We recently came to know of Svetlana (AKA Maverickbird of Maverickbird.com) and her blog which held a well-written account of her solo journey around the extraterrestrial looking island of Socotra Yemen. As it being number one on our top destination list we were sublimely transfixed on reading about her whole trip and all the ups and downs she endured in this magical place. Her tale was more addicting to read as she travelled there all during the country’s current surge of violence and instability. We just had to get an interview with her and discover more about this amazing traveller and what brought her there.
Socotra Yemen – Island of a far away place
If you don’t know where Socotra is, it is an island located off the Horn of Africa and being in the territory of Yemen. What makes this island most special is its unique landscape of sand dunes, exotic plants having strange shapes, and being in a very remote location of the world. Currently, Yemen is on the verge of civil war as a rebel group known as “Houthis” have overthrown the President and left the mainland in full chaos. With Al Qaeda making a home there, not many tourists feel safe to go to Yemen and experience this wonderful country. As of now, Yemen is on every countries’ travel advisory as a no go place.
PinkMoustache: Before we talk about your amazing trip to Socotra Yemen, could you please tell us a little bit about how you got into traveling?
Maverickbird: I have been flying professionally since 1998 as a flight attendant when the travel bug had bitten me for good. I had always made best use of the free travel benefits and after completing my Phd, had switched over to research based freelance work. My parents run a very old and established travel agency in India and I have helped them with liasoning with business contacts all across the world. So traveling has been my profession ever since I had stepped out of my teenage years.
PM: What got you interested in going to Yemen in the first place? Going by yourself as a female solo traveller, did you come across any resistance in your visa processing?
MB: I had come across Socotra first and it had lead me to Yemen. I have always loved history and Queen of Sheba is one of the most enigmatic, still mythical characters in the world. So it had been the combination of Socotra’s uniqueness coupled with Yemen’s history which had attracted me towards the tiny ME country. I have not faced any resistance as a female solo traveler either with visa procedures or during my travels. Rather, I had been welcomed heartily.
PM: Solo travel for women has always been something of a topic question. How was your experience of doing it in a Muslim country….during a time of sincere political upheaval?
MB: I have always traveled solo and to quite a few Muslim countries. A few of them had had glaring travel advisories, but none had been as grave as Yemen. I find the solo female traveler status in a Muslim country, both liberating and a bit intimidating. Sexual predatory behaviour exists all over the world and solo female travelers are the easiest targets. Having said that, being responsible for my own safety and knowing my limitations have helped me deal with uncomfortable situations.
In a Muslim country, I have felt that there are 2 extreme reactions towards a solo female traveler. – Either you are thought of an easy target for quick hookups or you will be protected and extra measures will be taken to ensure your safety. A lot depends on your personal approach to the destination and the tourism friendly attitude of the country. The Yemeni crisis actually had not added much to the solo female traveling situation, except that my local friends had been extra cautious and had stuck by my side 24/7. While contemplating on visiting some remote areas, I had been suggested to wear a Burkha to ensure safety.
PM: Yemen is a highly controversial travel destination. How was your trip perceived by both friends and family?
MB: Highly controversial is an understatement. I had revealed my Yemen travel plans to my friends and family after getting my visa and travel arrangements confirmed. Even then, I had met with stiff protests and had left before they could change my mind. I had expected this reaction and had initially thought of not even mentioning it to them. But I was not sure, that they would have been able to trace my whereabouts, if something had gone seriously wrong.
PM: Socotra is a really unique dream destination. Did you find it bizarre to be there? How were the locals like?
MB: Socotra is an achievement of a lifetime. The island is just not bizarre. It’s unique, unbelievably pristine and hauntingly beautiful. The feeling of actually being in Socotra had felt unreal at times and upon my first sight of a dragonblood tree, I still remember, pinching myself to see if it was for real. The locals are friendly, humble and generous but I did get a feeling that there exists a very well cultivated aura of controlled tourism in Socotra. Having said this, I can vouch for their friendliness and of course, Bollywood (my Indian connection) had helped me break the ice faster.
PM: What would you give for advice to anyone planning a trip there? What is the best way to reach the island?
MB: The only way to reach Socotra is by flight. There are 2 airlines which fly there. Yemenia and Felix. Both run on a weekly schedule (not everyday) and Yemenia is the most safest option. It is very important to book tickets and plan your Socotra vaction according to your flight schedule. Till now both the airlines fly to Socotra from the Yemeni mainland, but a direct Dubai-Socotra flight by Yemenia is underway. You will need time to explore Socotra and be prepared to rough it out. It is not a destination for luxury oriented travelers and although you will get basic comforts, go there only if wild, unchartered territories are your thing.
PM: How did you get around on the island and did you hire a guide? If so, how did you arrange it?
MB: I had arranged for the tour before landing in Socotra Yemen. The guide had been recommended to me by an ex colleague. He had been a Socotri and my package had included visa, a guide/driver, camping equipments, food and a car. I will suggest this arrangement on your first visit to the island because public transportation is the biggest hassle in Socotra. You will need a visit/2 to get a hang of the island. It is a place where a lot of peole still live in caves, so you get the picture.
PM: What was your favourite moment you took away with you from the island? And your worst?
MB: My favourite moments had been spent at Detwa lagoon. I had loved the tranqulity of the place and it had been incredible to see only my footprints trail across the entire beach of dazzling white sand. The feeling of my private paradise is the most amazing Socotra memory. The worst had been the shock of seeing the island nearly getting buried under garbage. Plastic fly like butterflies there and uncollected trash is a shocking eyesore. Coming to think of it, that the island is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, you wonder if those titles really matter.
Hi I am Svetlana, a mother, enterpreneur and a travel blogger from India. After flying professionally for more than a decade and exploring more than 50 countries, I have been bitten by the travel bug for good and have recently dived headlong into an offbeat travel business venture. I like wild, unexplored areas, love exploring new cultures and good food drives me. When I am not a nomad, I dabble in gardening, fashion, reading and have an alarmingly large family of sinfully cute puppy eyes.
Instagram – https://instagram.com/maverickbirds/