What a country!!!!! Some of the sights of Oman simply have to be seen to be believed...but we'll do our best to convey some of the magic of this country via the blog...
First couple of days we lashed out and stayed at the Chedi Hotel. The architecture, ambience, food, service and general experience was just divine. Spent days lying under an umbrella on the beach, evenings playing tennis or grappling with the treadmill and nights eating the most delicious delicious food!
We reluctantly checked out of the Chedi to give the credit card a breather and moved into another...'interesting' Omani establishment, the Qurm Beach Hotel. Think 1970's arab kitch design meets bollywood...doozie of a hotel! Spent a few hours wandering around Muscat in the heat of the day and were left wondering why we always seem to be the only bananas out and about between 11 and 3!!!
Then the fun began...
Picked up our 4WD on Monday morning after having met our tourguides for the week, Glynn & Izzy. (Glynn & Izzy are mates of a couple of ex-pats we recently met here in Doha). Packed the vehicles full of camping gear, food & booze
and headed south in convoy. The road from Muscat to Sur is pretty amazing...dry, rocky, barren and FUN! Made it to Fin's Beach where we set up camp for the night before heading on to the village of Tiwi and Wadi Shab. (A wadi is like a gorge with lush vegetation, palms etc, through which water flows after an infrequent desert rain). Wadi Shab was spectacular...not so spectacular was the fact our camera battery died! Hence no pics, but Izzy came to the recue with her digital and the rest of the trip is well documented photographically! Walked for about 45 minutes through and up Wadi Shab before coming to a gorgeous rock pool and then swimming, slipping and sliming our way to the cave...beautiful, but the entrance to it is only just wide enough for a head to pass through above water so a little eerie at the same time.
By the time we made it back to the entrance to the wadi, it was almost sunset and we were invited into Juma's majlis, a local friend of Glynn & Izzy's. After a super tasty iftah (break-fast during the holy month of Ramadan) we headed back to the
campsite, only to find that our beautiful, tranquil, quiet stretch of the beach had been innundated with another four 4WD vehicles, coutless squeeling kids and about three indecipherable languages! Had to laugh! Aaaah, the serenity!
Day two had to be the highlight of the trip. Neither of us have ever experienced 4 wheel driving so it was like a baptism of fire for poor Gav! The inclines up to the Selma Plateau, coupled with the dry shale and rock under our wheels were enough to conjure sweaty palms and short breaths! Indescribable terrain really. Gobsmacking. We drove through villages that seemed untouched by time. Everybody was celebrating the first day of Eid al Fitr, the end of Ramadan, so there were goats being sacrificed, new traditional dress for everybody and immense festivities. Luckily we had been given the tip to bring some supplies of small gifts and had great pleasure in wishing everybody "Eid Mubarak", or Happy Eid as we offered the kids sweets, chips, softdrinks and pens.
At the top of the pass we visited the Selma sinkhole. This sinkhole is approximately 200m deep and no doubt a cavers heaven. For those suffering vertigo, not such a
Our final destination for the day was the village of Ibra and then into the Wahiba Sands. Again, this landscape has to be seen to be believed. Imagine driving along a road with sand dunes to your right as far as the eye can see, wind blowing the sand so hard it's swirling all around the car and then seeing a bedouin atop a camel leading his three animals to shelter...very arabian nights. We pulled off the road from the village...which is trully like the oases you imagine in fairytime stories...let the tyres down and ventured into the Wahibas. Spectacular. Our timing was perfect for sunset and the further in we drove the more the wind died down. Set up camp and enjoyed a peaceful night by campfire feeling a million miles from civilisation.
The next morning we had a bit of a play in the dunes..."dune bashing" it's called over here which is hardly something to be proud of. But sheesh it's FUN! Didn't fancy getting stuck in the sands too much though so kept things relatively tame (much to the disappointment of Gav & Glynn and the relief of Izzy & Sal!!). Next destination
were the mountains. Headed 2000m above sea level to the Saiq Plateau. More amazing scenery. Set up camp by a tree, said "Salaam Alaykum" and "Eid Mubarak" to a couple of shepherds who passed by our campsite and settled into the Ludo epic of 2006. Thanks to Glynn & Izz's industrial size esky, there were cold beers & G&T's all round...but it wasn't long before the temps dropped so low we retired to the warmth of our tents & shivered the night away listening to the wild donkeys all around us outside.
We imagined that our final day with Glynn & Izzy couldn't possibly live up to the preceding few. We were wrong. First stop was the ancient cave village of Al Jarir, which we found out had only been vacated as recently as four years ago! Just incredible. These caves would have almost certainly housed rebels in the 1957-59 war, the Jebal Akhdar campaign. It seems that when the present Sultan exiled his father and took over leadership of Oman, he set about improving roads, infrastructure and dwellings for his people. A small village has been built within walking distance of the caves and is now home to
the most recent decendants of the cave dwellers. These caves were really so amazing. There was such a network of rooms that you could determine where people would have slept, socialised and cooked. The people that occupied them must have been much smaller than us though, as the spaces and doorways were not for the claustrophobic!
Our final treat for the trip was the terrace village of Sheraigha, named after Shiraz in Persia. The Persians came over in 1195 (or 1295?) and established the falaj system and terraces, and brought pomegranates, apricots, walnuts etc. Set on an impossible incline, the whole village has been developed into a series of terraces on which the people subsistence farm, similar to ones we've seen in parts of asia. Again, the village was awash with festivities, new cloth, vigorous hand-shaking and large Omani smiles.
Our experience of Oman was simply fab. The landscape is enormously varied and nearly always spectacular. The people are truly a treat. They are friendly, hospitable, polite and a joy to meet. A huge thankyou to Izzy & Glynn for sharing your beautiful (adopted) country with us. We can't wait to get back there and discover more of
the Omani gems that we had no idea existed...
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