Ethiopians, Portuguese, British, Greeks or Arabs were attracted by the privileged position in the Strait of Aden, attracted by the fragrant resins of the trees of incense, myrrh or dragon tree. In the island also passed the apostle St. Thomas and the traveler Marco Polo.
Ten million years ago, it separated from the horn of Africa and, since then, it is as if time had not passed. Due to this geological isolation it has a spectacular endemic flora with more than 300 plants that can not be found anywhere else on the globe. Today is one of the great sanctuaries of biodiversity declared in 2008 World Natural Heritage.
Since you disembark at the small airport, after a trip of more than 2 hours from the mainland, you recognize that it has not been easy to arrive and you already perceive that this place is unique. In fact, until 1999, the only access was by sea.
The largest population of the island is Hadibo with about 10,000 inhabitants. It is still a town without order, where people literally live a large part of their daily life on the street, along with their stalls, family and pets. Dirty and dusty streets are not pleasant to stroll but the fish market really worths a visit.
Socotris are native from the Arabian Peninsula, India, or Somalia; about forty thousand people live on the island. They are dedicated to subsistence activities such as livestock, agriculture or fishing. They fish sharks, tuna and lobsters, grow dates and also keep herds of goats and cows.
They speak Socotri, a language of Semitic roots prior to Islam with Indian and African influences. This makes it an absolutely incomprehensible language. Luck of the language of the eyes and the smile that always help.
The best way to go around the island is by renting a 4X4. It has few paved roads, only one that runs through the island from east to west and one that goes deep into the heart of the island. You discover that it is much more than a trip; it is an adventure in time, to a place that does not seem to exist on our planet.
But what makes Socotra unique is its vegetation, to become the 10th richest island in the world in plant diversity. Of its 850 plant species, 1/3 are endemic, being vestiges of plants that existed in Africa thousands of years ago.
The first place where you realize you are out of time is Homhil. Here I live a mixture of magic and incredibility with bumping into these millenary trees and a light that accompanies me during the day and the sunset that makes it a magical place.
Here I see for the first time the most representative trees of the island, known as the dragon blood tree, for its striking red sage. Its gigantic branches are characteristic of prehistoric trees having an average life of 300 years. Its red sage is used for medicinal purposes, to decorate native ceramics and to varnish the violins that improve its sound.
Another of the typical plants of the island is the Rose of the desert of almost three meters of height of squat forms that can lodge in its interior hundreds of liters of water. It is a sympathetic trunk tree in the shape of a bottle also called elephant’s foot crowned by a tuft of branches and flowers of pink colors.
The Euphorbia tree has a milky sage that is poisonous and can burn the skin. It is used to stun fish and thus fishing becomes easier.
The aloe that grows on the island is highly valued for its medicinal and cosmetic use.
There is the cucumber tree, another endemic species with a thick body and small branches. They are a relic on the island where they have grown unalterable for hundreds of years.
The incense tree closes the circle of large endemic species of Socotra. It has several uses as anti-inflammatory and incense. In fact, it is said that the Biblical incense was probably an extract of the resin of this tree. It had a great economic value in antiquity even paid more than gold.
I leave Homhil by foot by the mountain in the direction of the coast with captivating views and thus know the fishing villages that live on the edge of the sea. A coast without villages, and the few that you find, the houses are built with walls of coral stone that turn their backs to the sea as if they did not want to see this turquoise wonder that surrounds them.
They live in conditions of life more than rudimentary, when most of them do not have electricity, running water or any basic infrastructure. Of course, all its activities are governed by traditional norms of conservation of its ecosystem. They seek unanimity and approval of the elderly and fishing in nets is prohibited.
A visit to the only museum on the island where through old photographs, utensils and textiles makes you understand how people lived when the island was disconnected from the world.
Traditional Yemeni music is part of the home and the great ceremonies. At night I know the music that young people on the island have fun. They call it “Mawalid” where the lyrics of the songs refer to everyday life with a music that sounds very repetitive to me. As instruments they had drums made of goatskin and wood of the dragon tree that accompanied the music.
Socotra has three types of terrain: narrow coastal plains where the waves of the sea beat against immaculately white beaches, a limestone plateau with karstic caves and the Haggier mountains where the peaks of 1,600 meters of altitude seem to reach the clouds.
