An out-of-this-world trip to Socotra Island

An out-of-this-world trip to Socotra Island
This Yemeni UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest of four islands in the Socotra Archipelago. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 10 June 2021

An out-of-this-world trip to Socotra Island

An out-of-this-world trip to Socotra Island
  • Exploring the weird and wonderful landscapes of Yemen’s UNESCO World Heritage Site

DUBAI: Socotra Island has been variously described as ‘The Galapagos of the Middle East’ and ‘The Jewel of Arabia.’ This Yemeni UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest of four islands in the Socotra Archipelago, situated east of the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea.

The unspoiled, alien-like landscape of the island has intrigued travelers and scientists alike for decades. According to UNESCO, it is a site of “universal importance because of its biodiversity with rich and distinct flora and fauna.” The UN body estimates that 37 percent of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90 percent of its reptile species and 95 percent of its land snail species do not exist anywhere else in the world.




The unspoiled, alien-like landscape of the island has intrigued travelers and scientists alike for decades. (Shutterstock)

Until its airport opened in 1999, Socotra was very difficult to get to. This year, Air Arabia began operating a direct chartered flight once a week to the island from Abu Dhabi — a journey of around two hours.

We caught the final tour of the season — travel to the island stops during the monsoon season (late May to September). And while there are three hotels on the island we opted for a camping trip. Be aware though: This is camping, not glamping. There is no electricity, no running water, no toilets and no showers. So a portable bidet, biodegradable wipes and biodegradable soap are a must in order to protect the island’s delicate environment. Its capital, Hadibu, already has a serious problem with trash and plastic.

We first set up camp at Dihamri, a rocky coast covered in white coral. It’s the perfect spot for snorkeling — you can see all types of sea life in the crystal-clear waters, including stingrays, turtles and puffer fish (pro tip: bring sea shoes).




Until its airport opened in 1999, Socotra was very difficult to get to. (Shutterstock)

During our visit, it was still around 35 degrees Celsius and quite humid at night, making it unbearable to sleep in the tent. On the plus side, sleeping outside gives you a clear view of the stars. On other nights, we weren’t so lucky, as the winds picked up, rattling the tents and keeping us awake until sunrise.

Despite the lack of sleep, the beauty of the island energized us and we continued to explore. We hiked to Kallissan, where there is a natural pool in which to cool off, then set up camp in Arher, a stunning site full of giant white sand dunes at the edge of the mountains with great coastal views. The dunes are high and challenging to climb (it took us about an hour to get to the top), but definitely worth it.




Its capital, Hadibu, already has a serious problem with trash and plastic. (Shutterstock)

There are so many spectacular sites to explore if you’re prepared to put in the hours hiking: The unique dragon blood tree, for instance, so called because of its red sap. Legend has it the first dragon blood tree was created from the blood of a dragon that was wounded when it fought an elephant. In Arabic, the tree is called dam al akhawain — the blood of the two brothers — as the story goes that the tree first grew on the spot where two brothers, Darsa and Samha, fought to the death.

There are also a number of abandoned Soviet tanks around the place, a lasting reminder of the influence the USSR had on Southern Yemen. From 1967 to 1990 South Yemen (including Socotra) was the only communist state in the Arab world.




We’d also advise scheduling your visit for March — when the island’s famed bottle trees (desert roses) bloom. (Shutterstock)

Along with the tales of the past, we met many wonderful locals willing to share their knowledge of the island, from Wagdi, our tour guide, to Abdullah the caveman who spends his days fishing in the Detwah Lagoon and will happily invite you to his cave for fresh fish.

Seafood, cooked in a variety of ways, is the staple diet of Socotra. You can get crab, stingray and lobster for as little as a $1. For breakfast we enjoyed traditional Yemeni bean stews with bread, cheese and local honey.




Caption

Our return flight — the last scheduled flight out before the end of the season – was cancelled due to a cyclone. That delay gave us the opportunity to explore Hadibu and engage further with the locals, who were very helpful. The island has no functioning ATMs and getting money was a struggle, as the island does not have much cash flow. We’d advise taking an emergency fund.

We’d also advise scheduling your visit for March — when the island’s famed bottle trees (desert roses) bloom — or in October or November, shortly after the monsoon season, when the island is green. But whenever you visit, Socotra really is like no other place on earth.


Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows

Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows
Updated 58 min 37 sec ago

Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows

Elton John positive for Covid-19, postpones Dallas shows
  • "I'm so sorry to anyone who's been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe," said John
  • The concerts, part of John's "Farewell Yellow Brick Road" tour, were scheduled for January 25 and January 26

NEW YOTK: Pop megastar Elton John on Tuesday postponed two concerts in Dallas — part of what is expected to be a lengthy farewell tour — after testing positive for Covid-19.
“It’s always a massive disappointment to move shows and I’m so sorry to anyone who’s been inconvenienced by this but I want to keep myself and my team safe,” said the British musician, 74, in a statement on social media.
“Fortunately, I’m fully vaccinated and boosted and my symptoms are mild.”
The concerts, part of John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, were scheduled for January 25 and January 26. Both John and the American Airlines Center, where the shows were to take place, said they will be rescheduled and fans should keep their tickets.
John said he expected to be healthy enough to play his show on January 29 in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The tour, which is anticipated to be Sir Elton’s last, has run into pandemic-era cancelations and postponements, like many other performing arts events.
The pop legend also recently had a hip operation that forced him to push back several dates.
Last year, John released an album entitled “The Lockdown Sessions,” which was recorded entirely under Covid-19 restrictions.


Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban
Updated 25 January 2022

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban

Virtuoso keeps Afghan music alive despite Taliban ban
  • Afghanistan's rich musical culture is under threat as the Taliban have banned music since their return to power last year
  • "Right now we don't have music in Afghanistan," says Homayoun Sakhi

LONDON: Homayoun Sakhi closes his eyes and runs his fingers along the long neck of his wooden instrument encrusted with mother-of-pearl.
“I feel like I have my Afghanistan in my hand,” says Sakhi, one of the world’s most renowned performers on the country’s national instrument, the rubab.
He is jet-lagged after flying in from California to perform at London’s Barbican concert hall to raise funds for emergency medicine and education in his homeland.
Along with the growing humanitarian crisis, Afghanistan’s rich musical culture is under threat as the Taliban have banned music since their return to power last year.
Widely shared videos have shown them smashing and burning instruments. Musicians have fled the country.
“Right now we don’t have music in Afghanistan,” says Sakhi.
“It’s really difficult because there are no concerts, there’s no music, and (for musicians) it’s very difficult to be without any money and without a job.
“That’s why they’re trying to go somewhere to play.”
The Taliban clampdown is a repeat of the hard-liners’ previous time in power between 1996 and 2001, when they banned music as sinful, under a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
The rubab dates back thousands of years and has enjoyed a revival thanks to Sakhi, who is known as a musical innovator and has developed a more modern playing style.
BBC Music Magazine called him “one of the greatest performers” on the instrument.
Born in Kabul, he left Afghanistan with his family in 1992, in the chaotic aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, moving to Pakistan.
He later settled in Fremont, California, which is known for its large Afghan community, and has launched an academy teaching the rubab.
“Each time I’m playing, I’m home, I feel like I’m in Afghanistan,” he says.
Music including pop was allowed a free rein during the past two decades in Afghanistan, with local television even showing a “Pop Idol” talent contest equivalent.
But following the Taliban’s return to power, traditional Afghan music now relies on devotees overseas.
The “Songs of Hope” concert at the Barbican last Saturday was organized by Afghanistan International TV.
The London-based channel was set up by Volant media company, which also runs a Persian-language channel for Iranians.
It will screen a documentary about the concert in March.
In the first half, Sakhi plays classical Afghan pieces, followed by folk music that gets the audience clapping along.
He performs with UK-based virtuoso Shahbaz Hussain on tabla and Iranian musician Adib Rostami on the kamancheh, a bowed string instrument.
“I had the idea to do the concert — that was the only thing I can do as a musician,” said Rostami, one of the event’s organizers.
“As we know, now the music is banned in Afghanistan — they cannot ban this from the people around the world.”
“We have to try as musicians, as music lovers, to find a way to keep this cultural heritage for the future.”
The current situation for musicians under the Taliban is “back in the 1990s,” he says.
“Again, you cannot be a musician in Afghanistan.
“As far as I know, most of the musicians... are trying to get out of the country.”
A group of students and teachers from a national music school in Kabul arrived as refugees in Portugal in December, after the Taliban’s takeover earlier last year.
Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra, Zohra, set up in 2016 and named after a Persian goddess of music, has moved to Qatar.


Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag

Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag
Updated 25 January 2022

Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag

Review: Now on Netflix, WWII spy drama ‘Munich – The Edge of War’ is a mixed bag

CHENNAI: After innumerable World War II-focused movies, Christian Schwochow’s “Munich – The Edge of War” is somewhat of a welcome relief worth savoring. The work, based on Robert Harris's novel “Munich,” begins in a delightfully happy atmospheric mood in 1932 with Oxford students celebrating graduation with music and mirth. As the camera zooms in on three close friends – Hugh Legat (George MacKay), Paul Von Hartman (Janis Niewohner) and Lenya (Liv Lisa Fries) – we sense a whiff of what is come, the dark days of Adolf Hitler's (played here by a nasty looking Ulrich Matthes) expansionist plans to take over all of Europe. 

