Waking up after a wind-battered night in our eco-camp, we drank some mate (courtesy of Marcella) and hopped in the jeep, heading North to the beach at Qalansiyya. Dar dropped us off on a rocky hill overlooking the lagoon, pointed out the route to our camp for the night, and said that he would meet us there. The overcast and windy weather, combined with a fair quantity of rusty and abandoned Russian military equipment, gave the whole scene a post-apocalyptic feel. The only color in the whole landscape came from the turquoise seawater.
The camp was nice, with neat rows of tents and a couple of three-walled shelters that opened out to the lagoon. I decided I was ready for another swim and headed out into the clear shallow water. I slogged through the thigh-deep water until boredom took me back to the beach, where Marcella informed me that swimming and wading in the lagoon was strongly discouraged. The lagoon, apparently, was inhabited by a large population of stingrays, which had, apparently, “killed a national Geographic photographer.” I felt very impressed until I realized that she meant Steve Irwin.
Forgoing the lagoon, Marcella and I walked out to the ocean. Along the way we met a friendly Yemeni man who had graduated from college in the U.S. He regaled us with tales of his international adventures (the French Riviera! Amsterdam! Arizona!), punctuating every other sentence with a hearty “oh my god.” The hotel was soooooo beautiful oh my god. I considered letting him know that only 15-year-girls do this, but decided against it. Following a raucous swim in the sea, our new friend invited us to lunch, where we met the Shaykh of Dhamar and dined on baby goat. Kid—it’s what’s for dinner (and it’s a nice break from canned tuna).
The following day Marcella and I bid Dar farewell for the afternoon and loaded onto a mid-size motorboat for the boat ride out to Shouab (# of life preservers: 0; proximity to waves smashing against unforgiving rocky shore: very close). Eventually the rough seas spit us out into calmer bluish-emerald waters, where we weaved in and out of black rock towers and looked at ocean birds—Gulls! Boobies (hehehe)! Eventually we anchored at a stunning white sand beach. I had about 15 seconds to bask in the sun on my towel before Marcella shouted at me and pointed into the ocean at a sizable collection of dark dorsal fins. Spinner dolphins!
I threw on my snorkel mask and made a vain effort to follow the school, but dolphins are (shockingly!) speedy little buggers, and we soon quickly lost them. But our competent and obliging boatman pulled the boat up alongside us, and after we hauled ourselves in we spent the next 45 minutes or so trailing along after the dolphins in what must for them have been an extremely annoying fashion. And we saw a BABY DOLPHIN! SO CUTE OH MY GOD!
Heading back to shore, chilly from multiple valiant efforts to swim with dolphins, I lay out on the beach while Marcella went to take a walk. A few minutes later, three older women and a little boy appeared on the beach and sauntered over to check me out.
Now, the ninjas in Socotra are a bit more colorful than the ones in Sanaa, with lovely multicolored robes and shawls and things. But it is very uncomfortable to be wearing a swimsuit (modest one-piece though it may be) and to be suddenly blocked in by fully-covered women. You know that dream you have when you’re in public, and all of a sudden you realize you’re naked . . . ? In any case things passed with out incident, the women wandering off shortly after I told their little boy that no, he could not have my snorkel or my water bottle. Later on, Marcella and I buried our legs in the sand, but quickly emerged after some particularly aggressive lemon-yellow crabs started nibbling on Marcella’s toes.
The waves had picked up during the afternoon, and our boat bobbed up and down through what felt to me like pretty sizable troughs. Gripping the edge of the boat, I wondered how many Socotran fisherman died at sea each year.
Exhausted by the perilous sea voyage, I dozed on the drive to the beach at Umag (or Amak, or Amaok, depending on how the writer feels that day) for the evening, arriving just after dark. The sand was shining brightly under the full moon and I decided to go for a barefoot run on the beach. Dad and I recently started a tradition of going out for a run on Christmas eve to look at all the neighborhood lights. I decided that running along the beach, watching my moonshadow and the reflection of the night sky on the wet sand, would have to do this year.
After a lazy morning swimming on the beach, Dar told us that we were going to a local wadi for lunch (wadi is the Arabic word for a valley or canyon). Wadi Dirho had been a delight; this place was not. We set up our camp stove on the windy banks of an-algae choked stream, enjoying the decorative bits and pieces of goat carcass that the locals had strewn carefully across the landscape. Marcella and I shrugged and I asked her to boil the mate water for a few extra minutes. Picking pieces of algae from my ramen & tuna, I reminded myself that at least I was getting my daily dose of green vegetables.
We spent the night in a camp near the capital, drinking tea, eating a real meal—rice, yay! Potatoes and peas, yay! Pan-fried . . . tuna . . . Well, at least it was hot!
STAY TUNED! NEXT UP ON YEMENADE, SOCOTRA PART III: LAUREN LUNCHES WITH IMPORTANT HEADS OF STATE.