Which country is the island of Socotra

Socotra: To the guardian of beauty

Our author fell in love - with Socotra, an island in the Indian Ocean. So much so that he couldn't write a travel report. Instead, he wrote a letter to the President of Yemen, the country to which the natural wonder belongs

my addressing you in this way requires explanations. I have a handful to offer. But I am even more urged to confess: You, Mr. President, and yours truly, a frequent traveler from Germany, have a common love. It is so disturbingly beautiful that I wonder why it is allowed to show itself so unveiled in Islamic Yemen - cloud-free for most of the year. Oh, Socotra!

Your love for Socotra is more worthy, more important, even a main and state thing. Finally, Decree 275 of 2000 has your presidential signature. A document that will one day be among the glory when the Golden Book of International Nature Conservation is written. When before you would a head of government have entrusted 72 percent of his only large island to nature conservation with the stroke of a pen? At most Ecuador and the Galápagos Archipelago came to mind. Her signature put a master plan into effect, which is to make the 130 kilometer long island largely a national park. I will always remember some of the pictures from my visit. The Dihamri Sea Refuge, for example, located in the northeast of the island, with its dune ramps that rise a hundred meters high against the promontory. From a distance, they look like glacier tongues licking into the sea, shimmering white. And then on the beach I discovered this little stone hut that was supposedly built especially for Günter Grass, a friend of Yemen.

I am balanced over the rocks that are washed over by the tide and in which, when the water is low, pools remain that glittered like a thousand facets in the sunlight. I saw the goby fish jumping and the mackerel offspring swarm between red and black stones. I watched the Hemprich seagulls turn clams in the rinsing area. And when I let myself drift snorkeling against swinging curtains made of fish bodies, blue starfish underneath me, loosely draped over coral sticks in Maldivian variety, next to me flying carpets - rays with lascivious flapping of wings - at the latest then it became clear to me why Socotra had the reputation of an un-plundered treasury who has evolution. A stroke of luck. And luck in luck lies in the fact that the protectors were finally on the move before the users. By "users" I mean the speculators who normally bring their petrodollars to the limit faster than conservationists their data. Not meant are the handful of fishermen who are allowed to continue to secure their families' livelihood in the protected area.

I watched one of them tickle the olfactory sense of moray eels with shark entrails, which he let swing through the water, and then let them bite the hook, hidden in a meat bait. It was deeply touching how the old man risked his fingers, inches from the snapping hook teeth of the muscular hunter.

The protectors were certainly well advised to uphold the islanders' old fishing rights; the overflowing abundance tolerates small interventions. On the other hand, Mr President, you too will have heard that around the fish factory in Hadibu there are rotting shark eggs without fins. Shark fins are considered a delicacy in Japan and China, but barbaric hunting on behalf of major Far Eastern customers is supposed to be banned on Socotra. The tour group with whom I was a guest on the island had the opportunity to take photos on the dhows, the wonderful ancient fishing boats: We only caught very small sharks on board - a sure sign that the population of the endangered cartilaginous fish has already been severely attacked. Of course, we also observed good news. For example, that the planners of the coastal road relocated the route so that it does not lead through the ecologically valuable Qalansiyah region. One of the world's most beautiful large lagoons was saved in this way. Long-legged crabs flicker over the mudflats there, with pricked eyes and whirling legs. When the low sun makes the sand ridge that separates the sea and backwater glow red in front of the surf of the Indian Ocean; when a chain of cormorants flies the fringe between sea and sky and rows towards the sleeping places in the western cliffs; when the copper green of the coastal mountains glows in the last light - then that's how, how ... Rolf, the frequent traveler in our group of eight ("I tell you, folks, this is exactly like in ..."), for the first time did not know "how" ". And that spoke volumes.

The rescued lagoon could almost comfort the fact that the coastal road otherwise stretches like a wound through the country: piles of rubble next to the road and a construction method without any sense of the landscape. Those familiar with the island shrugged their shoulders when I expressed my dismay: They said that the president has a lot of building contractors in his relatives and friends. And also because of the ring road around the island - a project that everyone I spoke to consider gigantic nonsense - the President has his say. It is not my place to criticize a Yemeni presidential word. But you will find out that something like protective reflexes twitches inside me. Also when I hear about the plans for the Hoq Cave. The climb to the entrance of the cave on Socotra's northeast coast is sheer enchantment. The wadi, with its bottle trees and milkweed plants that spread out into jagged rocks, must be a reference work from Allah's Garden of Paradise - with color gradients made of iron-red or copper-green colored limestone, with dabs of Socotra violets, Socotra hyacinths and red-foaming desert roses. You hardly feel the steepness of the path, not even the heat. You bathe in your own happiness hormones, look yellow-green chameleons in the swinging eyes and red-breasted Socotra bunting at the elytra. One is there and yet in a different world, is with oneself and yet beside oneself - I will call this feeling "Socotrian" in my private language in the future. How can it be that a country father who has signed an almost unprecedented protection plan now promises to break a road through this wonder garden so that a stalactite cave can be reached by car? It would be like the Swiss leveling the Valais so that the Matterhorn can be more easily reached.

