"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.