In May of 2021, I travelled to one of the most beautiful islands I’ve ever been to – Socotra. And then I ended up getting stranded on Socotra!
Where the heck is this place?
Socotra island is in the Indian Ocean, about 250km off the Horn of Africa and 380km South East of Yemen. It is part of the Republic of Yemen (the same country currently torn apart by civil war).
Famous for it’s diverse and unique ecosystems, Socotra has been dubbed the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s home to over 800 endemic plant species, 90% are found nowhere else in the world.
The Dragon Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari), probably the most famous of plant life on the island, gets it’s name from the red sap that oozes out when it’s trunk is cut or damaged.
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So how did I get stranded on the beautiful desert island of Socotra?
Ok, so stranded might sound a little dramatic, but our tour company, along with all the other tour companies on the island at the time, did end up stuck on the island for longer than anticipated.
We had to put our desert island survival skills to the test… Not to a climbing coconut trees in search of liquids, resorting to cannibalism, screaming Wilsooooon kind of way, so yeah maybe I am being a tad dramatic..
But, yes, while we were only meant to be there for 8 days, we were unexpectedly ‘stranded’ there for 11.
The island of Socotra isn’t all desert (I still like to call it a desert island, makes me feel like Robinson Crusoe), there are beaches for miles, mountains to trek and canyons with delightfully refreshing fresh water canyons.
At times it felt like an alien planet or even Jurassic Park! Any moment, a dinosaur could pop its head out of the bushes and start munching on thousand year old Dragon Blood Trees.
So, why were we stranded?
Our flight back to Abu Dhabi got cancelled…for unknown reasons. Cancelled. Not delayed, not rescheduled, just cancelled. No further information.
With no flights out of Socotra, transport by boat sounding scarier by the minute (ever heard of Somali pirates?), and the island closing in a few days, we had no way off the island.
Every May, the island closes it’s borders to visitors while it gets ready for the monsoon season. In October, it reopens.
From October to May there are flights to and from the island every Monday. The same flight that arrives, departs again and you must wait a until the following Monday for another flight.
In our case, the last flight out of the island was going to be ours… which was cancelled! We weren’t sure if we were going to be stuck on the island until October! If the weather started to get bad, there wouldn’t have been any way to transport us out.
What happened next on the island of Socotra
We panicked! Well, wouldn’t you? Some more than others, some for longer than others. I had a slight initial panic but it didn’t last very long and surprisingly I went into an ‘it’ll all work itself out soon’ place somewhere in my mind.
We had one night left of our planned trip so we decided to head to the city of Hadiboh (the only city on the island) and stay in one of their hotels. Up until this point, we had been camping our way around the island (it’s the only way to do Socotra).
Here, we finally had internet and call service – although I must admit I had absolutely loved not having this for an entire week!
We found out that the hotel only took cash so we would all have to go to the island’s only ATM to withdraw cash. Then we found out that the ATM was broken and they didn’t know when it would be fixed…
I called my friend back in Dubai and told her the story. She quickly arranged to send me and two other girls money via Western Union (legend!). We had to wait until the next morning for Western Union to open so we opted to take a sunset stroll around the city with our guide.
The city of Hadiboh made me quite sad. Because of everything that’s going on on the mainland of Yemen, there is no rubbish collections on the island of Socotra. The once beautifully clean city is now covered in rubbish, used appliances, burnt out cars….oh and goats. Lots of goats.
Many of the market stalls and shops were closed as it was during Ramadan, but we still got to visit a few shops.
That night we had a meeting to decide what to do in the event that we were stuck here for some time. If we were to leave the city, we would have little internet service to keep in touch with our tour operator back at home. But at the same time, the city wasn’t the nicest place to stay.
Luckily, we had the island’s ‘nice’ hotel but if we were to leave it we wouldn’t be able to get back in as there were others wanting to stay there.
We decided it was best to stay in the hotel until we had a clearer understanding of what was happening and hopefully a date for our flight back. And by the next morning, we had just that. We would be on a flight in 3 days’ time, the last flight out of the island. Phew!
We were already staying in the city for one more night, which would allow us to get our pre-flight covid tests and collect our money at Western Union. After a 2 hour wait in Western Union, a fainting episode on my part and money in our pockets, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our last city dinner.
The last three days on Socotra
If possible, the last three days spent on this beautiful island were even more special than the ones before. Perhaps because we were able to appreciate it all the more.
We headed back up to the Diksam Plateau where it was cooler than previous nights of camping on the beach.
We hiked through thousands of Dragon Blood Trees in the Dragon Blood Tree Forest, we bathed in natural springs and hiked some more. We saw the milky way, clear as could be and we played cards around the dinner table.
It was the perfect way to end our trip.
When we saw the plane land at the airport on the last day to take us back, the entire airport (it’s pretty tiny) rushed to the windows, clapped and cheered.
5 things I took away from being stranded in a foreign land
- Things happen, go with the flow. There was no way to predict that we would get ‘stranded’ on the island and I would do it all in a heartbeat again. Especially in this day and age, flights get cancelled, injuries can occur. I would always recommend having travel insurance for this very reason, although do bear in mind that not everything is always covered under insurance.
- Be prepared when it comes to having money for travels. If I were going somewhere so deserted again, I would bring more money than needed – they take USD almost anywhere and you can always convert it back once you get home if you’ve not used it.
- People can surprise you. This one still gets me thinking. I guess crisis can make people do funny things; some go into utter panic mode, others into controlling mode. For the most part, our group just took it as it came and stuck by each other. Our guides were incredible and helped out however possible. They even changed their plans to be able to take us out of the city for an extra three days, which I’m so grateful for.
- Stressing out doesn’t help. I guess this can be said for any situation and it’s natural to stress when we’re scared about an outcome, but when I have zero control over a situation I tend to be less stressed. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m missing a sock I’ll tear the house apart desperately looking for it, but that I have control over.
- Good can come out of the bad. If nothing else, I have an incredible story to tell and have made friends for life out of this big adventure and none of us will ever forget it. If it hadn’t been for getting stranded on Socotra, we wouldn’t have gotten to see the incredible Dragon Blood Forest or had the opportunity to do everything else we got to do for our last three days on the island.
All in all, no matter the outcome, I would still 100% recommending visiting Socotra for any adventure travellers. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and definitely one for the bucket list.
Have you been to Socotra? How do you think you would have coped being stranded on Socotra?
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