The island`s lichen covered mountains rise 1,550 meters over limestone plateaus, fertile palm groves and white sand beaches strewn with colossal conch shells. Croton trees and bulbous desert rose trees lead to dark caverns and lush wadis. A sense of space and quietude on the open road awaits the visitor, or the shooting stars one can watch from an open air camp on sand dunes on the south coast.
The Socotris are warm and hospitable people, who know and respect their island well and are always happy to take visitors around.
With the end of isolation, countless new pressures could change the fragile island and its ancient culture. Yet many inhabitants and visitors now realize that preservation is as key to their future as it has been in the past. I talked to Tina Zorman of "Eternal Yemen Tour Operator", who just returned from the island about the challenges in the field of tourism.
Q: You are just back from the beautiful island of Socotra. What is the best best way to travel to Socotra?
Tina Zorman: Most visitors travel to Socotra by plane from mainland Yemen, Sana`a, Aden or Mukalla. The flight connections are good and flights are frequent, 4 to 5 flights per week from Sana´a, 5 to 6 flights per week from Mukalla and once a week from Aden. One can travel to Socotra by sea, i.e. by boat, but the trip is long, tiring and less safe.
Q: Would you like introduce the character of this extraordinary island briefly?
Tina Zorman: Socotra, with its unique flora, fauna, geology and underwater world, is the "pearl" in the Indian Ocean. The Island´s flora represents the floras of thousands of years ago. Those probably were the plants that used to cover the vanished continent Godwana.
With the opening up of Socotra to the outside world in the late 1990, triggered by the constructions of a year round accessible airport and roads, things began to change and Socotra started to receive significant numbers of tourists.
As result, many Socotris have settled in the rapidly expanding town of Hadibu or other villages, while their traditional settlements are being abandoned. In addition to local threats such as language, cultural tradition, climate change. tourism threatens to put further pressure on Socotra`s delicate environment.
Q: Some of Island`s sounds, scent of ocean, colors…?
Tina Zorman: Coming to Homhil plateau, a wind, full of fragrances from incense plants resins, embrace. One feels as if in wonderland, surrounded with unusual curved incense trees branches. Goats, people and Egyptian vultures are living in a symbiosis. Goats are everywhere, under the table during lunch in Hadibu, on your towel on the beach. They just started eating your book and the leftovers of your lunch in Wadi Ayhaft - and as you rush to the airport waving goodbye. My tip, try the fresh curdled goat´s milk, or delicious dates which men usually carry in their goat skin bags.
For those who are not under time pressure and in good physical condition, a visit to the Hagghar Mountains where one is embraced by mysterious palette of numerous small flowers, fabulous geological formations and morning mists and clouds, is a must.
Most Socotri homes are decorated with bright colors. Women are wrapped in long shawls, a blend of sunny colors, wearing big smile and curios eyes. Their cheeks are reddish in order to protect their skin. Their lips are reddish too from local lipstick- the Dragon´s blood – a habit perhaps from Cleopatra time. Their gums are reddish from chewing Dragon`s blood, their henna colored hands, are shaping the clay incense burners and decorate them with Dragon`s blood as well.
It´s all about the Dragon`s blood.
Q: Some must-see places, sites?
Tina Zorman: The marine area of Dihamry, Homhil reserve, Dixam plateau, Hoq cave and Qalansiya beach are must. They are considered by many as one of the wonders of the world.
In Dihamry, one can enjoy snorkeling and explore the highly endemic under water world. The scenic beaches of Erher, Qalansiya, and the remote beach of Schuab are for sea lovers. Those interested in plants should visit the central plateau Dixam with its umbrella like Dragon´s blood trees and Homhil, a virtual "botanical garden", with great variety of incense trees, the Socotri bottle tress, umbrella trees, and many other plants.
Q: Socotra is all about nature….. favorite paths, trails, walking tours, mountain sceneries, day trips, sites at the sea and under the sea?Tina Zorman: Walking tours are the best way to experience the pristine nature of Socotra! We suggest them in all of the tourist programs. There is a scenic – and not at all difficult walk from the northern coast via Wadi al Shiifa to Homhil protected area.
Worth exploring is also on of the trails from the central plateau Dixam to one of the wadis, either Wadi Dirhur, either Wadi Dha´ro. The paths are not marked and the walk is not too difficult, 3-4 hours.
There are more difficult walks, trekking tours, to the Hagghar Mountains and are well marked. Several other trails are also possible, starting from Dixam plateau to Hagghar Mountains, or from Wadi Ayhaft or one of the southern wadis and coming towards the high plains of Scand area and going further to the northern coasts.
