svetlana baghawan maverickbirdHadibo had begun with piles of horrendous trash and it had heaped in piles, lain scattered all over its fields and clogged every inch of its dusty, unpaved alleys. Plastic had flown like butterflies and the abhorrent sight had made me sick to my gut. I had never in my wildest dream imagined an Unesco World Heritage Site to be so badly unkempt and poorly maintained and this dismal scene had spread as far as my eyes could see. Though Hadibo is the biggest town in Socotra, in reality it is a small village of around 100 houses, 1 main road and a handful of 15 shops, selling whatever arrives by flight or occasional boats. It had stood at the base of the stunning Hagghier mountain over which sun rays had fallen through the clouds in shafts. That had been the most striking and repetitive sight of Socotra and light had a special way of washing over the island. I had stood staring at the mountain in the middle of Hadibo main road, as four by four rental vehicles had honked past me appreciatively.

The honking had been another Socotra specialty and once again India had not seemed very far behind. Socotra’s biggest shops had lined the gravely main road and they had sold everything required for modern human sustenance. Electronic goods, blankets, furnishings, utensils, groceries, ladies fashion, wild bees’ honey, tours etc had been on sale and they had jostled for space with old Socotri men drinking endless cups of tea, Bedouin ladies selling natural henna, coops of hens and way too many goats. The island had been overrun with those bleating, nimble footed skippy creatures and there had perhaps been more goats than humans in Socotra. A few meandering short alleys had smaller stores and hawkers had peddled fish, crabs, fruits, pottery and miserable looking vegetables from open baskets. A few dismal hotels provided Socotra’s only source of accommodation and all of them had stood on the main road. The newly constructed Hotel Summerland (90-120 USD/night) had seemed way out of my budget and I had no choice but to accept the rundown Taj Socotra.

The Taj Socotra had been pole apart from it’s namesake super luxurious Indian hotel chain and it had been down to earth at best. A small, semi clean room had come with a badly maintained bathroom, but it had a bed, TV which ran only weird Ethiopian music videos, a restaurant and super slow, but working wifi. My room had overlooked the main road and from my balcony I could spot the blue strip of sea in the distance. Big, yellow Egyptian vultures had swooped over garbage piles and later on I had learned that they had been named Socotra Municipality in jest. Endangered in most parts of the world, Egyptian Vultures had been strangely plentiful in Socotra and they had fed on the massive organic waste that the island produced everyday. Food had been a major disappointment and apart from a few fish curries, flat Arabian bread and goat meat/chicken dishes, the island cuisine had left much to desire.

Thus had started my 1st Socotra day with an insipid lunch, a hot tropical afternoon and a beautiful sunset at Delisha Beach. Anwar had come to pick me up around 4 in the evening when the sun had mellowed down and the date palm fringed lagoon had remained still like a mirror. Delisha had been just 30 minutes away from Hadibo and most Socotra visitors began their journey from there. It is like a small sneak peek of what is to follow and the preview itself is spectacular enough to get anybody hooked to the island for good. Hadibo had vanished in a matter of seconds and soon I had found myself looking at big patches of construction sites. Hotels, resorts, camp sites etc were being built in full swing and the sight had completely clashed with UNESCO Heritage Site’s concept, where making any changes or alterations is restricted. The virginal island was being torn down into a ruinous state and the UNESCO heritage title had seemed like a complete joke. The breakneck speed of construction had left ugly scars on the gently sloping coastline and stony mountains had borne deep gashes where the rocks had been hacked away. Sand were being carted off from Socotra’s iconic dunes in truckloads and sadly the island had looked eager for the change.

Trash piles had increased as we had navigated through the construction sites and open sewer had marred it’s innocent beauty. Socotra’s only road had looped along the blue sea, past Hadibo lagoon, small boat sheds and ramshackle hutments before spilling into the broad Delisha Beach. The beach had been beautiful with a small green crab filled lagoon, solitary powder white sand dune and glistening pink sand. Seabirds had swooped in and out of the crashing waves and it had seemed surreal to spot only my footsteps being traced all along the entire beach. Trash had left it’s ugly marks there too and Delisha had indeed been the apt preview of what Socotra had encompassed, a sharp contrast between heaven and hell, jam packed in one of the remotest places on earth.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

Extremely disappointing

Hadibo had been extremely disappointing

And in contrast

And in contrast

To Socotra's natural beauty

To Socotra’s natural beauty

It had seemed like

It had seemed like

A terrible human mistake

A terrible human mistake

I had adjusted myself

I had adjusted myself

In my little hotel room

In my little hotel room

And eagerly awaited evening

And eagerly awaited evening

Delisha had been on my mind

Delisha had been on my mind

And it had seemed like

And it had seemed like

The perfect preview of

The perfect preview of

What the rest of Socotra had to offer

What the rest of Socotra had to offer