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Socotra day seven: fishing in Yemen

We were awoken just before dawn by a sprinkle of light rain on our faces. The last thing I remember seeing before falling asleep was a big sky full of stars, so I was a bit shocked at the sight of low, dark clouds wrapped around mountain peaks. We considered moving into the car but instead wrapped ourselves in blankets and hoped the rain would pass. It did, and I woke up an hour or so later as the sun quickly warmed my little cocoon. A group of kids sitting around a nearby bush watched us fold our bedding and pack our bags. Faisal brought us hot tea, bread and cheese.

Wasa had last night promised a swimming hole nearby, so after breakfast he lead Penina and I about 20 minutes further up the canyon to a small pool of water. We startled a few goats who were drinking from the water hole and Wasa left us alone to swim.

We had a quick dip and sat on the rocks to dry ourselves and our clothes in the hot sun, and then walked back towards camp and found Wasa and Faisal in the village doing some washing of their own. The four of us piled into the 4WD and drove back down the canyon, wet clothes and towels flapping out of every window. Back near the airport we stopped at the qat market so Faisal could stock up for that afternoon.

Back in Hadibo we opted for an early lunch at one of the few restaurants in town. Mains electricity was still off so inside the gloomy Taj Socotra about a dozen men sat at dirty tables eating from large plates while a goat ate used tissues from the bin. Penina and I, perhaps subconsciously inspired by the non-human patron, ordered goat; Wasa and Faisal got chicken. Wasa ducked out and procured a couple of cold drinks from a store with a generator, and very quickly our meat arrived accompanied by piles of rice and bread. The food was great and a round of tea was the perfect finish.

Bellies full, we drove across town to Socotra’s “fancy” hotel to hire snorkels, goggles and flippers. Inside the foyer we were shocked by the icy blast of air conditioning in the lobby — I’d forgotten what it felt like! Equipment for our afternoon sorted, we headed on to the Deleisha campsite and were directed with smiles towards “our” hut. Being just after midday and stinking hot we settled in to relax for a few hours. A lovely, refreshing breeze flowed through the hut, and one of the staff brought us a pot of tea. I reclined on the floor mat, soaking in the view and reading, and Penina napped. It was just glorious.

A couple of hours later we changed into swimmers and met Wasa and a local fisherman down at the water’s edge. We climbed into the long, narrow wooden fishing boat with our snorkel gear and motored east, staying close to the coastline. It’s almost impossible to describe how perfect the clear, blue water looked, offset by the dramatic mountain range. We passed another enormous sand dune blown up against a cliffside.

Just before we got to Di Hamri (where we’d snorkelled a few days ago), the fisherman slowed his motor and told us, via Wasa, that there was a good crop of coral below us. Penina and I put on our gear and jumped out of the boat about 300m from shore, and for the next 90 minutes we swam around the area while the men moved between fishing spots within sight of us.

The view under the water was incredible: multi-coloured coral, all manner of animal life, and epically huge schools of fearless small- and medium-sized fish — one school of hundreds and hundreds of long silver fish completely surrounded us and swam so close they were nearly brushing our faces. Every now and again we’d stick our heads out of the water and enjoy the feeling of being totally alone (except for the boat just visible way over there) and surrounded by such natural beauty.

As the sun began to sink towards the western horizon, Penina and I signalled to the boat and the men came to collect us. We’d obviously interrupted a productive fishing session so we emphasised that we were more than happy to chill out in the boat and enjoy the spectator sport. The fisherman, however, decided to get us in on the action and he rigged up a pair of hand lines wrapped around an empty bottle and a piece of driftwood, showing us how to load our hooks from the pile of small baitfish.

For the next two hours the four of us sat there fishing as the sun set. It was, quite simply, magical. One of those travel experiences you couldn’t plan if you tried.

Penina obviously had a special touch and she managed to bring in three good-sized fish without any trouble. I was struggling and it took me ages to catch one, and then a larger second which made me feel a bit better. When the sun had completely disappeared over the horizon, the fisherman washed his hands and feet in the sea, moved to the front of the boat, and quietly prayed. After he came back and resumed his position next the outboard motor it was on — he and Wasa must’ve brought in over a dozen fish in the time it took to get completely dark. On our last throws of the line I got a massive nibble and lost the hook; Penina hooked something big and lost her grip on her line, but Wasa managed to catch it and help her to pull in a huge fourth fish.

The sky was by now a beautiful canopy of stars, so we weighed anchor and headed for home. I have no idea how the fisherman navigated in the darkness but he obviously knew what he was doing. We pulled into the Deleisha campsite beach and Wasa, Penina and I jumped out into the water. The fisherman reached into the boat’s water-filled storage compartment and pulled out half-a-dozen fish for us to keep, placing them in a plastic shopping bag. One of the fish managed to wriggle out of the bag, though, and swam away.

Wasa rushed off to the kitchen to see if we could get a few of the fish cooked up for dinner, and Penina and I went off to have a shower. When we got back to the main building we were ravenous but unfortunately the staff had already cooked up other fish for our meal. They were delicious even if they weren’t our own. We had a great chat with Wasa over dinner about our adventures so far and he outlined the plan for the next day. Our flight was scheduled for around 10am so we didn’t need to get moving too early.

Laying in bed after the generator had been turned off, listening to the ocean and reflecting on yet another special day, I was really quite sad to be leaving.

1 Comment

  1. Nice read, sounds like a magical place

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