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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrHidden away in the heart of the Indian Ocean, Socotra or Suqotra is a small collection of four islands that are part of Yemen in the Middle East. The largest among them is known as Socotra. While officially a part of Yemen, the island is 340 km away from Yemen while it is a mere 240 km away from Somalia. On all sides, the island is surrounded by a vast expanse of water.
EtymologyRecords show that in 1 AD, in the 1st century, the island was known as ‘Diskouridou’ or ‘Diosorides’ by the Greeks after the Greek physician, Pedanius Dioscorides . However, the Indian inhabitants had already named the island as Socotra or Suqotra which is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Dvipa Sukhadhara’ meaning ‘Island of Bliss.’ The Greeks, when they invaded the island and took over the area, kept the name and adopted many of the other local names and practices.
Socotra, however, has had more than one name. Another story regarding the name springs up from Arabic with ‘suq’ meaning ‘market’ and ‘qotra’ meaning ‘dripping frankincense’. Since the inhabitants of Suqotra traded in this field the most, it is possible that the name was derived from that.
The Talk of LegendsWhile there are no legends regarding the formation of Socotra, it has been the stuff of many legends. The amazing, weird and unique flora and fauna was astounding even in the older days and among the many stories about it, the following are popular:
The area has been influenced by the popular mythical beliefs of many places, and people often attach stories of desert jinn or djinns which live in the deserts, the healers who can talk to plants and animals, and the existence of the Phoenix that opts to nest in the Dragon Blood Trees on the island. The Greeks believed that unique flora and fauna were a gift from the Gods and were meant for them to utilize. Frankincense, Aloe and other herbs were easily found and were as revered by them as they were revered by the original Socotrans before them.
The uncertain weather conditions were also associated with myths. Marco Polo , the world famous traveler, accused the locals of Socotra of possessing supernatural abilities that controlled the weather and bent it to their whims. Having no legends of its own, Socotra became part of many legends and myths for many cultures that came in contact with this beautiful place and could not explain what or why the island is as diverse and unique as it is.
SocotraWhile small in size, measuring up to 132 km and 49.7 km (length and width), this little, isolated island is a treasure trove of unusual things. Completely isolated, the flora and fauna have remained largely untouched by man and are found nowhere else in the world. Hailed as the Indian Galapagos (in comparison to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean), Socotra is counted as a UNESCO Heritage Site owing to the wild, weird and native flora and fauna that are only found in this little slice of Earth.
Getting to SocotraOnce you are in Yemen, all you have to do is catch a plane to Socotra. Yemenia Airlines currently offer two flights that fly on Monday (Sana’a Mukala) and one on Friday (Aden-Mukala). Within three hours, you will be safely stepping on to Socotra Island.
When to GoThe weather of Socotra makes it impossible for the island to be visited from July to August. This is generally when the monsoon season starts and the sea is unpredictable. The best times would be to go either in October or opt to go during the end of January. Favorable conditions last from October (early) and April (late).
Things to Look For
The Rose or Bottle TreesThese are trees that do not grow taller than 1.2 meter and have a trunk that is weirdly cylindrical in shape. They also bloom wild roses that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
The Dragon Blood TreesAmong one of the trees that have a story behind them, the Dragon Blood Trees secretes a red-colored resin sap which was used in making red dyes and used in magical rituals by the locals.
The Sandy BeachesSocotra has amazing, white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters. You can also scuba dive and take a look at the marine life which is also unique.
Things to Keep In Mind
- When you land in Yemen, make sure that your visa is valid, you can get one upon entry too (3-month validity).
- Before you board your first flight to Socotra, make sure that you have Yemeni Riyal in cash. Exchange your currency at any currency exchange or at the National Bank in Yemen. Credit cards and checks will not be accepted.
- Make sure to pack a sleeping bag, rainwear, personal toiletries, torch, warm clothing (temperatures can drop at night), good sneakers and a strap on the water bottle.
- Make sure not to leave anything over there or to take anything out of Socotra. Recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site, that is why. There you need to follow the protocol that your guide tells you in order to preserve Socotra’s unique environment as much as possible.
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Author: Goldenwords. Last updated: Sep 04, 2014