Meet Eva Zu Beck: the girl with a smile that could warm your heart. Her stories from around the world will inspire you. We got in touch with her to know about one of her most intriguing adventures yet – her quarantined life on a remote island in Yemen. By Japleen Kaur
1. How did you end up getting quarantined on a remote island in Yemen?
This is my second time in Socotra Island, Yemen. The first time I came here last year, I fell in love with the place, and I instantly knew I wanted to come back for a more meaningful period of time. When I did come back, it happened to coincide with the outbreak of coronavirus and the global travel paralysis. I arrived in Socotra a few days before the travel bans started kicking in around the world. While most people decided to leave on the last flight they were offered, I decided to stay. I knew that I was healthy and that the island is likely to remain virus-free making it a safe place to be in. For me, ‘going home’ meant travelling a long distance to my elderly grandparents’ home. I didn’t think it was worth the risk in case I picked the virus on the way.
2. Tell us a little bit about Socotra islands.
Socotra is a very mysterious and pristine remote island in the Gulf of Aden. Although it belongs to Yemen, but it’s geographically closer to Somalia. In a sense, it has always remained isolated from the rest of the world. There isn’t a lot of transport going in and out of the islands, apart from a few boats and maybe one or two planes a week. Despite Yemen undergoing a civil war in its mainlands, Socotra has largely remained free of these violences. There’s about 60,000 people living on the island, all scattered over the small capital, coastlines or the mountains. For most people living here, life is simple. On most days, people eat fish caught in the sea, along with rice. During the evenings and throughout the day, they hike around in the mountains or swim in the waters. That aside, the nature here is mind-blowing, with not a lot of infrastructure.
3. If we were to ask your best friend, what would she tell us about you?
I’m mostly a realist and an optimist, but I think my best friend will tell you that I walk around with my head in the clouds! I think there is some truth to it though. I spend most of time daydreaming about a billion different things happening in my life.
4. How and when did you start travelling full time?
I have always somehow been connected to the idea of travelling. My grandfather was a great traveller who wrote books and extensive journals of his adventures outside of communist Poland – a time when it was difficult to travel. Moreover, my dad lived in Asia when I was a teenager, so I would come visit him in Hong Kong, Singapore, and South East Asia a couple of times every year. This idea of travelling stayed with me. As I grew older, I wanted to find a job that would allow me to travel. So after university, I found a job with a travel media startup. After working with them for five years, I had a really strong urge to go off and do my own thing. Two years ago, on March 27, I left for Nepal and started my career in vlogging full time. I bought a second-hand camera and lens, and taught myself all the skills from YouTube tutorials.
5. Your top three trips so far?
The first one would be my initial trip to Pakistan followed by all my subsequent trips there. That trip made me realise that the destinations we sometimes describe as threatening, scary or dangerous in mainstream media, are not necessarily like that in real life. When I visited the country, these preconceived notions of mine didn’t add up in reality. Instead, I found the people there were kind and welcoming. The mountains and nature, in general, was breathtakingly stunning. The country is extraordinarily diverse with so much history. Seeing the beauty of the place, I took it up as my mission to change the narratives and perspectives regarding the place.
The second one would be all my trips to Mongolia. It is one of my favourite places on this planet, and I find the purest form of freedom there. Mongolia made me realise that life can be simple, yet beautiful. It made me realise that life can be lived out of nature and be meaningful at the same time. It defined my love for remote destinations and people who live there.
The third and most meaningful vacation would be the one that I’m currently on – Yemen! It isn’t a trip actually; it’s a personal journey. Although a majority of us are not able to travel, some of us are lucky enough to be able to stay in remote destinations like Socotra. These are truly life-defining opportunities for us to reinvent ourselves. I believe I’ll leave Socotra as a changed person. Right now, I spend a lot of time writing, creating, thinking, and poeticising. I can already feel my values and priorities shifting, and that’s a beautiful feeling.
6. Tips for solo women travellers in India?
Try to adapt as much as possible. Have a look and observe what the women around you are wearing, and spend a couple of days learning about the country and its local customs. I think education and awareness are the best keys to comforts and safety. Being able to blend in a little bit and not stand out too much while also enjoying the experience has helped me feel more comfortable wherever I’ve gone. This applies to things like clothing, places you visit, the people you hang out with, things you say and don’t say, and etc.
7. What do you love about India?
I completely fell in love with the food of India. When I was in India, I tried absolutely everything that I could get my hands on. I was wowed by the huge selection of vegetarian food. The other thing that I really want to explore more is the diversity of India. It’s amazing how you can go to the south and be on the most incredible beach in the world, and then take a train up north to hike around the Himalayas. To me, you can never fully discover India, and that’s part of the fascination that I have with the country.
8. How do you think travel will change once the coronavirus pandemic dies down?
I don’t think all the travel bans, restrictions, and limitations imposed on our daily lives will go away anytime soon. It’s a scary feeling, but I believe that is the reality of the situation. Many countries are predicting that we won’t be getting out of the quarantine for weeks or months, and given that every country wants to protect itself, I believe, many countries will still have the two-week quarantine rule in place possibly until the end of this year. I think it won’t be possible for us to travel as freely as it was before. Things like weekend trips out to different cities or even to different countries which were so normal before will probably be made impossible at this time. I think there is a huge impact on casual travellers too. I hope we shift the way that we think about travel. As a full-time traveller, I think there is a lot of pressure on people to go out and travel to show-off their status symbols. I think that perception would change for the good. Perhaps, we will stop visiting cities as much. Urban centres are likely to get a break, and I hope that our attention shifts to more rural areas, and we start enjoying being outdoors more. I hope we begin to see more alternative travel destinations.
9. Sustainable travel is the need of the hour. Your thoughts?
I think sustainable travel is not only about being environmental-friendly but also about how ethical you are about your travels with regards to where you stay, or whether you support local communities, etc. I think a really good way to ensure that is by seeking out destinations that are a little bit off-the-beaten track, and tourism infrastructures haven’t made an industry there. Stay in these places a little bit longer and allow yourself to really take it in instead of jet setting from one place to the next to see as much as possible. The key to travelling sustainably is awareness and slowing down your pace by educating yourself about the place you’re going to.
10. What is Eva like when she isn’t travelling?
Eva is always travelling! When I’m taking a day off – which is rare – you will find me watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, getting an ice-cream, calling up my family and friends, and not looking at my phone.