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.
He seemed truly happy.
I've never been much into beaches, but I have to say the ones on Socotra were some of the most pristine stretches of sand I've ever seen - stretching for kilometers - with crystal clear water.
Not a person in sight (except for @rhystj and me). #dragonsbloodisland#beach#crystalclear
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.
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.
Socotra locals use the dragon's blood resin as a cure for most things. From records in ancient text it seems Greeks, Romans, and Arabs used it in general wound healing as a coagulant as well as a cure for diarrhea and lowering fevers.
Expeditions aren't just about epic moments.
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.
After this we got to sleep under the stars while surrounded by Dragon's Blood Trees, trying to sleep through the sound of a goat eating plastic in the distance.
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.
Even though he's now living in a house with modern comforts, he keeps coming back. "Every time I fight with my wife over what to watch on TV, I come back to live in the cave for a while." #dragonsbloodisland#cave#modernlife#citylife#paradox
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.
Huh. Bottle tree graffiti.
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.
The jagged mountains of Hadibou are infamous for always being shrouded in clouds. Except today.
Arriving here, to the capital of Socotra, was nothing like I thought it would be.
Hadibou is buzzing with the activity you would expect from a town in expansion mode; buildings are popping up like mushrooms and there's a cement mixer on every street corner.
We were expecting fatigue from the war. But it never came here.
Don't miss my Instagram stories over on the @natgeo account! They're live for 24 more hours.
It's curious that while we're on the same boat, we have very different horizons behind and ahead of us.
Traveling to Yemen, and Socotra in particular, has deep personal meaning to me. One of my dearest friends has always wanted to take me there, but then soldiers and drones laid siege to our plans. It feels strange now having to basically smuggle myself onto the island on a cargo ship.
Yet my journey is nowhere near as complicated and emotional as that of @littlemsfossil. Her connection to Yemen is from birth, and the war has torn her family tree up by the roots. She's been trying to get here for years - and failed because of the guns, power struggles and famine that is still strangling the mainland.
Looking out into the distance, we see the same specks of light on the horizon. Socotra.
But as I get tired of looking, her gaze still lingers.
For the full story on how we got to Socotra, check my Instagram stories and the posts by @leonmccarron and @rhystj.
#dragonsbloodisland#socotra#yemen#natgeocreative @insidenatgeo @mbi_foundation
A top 5 expedition moment, realizing this is our toilet for a few days while crossing a section of the Indian Ocean to #Socotra .
Access to toilets is one of the world's largest challenges for billions of people. So I guess climbing over the railing of a ship into a wooden box strapped to the hull must actually be counted as pretty good access - enjoying the moment while looking down into 2000m deep water.
Quite a view!
One of our fellow travelers, part of the indian crew that agreed to take us with them to our destination, checks his messages before we leave port somewhere in the Middle East.
If there's one universal behavior I find absolutely everywhere I travel, it's smartphone addiction. Whether your an Indian sailor or a Swedish photographer, we all go silent for some screentime before leaving coverage behind for days on the ocean.
I'm very sure that while I snapped this frame, @leonmccarron and @littlemsfossil were hard at work with their keyboards behind me.
On deck of an Indian cement cargo ship, navigating by the stars over the Indian Ocean.
Some places on Earth are still very hard to reach. I'm just back from a journey that had me and my fellow explorers spending almost a week at sea to get to. Once there, we got to explore a jewel in the eye of a storm.
We had to stay silent about the trip because of security concerns, so the following posts will be published in delayed realtime.
Some of the young acrobat elephant trainers wave to fans in the audience, after facing off with another team of trainers during the Thrissur Pooram in Kerala, India.
These boys train all year long to be able to perform the choreographed ceremony that includes acrobatic displays with colorful umbrellas that finishes off with fireworks. It's performed during the largest pooram (annual festival) in India.
Tens of thousands of smartphones light the square of the Vadakkunnathan Temple during the Thrissur Pooram - the Elephant Festival - in Kerala, India. People are filming and photographing fifteen of the most famous elephants in the world. The animals stand on each side of the massive square, adorned with gold and jewelry.
This is the stage where two teams of elephant trainers and acrobats face off on opposing sides of the square - each team trying to gain the favor of the audience which will later decide which team wins. It's a show of athleticism and style.
There's few places where elephants get more love - and more hard work - than at the annual Thrissur Pooram which is just around the corner.
The festival is held at the Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur, Kerala, every year on the day when the moon rises with the Pooram star in the Malayalam Calendar.
But mostly, it's a folk festival where everyone comes to see one thing: the most famous elephants in India.
While @kahlstrom is most comfortable in the cold waves of west coast Norway he had no problem realigning his brain for taking on the big mountains of Skarvheimen. But we hadn't even started the trip before he started pulling out maps and plan for larger things: crossing certain continents were mentioned.
There will be more to come from this man and his skis.
Traversing the great white fields of Skarvheimen in Norway. This time of year, almost all of Norway escapes to the mountains to celebrate Easter.
Lucky to be there a few days prior to the chaos, we could enjoy the vast mountain ranges north of Hardangervidda for ourselves. This is @katjaado in front of a massive ridge at twilight.
#påskefjellet#påskefjell#norway @dntoslo @turistforeningen #natgeocreative
A mountain of trash below Mt. Everest.
As much as tourism has done for Nepal, there are several downsides - this being one of them. The environmental impact from tourism, and all the plastic packaging it brings, is quite a challenge.
I'm glad there are new initiatives in place to deal with this. Will post more about it soon.