I am back in Hadibo and my body has given up. I had never thought that I will look forward to the littered town as much as I did and it sure is the biggest town in Socotra. Roughing it out for more than 6 nights of Socotra travel has taken it’s toll and I feel battered. Hadibo is undergoing a massive construction boom, very odd since the island is an Unesco World Heritage Site. It is set to welcome tourism in a big way and the island will never be the same again. I am perhaps the last lot of tourists who are blessed to see its unspoiled way of life and beauty and on my next visit, this Socotra will have ceased to exist. It will be perhaps another Zanzibar; touristy, raped with all it’s innocence lost, another paradise sacrificed to tourism. Socotran children will no longer run around with cans or wheels stuck on rods and people will cease to acknowledge each other. The rat race will kill the warm, generous hospitality and time will gallop here. The only road will branch out and the island (one of the world’s most isolated places) will be lost forever. That is change and it is inevitable.
News channels are showing political problems in Yemen mainland and it is strange to see Socotra silently rejoice as Sanaa bleeds. But once again the underdog has won and the Arab Yemeni mainlanders have lost out in the cultural divided tug of war. The proud country is at mercy of the hodgepodge resident islanders to bail them out with it’s unique eco-tourism and it is the only place where the violence of the mainland has not reached. The mainlanders will no longer be able to sidestep Socotra travel with the so called step motherly treatment and this table turning is intriguing to watch. I visited Wadi Moumi recently and its beauty has taken me by surprise. Light has washed over the island in veils and the mountains had reminded me of the moors like Horton Plains of Sri Lanka. These mountains occupy the center of the island and the magnitude of their empty space is humbling.
Date palm orchards lie in neat gardens around stony river beds which perhaps gush with water during the rain and I love the old stone house villages. Socotra travel can be unbelievably rewarding; an out of the world experience. Wadi Moumi with it’s waterfall, bottle tree forests and date palms has been beautiful, but the crystal clear water has shown massive traces of lime green algae. Blood red crabs hid under rounded pink pebbles and there has been litter everywhere. Garbage has started killing the island and the lack of empathy among the islanders is most mind boggling. The coastal road ran along Delisha towards Di Hamri Protected Area before bending onward to Arhar Beach and the stretch towards Moumi is breathtaking. Keriya Lagoon is still protected and flamingos and herons had waded over it’s clear blue green water. Moumi has been ablaze with pink bottle tree flowers and goats were having a merry time chomping them off the short fat branches.
I am watching the blue strip of ocean from my balcony as the late noon sun makes Hadibo blaze golden. It’s 2015 and still now the capital city roads are unpaved, houses are constructed of rocks, people live in caves and urban lagoons are bordered with palms, canoes and flamingos. Mountains tower fantastically beyond the little town and paradise is the word which comes to my mind. I understand T’s obsession with the island now. Strange, brooding T; whose eyes speak volumes and who lives inside his head. I have never been more happier to meet a man as much happiness meeting T has given me. He has restored my faith in men. Always happy to see me, he comes bounding whenever I am been visible, yet has never crossed the border of familiarity. Last evening before my Socotra travel had been nice.
We had listened to music under the new moon as my fever had subsided and though we had never said a word, it was just so comfortable to be around another similar thinking human. He gave me space, guarded his space and it took him some courage to ask for my contact details. It has been strange but very comforting to not get jumped upon for being a solo woman traveler and having a man around who maintains respectful space is liberating. Meeting the other stuck expats at Hadibo has been pretty pleasant too and thank god for the Yemeni, to invite us over to his house for dinner. We once again got blessed by the warm Arab hospitality and it has distracted our minds from the gruesome ISIS beheading video.
We shared the Yemeni family’s food with them and they have thoughtfully kept my glass of tea and shorba (soup) replenished all the time. It has been a mini global summit and we have exchanged travel stories from home and around the earth as our hearts have craved for our soil. The Socotri host shared stories of Kani tribals of Kerala, India and suddenly the reason behind the party is evident. He is a traveler, who is dying to share his achievements with people who understands him and who can appreciate his experiences better than our motley group of travelers. The ex Sultan’s African Socotran camel driver was also invited and he told us tales of a world which now exist only in museums. The dinner had been fun and as our lives have suddenly come to a stand still in Socotra, the world outside our paradise continue to burn.
