svetlana baghawan maverickbirdMy 1st encounter with Socotra had happened when I was in school and had chanced upon a brilliant TV commercial. It had featured the magnificent blood dragon tree, which is found only in Socotra and I had lost my heart to it ever since. Never before had I loved a singular object of nature as much as I had wanted the alien looking tree and its unique rarity had made it all the more dearer. Needless to say, Socotra had been the 1st destination in my long list of outlandish travel dreams and over the years, I had slowly fulfilled nearly all of them. My flying career of more than a decade had helped me achieve my dreams and later, my freelance work as researcher, travel business developer and writer had helped.

While work had taken me to both touristy and off beat places, none had brought me close to my Socotran dream. Over the years, my 1st travel love had become larger than life and apart from, Bolivia’s “Mirror of the Earth”, Uyuni Salt Flats, I have not waited for any destination like I had lusted after Socotra. Strange, unfamiliar places and events beckon me and I work with like minded people. However, in spite of everything, Socotra had eluded me for years, until recently, when 2 small miracles had changed that for good.

A movie director friend of mine, for whom I have been working as a locale hunter for some time, recently showed me a photo of the blood dragon tree and asked me to explore its whereabouts. The opportunity which had seemed to good to be true, had completely taken me by surprise and I had rushed headlong into digging out Socotra information, before he changed his mind. Internet, however, had yielded very few results and apart from a glaring TRAVEL ADVISORY on Yemen, I had found nothing much, which was usable. From that request date to the day of actual travel, it had taken me more than 1 year to do my Socotra homework, yet most of my research had been pointless.

Online search of Socotra tours had shown horrendously expensive prices and the last traveler review of the island, had belonged to 2010. The available online travel guides had been of no help and I had not been able to find a single usable site, mentioning anything about its hotels, transportation, things to do etc. It had all seemed very bizarre as if nobody had visited the island since 2010 or its visitors had jealously wanted to safeguard it from the world. I had nearly given up on Socotra, when another miracle had happened, thus easing out all my travel woes and clearing my doubts. The help had come in form of an ex colleague, who is also an avid angler. Being a commercial airline pilot, he too travels to remotest corners of the earth, following big catches and his shared album of Socotra on a social media site, had drawn me to seek his help. It was him, who had got me connected with his local Socotri friend and before I knew it, I was off to the most isolated island on earth.

Socotra is isolation personified and in no other place on earth, had solitude felt more relaxing. Cut off from the Yemeni mainland and located close to the Horn of Africa, this archipelago of 4 islands is termed as the “most alien looking place on earth”. Technically it belongs to the small Arabian nation of Yemen, but it’s language, culture, lifestyle, food habits and demography differs completely from the mainland. Often referred to as the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean”, this hard to access island houses some of the world’s rarest flora, which are not found anywhere else on earth. In fact, a third of the island’s incredible plants are endemic and this has lead to Socotra island being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During the time of my visit, Yemen had been in the international media glare for a lot of politically incorrect reasons and I had had apprehensions before visiting the country. It had undoubtedly, been going through civil unrest at that time and the entire government had collapsed during my stay. The reality, however, had still been a far cry from the blood thirsty images usually associated with it. I had stayed there for more than 15 days and it had been both beautiful and difficult in equal parts. While it was my Socotra dream, which had brought me to Yemen, the land of Queen Sheba, I had ended up loving the mainland more than its archipelago territory. Canceled flights, restrictive travel permits, language problem and ongoing civil unrest had made it impossible to discover Yemen solo, but for once I had been glad about it. Under the careful guidance of my Yemeni friends, I had embarked upon an Arabian dream and had felt awfully lucky to discover a still thriving culture of, hospitality is next to godliness, among the old dusty gun splattered streets of Yemen.

Socotra on the other hand, had been free of any restrictions, void of any signs of unrest, yet after a week of my solo struggle, I knew that I had had enough of the place. People make places and I have fonder memories of the Yemeni mainland than Socotra. The island, however, had fitted my bill of “seeking the unknown” perfectly and with the exception of perhaps, Raja Ampat Islands of Indonesian West Papua, Socotra had been most virginal. Recently I found out, that my nomadic flights of more than 13 years (starting from my flying days), have covered a whole lot of the planet, more than 50 countries and most of the discovered naturally alien looking places on earth. Socotra, however, in spite of all those years of seasoned travel experience, had successfully managed to keep me captivated and its every turn had left me breathless.

Although, it had been the blood dragon tree, which had drawn me to the island, Socotra’s spectacular beaches, shifting sand dunes, massive yawning caves, open rolling meadows and mist shrouded blue peaks had left me mesmerized. The biggest shock and delight had been its utter isolation and it had been hard to believe that even in 2015, there had existed a beach, a mountain, a stream, an island on earth, which most of the times, had belonged solely to me. The isolation, however, had come at a price and the biggest challenge had been to fight through the shroud of carefully cultivated lack of information about the island and the horrible tourism monopoly which exists there. During my trip, I have had to unravel too many spirit breaking “Why’s, Where’s and How’s” and Socotra had definitely made me push my endurance limit to the fullest.

From sleeping in caves, calling a car home for days, going without shower, proper food, battling harsh conditions, lack of hygiene etc, Socotra had been tough on the body and easy on the soul. Nothing had felt more gut wrenching than to navigate through the litter choked lanes of it’s main town of Hadibo and it had been equally heavenly to explore Socotra’s gold drenched sunsets, sugar white beaches and soft aquamarine water. While the island’s ugly mercenary system of haggling had worn me down, I had magically drained out my exhaustion by simply hugging the timeless gnarly branches of blood dragon trees. Never before had nature touched me so deeply and I had not felt so gladly detached from everything at any place on earth, other than in Socotra.

Yet, my preference lies with Yemeni mainland and I have often imagined separating the people from the island, to restore some of it’s magical aura in my eyes. The change of heart, however persists and till today, I feel a bit cheated by my own dream. Although, because of my conflicting feelings, it is kind of hard to pen down my Socotra and beyond experiences, this set is dedicated to my biggest travel dream, the playground of dragons, queens and phoenixes and my radical change of heart at Yemen.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

Socotra had been

Socotra had been

Breathtaking

Breathtaking

And rare

And rare

And it had been mine

And it had been mine

For some days

For some days

Undoubtedly a

Undoubtedly a

Once in a lifetime

Once in a lifetime

Experience, it strange

Experience

It's strange

It’s strange

That I prefer

That I prefer

Yemeni mainland's

Yemeni mainland’s

Humane happiness

Humane happiness

And beating

And beating

Arabian heart

Arabian heart

To Socotra's

To Socotra’s

Wild, untamed

Wild, untamed

Magnificence

Magnificence

Presenting tales from

Presenting tales from

Socotra

Socotra

And beyond

And beyond