A Travellerspoint blog

False Start

After years of talking about going to Socotra and finally pulling the trigger, it has now all come to an abrupt end.

A couple of days ago Kelsey found a single news article buried under mountains of other Yemen news that declared Felix Airways had completely ceased operations this week. Felix is (was) our ticket from the UAE to the island of Socotra. We held out hope as it was only one article and we could not find anything else published to support it.

We exchanged emails with Abduljameel yesterday who sadly, was able to confirm. This leaves only one other option for getting to the island which is with Yemeni Airways. From Dubai they fly through Sana'a (capital of Yemen) and we would be forced to spend the night there based on flight schedules. Not feeling comfortable with this layover, we've had to make the decision to not go to Socotra.

This is a devastating development for those on the island that rely on tourism and one can't help but feel badly for the difficult position they are in.

Our flights to Dubai are not refundable so we are in the process of making last-minute plans to do something else in the area. Currently, we are honing in on a plan to rent a landcruiser (or the like) and do some camping/road-tripping around Oman.

More to come.....

Posted by madpax 10:17 Comments (2)

Promoting tourism - time will tell...

Good article on Yemen's efforts and desire to improve safety and attract investors to Socotra:

Yemen promotes tourism in Socotra Island

I truly hope they are able to create a sustainable tourism industry on Socotra that doesn't damage what makes the place so special in the first place. Feeling really grateful that we are able to go before significant changes take place.

Posted by madpax 06:36 Comments (3)

Socotra, Yemen

"We look forward to welcome on you on Socotra." - Abduljameel

These words at the close of Abduljameel's last email to us seems like a dream about to come true. Socotra has been at the top of our travel list for years and now here it is.....becoming a reality.

Socotra is one of a few very special places left in this world and wildly misunderstood by most. It is situated in the Gulf of Aden about 240 miles from the mainland of Yemen (to which it belongs) and 150 miles from the Horn of Africa. It has been described both as the "most alien-looking place on earth" and the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean". About 1/3 of the flora on this island can be found nowhere else in the world which helped hoist the island to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2008.

So why have most people never heard of Socotra? And why does the island only have about 2000 visitors per year? While I think this will change rapidly in the coming years, Socotra remains largely unheard of and undeveloped due to its geographic location in the world and the country to which it belongs.

As soon as most people hear "Yemen", they immediately shut down and assume going to Socotra is unacceptably dangerous. While traveling to Yemen should never be taken lightly, it only takes a little bit of research to realize that Socotra is very different from the mainland. A good comparison would be if Ecuador was experiencing instability, I don't think it would stop most people from visiting the Galapagos.

The population of the entire island of Socotra is around 50,000 people. While it is a very conservative muslim population, they are unaffected by the instability and extremism experienced on the Yemeni mainland. The people speak Soqotri - an ancient unwritten, pre-islamic language. Most of those who live here have never been off the island. They live in peace, surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. While Yemen has one of the highest per capita gun ownership rates in the world, there isn't a single gun on the island of Socotra.

Socotra is in a perilous point in their history. Without proper protections, the island's biodiversity is in danger. With such low numbers of visitors, it is very difficult to generate the revenue needed to support and reward conservation. However, on the other hand the danger of unchecked development could prove to be equally as damaging to the island.

So that is why we are going to go there now. Well....In February anyway.

Posted by madpax 17:37 Comments (2)

Back in Delhi

sunny 100 °F
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Took an internal flight this morning (we are all spent on train stations) to Delhi.

The last few days in Varanasi have been really relaxing - it was good to slow down for a while. If there was any place we visited that was negatively impacted by it being the monsoon season, it was Varanasi. The Ganges was so high that river boat trips were not possible. In addition, you could not walk the length of the ghats from the river side also due to the water level.

That aside, it was an experience - just like everything else. Holy men, funeral processions, chanting prayer rituals. And the bulls! About twice the size of anywhere else we've been - massive and fat. I think they are even more revered as you get closer to the holy waters of the Ganges and are benefitting from the extra feeding.

Kelsey and Paxton took part in an Aarti ritual where wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) are places in a bowl with rose petals, lit and placed into the river as an offering to Mother Ganga.

Editorial correction on the Modi speach - it turned out not to be the Prime Minister. Something was lost in translation as it was actually a local governor or something. Still much pomp however.

Two nights here and Delhi and then a 2am flight home. Looking forward to coming home with another bit of this crazy world in our memories.

Posted by madpax 01:53 Archived in India Comments (1)

Arrival in Varanasi

sunny 95 °F
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We arrived in the holy city of Varanasi last night around 10pm. Our 7 hour train from Khajuraho turned into 10 hours for reasons unknown. After a 2.5 hour car ride to get to the station in Satna.

Khajuraho has turned out to be a highlight of the trip. We spent almost three days there and enjoyed it immensely. The temples were amazing and the pace of things was a nice change from most of the rest of India - a bit out of the way from anything else and a small village to boot. On arrival we found a driver named Kashi who ended up being our guy the three days we were there. Even took us to Santa for our train. Quiet and assuming he took very good care of us. He told Kelsey he was a "good man with good family" and told the kids "happy life, happy travels" when we said good bye the last day. Good man.

And so here we are in one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, considered particularly important for Hindus who believe the waters of the Ganges here can wash away their sins. There are also "burning" ghats leading down to the river in which deceased are cremated and released into the sacred waters.

We are taking today to recuperate in our hotel before heading out and experiencing what we know will be overwhelming and perhaps a bit difficult.

We are all well and happy. We decided to splurge a bit and stay in a nice place called the Hotel Surya - apparently built in 1818 for the King of Nepal. The main reason we booked it is the restaurant has chips/salsa and hummus on the menu :) We found out this morning that Modi (India's primer minister) is going to be here any minute to deliver a speech. We are on the balcony now overlooking where he is to arrive. Crazy that they have all these balconies unsecured like this - wouldn't be like this at home.

It's all good.

Posted by madpax 01:32 Archived in India Comments (2)

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