The Yemen Camel Trek I made on Socotra was one of the best things I ever did…
You see, I had never even heard of the place. Until I read one of those overviews along the lines of “the ten weirdest places on earth”. Living in Dubai at that moment, I figured, this is the ideal moment to actually go there. Dubai is absolutely great to fly throughout this region.
The flight goes from Sharjah, the strict Islamic emirate north of Dubai. And as modern as the airport in Dubai is, as basic is the one in Sharjah. There are only flights to surrounding countries going from here and there are NO Western tourists, which gives it a real middle eastern vibe.
The first bit of the flight flew across the vast deserts of Oman and Saudi Arabia. Red-Orange sand dunes and waterless mountain ranges as far as the eye could see. In Yemen we transit ing on the plane to Socotra is the best flight ever.
As soon as we are in the air the pilot starts to chat. About the island. What one can see. The crowth is cheerful. The captain his cabin is open and everybody is walking around talking to each other. Mostly Yemeni working in the UAE. The men were scarfs around their head and simple comfortable clothes. The women all are completely covered. Including their faces but not their eyes. They are loaded with gifts for the family back home.
The Island of Socotra
Soctotra is an island of the coast of Yemen. It is close to Somalia. The island has for a long time been forgotten, and only has a flight going there since 2006. And still, now only 2 times a week there is an incoming flight.
The remoteness has given the island some amazing divers vegetation. Aspects of “modern” life (like electricity) are still nowhere to be found.
There is however no shortage of natural beauty. Which is pointed out by the pilot, when we arrive at the island. Urging us to look down at a wonder full blue green lagune of Qulansiyah (on which later more).
Arriving at the island is easy going. No controls. One government official stand happily smiling. The main island of Yemen is torn apart by violence and Islamic radicals. And actually a Dutch guy is kidnapped the same time as I am there. Figuring that not many people go to Yemen, it even made one of my friends contact the ministry of foreign affairs, to make sure I was ok (which of course they did not know).
But none of that is found in this is a very peaceful piece of the earth. With zero crime. And lots to see for tourists. Who are finding the island more and more.
From the airport we make our way to the camp. There we are assigned a driver and a guide. They will take me around the island. In my case a whopping 17 days. I am going to see it all.
Anyway, I can talk on for hours, on the entire trip. I will show you the highlights in pictures in a minute.
But for now step forward. Step through the beaded curtain. A twinkling sound. The smoke thickens and your vision blurs…
We are going on an Arabian adventure…
Camel Track In Socotra
Our 4×4 is driving through Habido, The capital. No more than a collection of little stone houses. And goats eating plastic.
We stop at a little square. Our guide calls out from the window. “Anyone with a camel, here?”
A man quickly runs up. He looks like an Arab guys from an old cartoon. A little turban around his head. Curiously looking inside the car with a big toothless grim. Hoping for work for him and his camel.
Some discussion goes on. And a deal is made:
“See you tomorrow at Hagher. We are going up the mountain…”
The next day we drive towards the base of Hagher mountain range. We will hike up and over it in 5 days. And the 4×4 will drive around to meet us there.
Standing there with a driver, my guide, the camel driver and the camel drivers helper loading the gear up the camel, I feel like David Livingstone.
The Hagher mountain range looks intimidating. There mountains are not high in absolute terms, 1500 meter. But we are at sea level. And the cliffs are steep.
I never figured camels in the mountains. But apparently, they are the only way to transport heavy goods to the people who live there. There is no way a 4×4 could drive up there.
The valley we walk in is very green. To our right there is a massive cliff. To the left there is a stream. Water coming from the mountain filling little pools and creating small oasis with palm trees.
The sun is burning hot. My scarf completely covers my head.
Soon the road gets steeper. With huge rocks to climb. I am surprised that the camel can walk here. Carefully placing its feed on the rocks.
We walk for hours when around noon we hold. We load of the camel and thigh it next to the bushes. It starts happily feeding. Sometimes burping, which smells really bad.