Another suggestion is to spend longer time on Qalansiya beach and climb the mountain above Qalansiya and enjoy the view of – perhaps - one of the loveliest lagoons in the world.
Our web site (http://www.eternal-yemen.com/) offers Socotra tour programs. Several daily excursions and trips are being suggested.
Q: The rising number of tourists visiting Socotra has presented a threat to the delicate ecosystems. What are the challenges in the field of tourism?
Tina Zorman: The challenge is to strike a balance between development and environmental protection. Currently the number of visitors to Socotra is manageable. Much greater challenge represents the changed lifestyle of many Socotris. Many have abandoned their villages and houses in the mountains and settled in Hadibu.
As far as tourism is concerned, the challenge is to formulate a plan for sustainable tourism. It is not difficult to attract tourists with such fabled nature, but also adequate services should be provided.
The bright example, the seeds of sustainable tourism on the island, is the private campsite, run by Adeeb family near Hadibu. The camp resort is simple, but lovely and built from local materials. Adeeb camp offers meal of fresh fish with special Socotri sweet tasting bread and Socotri honey.
Another example of sustainable tourism worthy of praise is the Rosh community which was awarded the Equator Prize for 2010.
Q: Where one can stay, accommodation, resorts, home stay…
Tina Zorman: The hotels are located in Hadibu. One can stay in Adeeb camp near Hadibu, the island`s main settlement, or similar sites around the island. The most popular choice is to stay in a hotel in Hadibu (there is one good hotel and about 4 simple ones) and make daily excursions round the island. This is now possible as there are good road connections to the east, west and south of the island.
Many tourist spend the first and the last night in Hadibu, while other days camping. In many protected areas around the island, there are several simple places where one can camp. These camps – resorts offer basic facilities and offer also food.
A nice example of sustainable campsite is eco – camp run by the villages of Sacra and Diherhom that own Rosh Marine Protected area. The operation of the eco-camp is organized on a principle of community sharing benefits so as to motivate the whole community to conserve their natural resources. Supplies for the eco-campsite are bought from different villagers. The income generated from tourists goes into community development projects. This eco – campsite is an excellent example that should be followed.
Q: Which is the best time to visit? Tina Zorman: Between second half of September to mid- May. From April to May and from September to first half of October, Socotra is rather hot. Most visitors come from November to March.
As far as weather is concerned, November is a pleasant month; while there can be occasional showers. Those who wish to see the flowering of bottle trees should come end of February or in March.
Socotra is safe place to visit. It is being visited even during the time of demonstrations in Yemen.
Q: Local foods, habitat…?
Tina Zorman: Rice with fish, rice with dates. The diet is basic, fish, dates and cooked potatoes. On occasions, the goat meat is specialty. The life of Socotris is closely associated with dates.
During summer, when the winds are strong, the Socotris take shelter in different homes or caves. Many have houses in various parts of the Island and they move from one place to another according to best climatically conditions. When they are unable to fish due to strong winds and sea waves, their diet is limited to rice, dates and tea.
In some parts of the Island, the islanders begun to introduce new crops and other cultures, like papaya. One such example is Mahatta village, where they grow olives, limes and guava. I think it is not very well thought over. It can ruin the fragile ecosystem and in time may have consequences to larger environment.
Q: Final words, invitations, promotions…
Tina Zorman: If you are a nature lover, if you long for virtual honeymoon under thousands stars, then come to Socotra. It is the place to be visited during the next few years. At Eternal Yemen, we offer attractive, up to date tour programs, with high quality of performance. Our colleagues in Socotra Island are strictly Socotris and are always paid fair wages.
Anyone visiting Socotra should keep in mind, that this is a place of pristine nature and environment should be respected.
My advice, leave the Island intact for others who will visit it after you.
Tina Zorman in Sana`a, Yemen thank you.
ABOUT TINA ZORMAN
Ms. Tina Zorman is founder and Managing Director of "Eternal Yemen Tour and Travel Operator". She holds Ph. D in Microbiology and lives with her family in Sana`a, Yemen. Tina is also on Facebook. Interested? Get connected
Web site: http://www.eternal-yemen.com/
Socotra, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, was for centuries an important strategic and trade destination for empire builders and merchants riding the monsoon trade winds. Socotra is also the name of the largest island.
The islands are famed for their diversity of plant species, about a third of which are found nowhere else on earth. The natural resources and strategic location of the Socotra, 80 km east of Somali coast and 380 km south of Yemen, led the archipelago to play a major role in the ambitions of empire builders from as long ago as Alexander the Great.
The Island of Socotra is a World Heritage Site.
IMAGE: Socotra, a place of pristine nature, is to be visited in the next few years.