February 12, 2009
OK, I’m on holidays and actual time passage is slipping by the wayside. I have only just realized (after watching “Around The World In 80 Days” on satellite TV) that I have made the same mistake as Phineas Fogg about the day. Because I crossed Greenwhich Time Line, I slipped into a different day and all I did was change the date. I thought I had fixed that in London. Apparently not. I think the actual day of the week on my watch is now correct, but for some reason, my camera switches dates at noon. As soon as I can rectify that, I will. And to make it more confusing, and just so I can combine the pictures for the 12th with the Journal entry for the 13th, I have added this to the 12th of February, but I am actually writing on:
February 13, 2009
I am recovering from a terrible sunburn from sitting on a beach in Socotra. Not entirely by choice. The driver dropped us there at 10am and didn’t pick us up until 4pm. Even though I sat in the shade of a small rock outcrop, the sand, so terribly white, reflected the sun relentlessly. And I had no sunscreen. I was so burned, an Englishman, Alan and his three Japanese wives gave me some sunscreen to wear. That was yesterday, but I guess I had better go back to:
February 8th, 2009
I left the Wadi Hadroumat Hotel at around 7:30 and got to the airport by 8. The taxi driver brought along his son; I assumed he must have been taking him to school. And he must have been late, as he drove like a maniac through Sanaa. I arrived with plenty of time for my flight, and thnkfully there was an actuall sales office at the airport for Yemenia, and, after some gesticulation on my part and three people on the other side of the desk, I now have a printout of my flights so I can get to Mumbai and back to Addis Abeba. I met Finn and Jackie from England in line for check in, exchanged a few words, but after check-in, I sat in an open area restaurant and had coffee with Shane from Calgary. He works for an oil company here, and he gave me his card. Sat with a couple of people from his company off to different places, and ended talking to Finn and Jackie, and a guy called Muayad from Syria. Turns out Jackie’s cousins live in Devon (same as me) and she just had a visit from her uncle in Winnipeg! Small world, hey? To make things even smaller Muayad was wearing a tartan design sport shirt with “Manitoba” as the brand name.
So the plane was a brand new Bombardier CRJ700 regional jet, and the Brazilian guy in front of me and I discussed the rivalry between Brazil and Canada in the regional jet/subway car department. Muayad sat with the Brazilian guy and they talked about Socotra and I borrowed the Brazilian guy’s Lonely Planet guide and settled on Al Jazeera Hotel as a place to stay but it turned out the Al Jazeera is now an English language school, so I switched to the Socotra Hotel, and rode into town with Muayad from Syria. Turns out they only had double rooms left, so Muayad and I shared a room. He was booking a car to tour Scocotra, so I told him I’d go halves with him, and later in the day, we went to the restaurant beside the hotel. Just a note, if you’re coming to Scocotra, this hotel is the Hotel Socotra, not the Taj Socotra. This hotel is 3,500 rials a night (about $13.50) and the Taj Socotra is $65. This place is pretty good and has satellite TV.
So Muayad talked to this guy Mohammed, but for some reason settled on Achmed to drive us around. I was a little disappointed cause the guy Mohammed picked as a driver seemed quite nice, but Achmed seemed to be trying to edge more money from me earlier. He just didn’t seem to be the guide type (if there is one).
February 9th, 2009
Anyway, I only stayed the one night as our tour started at about 7am. We went to visit a cave. So, as everyone was speaking Arabic, I didn’t have much of a clue what was going on, but we stopped at a Socotran Folk Art Museum, which was interesting. A boat and some grinding stones, and some toher stuff. We drove to a place and picked up a guide to take us to the Hoq Cave. It was a two hour climb and I had to stop a few times. Muayad and the guide waited patiently for my legs to recover. At least my lungs weren’t burning like they did in Ethiopia. The cave was really interesting, couple of kilometers long, and quite large. The whole island is peppered with caves, and mos of the cliffs seem to be rotting away, there are so many. All the buildings are made of stone, and there are no trees here that really provide lumber. I don’t know if the island used to have more useful trees, but it seems there’s nothing here that is useful for construction (except stones). There are goats everywhere, and there isn’t a square foot on the island that doesn’t have traces of goat poo. So anyway, the cave was cool.