The drive along the coast has been breathtaking. It went deep inside the central highlands and Hagghar mountains scraggy jagged peaks had stood deep blue in the distance. Obscure Bedouin villages had lain amidst valleys and flashes of Bedouin colours of shepherds had painted the red canyons. Dry river beds had curved along the rocky ground and they had met the impossibly blue sea in the distance. Due to lack of public transportation people had waited by the road, hitchhiking for rides and we have picked and dropped them along the way. This time I had hated it and had growled in annoyance when Anwar had turned up the volume of music for their enjoyment. My head had hurt and my body had been hot rivers of racking pain. I just WANT to go home. I WANT my mother.
Our passengers have been varied and all of them, sensing my moodiness have kept quiet. Even the little boy and his goat who had boarded after the old man with orange beard and 2 wives, had sat still like a mouse. The Bedouin woman who lived in a cave had been kind to find out what’s wrong and had left a handful of ripe dates for me. Life in Socotra moves at true island pace, languorous, enchantingly stress free and human virtues come in a most innocent and priceless manner. Fishermens’ settlements have dotted along the coast and the coastal folks have been friendlier than the dour bunch of Bedouin people.
I am watching yet another sunset from my balcony and the earache has started again. Soon, it will be unbearable. I hope Anwar comes with dinner fast and I can sleep after taking the pills. I don’t feel like having guests over tonight. They can watch TV at the corner tea shop. I like the sunsets here and love the way nature plays breathtaking miracles on the island. Summer supposedly turns Socotra skies into vivid scarlet but at the moment my dark cloudy sunset is not too bad either. Golden light is falling into the island in stunning veils and I can never forget this sight of sunshine breaking through clouds, till I die. Hadibo in spite of it’s filth and squalor has beautiful moments too and sunset colours paint the town pretty.
If I can’t go home anytime soon, I will not mind teaching or volunteering here just like the South Africans family. But then I want to go back to India soon. Arhar with its massive sand dunes, crystal blue aquamarine sea and rose red mountains had been lovely. Grassy banks had started along the beach where spring water, pouring from the mountains had run into the ocean and huge yawning caves had pockmarked their peaks. Soft white sand, seabirds and endless blue sky had featured in Arhar. It had just been perfect. I wish my health had permitted me to camp there. Shoab is left but it’s not happening anytime soon and I don’t know when I am going to come back to Socotra. My money is running out too and I hate these extremists for creating such ruckus. I hope they all just perish and burn in hell for eternity.
By now I have gotten used to Socotra’s flies but can never tolerate the annoying “overfriendly” gestures of Hadibo men for long. Someday I will turn around and whip their a*s, if they ever try to touch me again. Will also tell them that honking loudly to attract my attention on the road is not helping their cause, if trying to be on my “to date list” is what they have in mind. Food is an issue here and I can’t stand eating out of cans or bland food any longer. I wonder how the vegetarians will fare here.
Just when my Facebook page had nearly opened, I am engulfed by power cut. I have nothing to do the whole afternoon and taking a siesta will guarantee yet another sleepless night. Maybe I will sit in the balcony once again and count the Egyptian Vultures. Electricity is erratic and nonexistent during the day but thanks to the sea breeze the tropical heat doesn’t bother. Internet is slow enough to drive people mad and at this time I am feeling borderline hysterical. I have been stuck here for more than 5 days and home seems like another planet. Wonder when I will actually get home? Will my children ever understand her nomadic mother? I wonder if my mother is thinking of me now and I want some home food. Perhaps Spot is patiently waiting near my bed for me to return. I so want to cuddle him right now.
No message, a concerned naggy one liner or even a hi on FB, from anybody. D has not written to me for 5 days at a stretch, in spite of knowing about Yemen situation. He doesn’t miss me. I am sure he is fed up with my schedule by now. If only I can get out of here, I will give him so much time, that all his insecurities will go away. I know life will be much nicer, once I get out of here.
