Socotra Trip Expedition Report
We arrived in Socotra having flown in from Sharjah (a 20 minute taxi ride from Dubai’s international airport) in the UAE. We sort of suspected this was going to be trip with a difference as on the plane one of the passengers had brought his falcon with him – no cage for such highly prized possession. We were flying across the Arabian peninsula to what is known as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean – the unique and incredible of island of Socotra – and our adventure was just beginning. Socotra international airport is a relatively small affair and we were soon through it and on our way to check into a small hotel in Hadibo before heading to a nearby beach for lunch. Then it was back to the hotel for packing our kit for the 4 day trek with camels into the Hajjher mountains that would start in the morning.
We had an early breakfast at 6.30am so we could get to the meeting point with the cameleers, to start trekking before it became too hot. We drove to the rendezvous point in two 4×4 Toyota land-cruisers. Our team was quite a sight, 7 trekkers (2 French, 2 Americans and 3 Brits), our guide Samed and cook Kamal and the 4 cameleers and their camels. It took another 45 minutes or so to get the camels loaded up and then we were off. We set off up a rough path and were soon experiencing all sorts of plants and wildlife. Occasionally there were a few periods of rain but they tended to last only 5-10 minutes, and used refuse sacks with holes cut for the head and arms, to keep the rain off which only appeared on the first day as we were at the early stages of the rainy season. We reached our first camp as dusk was falling. We set up camp in the midst of a village that was uninhabited at the time as it was only used seasonally by local goat herders. In the morning, we woke up to a spectacular view of mountain peaks and amazing scenery around Dimalah.
After a tasty traditional breakfast prepared by Kamal we set off towards the village of Darho and the wadi at Dihazhaz. We had heard that there was local bee keeping in the area and one of the cameleers took us to one of the hives close to the village. Naturally there were plenty of bees and few of us got stung but the reward was tasting the light golden honey that was taken fresh for the hive. The Socotri mountain honey is particularly delicious and is produced from the many flowering shrubs, plants and trees. We spent a short while bathing in the local wadi and experiencing village life (and seeing a goat skin being prepared for use as a potential container for milk and butter making) before heading to our camp – another unoccupied (seasonal village) further down the Valley. As we had spent rather a lot of time with the bee keepers and swimming in the wadi, it was quite dark as we trekked the last couple of miles to the campsite.
The next morning we head further along the valley with our camels and trekked up to the Rokeb Farmhin forest where the main population of dragons blood trees are to be found. We explored the forest and chatted to a nomadic goat herder and his son. We then walked down to the largest canyon on Socotra, known as Dirhor, where we swam in a fairly large fresh water pool. Then we braced ourselves for the steep climb out of the canyon, before walking on to the edge of the Canyon where we pitched our camp. After dinner, we got the occasional glimpse of the glowing eyes of a civet or two amongst the bushes. The sky was clear and we got a great view of the midnight sky.
Following an early start and breakfast, we said goodbye to our cameleers and camels and thanked them all for their hard work. We then took the 4×4’s a few miles towards where the area is known as Skand. We met up with a local guide who was actually a young boy of 14 whom we named “the gazelle” on account of his speed. The trek took about 7 hours there and back. Reaching the summit was not easy owing the dense and thorny bushes growing on the approaches. For a while we crawled on all fours to make our way and collected a few scratches as proof of our efforts. Reaching the peak was certainly an achievement and after a short delay of losing some bags in the undergrowth that we had left on the way up, we legged it back to where we had left the vehicles as we were a little worried that if we were not careful we would be picking our way across the large boulders in the dark. We then met up with our vehicles and headed for the beach area of Omaq on the southern side of the island. We arrived after dark, and somewhat tried to pitch our tents and make use of the facilities of this rather nice protected campsite area.
The next morning we made a leisurely start and explored the beach and then having packed rucksacks and tents made for the huge sand dunes to the east of Omaq where there were some great photo opportunities. We then visited a small cave occupied by a shepherd and her son before we headed to Qalansiyah on the north western coast of the island – a 2 hour journey. At Qalansiyah we viewed the famous sandy lagoon and is spectacular landscape before setting up our tents at another protected area site. Here there were showers and enough water and time to wash some clothes for the first time.
In the morning we made an early start and breakfast and by 7am had arrived alongside the fishing boats for a boat trip to Shoub. On the way around the western end of the island it was a bit choppy on account of the wind but the trip was one of the high points of our 10 day adventure. We were treated to several sightings of pods of dolphins, numerous cormorants, seabirds and gulls and one or two grey herrings. Shoub has one of the most beautiful sandy beaches that seemed to go on forever and there is an area of mangrove trees further down the beach. There was a small beach settlement whose inhabitants welcomed us to their dwelling with cups of tea but all too soon it was time to return to Qalansiyah where some of us explored the superb lagoon and others ventured in to the town to explore the market for khat amongst other things.
In the morning we headed back to Hadibo to buy supplies from the market for the rest of our trip and then proceeded to the marine reserve at Dihamri which is well-known for its coral reef. It was rather windy when we arrived so snorkelling was postponed until the morning when it was less windy and whilst a few brave members of the group did venture into the water, it was still a bit too windy for good snorkelling.
After breakfast we drove the short distance to the area below Hoc Cave. We then walked for an hour t the entrance of this cave before experiencing a kilometre r two of spectacular stalactites and staligmites and one of the biggest caves in the Arabian peninsula.
We then drove to Arher where we saw some of the highest sand dunes on Socotra which were several hundred meters high. We camped here overnight and near the fresh water streams that run from the mountains to the sea.
On our final day we headed further east to Socotra’s eastern tip. We explored a small fishing port and bought some fish for lunch. Then it was time to head back to Hadibo where we visited Socotra’s only folk museum and a nursery that is leading Socotra’s plans for reforestation. That evening we were treated to a huge meal at the house of our guide and the ladies in our team got to meet the guides wife who had organised the meal. Our last night, like the first night was in our hotel in Hadibo.
As we didn’t have to be at the airport until 12 noon, we made the most of the last few hours on Socotra. First off was a trip to the bee keeper’s collective shop, where we made several purchases of Socotri honey. Then we went on an interesting visit to Hadibo’s bustling fish market, followed by walking back t the hotel via other markets and street sellers.
In short, this was just an incredible trip and ideal for anyone with a real sense of adventure and interest in aspects of endemic fauna, fauna and human interest. Of course it is difficult not to have a great time on Socotra as it is just one of the most incredible islands on earth and the Socotri are wonderful people. Added to this was the fact that all the arrangements worked perfectly, there was never any waiting around for guides or transport to turn up.
Our guide Samed was very knowledgeable and our cook Kamal was really good too. All the cameleers and our two drivers were forever helping putting up tents and the like. As a result, the whole trip ran very smoothly. In addition, our group of seven were all experienced travellers and were flexible where needed and enjoyed eachothers company. Brilliant.
See further information and the full itinerary of the trip here
Photos Credit: Thaniya Keereepart
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