Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean -
|July 17, 2009|
It is like being on a
different planet... These pictures and
information are excellent
viewing and reading.
Socotra Island : you have to see it to
believe it. This island simply blows away any
notion about what is considered "normal" for a
landscape on Earth.
Imagine waking up on
the and taking a good look around you. After a
yelp of disbelief, you'd be inclined to think
you were transported to another planet - or
traveled to another era of Earth's
The second would be
closer to the truth for this island, which is
part of a group of 4 islands, has been
geographically isolated from mainland Africa for
the last 6 or 7 million years. Like the
Galapagos Islands , this island is teeming with
700 extremely rare species of flora and fauna, a
full 1/3 of which are endemic, i.e. found
nowhere else on Earth.
The climate is harsh,
hot and dry, and yet - the most amazing plant
life thrives there. Situated in the Indian Ocean
250 km from Somalia and 340 km from Yemen , the
wide sandy beaches rise to limestone plateaus
full of caves (some 7 kilometers in length) and
mountains up to 1525 meters high.
The name Socotra is
derived from a Sanscrit name, meaning "The
Island of Bliss "... Is it the beaches? The
isolation and quiet? Or the strange and crazy
botanical allure? Alien-looking plants: H. P.
Lovecraft's secret inspiration?
Was the famous Chtulhu
myths creator aware of these forbidding
mountains with their hauntingly weird flora
(think of plant mutations from his "The Color
out of Space")? We almost tempted to call
Socotra the other "Mountains of Madness" - the
trees and plants of this island were preserved
thru the long geological isolation, some
varieties being 20 million years old...
We begin with the
dracena cinnibaris or Dragon's Blood Tree, the
source of valuable resin for varnishes, dyes,
and "cure-all" medicine; also (predictably) used
in medieval ritual magic and alchemy.
The branches spread out
into the sky and from below appear to hover over
the landscape like so many flying saucers... and
from above, they have a distinct mushroom look:
There is also the Desert
Rose (adenium obesium) which looks like nothing
so much as a blooming elephant leg:
Dorstenia gigas -
apparently does not require any soil and sinks
roots straight into the bare rock:
It also has a distinct
personality and likes to smile for the camera:
Somewhat similar to the
weird Dorstenia gigas, is this "bucha"
vegetable, found as far north as Croatia . I
hope it's not pregnant with anything malignant
inside this sack. John Wyndham ("The Day of the
Triffids") would've loved it:
Also found in Socotra 's
landscape is the ever-strange and extremely rare
Cucumber Tree (dendrosicyos socotranum) - and
yes, it's related to what's sitting in a pickle
jar in your fridge:
Getting around can be a
challenge, as there are almost no roads.
Despite the fact that
this island has around 40,000 inhabitants, the
Yemeni government put in the first roads just 2
years ago - after negotiations with UNESCO,
which has declared this island a World Natural
Heritage Site. I would prefer a camel ride to
what is bound to be a bumpy and slow 4x4 ride...
It is a quiet and peaceful enclave in an
otherwise troubled world. If you decide to visit
there, you can forget about beachfront hotels
and restaurants; this island is geared towards
eco-tourism and sustaining the local economy and
way of life.
This island is a
birder's paradise as well, with 140 different
species of birds, 10 of which are not found
anywhere else in the world. A unique Socotra
warbler, sunbird, starling, bunting, sparrow and
cisticola are among the ones found here. There
are also Socotra Cormorants:
Want to see some
fairy-tale (and possibly haunted) shipwrecks?
There are diving tours available...
Hopefully some IMAX crew
will film it in all its glory one day.
To give you a glimpse of
Socotra's and Yemen 's in general totally unique
architecture, check out this place located on
Al Hajarah, Yemen -
Walled city in the mist
Socotra is one of those
"lost world" islands (separated from the world
six million years ago) where intrepid travelers
- particularly those seeking exotic nature and
wildlife in a remote tropical setting - can go
days on end without rubbing shoulders with that
less-than-endangered species: tourists.
Known for decades as the
Galapagos of the Indian Ocean , it's the world's
tenth richest island for endemic plant species.
And it's the biggest island in the Middle East
125 kilometers in length and 45 kilometers
Meanwhile the landscape
is one of contrasts; for example, it has
isolated nature preserves with dazzling
wildlife, including 900 species of plants, the
famous Dragon's Blood Tree "dracaena cinnabara,"
some of the rarest birds that exist nowhere else
in the world, and picturesque sandy beaches.