We camped on some sand next to dunes that have to be around 250-300 meters high. Went for a swim. I’m not sure why, but a French Guy and a couple of others climbed one of the huge sand dunes. The couple progress was kinda interesting, because the woman gave up and sat down about ¾ of the way up. The man continued on alone, reached the top and disappeared. Eventually the French couple camping next to us (one half of which climbed a dune).
I just gotta say something here about my stupid tent. I bought it at Canadian Tire and it was advertised as a two man tent. Either they gotta be REALLY small men, or two men on extremely intimate terms with each other. There is barely enough room for me and my backpack in there! The nice thing is, without the fly sheet, it is almost all mosquito netting, and I could look out and see the stars (and whatever else is outside the tent).
February 10th, 2009
The next day, we went to another place to climb, and the pain in my legs was even more excruciating, but I managed to get to the top because this was where I WOULD SEE MY FIRST DRAGON TREE UP CLOSE. They’re actually a kind of palm tre that grow is an umbrella shape and they get cinnabar from the tree. So anyway, Muayad’s camera got wet from the day before and stopped working, so I started taking pictures for him. He likes to have his picture taken in front of everything, so I took those pictures.. The day before I used his camera to do that, but I offered to take pictures for him and send them to him via email (I copied them onto the computer and made a CD instead).
So anyway, on the way up we ran into Finn and Jackie (they were on a three day tour of the island). We finally got to a camping spot. It was a great little place, and they served tea. As Jackie and Finn were coming back after they swam in a pool we had passed on the way up, we decided to wait for them and have lunch with them. Muayad decided to climb another mountain across the alley in the two hours to lunch, and I decided to take a nap. I was surprised how fast he climbed up. Then I fell asleep.
When Finn and Jackie got back I found out there was a road just five minutes awaqy from where we were eating! We continued on our trek, and passed the 4x4 Jackie and Finn came in, and walked in a beautiful plain dotted with dragon’s blood trees, then back down the mountain. We stopped and had a swim in the mountain pool. Very refreshing in the hot sun and after so much climbing!
From there we went with Achmed to a rather bare plain at sea level, and camped on a different beach. There was a French woman there with her guide, Brigitte, very nice from Paris. Muayad went to climb another mountain (actually one of the humoungous dunes) He was gone quite a while, and it got dark. Brigitte invited me to supper, and we had spaghetti and some kinda sauce. They make a kind of potato tomato stew here that’s quite nice. Muayad came back and joined us, and we chatted for quite a while.
Brigitte’s guide Adham was a very interesting young guy, and spoke quite good English. I would highly recommend him as a guide to anyone coming here, and have his email address. I found out there is a Socotran language, and the inhabitants here have to learn Arabic in school. It has only officially been a part of Yemen for fifty years. He told us about some tombs near his home town that could be very old. They use extremely large stones from a different part of the island, and I would love to see tham.
February 11th, 2009
Woke up and it was very hot as soon as the sun came up. Nobody else was awake, so I went for a walk and then a swim in the ocean. Eventually the others woke up and I had tea with Brigitte and Adham. They left just after Muayad got up. Brigitte left and Muayad and I packed our tents. Achmed showed up about 9:00 and we travelled to Diksum, a nature preserve. Lots of dragon trees on the plateau. Hey only seem to grow in the higher places. We drove down a really steep rock road into a canyon, and stopped at the bottom. There was a German group there, two fathers with their daughters, who had been on our plane. We met them briefly on a beach the fisst day where they were scuba diving. We walked up river in the canton and then down to a great swimming spot. Muayad went exploring and I decided to sit in a warm spot in the water. Only thing is where I sat was home to about a hundred black crabs, and I didn’t realize it right away until I looked down and saw them all around me. They looked so much like giant spiders, my archnophobia kicked in and I KIND OF LEVITATED FROM THE WATER ONTO A BIG ROCK.