We camp in the shady of a nice tamarind tree. I never heard of this before. But it fruits taste very good. We cook tea from water from a nearby stream. And we cook some rice and vegetables.
It is a very peaceful place. We have a nice view on the valley below us and the Arabian sea in the distance. The sounds of nature around us. And the stream making a gentle sound. We hear children playing near the water. But we never see them.
When we continue, the road gets steeper. The camel is starting to get unhappy. It caries my bags. Food for 5 days. A stove and a gas thank. Tents. Sometimes it is unable to get up a block, and we have to help it by pushing it from his behind legs. It screams loudly in discontent. Producing strange gargling sounds with his mouth wide open. After which it continues its never ending cud chewing.
The westerner in my starts to kick in. Feeling guilty about the fact that his animal has to suffer for the unexplainable urge of men to climb to the highest point, stare into the distance and feel happy with one’s self.
The vegetation starts to change. The bushes are making way for grassland. We are still in the valley with on both sides steep cliffs. Fog and wind are blowing up the mountain. And it is getting cold.
The camel driver knows a place to stay. It is a detour. We load of all the stuff of the camel that we do not need and hide it in the bushes. We take a a left and walk into a forest of thick bushes. There is a path but the big camel gets stuck often. Yet we push urge it to continue. It is getting late.
By now the fog has become so thick we can only see a few meters. When we leave the forest we get into what look like grassy Alps. The people have divided the lands into plots of land. On which they grace there animals. These are fertile lands, and the goats are fat. I conclude that they have naturally come to a functioning state of private property rights and free market capitalism. Everyone makes sure his piece of the wealth is properly fenced with stapled rocks. But at the same time the work together in harmony, serving each other from their different roles.
There are even alpine cows gracing the grass short here. The sound of their bells echoing of the cliffs. I expect the Arabic version of a Heidi and Peter skipping off the mountain any minute now. Singing songs with the word Habibi, like so many. Fatima wearing a veal and making that high pitched sound with her clacking tongue. And Achmed shooting dates out of his ass…
Back to the mountain, where our mood changes for the worst. We are really tired and shivering and cannot see more than a couple of meters. Far al we know the night can fall any moment now and this is no place to put up a tent. And there is no way we can make fire here.
The camel driver assures that we are getting close. Yet we keep entering new valleys and having to remove wooden logs that work as doors in fences for the camel to cross. The camel loses his load and we have to repack everything. My guide also has never been her before. We are starting to get worried.
Walking slowly downhill the fog starts to become a little less thick. Light in the distance. Then suddenly we stand underneath the clouds looking into a beautiful valley. Sun rays break on the far side of the valley while the camel gently strolls towards a small house in the distance. I stop dead in my tracks and just watch in awe of scene in front of me. I feel tears in my eyes.
I told you we would go on an adventure!
On the far end of the valley we halt at a little shack. In it we find Mohammed. Who is happy to welcome us in. He is making fresh goats milk sour my shaking it in a goats skin. We eat with some rice and as soon as it gets dark we fall in a nice deep sleep.
Day II – The House On The Ridge
Mohammed is a nice character. He always comes here for a number of days to watch the animals. Then one of his relatives comes up so he can get back to the village. There is nothing of luxury in the shack except some pots and an oil lamp. And Mohammed has a note book, in which he writes my name and where I come from. After breakfast I am going for a walk with the camel driver.
When we get back Mohammed has slaughtered a baby goat. I had asked if I could slaughter it myself. Since we are now back to nature and all. But I am not muslim and it is not halal.
It is a real feast and nothing is left to waste. The Arabic custom is that the food is served on a central plate. Everybody eats from the same plate with the right hand. The left hand is supposed for other sorts of things. I am apparently not the first tourist who has difficulty with this custom because I get my own plate with no questions asked. This does not prevent the camel driver to grab a hand of goat brains, take a bite and push them under my nose to take the next. No thank you.
After lunch we say farewell to Mohammed and go back the way we came. We pick up our left luggage and from there it is only a 30 minutes walk to our next stop. Where Mohammed’s shack had a nice location, the next is even better. A ridge with a deep gorge on both sides. There are three houses there but no one is home. We enter one of them and start making a fire.
