Day 4: The Dragon blood forest
Do you have a bucket list? The things you want to do before you die. Places to go. Achievements to reach. These things on the bucket list are not meant to be the pinnacle of one's happiness. They're just a bunch of goal posts. Coming here to Socotra, seeing this dragon blood tree with my own eyes, being immersed in the world of Frankincense and Myrrh.. yea -- on the bucket list. The bucket list gave me a structured system to get myself here. Reaching the goal post was anticlimactic. Hi tree. You look exactly like the pictures everyone took. Ok then. But the experience of getting here, being here, smelling the resin off the fresh sap, touching the air, finding out myrrh tastes gross, making friends, facing fears.. yea -- that's why I'm here. Worth every minute.
The sun burned immediately within 30 minutes past the horizon. Today we headed to the end of the valley, snaked up and down giant hills, passed yet another tiny colony of houses, and found ourselves at the foot of the dragon's blood forest. Along the way an old man came walking out with his 3 yr old. He stopped midway to show that his little boy had been hurt. It looked like the boy may have slammed his face on a rock. He also appears to have ear infection. He looked perplexed, hurt. He was quietly sobbing. I pulled out the only item I had at the time - Purell. We wiped the boy's face with it. Now, if you've never put hand sanitizer on an open wound before you might not know that it *hurts like a mofo*. For reals. I rubbed it on a coral cut on my finger before and boy did I shed a tear. Meanwhile this little child with a giant gash on his face just took it like a champ. A single whimper. That's it. Laura pulled out some bandaids for him. We left both with the boy and his father then move along. No pictures. For the next hour or so I was left wondering how is it that children in my civilization have become such little wusses over time. Is the correlation between pain and crying relative?
The forest's tourist entrance road has been destroyed by a bug storm earlier this year. From the look of it I doubt anyone will make an attempt to fix it anytime soon. Tourists now visit the forest from another side (which exactly I don't know).
The famous dragon blood tree (dracaena cinnabari) is endemic to the island. There is supposedly another kind of dragon blood tree that grows on the Canary Island, but that's a different variety (dracaena draco). These guys are slow-growing plant. At the age of 10 the tree's green bushy top is still on the ground with no real developed trunk to speak of. At that age it looks a lot like a pineapple plant. I guess it's not technically a tree per se (more like plants). The center of the trunk is fibrous. This makes it very hard to determine how old the bigger wild ones are. I'd say, given the rate of growth, the ones pictured here are probably a few hundred years old. They remind me a bit of the Joshua tree in California. Another one of my strange tree obsession. The dragon blood trees aren't scattered all over the island. They are clustered in this forest mostly. You'll see others here and there all over the Haghir mountain range. But once you get further out to the beaches or the red rock areas they are gone. The tree bleeds dark red resin -- hence "blood". The locals use this for make up, varnish, and medicine. I thought the romantic myth that Jonah Kessler told in his blog would be a famous story, but when I brought it up to my guide, sadly he didn't seem to know anything about it. :(
We were greeted by an old man and his son. They live on the land. The old man milked us some fresh goat milk for our mid day tea. Had there been less language barrier we probably would have had a good conversation. His son brought out some dragon blood resin and frankencense they harvested from earlier this year to sell. 500 riyal a pop - pretty expensive for saps you can tap for free if you ask me. I guess it's alright given that they probably won't see another traveler many months to come.
It's been a long day of walking across one steep hill after another. We finally met up with our SUV at the top of a gorgeous plateau overlooking the valley. I think the village name is Dixam. Little curious children came running to greet us. The girls were once again camera shy, while the boys kept repeating "gollum" (pens in Socotri). I asked Samed why the children ask for pens. He said some time ago the French used to come by these villages with school materials so they had it in their head that foreign looking people have pens for them. I wonder how long it would be before they beg for coins. Spectacular camp site yet again. This is our last night with the camels.