You, Mr President, probably associate this with the hope of more visitors, especially those who pay admission and expect lighting for it. But it won't work that way. Socotra will attract nature lovers, people like me, in whose countries the earth has been encrusted with concrete and nature has been crucified. Wilderness hungry will come. People who want to see the Socotra cormorant and the gold powdered velvet flowers of the Caralluma socotrana. People who have lost the starry sky in the civilized north. There are already more than enough illuminated stalactite caves.

But, Mr President, I think I understand your basic idea. The Socotri, you mean, can't bite off the beauty of their island. Where the soul rises to us travelers on lonely high plateaus, the shepherds only see barren land. And recently a couple of Europeans taking photos of their goats and the Egyptian vultures and desert ravens hovering over them. Very different points of view, I admit that. The Bedouins in the high areas wait longingly for the rain in November, which drives us away, the coastal inhabitants endure the hot storms from May to September, which we would never expose ourselves to. They all want a bearable life, what else? And they are happy about the new water pipeline for some mountain villages, which was laid by Triangle, a French aid organization. But it is a dangerous gift: Since enough water now flows from the summit region to the pastures of the plateaus in some places, the goat and sheep herds no longer have to wander - and eat the sparse vegetation down to the roots. Where there was previously drought, there is now a threat of erosion. In this connection, Mr President, I would also like you to reconsider your recommendation to enlarge the Socotra goat herds for meat export to the Arabian Peninsula. Because the feeding artists are already threatening the unique flora of the island - even the dragon trees, these primeval symbolic figures of Socotra. It is said that no dragon tree sapling has grown back in 50 years.

These trees, these most improbable figures standing on roots, are the most Socotrian of Socotra. Grown monuments of bygone plant epochs. Ambassador standing upright. There are related single specimens or tiny groves in the Canary Islands and Cape Verde. But the forest above the Irhir Gorge is like a flashback in prehistoric times - especially when clouds pass through thick fingers or the low sun makes the trunks glow. Or these rocks that lie like giant petrified sponges in dried out wadis; the arrangements of dozens of milkweed bushes, loosely draped in gravel slopes, over which blue lizards scurry - eye food! But who does it feed? For centuries the forest provided valuable raw materials and was therefore protected from being cut down. The tree resin, the red dragon's blood, is an effective hemostatic agent and dye at the same time. Such trunks were left standing, as were the myrrh and frankincense trees, formerly treasure carriers of the precious kind. Today the bleeding trees offer at best a small sideline. But what other ways to earn money are there on this island, which is only rich in natural resources? The Sokotri should experience that the future visitors from all over the world are worth something like the Diksam plateau or the ancient Haghir granite ridge. They should benefit from creating eco-lodges or simple small kitchens at special vantage points, toilets and showers on the beaches, and parking bays at particularly spectacular points. So far, however, the three hotels in the central town with very modest comfort and the flight capacity (two flights a week between Sanaa and Hadibu) are still more of a bottleneck than an inlet gate. Everyone on Socotra tells you that will change soon.

How to get there

There is a risk that the Socotri will forget their old virtues in the face of the new possibilities: the experience of how to graze sparse green spaces, the sensitivity of where and when how much wood can be harvested - such basic knowledge only survives with a people who walk their land roams. Even the axle height of a Toyota Landcruiser is too high. The island flora, with a third of the endemic (only living here) plants unique in the world, can no longer hide in inaccessibility in the future.

And just as the peculiar language is in danger of being supplanted by Arabic, so could the whole Socotra pastoral culture. I suspect, Mr President, that you too would feel that it was a loss. It speaks for your sensitivity that you receive the Socotra Bedouins high in the mountains in a tent during your regular visits to the island and do not force them into any representative building.

May your focus continue to be on the possibilities of gentle island tourism, the sustainable use of an exceptional landscape, development in small steps, at a pace that does not throw people and nature out of balance. All of this is very clear and correct in the development plans: tourism that does not overrun the island, a development that does not tear the delicate ecological network. And that is the real reason for my letter: to assure you that this plan has friends all over the world, people who like to visit your island and its people. Not least because the well-being of Socotra is dear to them.