The only problem with sleeping in our little cave was that the sun woke us as soon as it poked its head over the horizon. The morning got really hot, really quickly, and there was little shade to be had. We had a quick breakfast with sunnies on and packed the car.

It was a short 15 minute drive to the small village of Tarbak. We pulled off the road and Faisal honked the horn to get someone’s attention. After some negotiation, Wasa secured the services of a young man to guide us up the mountain and deep into Hoq Cave. We grabbed a water bottle each, shoved head torches into our pockets, waved goodbye to Faisal who was staying behind, and headed off.

It took about an hour to hike up the mountain and it was a punishing climb. I was a bit too preoccupied with the heat and the steep, rocky climb to fully appreciate the view behind me. We finally arrived at a vast opening in the side of the mountain and scrambled up a steep, narrow goat track to a flat and shady resting place. Guzzling water, we finally got a chance to take in the view, the whitecaps again signalling the strength of the wind.

Coast view

The entrance to the actual cave was about 50m further inside the hollow. Removing our sunnies and testing our torches, we plunged into the darkness. The little sunlight that penetrated the first 50m or so caused the stalactites and stalagmites closest to the entrance to shine green and orange.

Cave entrance

The clay floor was damp and slippery and the air became more humid and oppressive as we went on. The cavern was vast — our head torches struggled to find the edge and the ceiling. After a few minutes we stopped walking and turned out the torches to experience the darkness. It was completely silent except for intermittent water drips. Torches on and walking further inside, the scene around us was alien. Enormous coral-like structures reached out towards each other from roof and ground, shining moistly in greens and yellows and dull reds.

The walk into the cave took about 45 minutes, and the path continued to narrow until we were forced to follow a piece of string that had been installed to guide visitors. We arrived at what Wasa called the “fountain of youth”: a vast pool of water fed by an enormous stalactite plunging into the pool. The water, Wasa said, had taken many thousands of years to filter through the mountain and into the pool, and here it was laying completely still, undisturbed by wind or light. And with that, he dipped his empty bottle into the pool and drank deeply. The water tasted perfect, in that it tasted like nothing at all.

It was so humid by now that my glasses were fogging. After another lights-out experiment which was possibly the closest I’ve ever come to total sensory deprivation, we turned around for the walk back out. At the entrance, Wasa and the guide left Penina and I to spend some time soaking in the sights and we came across some scrawny looking cows who’d scrambled up to the cave for a drink of water. They didn’t take much notice of us as they exited.

Walking back down to the village was much more pleasant than the trip up due to the view, but the sun was really heating up now. I was drenched with sweat by the time we made it back to the car.

Walking down

Bottle tree

We found Faisal drinking tea in the courtyard of a family’s compound and the men invited us to sit with them. A glass of hot, sweet tea was delicious but it only made me sweat even more.

Back on the road, plans got discussed. We had only one night left so Wasa was keen to know what we wanted to do with the rest of our time. Penina and I said a swim in the ocean at Deleisha beach would be pretty much perfect right now. We arrived there just before lunch time and Penina and I changed clothes and jumped straight in the water. It was every bit as delightful as we remembered. Being the first day of the weekend in Socotra, the huts were full of families daytripping from Hadibo and other villages. Food was being delivered to the huts on large trays.

After lunch of rice and fish we drank tea and read our books through the hottest hours of the afternoon. Wasa and Faisal laid themselves out for naps. Late in the afternoon we drove into Hadibo hoping for ice but mains power had been out for most of the past few days due to the wind. We bought a few litres of petrol near the airport and turned off the main road, driving inland and up a narrow track beside a wadi. Halfway up we gave a lift to a man who was walking home from town with a cloth bag full of shopping.

Just as the sun was setting we arrived at a small village in Ayhaft canyon and set up camp near the small mosque. It was getting dark very quickly but it didn’t affect the beautiful scene around us: big sky, dramatic mountain peaks, and the sounds of kids playing off in the distance. Penina and I hung out the hand washing we’d done in Deleisha while Wasa and Faisal threw together some food.

Cooking

After dinner I tried a few long exposure shots of the stars framed by the mountains, but the wind made it hard to keep the camera and tripod still.

Long-exposure sky

Wasa and Faisal set up their beds next to the car and lay quietly talking. Penina and I fell asleep next to a tree, staring up at the sky.