The movie follows three close friends – Hugh Legat (George MacKay), Paul Von Hartman (Janis Niewohner) and Lenya (Liv Lisa Fries). Supplied

After taking the audience to a dread-filled London six years later, Schwochow’s film then veers into the thriller genre, focusing on how Paul and Hugh, now working in government offices in Germany and England respectively, try their best to stop a war that eventually led, as we all know, to catastrophic consequences. Mainly about the 1938 Munich conference and its thwarted peace agreement between the two countries, Munich – The Edge of War beyond this is a fictional account of how the two friends turn spies. Once a passionate advocate of Hitler and his Nazi party with Paul arguing at Oxford how the Germans badly needed an identity that the Fuhrer promised, the young man is later disillusioned by and angry at the way things are turning out. At his brief meeting with Chamberlain, Paul says that it will be a mistake to sign a peace treaty with Hitler, who is nothing but a monster.

The work is based on Robert Harris's novel “Munich.” Supplied

A handsome spy story, it is set in plush offices and pretty gardens (with gorgeous production design by Tim Pannen) where the friends have their rendezvous, often exchanging information and highly classified documents. 

The movie has some tense moments, particularly when Hugh tries to pass off vital information to his prime minister, but on the flip side, “Munich – The Edge of War” can be a little too academic, a trifle too contrived. There is not much to talk about the two lead players — MacKay and Niewohner — who seem more caricatured than real, although Fries is sparkling in the initial sequences conveying a carefree mood that permeated Britain's campuses in the early 1930s. 


US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques

US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques
Updated 25 January 2022

US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques

US singer-designer Pharrell slammed over accessory’s similarities to Mughal antiques

DUBAI: US singer Pharrell Wiliams attended Kenzo’s Spring 2022 show during Paris Fashion Week and simultaneously teased his new partnership with fine jewelry house Tiffany & Co.

The N.E.R.D singer sat front row, next to Kenzo’s new creative director Nigo, donning a pair of diamond-embellished sunglasses that got everyone talking — but not for the right reasons.

Users on social media, including online fashion watchdog Diet Prada, took to the photo-sharing platform to point out the striking similarities between Pharrell’s custom sunglasses and historical Mughal antiques.  

The antiques in question are two pairs of frames dating back to the 17th century that were put up for auction last year by Sotheby’s.

Belonging to the Mughal royals that ruled the Indian subcontinent, the extremely rare Islamic antiques feature emerald-cut lenses and were created to aid a wearer in reaching enlightenment and heal and ward off evil, according to the Sotheby’s website.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Diet Prad (@diet_prada)

Legend has it that following the death of Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtaz Mahal, in whose honor the Taj Mahal was built, the emperor is said to have cried so many tears that he needed to cure his ailing eyes with emerald stones.

“These extraordinary curiosities bring together myriad threads – from the technical mastery of the cutter and the genius of craftsmanship to the vision of a patron who chose to fashion two pairs of eyeglasses quite unlike anything ever seen before,” said Edward Gibbs, chair, Sotheby’s Middle East & India, ahead of the London auction last year.

The Mughal bejeweled spectacles were commissioned by an unknown prince and fashioned by an artist, who shaped a 200-carat diamond and a brilliant Colombian emerald, weighing at least three hundred carats, into two frames.

Now, social media users are slamming the US singer-designer for the similar shades, although Pharrell has yet to respond to the backlash.


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood
Updated 25 January 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM advert among nominees for Art Directors Guild Awards in Hollywood

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s “NEOM: ‘Made to Change’” advert is nominated for the 26th Art Directors Guild Awards, organizers announced on Monday. 

The live in-person event, scheduled to be held on March 5 in Los Angeles, honors production design in theatrical motion pictures, music videos, animated feature films, television shows and commercials.

The 90-second video shows how the $500 billion smart city in the Tabuk Province of northwestern Saudi Arabia will accelerate the human drive for progress through technology, energy, sustainability, mobility and more. 

The commercial’s production designer is François Audouy.

Among the nominees for the commercials category is “Gucci: ‘Aria,’” “Apple Music: ‘Billie Eilish — Happier Than Ever,’” “Apple: Introducing iPhone 13 Pro” and more. 

“Dune,” the science-fiction epic shot in Abu Dhabi, earned recognition in the fantasy feature film category, alongside “Cruella,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” and “The Green Knight.”