Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At world's end

Wow, did Oman ever feel like the edge of the earth. We spent most of our time on the coast between Musqat and Sur, away from any cities bigger than a small village. There's the Hajar Mountains looming behind you and the Arabian Sea leading into the Indian Ocean as far as the eye can see in front of you. I've been to a lot of far-flung places but I think this area of Oman has to be one of the most remote. It was truly the back of beyond.

Now for a few details and pictures of our trip.

Remember how I said that obstacles like the UAE-Oman border crossing could very well throw a wrench in our trip plans? Well, we came very close to turning around (or being turned around) a few times. First, we failed to get an exit stamp on our way out of the UAE. But we didn't realize our mistake until we got all the way to the Oman side and waited in line for forever. So we had to drive back to the UAE, get the precious exit stamp, and turn back around. The funny thing was that none of the officials we encountered along the way were at all surprised by what we were doing, which tells me that this kind of "mistake" happens A LOT. So in our defense, UAE, you might want to think about putting up some signs telling people that they have to stop at the nondescript hut on the hillside at the barely marked border station and pick up an exit stamp.



Anyway, then there was some confusion about our car insurance and whether it did or did not include Oman. By the time we got that straightened out with the Omani officials, Magdalena had used (or attempted to use) the disgusting border station potties approximately ten times and I was the one who got to do the honors of taking her each and every time. Bless her heart. Really. Even as grossed out as I was, I was so glad she was giving potty training her best.

The weird thing about the border station was that there was a playground there. SO RANDOM.

On to the substance of our trip: camping. If you're in the right areas, you need never pay for lodging in Oman. Instead, you just drive off the road and explore until you find a spot where you want to camp. Since it's not an official campsite, there isn't any running water or toilets or showers or picnic tables or fire pits but hey, it's free. Here's the view from our first campsite near the village of Tiwi.
Yeah.

In the morning we explored two wadis: Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi. The first one you have to hike through. We took our time (especially because of the girls) and swam in one of the natural pools.



After a while, the trail got to be a little treacherous for small children. We had to choose between swimming across a large pool of indeterminate depth, or taking the trail high up on the cliff, just skirting the edge. Instead, we chose to turn around and head for Wadi Tiwi.

Wadi Tiwi reminded me of an atmosphere a fancy hotel (in Dubai, say) would recreate in its pool area. Palm trees, dramatic cliffs, and emerald green pools.

Speaking of pools, next we headed for the sinkhole in the village of Bimmah. We stayed there swimming for a while and it was a blast.

From Bimmah we made our way to Al-Seifa, in part via a 25km track through a wadi. It was mostly unpaved (or washed out from flash floods), which made for quite the driving adventure. What was unbelievable was that there were actual villages in there, so isolated from something as simple as a paved road. I can't imagine they get out much.

As fun as driving off-road was, we were glad to hit the pavement again and have a pleasant drive through the mountains before emerging onto the beach in Al-Seifa. We drove up to the top of a dune and set up camp. While Jeremy was getting the grill ready, I took the girls on a walk to the public beach (their specially attuned radar had sensed that there was a playground there). And wow, were we ever the most intriguing thing ever to set foot upon those sands, at least if you judge by the reaction of the hordes of men hanging out there.

Look at this picture:
I did not mean for this to be a picture of Miriam. I meant it to be a picture of all the dudes in the background, observing us. What's crazy is that this group of men was not there when we first got to the playground. They gravitated toward us and then proceeded to gawk at us openly. It wasn't scary so much as it was semi-jovially creepy but all the same, we decided to have our dinner on the beach but drive back into the mountains to camp to avoid being Western eye candy all night long.

I'm glad we camped back up in the mountains. It was beautiful and isolated and we found a great spot that was mostly free of wildlife. I say mostly, because an hour or two after we set up camp, two feral donkeys came roaming by. I had seen foxes while we were driving but thankfully, none of those showed up at our campsite. I think that would have been a deal-breaker for me. Camping randomly off-road in Oman? Sure. Having donkeys stroll leisurely by? Whatever, if they must. Harrassed by foxes?? NO THANK YOU. You have to draw the line somewhere.

