The ultimate paradise island? We thought so. To get there just follow this position: Lon: 041 55.81E Lat: 13 52.77N
Since completing our 4500 mile sail from Turkey to India Jamie and I have been asked, on frequent occasions, what our ‘best’ experience was. It’s an impossible question to answer: the historic sites of Egypt, dugongs in Sudan, the children in Massawa, the warmth of the African people and the welcome in Aden jostle for position. But the first time it was asked our gut reaction – like the other crews on the rally – was “Sadla Island”.
One of the advantages of having your own boat is being able to reach places far away from the crowds, often away from humanity. Well, that’s the theory, but if I’m honest you seldom manage to do this. We were very lucky then – once we left Egyptian waters – to cruise down the coasts of Sudan and Eritrea where uninhabited shores are the norm rather than the exception.
Sadla Island was not on our planned route, but as the saying goes ‘sailing plans are set in jelly’ and on a journey like this you have to be adaptable: you are at the mercy of wind, currents and military outposts, all of which conspired to chase us away from the mainland and into the deep waters around this deserted island. More concerned with preparing ourselves for the terror-inducing prospect of sailing through Pirate Alley than anything else at this point, we were slow to realise the perfection of what was sheltering us from the elements. Luckily nature played her hand and dealt us crippling winds for a few days, so we had time to explore.
The island comprises two volcanic peaks, with a low, sandy isthmus running between them. Although dry and dusty, the sandy flat land was covered in bleached shells and hardy plants. This whole area is volcanic, and as we stood on Sadla looking back at Eritrea all we could see for miles were rows of striking cone-shaped peaks, “like Brigit Bardot lying down,” quipped our septuagenarian rally leader. I later watched a documentary about the Red Sea, which went some way to explain why the area was so eerily beautiful: Africa and Asia are pulling apart, gradually wrenching this tear in the earth we call the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, inevitably there is seismic and volcanic activity here.
Our own volcanic pimples were covered in scree, boulders and a dusting of brown velvet powder, making it devilishly hard to get any kind of purchase. From the boat they looked edible, like mounds of chunky chocolate chip ice cream liberally sprinkled with cocoa. Walking to the summit was a dangerous task, which a few people tried, including Jamie, but I don’t think anyone made it to the top.
I preferred to stay by the coast. Climbing up one rocky cliff I stumbled across an osprey nest: the parents glided above calling out a warning, so I carefully back-tracked until they were quiet. As I sat on my sheltered ledge, I watched sharks, rays and tropical fish darting in the transparent, multicoloured shallows beneath me. Flashes of brilliant green and blue raced at breakneck speed, glinting beneath the water’s surface, a whole marine world going about its business: survival of the fittest.
On the leeward side of the island a virgin sandy beach stretched for about 500 metres, looking like something out of an aspirational glossy magazine spread for paradise beach holidays, but without an ‘authentic beach hut’ or concrete and marble hotel in sight. On the other side the waves crashed in, bringing turtles (I think they were a mixture of green and Hawksbill turtles) up onto the beach to lay their eggs, and leave behind enormous single caterpillar tracks in the sand. We watched them ‘playing’ in the surf and decided they were mating: some of the play involved climbing on each others backs, and looked quite frisky. Occasionally an ominous looking fin appeared in the waves.
In the sheltered beach coves, instead of golden sand great drifts of empty shells and dead coral formed the beach. Cowries were in abundance from tiny jewel-like blue, yellow and purple varieties no larger than a finger tip, to leopard patterned specimens the size of your heel.
Sadla’s abundance, along with its absurdly romantic sunsets through mackerel skies, gave us some well-needed respite from the ever-present threat of piracy, and brought home to all of us just how lucky we are to share this planet with such natural beauty.
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