@NatGeo Explorer and photographer // I like to put people in other people's shoes // VR & 360 // Founder at @ivarsthlm
Three palm trees, a thousand Dragon's Blood trees - and the stars. While on expedition with @littlemsfossil, @leonmccarron and @rhystj we usually didn't sleep more than a few hours at night - but there was rarely a dull moment.
As my career in journalism has me hovering between stories on political conflict as well as outdoor adventures, this was a contrastful evening. I have never before camped in such an epic location inside what's essentially a war-torn country. I look forward to visiting Socotra in times of peace.
This is Ali, who you already met through one of my previous posts.
Even though our research on Socotra was interesting in many ways, and the island is now clearly bound for an uncertain future because of political developments in the region, he's the one human encounter that really stuck.
He said he once found a dead whale from which he could harvest a piece of ambergris - something he sold for a fortune. This would have made him really rich.
Yet he continues to come back to his cave as soon as married life in the city bores him. Pushing his raft and picking oysters off the bountiful reefs of Socotra.
Kids of Hadibou, playing at a waterhole that's locally known to have been created by a meteorite.
While child's play is currently under siege in large part of Yemen, where widespread famine renders kids unable to live normal lives, Socotra's kids are blessed with a more close connection to what a lot of us would call a paradise island.
The coastal areas of Socotra are incredibly pristine, with a rich bird-life that include a large host of endemic species - that exist nowhere else in the world.
However, as is the case in many sensitive biodiverse regions - you find much more of the common species, like this Grey Heron. Where some endemic species are slow to adapt to changes in climate and have a hard time recovering from incidents like the devastating cyclones that hit the island a few years back, these more common species seem to thrive. #birdsoftheworld#birding#endemic#yemen#socotra#dragonsbloodisland#natgeocreative
Vast fields of of Dragon's Blood Trees in the Socotran highlands. As a @unesco world heritage site and a national park of Yemen, these hills are protected at the highest level.
But as you might have seen in the news these last few days, Socotra might soon be enveloped in a conflict - where protecting natural heritage might not be the highest priority of the parties involved.
These magic Dragon's Blood Trees are time travelers.
Most have stood here for hundreds of years. Some are close to a thousand years old.
It's humbling to realize they've lived through several civilizations that have come and gone - slowly growing while we humans mill about with our wars and conflicts. Sitting under one today, you might share the same shade and resting space with seafarers from 500 years ago - when the world map looked radically different.
In fact, those epic moments stand on the shoulders of moments like this - where @littlemsfossil tries to wash off the stress, fatigue and troubling facts she's learned during the day to find a moment of peace. We had just had a difficult discussion after a 17 hour day in the field, and there were no more words to be said.
To me, these moments are among the most beautiful both to experience and to capture. Before this trip me, Ella and the team had only dreamed up plans and not yet worked together in any complicated circumstances. And then we're suddenly here - washing up in a small stream together, not able to rub off but a third of the dirt those plans got us into, knowing we're about to get dirty again at sunrise anyway.
He was one of the first people we encountered on Socotra, a truly paradoxical character living a modern life on Socotra while sometimes going back to his previous dwelling: in a cave on the beach.
In an intriguing conversation with @littlemsfossil, who is interested in people's relationships to caves so she can trace back potentially interesting archaeology sites, Abdullah told us that he lived part of his childhood in this cave. His mother was born in the cave, and he says some of his best moments have been while living there.
The Dragon's Blood Tree has drawn people to Socotra for millenia.
This island in the middle of the Arabian Sea has been a trading post since the Greeks described the world - and has been touched by most civilizations since. Throughout ancient times the red resin - the Dragon's Blood - of these trees has been harvested and traded, and it still is today.
A symbol for Socotra, the Dragon's Blood Tree is also a prideful national symbol of Yemen. So much that it graces the 20 Rial coins of the Yemeni currency.
This bottle tree is kind of like that wierd cousin that lives far away; an oddball in the family. It's also called Desert Rose, and this sub-species is native to Socotra.
These trees were some of the first things that stood out to us when arriving to Socotra, but what struck me was not so much the delicate, pink flowers - but the wierd patterns in the base of most trees. Getting up close, I realized they were carvings. Almost every bottle tree has arabic words carved into them - and of course I thought there would be some profound meaning to these etchings. "No, it's just people's names. They want their names to live on", says one of our companions.
They call it the Jewel of the Arabian Sea for a reason.
Holding some of the most pristine coastal areas of the Indian Ocean and home to an immensely biodiverse region of the Middle East, Socotra's beaches have never been exposed to any development beyond the smattering of engines from local dhows and fishing boats.
There are stretches of beach here you almost can't believe exist, where bottles adrift are the only signs of human touch.
That's probably why wildlife like this beach. Apart from endemic species like Socotran Heron and Cormorant frequenting them, these sands are also important nesting grounds for both Loggerhead, Greenback and Hawksbill turtles.