23 March, 2007

'The New York Times' on Socotra

Early this year I wrote on the 'large, mysterious, unique, exotic, isolated, spectacular, treasure house' : the Yemeni island of Socotra. Today, The New York Times has a long article on 'The Wonder Land of Socotra'. Excerpts from that:

"Situated 250 miles off the coast of Yemen, Socotra is the largest member of an archipelago of the same name, a four-island ellipsis that trails off the Horn of Africa into the Gulf of Aden. A mix of ancient granite massifs, limestone cliffs and red sandstone plateaus, the island brings to mind the tablelands of Arizona, if Arizona were no bigger than New York’s Long Island and surrounded by a sparkling turquoise sea.

Some 250 million years or more ago, when all the planet’s major landmasses were joined and most major life-forms were just a gleam in some evolutionary eye, Socotra already stood as an island apart. Ever since, it has been gathering birds, seeds and insects off the winds and cultivating one of the world’s most unusual collections of organisms. In addition to frankincense, Socotra is home to myrrh trees and several rare birds. Its marine life is a unique hybrid of species from the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific. In the 1990s, a team of United Nations biologists conducted a survey of the archipelago’s flora and fauna. They counted nearly 700 endemic species, found nowhere else on earth; only Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands have more impressive numbers."

"Encouraged by a United Nations development plan, Socotra has opted to avoid mass tourism: no beachfront resorts; instead, small, locally owned hotels and beachfront campsites. The prize is that rarest of tourists, eco-tourists: those who know the little known and reach the hard to reach, who will come eager to see the Socotra warbler, the loggerhead turtle, the dragon’s blood tree — anything, please, but their own reflection."

"The United Nations conservation plan in 2000 divided Socotra into usage zones; more than 70 percent of the island is national park, off limits to development."

"BEFORE YOU GO: The main Web site of the Socotra Archipelago Conservation and Development Programme (http://www.socotraisland.org/) has good background information."

"WHEN TO GO: October through April is best — especially March and April, when the sea is flat and ideal for snorkeling and diving. Avoid the windy monsoon season from May to September."

"GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND: There are only two flights a week to the island, operated by Yemen Airways (http://www.yemenia.com/); seats sell out well in advance. On the island, you need to hire a four-wheel-drive vehicle, as well as an English-speaking driver and guide. Expect to pay $250 to $350 for four days; be sure to negotiate in advance. These arrangements, as well as hotel reservations, can be made through the Socotra Ecotourism Society (ecosocotra@socotraisland.org)."

"HOTELS: The island’s few hotels are basic. Some have rooms with private bathrooms and flush toilets; all are inexpensive (about $10 a night). The Taj Socotra (no relation to the India-based chain) in Hadibu is simple and clean and has a popular outdoor restaurant; there’s also the newer Al Mohet and, outside of town near the airport, the Chalet Socotra. Camping is an ideal way to sleep, since the island’s main ecological sites are one or more hours’ drive away from Hadibu; you can arrange to rent gear on the island."