Adventures in Oman - diving at the Dimaniyat Islands

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Middle East » Oman » Muscat
January 5th 2020
Published: January 8th 2020
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Having made a booking last week, I turned up at the diving centre at 8am as instructed, to an air of organised chaos. I chatted to a couple of French people who were also planning to dive but had never dived before. So my five year lapse since my 32nd dive (according to my PADI records - I struggle to recall half of those), put me in the category of semi-pro by comparison.

I was instructed by one of the staff to pick out my kit, which I set about doing. Ever increasing numbers of people showed up, including A couple who had been at Wahibi Sands for NYE as well (they also thought it was a bit crap), and we were divided into the diving camp and the snorkelling camp. All in all there were about 14 divers, not including the two (yes, only two) staff who were tasked with taking us down and bringing us back up (safely). Beyond establishing that I had an open water certification (from about 30 years ago), my diving history was never queried, so that fact that I couldn’t remotely remember even how to put my equipment together or any of the standard procedures was neither here nor there. Hmm.

After some time of faffing around getting all the kit together - which takes quite a while when you initially have to root around in the dusty recesses of your memory to determine what kit is required, then you have try on about three sizes to get the right fit, adding a bit of extra time for sticking your arms in all the wrong places of the inflatable life jacket thingy, and then when you are finally all buttoned up in your wetsuit you realise that it might be a good idea to visit the privy - we were all divided up into our two groups outside the scuba clubhouse clutching our kit bags, which hopefully contained all the diving essentials.

At this point the boat rolled up, literally, on a trailer pushed by a tractor, and a ladder was set up so we could clamber aboard. Quite nice to do so without getting one’s feet wet. As I was one of the last to board, I assumed position at the helm. The tractor then pushed the fully loaded boat down the ramp and into the sea. Two minutes into the forty minute ride I was reminded as to why the helm seat was the last to be filled as I was engulfed by a titanic bow wave. I quickly jostled for space further back in the boat, but by that stage the damage was done: I was soaked.

The boat hugged the shore line for the first 10-15mins, so I could spot a few of the mosques I had cycled past a week ago as the shimmering white turrets stuck up like an elaborate wedding cake. Then we peeled away from the coast and after some time we could decipher a couple of pin prick smudges on the horizon: the Dimaniyat Islands, a small string of rocky (no surprise there) islands with coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. They have also been categorised as a nature reserve for the last 20 plus years, offering a protected environment for everything to flourish. Sounds promising, so long as all the necessary know-how miraculously comes flooding back.

Once the boat anchored we were told to put our kit together and to buddy up. I had already informally buddied up with Oscar, from Switzerland, who I had sat next to on the boat. He had done much less diving than me, but all much more recently. I hoped that proximity trumped quantity in this game, otherwise there was no hope for us as a team. Sadly he seemed as perplexed as me when it came to putting the equipment together, so we commandeered one of the staff who was scuttling around the over crowded boat trying to bring some order to a bunch of numpties throwing bits of kit every which way.

Eventually enough order was attained to start plopping over the side of the boat in a backward somersault. Luckily the two complete newbies were limited to snorkelling for part 1 of the proceedings, so each diving guide (I definitely can’t bring myself to call them dive instructors), had to shepherd around six clients. Both Oscar and I had established that we should keep pretty tight on the buddy thing, given the suboptimal set up, so we stuck pretty close as we descended and started to look around.

Unfortunately there had been a mild storm the previous day which prevented any dives going out, which churned up the sand reducing visibility to 6-7 meters. This meant the colours weren’t quite as clear as they could be, but it was still pretty good as there was so much to see. There was an extensive variety of coral, which I tried not to stomp on too much as I struggled slightly to regulate my buoyancy level. So much for the “don’t touch anything” principle. Meanwhile Oscar was battling with his face mask and had ripped it off and was rubbing it furiously before sticking it back on again. But soon enough the buddy Ok sign was shared between us and off we went in pursuit of the others, who were swinging right handed around the wall of the reef.