Even my mom has not dropped a line. Nobody misses me. Oh God! And my earache has started again. I hate everything. I hate the world right now. Should try to get some sleep now and STOP overthinking. Maybe the medicines are making me have such mad thoughts and feel so weepy. Shall not cry once again, otherwise will have awful puffy eyes in the evening. Internet’s back. Hmmm..K has a new baby. She looks so happy and proud. Think will have another baby this year and quit this crazy schedule. It will be much smoother and life will be good. I am so jealous of K right now and I so miss Home. And the power has gone yet once again. I hate Facebook. I hate Socotra. I just want to get out of here.
It’s India’s republic day and I am coming to know about it from TV. Home has never seemed so far and I am upset about being stuck in Socotra. In India President Obama is drowning in laurels and here my favourite tea shop man gave me a length of homemade goat hair rope to make me stop crying. “You can make it into a belt when you go back home”, he had said kindly, as I had burst into tears at the sight of our Republic Day Parade on TV. I have pushed back thoughts from home as much as I could, until now but it’s impossible to keep the lid on anymore. Why did I have to fall so terribly sick in Socotra in midst of Yemen’s political unrest? What if I can’t go home, by the time I get well? What if the embassy shuts shop and goes away? I WANT TO GO HOME.
Dinner and medicines have helped. I am much calmer now. Life is so strange and varied. It’s funny how the prima donna flight attendant, called “the queen” by my loved one, is grateful to be able to wash her hair once a week and I am not even a hardcore adverturist. Sanaa will happen hopefully soon and it’s funny how much Yemen has undergone during my stay. From a country facing major travel advisory and trickle of tourists, it is now on a complete NO GO list and embassies have gone back. People are living in volatile moments, apprehensive of dark days and even the Socotrans feel the palpable tension of uncertainty. The government has disappeared completely and I am perhaps one of the last few tourists visiting Yemen in a long time. With our return to our respective countries, Yemen will perhaps plunge into zero tourism (except for maybe Socotra) if the situation is not controlled.
Socotra too will face dire straits if the much advertised direct flight from Dubai is not introduced and there are hardly any chances of a foreigner wanting to undergo Sanaa to visit the island. A selfish part of me is however happy about it. The island will get a longer lease of life and a more prolonged preservation of innocence. I am ready to go home if only my illness gets over. And I want to get out of here fast before situation traps me in Socotra for good. I will not go anywhere for a long, long time and stay put at home. But someday I will return to Socotra with my mother and we will walk on soft sand and sleep underneath the stars.
I had left for home soon after 26th of January and my last day at Sanaa, had been most emotional. I truly love the city and with the cloud of danger looming too close over it’s beauty, I had taken a long last look as I had boarded my Dubai flight. The city had shimmered innocently in the evening light and the mosques had called out for prayer. Sanaa is a city of 103 mosques and most of them are both historically important and beautiful. I remember tears forming in my eyes as I had turned my back to it, because I had not not been sure if the gorgeous old Arabian jewel will remain standing for long. I had feared it to be heading the Syria, Iraq and the other unfortunate civilizations way and sadly on 20th March 2015, serial bombers backed by ISIS had killed over 140 innocent lives. With the fear and apprehension, which we had felt during our Socotra days, nearly coming true, I hope that the collective prayers of hundreds of Sanaa’s mosques will be able to dispel the danger which is slowly engulfing Yemen.
Follow the rest of the Yemen series here
- YEMEN CRISIS AND MEMORIES OF OLD SANAA
- MEMORIES OF SOCOTRA
- HOW I ENDED UP ON THE SOCOTRA ISLAND
- HADIBO AND URBANIZATION OF SOCOTRA
- THE MOUNTAIN BEDOUINS OF SOCOTRA
- LOSING TIME IN WADI DIRHUR
- CAVE ESCAPADE IN SOCOTRA
- THE SHIFTING SAND DUNES OF ZAHAK
- GETTING BURIED IN SAND IN OMAK
- DRIVING FROM QADAMA TO QALANCIYA
- THE AMBER HUNTER OF DETWA LAGOON
- LIVING A BIT OF LOCAL LIFE IN QALANCIYA
- EMPTY MOUMI PLATEAU: THE DESERT ROSE FOREST
- SOCOTRA YEMEN: TRAVEL DREAMS GO FROM AWESOME TO HORRIBLE.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE