Monday, 11 December 2017
YEMEN: Socotra, Most Alien Looking Place On Earth With Dragon Blood Tree Never Seen Anywhere
Socotra is an island and three islets in the Indian Ocean, an offshore territory of Yemen, near the horn of Somalia.
Socotra or Soqotra, is an archipelago of four islands located in the Arabian Sea, the largest island of which is also known as Socotra. The territory is part of Yemen, and had long been a subdivision of the Aden Governorate.
In 2004, it became attached to the Hadhramaut Governorate, which is much closer to the island than Aden, although the nearest governorate was the Al Mahrah Governorate. In 2013, the archipelago became its own governorate, the Socotra Governorate.
The island of Socotra constitutes around 95% of the landmass of the Socotra archipelago. It lies some 240 kilometres (150 mi) east of the Horn of Africa and 380 kilometres (240 mi) south of the Arabian Peninsula.
The island is very isolated, home to a high number of endemic species; up to a third of its plant life is endemic. It has been described as the most alien-looking place on Earth. The island measures 132 kilometres (82 mi) in length and 49.7 kilometres (30.9 mi) in width.
In 2001 a group of Belgian speleologists of the Socotra Karst Project investigated a cave on the island Socotra. There, they came across a large number of inscriptions, drawings and archaeological objects.
Further investigation showed that these had been left by sailors who visited the island between the 1st century BC and the 6th century AD.
Most of the texts are written in the Indian Brāhmī script, but there are also inscriptions in South Arabian, Ethiopic, Greek, Palmyrene and Bactrian scripts and languages.
This corpus of nearly 250 texts and drawings thus constitutes one of the main sources for the investigation of Indian Ocean trade networks in that time period.
A local tradition holds that the inhabitants were converted to Christianity by Thomas the Apostle in AD 52. In the 10th century, the Arab geographer Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdani stated that in his time most of the inhabitants were Christians.
Socotra is also mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo; Marco Polo did not pass anywhere near the island but recorded a report that the inhabitants were baptised Christians and had an archbishop who, it is further explained, had nothing to do with the Pope in Rome.
However, but was subject to an archbishop who lived at Baghdad. They were Nestorians but also practised ancient magic rituals despite the warnings of their archbishop.
In 1507, a Portuguese fleet commanded by Tristao da Cunha with Afonso de Albuquerque landed at the then capital of Suq and captured the port after a stiff battle.
Their objective was to set a base in a strategic place on the route to India, and to liberate the presumed friendly Christians from Islamic rule.
Tomas Fernandes started to build a fortress at Suq, the Forte de Sao Miguel de Socotora. However, the infertility of the land led to famine and sickness in the garrison.
Moreover, the lack of a proper harbour for wintering led to the loss of many moored Portuguese ships, the most important of which was the Santo Antonio galleon under the command of captain Manuel Pais da Veiga.
Thus the Portuguese abandoned the island four years later, as it was not advantageous as a base.
The islands passed under the control of the Mahra sultans in 1511, and its inhabitants were Islamized during their rule.
However, in 1737, Captain de la Garde-Jazier, commander of a French naval expedition heading for Mocha, was surprised to find Christian tribes living in the interior of Socotra during a five-week stopover on the island.
He reported in a letter home that the tribesmen, due to lack of missionaries, had only retained a faint knowledge of Christianity.
In 1834, the East India Company, in the expectation that the Mahra sultan of Qishn and Socotra, who resided at Qishn on the mainland, would accept an offer to sell the island, stationed a garrison on Socotra.
However, faced with the unexpected firm refusal of the sultan to sell, as well as the lack of good anchorages for a coaling station to be used by the new steamship line being put into service on the Suez-Bombay route, the British left in 1835.
After the capture of Aden in 1839, the British lost all interest in acquiring Socotra.
In January 1876, in exchange for a payment of 3000 thalers and a yearly subsidy, the sultan pledged himself, his heirs and successors, never to cede, to sell, to mortgage, or otherwise give for occupation, save to the British Government, the Island of Socotra or any of its dependencies.
Additionally, he pledged to give assistance to any European vessel that wrecked on the island and protect the crew, the passengers and the cargo, in exchange for a suitable reward.
In April 1886, the British government, concerned about reports that the German navy had been visiting various ports in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean for the purpose of securing a naval base, decided to conclude a protectorate treaty with the sultan in which he promised this time to refrain from entering into any correspondence, agreement, or treaty with any foreign nation or power.
Except with the knowledge and sanction of the British Government, and give immediate notice to the British Resident at Aden of any attempt by another power to interfere with Socotra and its dependencies.
Apart from those obligations, this preemptive protectorate treaty, designed above all to seal off Socotra from competing colonial powers, left the sultan in control of the island. In 1897, the P&O ship Aden sank after being wrecked on a reef near Socotra, with the loss of 78 lives.
As some of the cargo had been plundered by islanders, the sultan was reminded of his obligations under the agreement of 1876.
In October 1967, in the wake of the departure of the British from Aden and southern Arabia, the Mahra Sultanate as well as the other states of the former Aden Protectorate were abolished. On 30 November of the same year, Socotra became part of South Yemen.
Since Yemeni unification in 1990, it has been part of the Republic of Yemen. Today, Socotra is the only region of Yemen not to be involved in the disastrous civil war, with no military confrontations or attacks having taken place on the island.
Socotra is one of the most isolated landforms on Earth of continental origin,i.e. not of volcanic origin. The archipelago was once part of the supercontinent of Gondwana and detached during the Miocene epoch, in the same set of rifting events that opened the Gulf of Aden to its northwest.
The archipelago consists of the main island of Socotra (3,665 km2 (1,415 sq mi)), the three smaller islands of Abd al Kuri, Samhah and Darsa, as well as small rock outcrops like Ka'l Fir'awn and Sabuniyah that are uninhabitable by humans but important for seabirds.
The main island has three geographical terrains: the narrow coastal plains, a limestone plateau permeated with karstic caves, and the Haghier Mountains. The mountains rise to 1,503 metres (4,931 ft). The island is about 125 kilometres (78 mi) long and 45 kilometres (28 mi) north to south.
The climate of Socotra is classified in the Koppen climate classification as BWh and BSh, meaning a tropical desert climate and semi-desert climate with a mean annual temperature over 25 °C or 77 °F. Yearly rainfall is light, but is fairly spread throughout the year.
Due to orographic lift provided by the interior mountains, especially during the northeast monsoon from October to December, the highest inland areas can average as much as 800 millimetres (31.50 in) per year and receive over 250 millimetres (9.84 in) per month in November or December.
The southwest monsoon season from July to September brings strong winds and high seas. For many centuries, the sailors of Gujarat called the maritime route near Socotra as Sikotro Sinh, meaning the lion of Socotra, that constantly roars—referring to the high seas near Socotra.
In an extremely unusual occurrence, the western side of Socotra received more than 410 millimetres (16.14 in) of rain from Cyclone Chapala in November 2015.
Socotra is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea. In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna.
They counted nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth; only New Zealand, Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galápagos Islands have more impressive numbers.
The long geological isolation of the Socotra archipelago and its fierce heat and drought have combined to create a unique and spectacular endemic flora.
Botanical field surveys led by the Centre for Middle Eastern Plants, part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, indicate that 307 out of the 825 (37%) plant species on Socotra are endemic, i.e., they are found nowhere else on Earth.
The entire flora of the Socotra Archipelago has been assessed for the IUCN Red List, with 3 Critically Endangered and 27 Endangered plant species recognised in 2004.
One of the most striking of Socotra's plants is the dragon's blood tree or Dracaena cinnabari, which is a strange-looking, umbrella-shaped tree.
Its red sap was thought to be the dragon's blood of the ancients, sought after as a dye, and today used as paint and varnish.
Also important in ancient times were Socotra's various endemic aloes, used medicinally, and for cosmetics. Other endemic plants include the giant succulent tree Dorstenia gigas, the cucumber tree Dendrosicyos socotranus, the rare Socotran pomegranate or Punica protopunica, Aloe perryi, and Boswellia socotrana.
The island group also has a rich fauna, including several endemic species of birds, such as the Socotra starling or Onychognathus frater, the Socotra sunbird or Nectarinia balfouri, Socotra bunting or Emberiza socotrana, Socotra cisticola or Cisticola haesitatus, Socotra sparrow or Passer insularis.
Socotra golden-winged grosbeak or Rhynchostruthus socotranus, and a species in a monotypic genus, the Socotra warbler or Incana incana. Many of the bird species are endangered by predation by non-native feral cats.
With only one endemic mammal, 6 endemic bird species and no amphibians, reptiles constitute the most relevant Socotran vertebrate fauna with 31 species. If one excludes the two recently introduced species, Hemidactylus robustus and Hemidactylus flaviviridis, all native species are endemic.
There is a very high level of endemism at both species (29 of 31, 94%) and genus levels (5 of 12, 42%). At the species level, endemicity may be even higher, as phylogenetic studies have uncovered substantial hidden diversity.
The reptiles species include skinks, legless lizards, and one species of chameleon, Chamaeleo monachus. There are many endemic invertebrates, including several spiders such as the tarantula Monocentropus balfouri and three species of freshwater crabs,one Socotra and two Socotrapotamon.
As with many isolated island systems, bats are the only mammals native to Socotra. In contrast, the coral reefs of Socotra are diverse, with many endemic species. Socotra is also one of the homes of the butterfly Bicyclus anynana.
Over the two thousand years of human settlement on the islands the environment has slowly but continuously changed, and according to Jonathan Kingdon, the animals and plants that remain represent a degraded fraction of what once existed.
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea says the island had crocodiles and large lizards, and the present reptilian fauna appears to be greatly reduced. Until a few centuries ago, there were rivers and wetlands on the island, greater stocks of the endemic trees, and abundant pasture.
The Portuguese recorded the presence of water buffaloes in the early 17th century. Now there are only sand gullies, and many native plants only survive where there is greater moisture or protection from livestock.
The remaining Socotra fauna is greatly threatened by goats and other introduced species.
The island was recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world natural heritage site in July 2008.
The European Union has supported such a move, calling on both UNESCO and International Organisation of Protecting Environment to classify the island archipelago among the environmental heritages.
Most of the inhabitants are indigenous Soqotri people from Al-Mahrah tribe, who are of Southern Arabian descent from Al Mahrah Governorate, and are said to be especially closely related with the Qara and Mahra groups of Southern Arabia.
There are also a small number of residents of Somali and Indian origin. In addition, the island is inhabited by various Black African peoples, who are believed to be descendants of runaway slaves.
The Semitic language Soqotri, spoken originally only in Socotra by Al-Mahrah people, is related to such other Modern South Arabian languages on the Arabian mainland as Mehri, Harsusi, Bathari, Shehri, and Hobyot.
Soqotri is also spoken by Al-Mahrah minority populations in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and Kuwait.
Almost all inhabitants of Socotra, numbering nearly 50,000, live on the homonymous main island of the archipelago.The principal city, Hadibu with a population of 8,545 at the census of 2004.
The second largest town, Qalansiyah (population 3,862); and Qad̨ub population 929 are all located on the north coast of the island of Socotra. Only about 450 people live on Abd-al-Kuri and 100 on Samha; the island of Darsa and the islets of the archipelago are uninhabited.
The archipelago forms two districts of the Hadhramaut Governorate:
The district of Hadibu, with a population of 32,285 and a district seat at Hadibu, consists of the eastern two-thirds of the main island of Socotra.
The district of Qulansiyah wa Abd-al-Kuri, with a population of 10,557 and a district seat at Qulansiyah, consists of the minor islands,the island of Abd-al-Kuri chief among them and the western third of the main island.
The islanders followed indigenous religions until 52 AD, when, according to local beliefs, Thomas the Apostle was shipwrecked there on his way to evangelize India. He then supposedly constructed a church out of his ship's wreckage and baptized many Socotrans.
After this, Christianity became the main religion of the island. They followed Nestorius, the Catholic Archbishop of Constantinople, who was later excommunicated for heresies. The Socotrans remained loyal to his teachings and joined the Assyrian church.
During the 10th century, Arab geographer Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdani recorded during his visits that most of the islanders were Christian.
Explorer Marco Polo wrote in his travelogue that:
I give you my word that the people of this island are the most expert enchanters in the world. It is true that the archbishop does not approve of these enchantments and rebukes them for the practice. But this has no effect, because they say that their forefathers did these things of old.
Christianity in Socotra went into decline when the Mahra sultanate took power in the 16th century and became mostly Muslim by the time the Portuguese arrived later that century.
An 1884 edition of Nature, a science journal, writes that the disappearance of Christian churches and monuments can be accounted for by a Wahhabi excursion to the island in 1800.
Today the only remnants of Christianity are some cross engravings from the 1st century AD, a few Christian tombs, and some church ruins.
The primary occupations of the people of Socotra have traditionally been fishing, animal husbandry, and the cultivation of dates.
Monsoons long made the archipelago inaccessible from June to September each year. However, in July 1999, a new airport opened Socotra to the outside world all year round. There is regular service to and from Aden and Sana'a.
All scheduled commercial flights make a technical stop at Riyan-Mukalla Airport. Socotra Airport is located about 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) west of the main city, Hadibu, and close to the third largest town in the archipelago, Qad̨ub.
