Dragon's Blood Island: SocotraLatest update March 1, 2018 Started on February 1, 2018
It is one of the most remarkable places in the world, situated between mainland Yemen and Somalia. Some of you will know this place, but most will not. We’re attempting a scouting expedition to an island that has been called ‘the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’, ‘the jewel of the Arabian Sea’ and the ‘most alien looking place on Earth’.
I'm English but my parents are from Yemen, a few days before the Yemeni war blew up I was due to fly out there to continue my research, I was looking for Palaeolithic caves and had my eye on one in particular. Then the war escalated and the whole place became a no-fly zone, more importantly I saw the impact on my family, my father and many of my cousins were forced to live in exile, the stories of how they fled were devastating, and of course the family that had the means to flee, well they were the lucky ones. So I turned my attention away from the mainland which was unsafe, and wanted instead to get to Socotra, which had been mostly spared from the civil war. I joined forced with Leon and Martin, and we were trying to figure out a way to get to the island archipelago.
It is one of the most isolated & unique places on our planet and it’s a nightmare to get to. We had 3 options:
1- Private or charted jet: we spent months pulling diplomatic strings and got some very high level blessings but our hopes for a private jet never materialised. More accurately, we were given oral clearance but no written confirmation and so we considered that option to be too much of a risk financially.
2- We then heard there was an indirect commercial jet option that had just opened up... the problem is the layover was in mainland Yemen, in the city of Sayoun, it is an AlQaeda hotspot & the connection was unreliable... so while the layover was only 2 hours, if they connection was cancelled we would be stuck in Sayoun for about a week as there was only about one flight a week! We would potentially be stuck in a kidnapping area, we being me and a bunch of white boys- I swear travelling with white boys is a headache 😉. It was too much of a risk.
3- There was another option, it was (marginally) better- try and get onto a cement cargo ship, we had heard that there were some cement cargo ships heading to where we were trying to get to. The problem is there was no schedule, they were unreliable, they were not exactly up to standard and for fun... they went through waters that were at some risk from Somali pirates, though not in their hotspot zone. It was March, we needed to leave really soon, this seemed like our only real option.
Sometimes a project has such meaning that it seems important enough to take a risk- this was just one of those times. It spoke to me and it spoke to the boys, we asked Rhys a filmmaker to join us, it must have spoken to him too cos he didn’t need convincing. These cement cargo ships have no schedule so we just have to turn up and hope. My big concern was that one wouldn't turn up and we would have blown our grant money and wasted months of work!
(Pic by Martin Edstrom)
Socotra is actually archipelago of four islands. It is a Yemeni territory, but is actually closer to Somalia, and the Horn of Africa. These islands may be far from the global power centres, yet for centuries they lay at the heart of the trade routes that cross-crossed the Indian Ocean. Greek and Arab sailors connected Socotra with Paradise; the Samarian hero Gilgamesh, Sinbad the Sailor, Herodotus, Alexander the Great and Marco Polo have either been either been placed here, or have written about it.
Socotra is most famous, perhaps, for the phenomenal number of endemic species of flora and fauna- over a third of the plants on the Socotra are found nowhere else, making it one of the most botanically and biologically diverse sites on the planet.
We travel there as a team of four on a scouting and fact finding expedition. We are: Rhys Thwaites-Jones, filmmaker extraordinaire charged with capturing what we’re up to; Martin Edstrom, our resident Swede, photographer, journalist and VR specialist; Ella Al-Shamahi, paleoanthropologist, instigator of this whole thing, and the team lead on everything scientific, and finally me – Leon McCarron. I will be looking at the trail systems on the island in the hope of designing a route for a larger, multi-disciplinary team to follow in future.
I hope you’ll enjoy traveling with us on this journey and if we pull this scouting expedition off we hope to go back in 2019 for a much larger expedition. The first question: how to get there? It’s probably not quite what you’d expect…
(Please note we are delayed real time posting- in other words we are posting these in Nov 2018 and back-dating to the actual dates/events)
Many thanks to our sponsors MBI Al Jaber Foundation
Contribute to this expedition
Thank You for Your Contribution!