at the right time.......... Also Socotra is where incense and myrrh (biblical Christmas gifts) come from.
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We camped by this gorge under the plateau, where at 6am I walked to a pond to take a bath with a purple crab and some snails !!
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The next day, the 3 fittest of the 6 went trekking with guides up to the highest parts of Socotra, on the Hagier mountains. The views got better and better, to the point where we could see beaches on the south coast, around 20 miles away. You might just be able to make them out........
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This is near the top of the island. The views were spectacular, but there were still Dragon's Blood trees living there.
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At the top, 2 families of nomads lived, looking after some cows and goats. It was all very Sound Of Music country.
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This baby goat followed us everywhere, and he felt like velvet !!
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Our local young guide never got bored with the scenery.......
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It reminded me of the Grand Canyon, without all the tourists crawling all over it......in fact, never felt more isolated.
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The sunset was amazing, a mixture of pinks and oranges, with the best silhouette.
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Silhouette of a baby Dragon's Blood tree.
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The next day, even though it was downhill, exhaustion and dehydration took over, but the scenery was still wonderful.
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Everyone else seemed to be okay, but I just wasn't used to the heat and exposure I guess. Couldn't fault the surroundings though.
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At the end, the valley had this oasis which was very welcome to dip feet in, and have a cool swim.
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The only issue was that we had to watch out for these freshwater orange crabs, but we let them nip at our toes !!
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There's only a few paved roads on Socotra, so most of the time travelling was on tracks, hence the need for 4x4 jeeps.
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This was called the Hoc cave, and it was huge, walking around 3km inside the cliffs, taking 30 minutes. Filled my water bottle from a dripping stalagtite.
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Dihamari beach, a marine reserve area on the north coast, where we went snorkelling.
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Saw a wide variety of fish, including this pipe fish (underwater camera).
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This view emphasises just how strong the monsoon winds get, pushing the beaches high up onto the hills.
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Took a trip to the west to the village of Qalansia, where they have the best beaches I've ever seen (but I'm not an expert).
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Everywhere in Socotra (outside Hadibo) is unspoilt, including in the west, where different headlands produce a variety of views
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My colleagues and I caught a ride with a local fisherman, for a trip down the west coast, catching fish on the way.
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Many shoals of dolphins followed us, a magical sight. We also had a turtle and giant Manta Ray swimming under the boat.
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We were heading for what I now consider my favourite beach anywhere in the world, Shuab beach. It can only be reached by boat, and 2 fishing families live there. It's completely unspoilt, with scuttle crabs scurrying out of the sea, and shoals of fish near the water's edge. That's a dolphin skeleton........
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There are tonnes more photos, and stories to tell, but I didn't want to bore the pants off you. Hopefully all this educated you on this area of the world.
Yemen is a special place, and it's heartbreaking for me to see it currently being torn apart. I can't imagine anyone is going to Socotra recently, as it was only ever accessible from the mainland. I do hope political unstability won't cause the damage of the delicate infrastructure of the island's special wildlife.

Well, that made a nice (and unique) change from posting aircraft photos !!

Happy snapping, chaps.

Rupe

P.S. apologies for the 2 photos that are the wrong way round......they refused to rotate the right way !!
planenuts

Re: Yemen + the mysterious island of Socotra (where ?)

Postby psquiddy on Sun 12 Feb 2017, 7:21 pm

Fascinating - thanks
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Re: Yemen + the mysterious island of Socotra (where ?)

Postby The Baron on Mon 13 Feb 2017, 6:29 am

psquiddy wrote:Fascinating - thanks


Quite right! Very interesting, looks quite beautiful.
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The Baron

Re: Yemen + the mysterious island of Socotra (where ?)

Postby Skylinerworld on Mon 13 Feb 2017, 1:01 pm

Really interesting post! Not a country I've ever really read up on apart from the odd news article. Thanks for sharing!
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Re: Yemen + the mysterious island of Socotra (where ?)

Postby planenuts on Sat 25 Feb 2017, 11:47 am

Thanks for the comments guys. I believe that Socotra island will always be my favourite place anywhere outside Britain, as it's virtually unspoilt, seldom visited, and just 'different'. I'm sure you will not have met anyone else that's been there, or even heard of it......

It's a place the rest of the world has ignored, and now I fear I may have unwittingly let the secret slip !! Check out Tripadvisor for lots more photos.

Rupe
planenuts

Re: Yemen + the mysterious island of Socotra (where ?)

Postby planenuts on Wed 23 Aug 2017, 6:24 am

Anyone who happened to see the lead item on the BBC news at 10 last night, could not fail to be moved by the heartbreaking images of children dying of malnutrition and cholera in a hospital in the rebel-held part of Yemen. The hospital has constant power cuts, putting even more patients at risk.

UN estimates are that over 95,000 children will die of malnutrition in the next 4-5 months, with another 1 million at high risk of catching cholera. This is the worst outbreak of cholera the world has seen in decades, and the UN states that this is the largest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

One family were highlighted, with their 3 year old son needing intensive care, but having to wait for a bed, and getting weaker every day. Then a bed becomes available. At the end of the article, he takes a turn for the worse and dies. We see his father wrap his son in a big blanket and pick him up.
Having lost 2 children myself at birth (8 months apart), I know exactly what that feels like. I cried uncontrollably because I too have held my own offspring, knowing I would not have the joy that parents should have. Mercifully, I now have 2 lively children who are a real blessing, but this I could totally relate to.

The main problem is that their only port in the region has been bombed by the Saudi-led coalition, and blockaded any chance of it getting repaired, so aid cannot get to these desperate people. Thought it was very brave of the BBC to have this as the lead item, and hopefully highlights the scale of the crisis.

Thanks for looking and reading,

Rupe
planenuts


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