Diesel generators make electricity widely available in Socotra. A paved road runs along the north shore from Qulansiyah to Hadibu and then to the DiHamri area; and another paved road, from the northern coast to the southern through the Dixsam Plateau.
The former capital is located to the east of Hadibu. A small Yemeni Army barracks lies at the western end of Hadibu, and the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has a residence there.
Some residents raise cattle and goats. The chief export products of the island are dates, ghee, tobacco, and fish.
At the end of the 1990s, a United Nations Development Program was launched with the aim of providing a close survey of the island of Socotra. The project called Socotra Governance and Biodiversity Project have listed following goals from 2009:
- Local governance support
- Development and implementation of mainstreaming tools
- Strengthening nongovernmental organizations' advocacy
- Direction of biodiversity conservation benefits to the local people
- Support to the fisheries sector and training of professionals
Socotra was being considered as a possible site for the Yemeni jihadist rehabilitation program.
Public transport on Socotra is limited to a few minibuses; car hire usually means hiring a 4WD car with driver.
Transport is a delicate matter on Socotra because, as much as modern transportation has its advantages, road construction has been considered detrimental to the island and its ecosystem.
The most harm is being done by chemical pollution from road construction and road provoked habitat fragmentation.
For more eco-friendly alternatives, companies have started offering bicycle and enduro motorcycle tours on Socotra.
The only port on Socotra is 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) east of Hadibu. Ships connect the port with the Yemeni coastal city of Mukalla. According to information from the ports, the journey takes 2–3 days and the service is used mostly for cargo.
Yemenia and Felix Airways flew from Socotra Airport to Sana'a and Aden via Riyan Airport. As of March 2015, due to ongoing civil war involving Saudi Arabia's Air Force all flights to and from Socotra have been canceled.
Due to its remarkable biodiversity, with over a third of the local plant species found nowhere else, Socotra has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With over 40,000 inhabitants, though, it's not just a nature reserve.
The Island is new to tourism, so if you are looking for a luxurious vacation this is not the right destination. However, Socotra is a perfect destination for the adventurous and nature loving travelers.
Socotra takes pride in their eco-tourism and values their spectacular plant and wildlife that may sometimes be only found on this island.
Although the lodging and facilities may not be the same as more modern and developed locations, Socotra is a beautiful and magnificent destination choice. Great care is shown to both guests and the environment.
Socotra is an eco-tourism system with limited infrastructure and new to the international tourist market, and therefore the hotel accommodations are not quite like other destinations.
However there are four hotels in Hadibo: Taj Socotra Hotel, Hafijj Hotel, Socotra Hotel, and Summer land Hotel. These hotels may not be the most luxurious, but they do provide air-conditioning, televisions, and refrigerators in all of the rooms.
Most of the rooms at these hotels have their own bathroom, but there are a few rooms at the Hafijj Hotel and Socotra Hotel that must share bathrooms. Fortunately, there is a restaurant in each of the hotels with simple yet delicious cuisine.
Considering Socotra is a fairly new eco-tourism destination, their facilities are decent. In addition, there is also another hotel at the airport as well as multiple guest houses around the island.
The most popular lodging is actually camping on the beaches. There are several campsites that allow tourists to barbeque on the beach with beautiful mountain views in the background.
Tourists can choose to purchase camping tour packages which include a driver or guide that will show tourists around the beaches as well as provide meals during their stay. It is a fantastic way to enjoy the beauty and wildlife of the island.
An airport that provides fairly regular airline transportation was only constructed in 1999. Like everything else, infrastructure and transportation has only just begun in recent years.
There are also plans for new harbor facilities that will allow fisherman to sell and catch more easily and make importing food and fuel simpler.
In addition, there are also two information centers located at the airport and Hadibo.
Climate is an important consideration. And this depends on your interest. Nature enthusiasts should go from early October to late April. The monsoon occurs in July till mid-August ,during July in the south east and south west of the island, wind surfing activity can be arranged.
Wildlife and natural viewing is best from the end of January through May.
As of February 2012 there are flights from Sana'a/Socotra and Aden. These stop at Riyan Mukalla Airport. Yemenia Airlines offers one flight per week on Thursday morning; Felix Airways offers three flights per week on Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Flight duration is about two hours.
Nearly all flights in and out of Yemen have been suspended due to the ongoing war and bombing by Saudi Arabia. The city of Mukalla where all flights to and from Socotra would normally stop is occupied by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, making it extremely dangerous for visitors if entry is possible at all.
