Following a long tracing journey in Socotra’s highlands, I pursue my search for the dragons those blood feed and name the famous dragon blood trees. A phoenix met incidentally in the mountains advised me to look for them along the northern shore of the island. Here we are.
As we reach the shore, I feel further regenerated by the stunning sea scenery: wild and pure, raw and authentic. Spotting a young fisherman, I am fascinated by his technical skills despite his very basic equipment. Pulling his nylon string back and forth, he plays an inaudible but fascinating music with the elegance of a harpist.
I engage him: ‘Do you know where the dragons are hiding?’ He nods his head negatively, while looking west along the coast… Thanks.
At sunset, we reach a former seaport and pursue to a lonely and deliciously sandy beach, where we spend a memorable open sky night. There is nothing like the stars and the full moon as bed ceiling indeed.
Awake in the wee morning hours, I feel tempted to board and set up in a derelict wooden pirogue. No, I need better transportation to reach the western part of the shore.
After a long overland trip, we reach Qalansiyah, the second largest town in Socotra. We head to the nearby Detwah beach. ‘A nice one’, announces my guide Eisa. The immensity and the raw beauty of the soft sand baked with sunlight and bathed in water leave me standing still and speechless. You will certainly agree that there are good reasons for that.
Detwah provides a superb venue for beach football indeed. I approach the contenders with care, eager not to disrupt the hotly disputed play. Busy, the local boys barely pay attention to my presence.
Tempted to enquire about the sought-after dragons, but I finally don’t. Those boys are too young to know, I conclude. I was most probably wrong.
On my way to the Detwah lagoon, I hint at a curious series of small ponds, obviously tainted with dragon’s blood. Dragons are getting closer.
We spend a beautiful evening and night in Detwah lagoon. Thus, I feel a bit tense on the morning. Today is the last day of my stay in the island and hence my last opportunity to find Socotra’s dragons. We board a fisherman pirogue to explore the costal line further west of Qalansiyah.
Above the pristine seawater, the eroded cliffs present a lunar landscape full of anfractuosities and caves – propitious to hide, I think immediately.
On our marine way, we meet numbers of fishermen standing on the bottom of the cliffs and keen to exhibit their modest fish catch of the day. One of them, thirsty, asks for drinking water. I send him my bottle, enquiring also whether there is any chance for us to spot the dragons. ‘Continue for just a mile further west, and look into the water’, he replies with a smiling face.
Ahead of us, a large and moving bank of dolphins boils the water with their races, meanders, u-turns and springs well above the sea level. I look incredulously at the dolphins, searching for more exotic creatures amongst them. The fisherman, who had kept quiet since our departure, looks at me and blinks his eyes to confirm my awakening: yes, those are Socotra’s dragons!
We roam with our boat around the hundreds of dolphins, before jumping into the water to be more fully part of this surreal moment. Beside the dolphins, thousands of exotic fishes move gently in a complex and coordinated choreography, as they would be in a gigantic aquarium. A magical moment that neither pictures nor words can translate adequately.
I don’t remember exactly when and how we left the location to board an immense sandy beach to rest from our intense emotions. My sight and my mind loose gradually acuity, catching only blurred and esoteric pictures.
The boatman sets off to our final destination, Shuab beach. I feel exhausted but immensely happy. My reasoning capacity resurfaces gradually. How come didn’t I think about it earlier? The gradual drying out of Socotra and the human population growth on the island made the life of the dragons in the highlands too challenging.
Consequently and with the help of the phoenix, dragons turned into sea dragons disguised in dolphins to continue living quietly in Socotra archipelago. Socotri people, who refrain from fishing dolphins anyway, know about the mutation of their dragons and have extended their fishing embargo to them indeed.
Back to practicalities, a fisherman invites me in Shuab to follow his hunt. Equipped solely with a hand net, the young man demonstrates me how to launch the net so that it unfolds fully and evenly. He folds the net only in a matter of seconds. I admire the purity of his gestures, incapable to imitate them. Technology-fond modernity has already lost tremendous amounts of traditional know-how, I conclude.
The fisherman is no more on a mock exercise. Feet into seawater, he explores visually the surroundings of semi-immerged rocks were sea life is prone to hide. His sight is as astonishing as his gestures. He catches a couple of enormous calamari on his second net launch. The male expires loudly in a cloud of ink expelled by his body. Fishing is not over, clarifies the fisherman. A couple of hundreds of meters away, he enters more deeply into water, observes and launches his net again.
The sea hunter comes back soon to the shore, the net loaded with scores of small silver fishes. Helping him to remove the catch from the net, I count no less than fifty fishes.
Three net launches in twenty minutes, harnessing two calamari and fifty silver fishes. Who claimed that traditional fishing is not viable? It is but with measure indeed.
Back in Qalansiyah, I chat with an old man cleaning and slicing a big fish, telling him about my enthusiastic experience of the day. He stops working, raises his sight to me and says: ‘Feel happy and blessed about it.’
In the Antiquity, Indians refer to Socotra as the ‘Island of Bliss’ in their Sanskrit language, while Egyptians call it the ‘Island of the Genie’. Now comes your turn: visit, appreciate and respect Socotra – its natural environment, its people and their mythology.
Post-scriptum: If you wish to experience Eisa’s agility and Chira’s good mood, contact them here.
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