First Day on Socotra

After a minor airport pickup hiccup, we were straightened out with our guide, driver, and Land Cruiser for the next few days.  First stop was the Ayaft Gorge.

Lillie was really pumped about this place, but it turned out to be a pretty big let down.  The sun was blazing, and the natural swimming pools that are advertised in this area apparently dried up a few weeks back.  We ended up just walking a pretty short distance along a two track road.

While we did get a first glimpse of some endemic trees/plants, we both had started to get a very sinking feeling that this island could turn out to be a bust.  Not a good feeling to have in your first few hours in such a remote place.

Our next stop was the Di Hamri Marine Conservation Area for snorkeling and camping overnight.  Happy to report that things took a nice 180 here.  Here’s the scene from our campsite at dusk:

If you want to snorkel, you walk about three feet out from shore and you’re trampling on coral reef.  The snorkeling was shockingly good in this warm and crystal clear water.  We’ve got a waterproof case for a super old digital camera, and the quality of the photos reflect that.

Tough to see this guy as this was in deeper water, but I’m claiming it was a coelacanth–it was huge and disgusting. 

So yeah, the photos aren’t great but this was great times.  We’d have the water pretty much entirely to ourselves, and we could go in/out at our leisure.  I’ll note that you can rent snorkel equipment here for a few bucks, though we only rented fins as we packed our own snorkels/masks (in addition to my youth snorkel vest–I’m not embarrassed as a real wuss wouldn’t even step foot in the water if he couldn’t swim!).

If you’re curious about the accommodations, below are our provided sleeping quarters.  Sadly I don’t have a close up of the thin sleeping mat that even our dog might have been unsatisfied with.  I also didn’t take a photo of the bathroom facilities. Just know that they are pretty terrible.

What weren’t terrible were the daily breakfasts.  Fire grilled bread/chapati, white cheese, a jar of honey, and the awesome sweet tea we’ve found everywhere in the Middle East (that we’ve been) but with condensed milk added to it.  Delicious.

And in full disclosure, I also tried chewing some qat here.  I was offered some by the locals, so how could I refuse?  After about ten minutes I felt nothing more than lots of little leaves stuck in my teeth.

It’s pretty stunning how pervasive qat is amongst the men in Yemen.  How serious is it?  Beyond life grinding to a halt every day mid-afternoon to chew qat, it’s also contributing to Sana’a being on pace to run out of water in 20 years.

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