The dive site was not called the Aquarium for no reason. There were scores of fish in every direction, at times we were swarmed by huge schools of them. We saw spiky mottled tiger fish, cuttlefish, and an enormous honeycomb moray eel who graced us with his full glory when caught on a rare foray out of his cave. It is rare to see anything but a ferocious looking head fiercely defending its patch, and it is always a surprise how enormous their snake like bodies are when out in the open. We had several more views of his brethren and of one of his cousins, the yellow mouthed moray eel. The range of other marine life was great with sea snakes, an enormous ray and clownfish, to name but a few.

In between admiring the fish I battled with a mask that constantly filled with water. Obviously not such a concern as the issues that Oscar was confronting with his mask as I saw him rip it off yet again, and scrub it violently before replacing it. But apart from that all seemed to be going fairly well, with regular buddy checks shared between us. Then all of a sudden for no apparent reason I started to ascend, quite rapidly. I scrabbled around to find my buoyancy regulator to let the air out but by that stage I was virtually at the surface. Damn. Eventually I got control of the situation and descended again to where I thought I had come up from but there was no-one in sight. I decided to have a bit of a look around and then if I couldn’t find them I would head up again and wait at the top.

I rounded a coral corner and to my huge relief I saw all the tourists who were grouped together closely, but not our guide who had probably gone off to hunt for me. Oscar looked palpably relieved to see me back and giving the OK sign. He told me when we were back on the boat that he had tried to indicate to the guide that he had lost his buddy, but that his signage was initially interpreted as getting low on air. Once the guide returned we resumed our leisurely circumnavigation of the reef, before ascending back to the boat for a sandwich and a warm up in the sunshine before heading to the next location for another dive.

For the next dive I was in a group of six with the two newbies, another experienced couple, and me and Oscar. The guide was largely occupied with the learners, and we were told that we could head a bit lower but should keep them in sight. This dive occurred without mishap. My googles did continue to slowly fill up with water, requiring regular remediation action, but Oscar seemed to be trouble free with his this time round having switched for a new patron the boat. I also had more success with achieving the right level of buoyancy. So we had a very pleasurable time spotting three giant green turtles nibbling on the reef and slowly swimming from one feeding zone to the next. They have the countenance of old gentleman. A joy to watch. In addition there was a wide array of brightly coloured fish, sapphire blue, daffodil yellow, in all shapes and sizes, and a wide headed, bulbous eyed puffer fish. After about 40mins Oscar’s air was getting very low so we steadily ascended and swam back to the boat which was anchored about 200 meters away. once everyone was on board the motor was cranked up and we got pleasantly wind whipped on the trip back to base. So all in all a great day out in spite of the cavalier approach to safety.

Having dined in the hotel the previous night I decided to go and find a local establishment for dinner. I had spotted a few places when I was en route to the mosque, so I headed in that direction, wandering through streets lined with affluent mansions en route. I scooped out a couple of options, choosing one which appeared to offer Arabic cuisine (there is a lot of Indian and Asian food also readily available as well as the standard fare from Western chain establishments).

On entering the sparsely populated main restaurant I went to sit at a table at the front but was firmly ushered by the waiter away from that, and through the door at the side into the empty “family room”. I quickly checked behind me to see if I had unwittingly picked up a couple of street urchins en route there. No, no ankle biters in sight. Clearly “family room” was a misnomer, it was actually the name of the dusty corner where women with or without a brood of kids were stashed so that men folk are able to concentrate properly on their food. One wouldn’t want those wanton women to staunch a man’s appetite - for food, at least. I was quite surprised about this taking place in Muscat, where there are many more women around, typically wearing headscarves and not always wearing the abaya, rather than the full head to toe black sack like attire one tended to see in the provinces. Not that it remotely bothered me. The waiter was very welcoming. He gently steered me away from the dish I chose using my standard “lucky dip“ approach when I don’t understand the menu, on account of being “too spicy” (for women, for Westerners?). I had a very tasty dinner of Arabic salad, some plenty spicy enough chicken and some bread to mop up the sauce with. Yum.


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