Socotra, Yemen - photo by Theresa Kelly


'A Leap Into the Unknown'

“There’s been a landslide”.

Excuse me. A what?

“They’ve been digging out the road all week. It happened right before the last airport drop off. All the rain, so much rain lately.”

The last tour group had to wade through chest high muddy water, while Nikola’s partner carried all the luggage above his head to the other side.

“We had Ahmed meet us from the other direction to get the group out.”

Nikola spoke of the one and only direct route between Hadiboh and Socotra airport. What he really meant was, with one road, Ahmed had to circle the entire island first to meet him on the other side. With only one flight per week coming or going, the timing seemed to have worked out as fortuitously as a landslide can. Heavy machinery for excavation is no option here. Only bare hands, brawn, and hope reopened that road.

“You must be good luck, today is the first we’ve seen the sun in two weeks.”

Our Land Cruiser rolled on. To the right, a wall of mountain, precarious piles of boulders and earth. To our left, no guard rails, only a plummet to churning turquoise below. Like a Jenga mountain, it seems as though if even a single boulder were to slide, wash away, or come loose, it’s game over. It occured to me - wow, I could actually, feasibly die out here.

I decided the likelihood of being in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time to perish beneath another landslide this week was unlikely. How truly cut off from the modern world we were in Socotra began to sink in. No sooner did I relax into the statistical improbability of doom, then did my gaze shift from the horizon. There, beneath the cliffs, we passed a car recently fallen to the sea below. The outer edge of the road, too, had given way.

Socotra, Yemen - photo by Theresa Kelly

Landslide near Hadiboh, Socotra December 2019

Socotra has always been an island apart, originally connected to the African continent some 250 million years ago. Now a territory of Yemen, Socotra itself is the largest island in an archipelago bordered by the Arabian Sea to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. The isolated nature of the landmass created an evolutionary wonderland uniquely adapted to its harsh environment. Socotra’s spectacular biodiversity boasts over 700 endemic species found nowhere else on earth. In short, exploring Socotra may be the closest one may ever come to experiencing an alien planet.

The Yemeni government built the first paved roads in the early 2000’s. With few roads, fewer signs, and no proper maps - hired guides are the only option to navigate the island. Until the construction of the airport in the late 90s, the only way to reach Socotra was via cargo ship. Of course, that option includes risk of pirate attack. The government suspended all flights in or out of Yemen during the civil war in 2014. While Yemen is currently grappling with the world's largest humanitarian crisis - Socotra remains untouched in its isolation. The flight route to Socotra finally reopened in 2019 - ours was one of the first several tourist groups to embark. And also one of the last, as the Covid pandemic closed all borders again merely months later.

Socotra, in its vast unique glory and isolation, has consequently remained untouched by the age of social media or instagram-influenced tourism. No one knows about Socotra now in the same way no one knew about anything before Twitter. And why should that matter? Is anything truly sacred anymore, is there nothing left unseen?

Socotra, Yemen - photo by Theresa Kelly

Self Portrait at Diksam Plateau, Socotra

That landslide foreshadows all yet to come. Remote island populations walk a tightrope over climate change. With virtually no infrastructure, these rare jewels untouched by modern world will suffer first as climate change continues to disrupt global weather patterns. What then, of Socotra’s fragile biodiversity? Will this alien planet on earth eventually be lost to time? To disappear, still unknown? It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.

They say it’s always the last place you look. What better place to search for the missing pieces of myself than the last undiscovered place on earth? To leap into the unknowns of world and heart?

We live in an age where man will travel to the ends of the earth to see what is left to still find, the last unique places, before it’s all gone. What little remains on a dying planet, such an untouched way of life, the modern traveler will have to wander to the furthest ends of the earth to experience.