That night We experience real Yemeni hospitality. Because when we are sleeping the actual inhabitants of the house return. Instead of being upset they seem really happy and lie down next to us. They are not the only visitors we get that night. Huge rats crawl around us as well…
Day III – The Dragon Blood Trees of Sqent
The next day I can chose. We can continue walking, or go up the highest point of the island. A small mountain plateau that is called scent. There is a road, but it is a “little difficult”. The weather has completely cleared, so it seems perfect for the hike. And one of the mountain guys will go with us as a guide.
We walk quickly through the bushes, but then we encounter the first climb. It is almost vertical! This was definitely not what I was expecting. But it is a small bit and we continue our ascent across the large boulders in a river bed.
But the next bit is extreme. Two hundred meters up a vertical cliff. With no ropes or road. Just climbing hand and feet. At some points we are balancing on ridges, above vertical drops. It is very simple: one misstep here, and you die. And I am starting to wonder where I have gotten myself into…
All the time the sun is burning onto our sweating bodies. The last bit of the climb we have to make our ways through thorny bushes. And every time there is another slope behind the previous one. But then finally we are starting to get to the end of the climb. And I am starting to feel relieved and really proud at my achievement.
But what is that? Voices?
I look carefully up and to my surprise I see children running around on flip flops in the distance. Happily waving and shouting at is. What the…
Apparently one can walk up the mountain from the other side on a simple trail…
I do not waste to much time because the scenery is so beautiful. On one side we can side the valley we came from and the Arabian see. The south side we can see the Indian ocean.
Staring into the distance on this perfect sunny day I cannot help but think: good things never come easy. And even if I die, this view is worth it (Hey! Who says that I always have to be rational…)
We walk around the place and enjoy the view. This place also has a lot of dragon-blood trees. Mushroom like trees, for which Socotra is famous.
We have lunch with the people that herd their goats there. Would be pleasant if it weren’t for the 100 bees circling us.
Going back surely is even more never wrecking as going up. I am sitting on my bum and am on all fours I get of the mountain. They tell me that there was once a tourist who took this road and at one point just simply sat down and started to cry. Looking back on it I would not do it again and I also advice against this route. Better to take an extra day and go from the other side.
Finally down in the river bed we get to rest. The mountain guide is please with me. I am pretty strong for a tourist. But I do have to paint my hair and eyebrows black. Because I look ridiculous. We all laugh.
When we get down, we collect our things and pack the camel. We will camp in our tents down in the valley. Cooking tea on an open fire.
That night we sleep really, really well.
Day 4 – The Ultimate Oasis.
Like every day. As soon as the sun rises, we get up. Usually I wake up to the prayers of the camel driver. He has a melodious pray, that echoes loudly across the valley. Five times a day.
We are still in a green environment, but the further we get from the mountain the worse the environment gets. I heard stories about erosion but did not see much of it in the north. But here, some place look like an ecological war zone.
There are people herding goats all over the island. And at some places the goats have eaten all the vegetation and the soil has eroded. What is even worse, is that small plants do not get a change to grow, because the get eaten immediately. All that is found here, is a poisonous plant that the goats don’t eat. The rest is all gone. Terrible and irreversible damage is being done here.
But we continue with our journey and soon enough my breath is taken away again. An Oasis. Complete with palm trees and crystal clear water for a refreshing swim. Sweet (see the picture above).
Anyway, we camp one more time in a valley under the stores (that night I actually wake up with the idea that will be the foundation of this website).
End Of The Yemen Camel Trek On Socotra
The 5th day we meet up with the land-rover at yet another oasis. This oasis even has a small waterfall from which you can slide like Peter Pan down into wonderland.
All in all a wonderful trip. Cruising down the high way back to the coast with the windows open and blasting the latest Arabic hits I am feeling really alive. And this is just the start of my holiday! The rest is shown in pictures below
If you want to read about more of my adventures, please visit The Global Citizen Travel Blog (opens in a new window)