Trekking on Socotra [Archives:2005/900/Last Page]

December 5 2005

By Frank M. Mann
Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Sofan was recently asked in an interview in Germany about the strategies in Yemen to create extra income for the population. His reply was that the tourism industry among other sectors offers very good opportunities in this respect.

Germany has already for a long time offered its assistance to Yemen to promote tourism especially in the disfavoured regions of the country. The fight against poverty is one of the overarching aims of German development cooperation and tourism offers a good opportunity to bring income not only to the capital and major cities of Yemen but to all areas where tourists go and spend their money for services, goods or handicrafts to take home as souvenirs of a most remarkable holiday in Yemen.

The German Archaeological Institute has helped tremendously to excavate and restore monuments of the very rich cultural heritage of Yemen. The Bar'an Temple and the historical Dam in Marib as well as the recent excavation in Sirwah are just a few examples of these efforts. The Institute thus has helped to put back on the tourist map sites of highest value for tourism. In addition tour guides have been trained and – in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture – a cultural tourist guide has been published to inform tourists on the history of Marib's monuments.

Equally important are the efforts made by German Cooperation Agencies (GTZ, KfW and DED) for the development of Shibam, Zabid and old Sana'a.

Since the beginning of last year Tourism in Yemen has made good progress and German tourists are now again topping the list of entries to and nights spent in Arabia Felix. The expansion of Tourism however is limited by the capacity of the existing hotels and limited available transportation. New investment is needed to provide for a further expansion.

Another good opportunity is given by developing new sectors of tourism such as diving and more importantly trekking. Trekking tours have already for some time been offered in the Haraz Mountains and in Wadi Massila with German tourists taking the lead. Trekking is especially interesting for disfavoured areas as trekkers may not need luxurious hotels but at the same time demand services that the rural population can supply such as transport by donkeys or camels. It is for this reason that the German Technical Assistance Agency (GTZ) has been commissioned to study possibilities on how to assist and to improve trekking tourism in the Haraz Mountains.

The Island of Socotra has now been discovered as another highlight for tourists who love to hike and to discover so far unspoiled nature and in November 2005 a group of 18 hikers completed the first 7 day tour organized by the Summit Club of the German Alpine Association in cooperation with a local tourism agency.

Supported by a caravan of 10 camels and Socotri cameleers the group trekked all the way from Nogid in the south of the Island to its capital Hadibou.

The trail led through the most varied and magnificent landscapes of rugged stone formations to pastures in the highlands and wadis filled with water. The caravan reached its first campsite at 450 m and spent the second night on a plateau at 750 m. The trail then led along Jebel Haggir to a height of 1.200 m. The highlight in a true sense of the word was reached after climbing the Summit of Jebel Mashannig with 1520 m. From there altogether 1.100 m of descent was to be covered to reach the last campsite at Wadi Ayhaft which offered rest and a swim in crystal clear water.

To reach Hadibou a last stretch through Wadi Tanhiten to Muqadrihon Pass had to be mastered. Of course the group did not miss the marine protected area of Dihamri and Homhill with its forest of dragon blood trees. Here two tourism cooperatives have been founded supported by the UNDP Socotra Conservation and Development Program.

These cooperatives are a very good example of how an ecologically sound tourism can provide income and opportunities to the local population. The future installation of eco-lodges in Socotra – supported by UNDP and with financial help of the Global Environmental Facility – is another important step to open up the Island for an environmentally sound tourism.

The German Summit Club is offering another three trekking tours in Socotra before the next Monsoon season and the program will be continued, improved and expanded in the years to come. Thus, Socotri villagers will soon get used to the so far unfamiliar sight of tourists enjoying the unique landscape and flora and fauna of their island and – of course – the hospitality of the Socotri people.

Frank M. Mann has been the German Ambassador in Yemen since 2003. He participated in the described trekking tour.