I explored an abandoned building. Kinda reminded me of a witch’s hut, and eventually Muayad and I left. On the way back up the canyon we met the French couple who had shared supper with Muayad. We got back in Achmed’s 4x4. I can’t really call it 4x4 cause he only used the rear wheels. Also his cigarette lighter didn’t work, and I had to recharge my video batteries using alligator clips on his battery when we parked that day. By the time we got back to the car, he had disconnected the charger. Still it had enough juice for a couple of days. So we can’t get back up the hill!
Achmed’s 4x4 rear wheel drive keeps slipping. So we had to pile a buncha rocks in the back of the Toyota to get more traction, and we got out of the canyon after a couple of stalls (well, more than a couple) and backing up and trying again a few times. We drove to another cave, but it was shallow and stunk. Someone had used it as a place to skin goats. There are quite a few places where you find remains of goats here. I actually saw a goat chewing on the fore limb of one of its less fortunate comrades. Rther than stay near there, we drove back to Diksum and camped on some flat rocks, that were in the process of calving from the rock face. The gaps between the pieces were about three feet across. Muayad and I turned in around 18:30. It gets dark at 18:00.
I woke up around midnight, and went for a walk. Took some video and a couple of photos and went back to bed. I didn’t sleep really well, and kept waking up.
February 12th, 2009
Woke up at 6 as usual. The eagles started flying by at sunrise and as they swooped by, their passage was quite loud. The Egyptian eagles are as about as common as seagulls (maybe more common) and they seem to perch unmolested even in the towns. Muayad woke later and we were still packing when achmed showed up with Mohammed (the guy Muayad had originally contacted as a guide. We piled into the two wheel drive 4x4 and stopped at a house where Mohammed lived. Apparently he has 15 children. It seemed he might have three wives, but I thought it rude to ask. There we had tea outside under a Dragon’s Blood tree, and continued on our way. So at 10:00 Achmed dropped us at the beach at Qualansia in time for me to be roasted alive.
The tide began to go out, and just before we left, I watched an interesting battle between some crabs and seagulls. At first it seemed as though the head seagull had taken on a crab to big to swallow, and the other crabs were trying to save their crab buddy, but after a while, I went over, and found out they were fighting over a piece of chicken. Or at least I think it was chicken. The seagulls flew away and the crab started picking the meat of the bone it held. The crabs run away when people come near, but appear to be unintimidated by seagulls, though the Brazilian guy did say he saw an eagle eating a crab. The crabs dig holes in the sand to hide in and when they make them, the build little sand towers nearby with the excavated sand. Check out the pictures.
A woman passed me by on the beach as we were leaving dressed in the epitome of pre-Raphaelite wrappings, and though I wanted to, we didn’t speak. She looked away just as I was about to say hello. I, of course presented a fine figure of a very red half-baked pork dinner in my underpants, with my shirt wrapped around my head and my face smothered in sun tan cream (courtesy of Alan’s first Japanese wife). Ah, so many women, and so few lines!
We got back here to the Socotra Hotel about the same time as Brigitte arrived, and asked her to join us for fish dinner, but she had already made plans at another restaurant. I missed my chance to ask Adham if he was=ould be ble to take me to the tombs he had talked about. We ended up having fish dinner with the Brazilian guy and his friend from Vancouver showed up, so we sat and talked, then retired for the evening. We watched Minority Report on TV, but I fell asleep before it was over. Woke up and the power was off. Apparently it goes off at night and comes back on around 9am every day.
And so I’m back to:
February 13th, 2009
Spent the day watching TV and writing. Agreed with Muayad to go for supper around 18:00. He is 22 years old and has been a great help to me. It’s like having a personal translator. He is a motorcycle racer who is trying to get a spot on the Middle East Qatar circuit. His parents have a fruit farm just outside Damascus, his father teaches English and his mother teaches Mathematics. His brother is also a teacher. He was going to take a boat back to Yemen but couldn’t find one. So we will be roommates until I leave on Sunday.