Caves that can be visited such as Hoq cave. Despite not being exploited the visit is done in flashlights and watch where you step on the slippery floor. Even cave paintings have been found.
It is an island of many contrasts: from the caves to the huge dunes of Arher that over the years the sand has been accumulating along the road and already exceeding the hundred meters of height. When the afternoon falls, the texture of the sea of sand changes as the sun goes down. Here the splendor is combined with a game of lights and shadows that occur while the wind blows up tiny grains of sand. It is really an awesome show!!
And at the end of the day the cook will delight me every night with a dinner of fresh meat or fish bought from the fishermen of the island.
The island has a high and steep interior with amazing landscapes where the mountain reaches an absolutely deserted coast.
Once you reach the mountains of Mumi you realize the nature so impressive and curious, exit from prehistory and magically preserved until now.
And from a cave appears a character that all his life has lived in it. It is the hermit Shalafen that invites me to know his home. When you see him for the first time, he impresses me a lot all dirty and long beard, screams a lot when it talks but invites me to a tea. Live on goats and what people bring. He is very happy because it is where God has entrusted him in this magical place with views of the mountains. We talk about his life, the hell, of those who come from outside and we are lived in cities like prisons. A very interesting character that in the end wishes me good luck in the way of life. Goodbye Shalafen !!
Touring the island I pass through many valleys or wadis, the name they call them. They are oases with small streams and large palm groves that leave swimming pools where they invite to bathe.
I continue along these roads where nature never ceases to amaze me. Socotra remains a challenge, but also an increasingly attractive challenge for travelers committed to eco-tourism in remote places.
And back to the coast in the dunes of Hayf where a slight breeze makes these grains of white sand slide over my tracks. I am just drunk by nature with a deep blue sky that accompanies me in this sea of dunes where the wind, as if it were a brush on a spatula, works patiently and modulating the sand. These dunes end up in the sea of turquoise waters and white sand.
But for those of us who like to walk, sleep under the stars without great comforts and wake up in wild places, this is the trip. Sleeping in sheds on the beach, you do not need anything else. You sleep with the noise of the wind and the waves, watching the million stars that illuminate the island waking me the first lights of dawn where the sleeping bag still keeps the cobwebs of sleep warm. A new day is just beginning. I have felt privileged!
Return to the interior of the island, to the wadi Derhur where the views of the canyon are impressive with cliffs that take your breath away. Grouped in huge formations that draw the profile of the mountains, I enter the Fermhin forest, known for the millions of dragon trees they encounter. Some of them are 500 years old.
The downhill path makes me tremble, luckily, once below, a natural pool of transparent water awaits me, which, together with the silence that is breathed and the warmth that it gives off, invites you to a swim.
The north coast is an extensive coastline of more than 70 kilometers of virgin beaches of white sands and translucent water untouched. At the western end of this coast is Qalansiya, the second largest town on the island. A stroll through the streets of this coastal town makes you get closer to the children who come screaming from their houses ready to take photos. All the places I stepped on I was very well received by the open, friendly and curious people always enjoying a few meals of fresh fish of the day.
But this place is known because it has the most beautiful beaches on the island. Detwa is an extensive tongue of white sand that sinks at times into the turquoise blue of the water. A sea where the waves almost rock you and the only sound is the seagulls fly.
And as a farewell trip the huge and pristine beach of Shoab with turquoise and crystal waters where another hermit opens me the doors of his cabin.
Socotra is a place as emerged from a dream. There is something ancestral and prehistoric that makes it magical, although in the end everything obeys the simplest laws of nature, to the force of an eternal isolation that has penetrated in a fauna and flora as they are not known anywhere else in the world planet, free from the pressure and voracity of grazing animals, but also of man.
There are paradises that are not made for human life because they are perfect for vegetable or animal development, maybe Socotra is one of them.
The island is one of the most beautiful that I could imagine. It is not easy to arrive, but it is one of the most interesting exotic trips I have done, approaching a primitive, powerful and absolutely different land. Socotra is a prodigy of nature that aims to continue shielded from the impact of development. May it continue forever.