The whole time we were in Oman, we enjoyed driving through numerous small villages and wishing everyone (and being wished) a very Eid Mubarak. The villagers were out and about, dressed in their finest.



So were the goats.

Eventually we headed home. Oman had these green trash cans along the highway which is so strange because the speed limit is 120 kph. I guess if you really wanted to throw something away you could slow down and toss it in? Also on the subject of speed limits: what is with a 120kph road having a) speed bumps, and b) traffic circles? It was maddening. I had to be on the alert at all times not just for insanely skilled drivers taking risks in my personal driving space but for random, faded-paint speed bumps popping up at will. And every 10 or 20 km there would be a traffic circle but thankfully those were well marked.

Obviously we loved our trip to Oman. The best part is that next time will be even more awesome because now we know our way around a bit. And it was so cheap! The only thing we spent money on were our entrance visas, gasoline, and some snacks to shore up the food we brought from home when our supply dwindled. Cheapest international vacation ever.

And I promise that after this post I will shut up about my BFF Oman already. Thanks for reading!

12 comments:

Matthew said...

Love the kiddo lifejackets and swim rings =)

Kathy Haynie said...

Wow, I would love that kind of vacation. Did you wear western bathing suits when you went swimming, or something that covered up more?

JuliaKoponick said...

I was going to ask about bathing suits too. Also what is the general vacation attire when vacationing in Oman for you, your husband and the kids?

Nancy said...

Due to high inflation, Bridget, you just take off one of the zeros at the end of the speed limit to get the real speed limit. You guys were driving way too fast!

It looked like you had some of those places all to yourself! Did you hop in and swim, too? Or were you too afraid gawking men would stop by to stare?

Bridget said...

Yes, I swam. We had Wadi Shab all to ourselves but at the very public sinkhole I just wore knee-length boardshorts and a t-shirt over my swimsuit. I'm not like those shameless European women who wear bikinis in the Middle East. I just can't bring myself to do it. Plus, the joke is kind of on them, isn't it?

Liz Johnson said...

My only knowledge of Oman is that it has a reputation for being a major tourist destination... is that wrong? Your account is far more desolate than I expected.

Kristen said...

"Western eye candy." Ha ha. The swimmin' holes look so gorgeous!

Carrie G said...

1. gorgeous water
2. feral donkeys- I don't think i've ever heard this term before. makes me giggle.
3. have you read the book by Freya Stark 'The Southern Gates of Arabia'? About her travels there in the 1930's as a single, white woman? Anyway, it seems topical.

Looks like a great trip.

Jennifer said...

Wow, what a trip! You should totally sell the picture of your car at the second campsite to Toyota--what a perfect advertisement picture!

Bridget said...

Liz, I didn't get a sense of that exactly where we were but maybe it is a huge tourist destination. Who knows?

Carrie G, no, and thanks for reminding me of her. I've read Gertrude Bell and I always forget that Freya Stark was a different person whose stuff I also need to read.

Jennifer, I had the same thought!

Susanne said...

"Oman had these green trash cans along the highway which is so strange because the speed limit is 120 kph. I guess if you really wanted to throw something away you could slow down and toss it in?"

I remember in Syria we went on a couple day trips with a driver from the hostel. He brought tea in a thermos, we stopped somewhere random along the way and drank tea right outside the van. So maybe the Omanis are thinking of people like Abu Muhammad who stop for tea alongside the road and need a place to toss the trash.

Enjoyed this post and you can talk about your BFF Oman all you want. Love this stuff!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your detailed description. We had exactly the same weird experience at the UAE-Oman border. It looks like you can enter the country without any visa till the very last border post...tomorrow we are going to Wadi Shab. Greetings, Arjen and Petra

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