Additionally, high levels of pirate activity around Socotra make visiting the island by sea very hazardous as well. With sea and air links severed, Socotra is thus essentially inaccessible for the time being until hostilities cease.
There is a public bus from the airport to Hadibo and from Hadibo to Qalansia. Beside these two buses, there is no public transport, but car rental with driver is available. There is a lot of walking and hiking along with camel back rides available.
Socotra is considered the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea. Although the region is small, it is characterized by unique land and marine biodiversity.
The interior of the island is dominated by the beautiful and green Hagghier mountains and limestone plateau. While on the outer coastline, breathtaking natural beaches have pure white sand dunes and palm trees.
Socotra Isand is very rich and is home to many rare spectacular species of reefs, fish, birds, plants, and trees which are not found anywhere else in the world.
The limestone plateau and the Hagghier Mountains are the richest areas for endemic plant species, but endemics are found throughout the island in every type of vegetation.
One of the most famous plants is the Dragon's Blood Tree or dracaena cinnabara which exists only on Socotra and nowhere else on the Earth. The tree got its name because if any damage is made to the bark then a dark red liquid oozes out.
There is also the Desert Rose or adenium obesium which looks like a blooming elephant leg. Also found in Socotra's landscape is the ever-strange and extremely rare Cucumber Tree. In addition there are over 120 species of birds and about 190 species of butterflies.
There is so much beauty all around the island, it is difficult not the appreciate to magnificent scenery and wildlife.
Camp, With a bit of water for washing, a good meal and warm sleeping surrounded by virgin nature, camping on the beaches will provide a very special break from the every day routine in civilization.
Hiking, The Scant, Tinnera, Firmihin, Dersmotin regions, are the most popular destinations for trekkers. Hiking is for everyone and even for those who are less athletic. However for more difficult and high altitude trails, it is recommended to be accompanied by a local guide.
Camel back ride, It is an opportunity to get to know and enjoy the spectacular scenery and relaxed the rhythm of ancient time. This is more of a less active adventure. The camel back rides provide a more relaxing ride over plateaus and colorful panoramas and mountains.
Surf, Socotra has excellent conditions for surfing. The best time to come for this activity is during the monsoon season from June up to late August. In July the wind speed can reach up to 60 mph and you have to be aware of such conditions.
Since the winds and be very rough it is recommended that only experienced surfers participate.
Scuba dive/ Snorkel, Dive into the tropical warm weather filled with coral reefs. Enjoy swimming among the hundreds of species of fish and marine life such as barracudas, monkfish, dolphins, rays and even mantas. Diving for all ages and levels.
Bird watching tours, This is for anyone who has an interest in birds. Excellent way to view nature and the highly diverse bird population while avoiding harming any wildlife.
Local boat safaris and fishing, Take one of the organized tours and be taken to incomparable destinations. The trip to Shouab beach is a half day tour to discover the beauty of this remarkable destination.
With the clear water and white sands you can snorkel and relax. While driving the boat, dolphins can be seen swimming right next to the boat.
Also go on a fascinating fishing experience with some of the locals.
Remarkable volcanic caves: Explore the Hoq Cave with its overwhelming beauty and variety of crystal decorations.
Beaches Shouab, Qalansia, Arher, Noget, Amaq among others
Wadis and fresh water pools Homhil, Wadi Dirhir and others.
Socotra is a remote island and therefore their cuisine is limited and simple. Local restaurants often serve fresh fish, chicken, goat, rice, and potatoes. The fish is highly recommended and all meals are typically served with flat Arabic bread.
There are also restaurants at each of the five hotels with a simple menu similar to that of the local restaurants.
Oranges, bananas, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, bottled water, and soft drinks can all be bought at shops in town. Vegetables can be bought also but they are more expensive because they must be shipped over.
If you are camping in Socotra, your driver/guide will be responsible for your meals typically some amazing freshly cooked fish, if the tourists would like to be liked by the local community, they should tip the driver and the guide.
Relying on the driver and the guide and not tipping them is not good, so help please
Since Yemen is an Islamic country, there are no alcoholic beverages provided except at five star hotels in the big cities mainland. It is suggested for tourists to bring their own alcohol if desired. Bottled water and soft drinks can be purchased at shops in town.
Bottled water is also available at the campsites, and tea is served with all the meals as well.
Malaria is not common, but malaria prophylaxis is recommended. Cholera is not on the island at all.
The hospitals offer less than adequate service, but pharmacies are located around Hadibo.
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