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Published: June 25th 2019
Today we will be travelling up into the Omani Mountains where we will be staying for three nights on the Jebel Akhdar, or Green Mountain.
We head off on the same six lane super highway that we drove out to the Wahiba Sands on two days ago, before turning off towards the town of Nizwa. We leave the main road and start climbing steeply. We arrive at an army checkpoint. Our driver Majid tells us that this is for “safety and security”, although it’s not entirely clear exactly whose safety and security he’s referring to. There is now almost no traffic, and we are perhaps slightly concerned that the first two vehicles we pass coming the other way are an ambulance with its sirens blaring, and a camouflaged military truck. Soon afterwards we pass a heavily camouflaged military camp. I hope we’re not driving into a war zone, and that the checkpoint wasn’t there to make sure we weren’t spying for the enemy. Majid told the heavily armed officer at the checkpoint that we were Australian, and he seemed happy to take Majid's word for it.
The road is precipitously steep and consists of a seemingly endless sequence of
hairpin bends. As seems to be routine here in Oman it is clearly a significant feat of engineering. We pass lots of emergency ramps which you are presumably intended to drive into when your brakes fail. They consist of gravel to slow you down, and if that doesn’t work there are lots of large plastic bins at the ends of each of the ramps which are presumably intended to cushion you before you crash into the concrete wall behind them. We pass a mangled safety barrier on the edge of one of the hairpin bends, and hope that whoever destroyed it managed to get out of their car before it fell hundreds of metres over the cliff into the ravine below.
We arrive at our resort which is at 2,000 metres above sea level on the outskirts of the small town of Saiq. It is apparently the highest five star resort in the Middle East. It’s windy, and the temperature is only in the high 20s, which is a bit of relief from the oppressive heat of Muscat.
We are shown to our room by a staff member who introduces himself as Mohamed. He tells us that the
resort is only three years old, and that it was built by the Omani Ministry of Defence. We assume we’ve misheard, but he confirms again that it was built by the Defence Ministry. We’re a bit reluctant to sound too inquisitive but we ask him why the Defence Ministry has got into the business of building resort hotels. He says that he doesn’t know. I’d like to believe him, but I’m sure he’s only not telling us because he’s been sworn to secrecy. The other guests we’ve seen all look like regular tourists, but I’m now convinced that most of them must be either spies or members of some crack commando unit. This would certainly explain the military checkpoint and the army camp. I’m now quite sure that we must be in a war zone, although I’m not too clear who the enemy is or what the Defence Department is planning to do with us tourists. Hostages perhaps? I think I might be starting to overthink this a bit.
We go out onto the balcony of our room and our jaws hit the floor. We are on the rim of what is apparently known as Oman’s Grand Canyon, and
the view is way beyond stunning. If the Grand Canyon in Trumplandia is bigger and better than this one then it really must be something. We look across the vast chasm at a series of villages clinging precariously to precipitous cliffs, and at still more villages in the base of the canyon hundreds of metres below us.
When we regather our senses and start to focus on more mundane matters we notice that it’s a bit hard to see our bed for pillows. We then remember that the resort sent us an email a few weeks ago asking us a few questions about our preferences, one of which was what pillows we would like. We had a menu of eight exotic pillow names to choose from, but Issy said that as she had no idea what any of the names meant, to be on the safe side we’d better order four each.
We go for a wander around the resort. The main viewing platform is called Diana’s Point and is named after Princess Diana who came here by helicopter with Prince Charles in 1986 when the site was an untouched wilderness. I think Issy might be part goat.
As we stand on the platform we see some goats in the distance admiring the view, and when Issy makes goat noises they run excitedly towards us.
We wander along the road outside the resort to see what the view’s like from there. The first thing we notice is that the property immediately next door is surrounded by a high barbed wire fence with “Ministry of Defence” signs plastered all over it. Issy says we shouldn’t walk any further. She says she’s sure that the military must have cameras and microphones monitoring our every move and word, and just because we don’t look like spies doesn’t mean they won’t think we are. We decide that the resort is really a heavily armed military fortress. I wish anybody luck trying to attack it from the canyon side, and it’s now a bit hard to ignore that it’s also surrounded on all the other sides by a four metre high concrete wall. We decide that the safest thing to do is just to pretend that we haven’t noticed any of this, act like ignorant tourists, and hope for the best.
We have drink at the bar, and then dinner at a restaurant overlooking the canyon. The setting is idyllic. If I was a spy or crack commando, I’m pretty sure this is where I’d want to be stationed.
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