November 2013: As part of a large two-week trip that included Djibouti, Somaliland, and the Danakil in Ethiopia, I visited my friend Evan who was living in Dubai, and we drove his car across the UAE and into Oman. We spent a week traveling across both countries, and mostly camping along the way in our tents.

Oman hands down is the most relaxed country in the Gulf and although there are a lot of foreign workers, the chances of encountering a native citizen is much higher than in other Gulf countries. Oman is also an easy country to explore on your own.It has a burgeoning adventure travel scene that includes cave exloration.  I really want to abseil into the cave of the Genies, almost a 1000′ free drop into a huge pit cave believed to be haunted by genies but the government and local villagers closed it off to foreigners who were disrepsecting the cave. There are lots of empty places to camp in the desert and along the ocean and freashwater truquise colored wadis to explore and mountains to hike.

 

Route we took in Oman

Oman is ruled by a Sultanate, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, who has ruled the country since 1970, and his image can be found in most places. he also has dozens of opulent palaces spread across the country. But from my experience most people adored him because the Sultan developed Oman significantly during his reign and the people were optimistic that more development was yet to come. There seemed to be no shortage of images of the good Sultan and for whatever reason he always seemed to pose glancing to his right.

 

Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said Portrait in Sheraton hotel

Qaboos bin Said Al Said on front page of the Omani newspaper

We spent two nights in the pleasant capitol city of Muscat. Our plan was to only stay one night, and we stayed in the Sheraton using points, but our stay turned into two nights because I was having trouble obtaining my Yemen visa at the consulate. Evan and I signed up to abseil into 7th Hole cave and we spent all day in a climbing gym training for it on a rock wall with instructors. But my Yemen visa was not issued as expected and we had to cancel the cave trip to visit the Yemen consulate but evidently the authorities in Yemen had decided to my activities in my last trip to Yemen were suspect and I had been added to some kind of red list in Yemen. We decided to salvage what we could of the trip and drive further south into Oman and see the countryside.

 

Me in the Muscat Souq with traditional omani hat

We each bought a mosque alarm clock at the souq, which can be set to remind the faithful of prayer time 5 times per day and even though I have always thought that most calls to prayer played from mosques in my travels were in some ways beautiful, the alarm clock’s was not and it is loud, high pitched and screechy  and for the rest of the trip took turns terrorizing each other by planting it in a hidden place near one another’s tent so that it would strategically go off in an in-accessible place at the most inopportune moments of the night.

 

Mosque alarm clock

Evan and I with his vehicle we drove across Oman

With a map, our own vehicle and nothing but open empty road we drove to anyplace that looked adventurous on the map and crossed a lot of quiet villages with curious locals. Ever village seemed to have a fast-food burger shop run by South Indians from Kerala, and these stops would form the staple of our diet along with the alcohol we smuggled from Dubai across the border hidden in our vehicle.

 

Evan showing a local man his photo

Evan showing a local man his photo

Evan showing a local man his photo

Friendly Omani man we met at a cafe

Omani Boy

Omani girl

Friendly girl

We camped in some pretty serene places where those was no one to ask permission. We would see random villagers fishing on the beach in the morning or Beduin grazing with their goats in the desert nearby, but no one would ever hassle us.

 

Camping on empty beach

Camping on empty beach

Camping on empty beach

We also visited the impressive Bimah sinkhole, but the water was too cold for a swim.

 

Bimah Sinkhole

Hiking the canyon at Wasi Shab was a highlight. The dramatic cliffs and clear turquoise waters were excellent for swimming and exploring and we spent a day at Wadi Shab. There are many wadis in Oman and some that are far more remote that involve overnight hiking and camping that I would like to do on a return trip.

 

Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab-where we swam and did some cliff jumping

from Wadi Shab we drove up into the mountains of the Selma Plateau, a rugged and wild area where only 4WD vehicle are suitable for the road. We still managed to get stuck a few times. The Selma plateau is where most of the biggest caves are located in sinkholes, such as 7 Hole Cave and the cave of the Genies. Sadly our 7 Hole Cave trip didn’t work out, but I will return to finish it and if the government ever re-opens the cave of the genies, I will do that cave too. Rumor is the cave of the Genies will be developed into a tourist cave with an elevator, but this plan as not come into fruition as of yet and I hope it doesn’t. 

 

Road up the Selma Plateau

Road up the Selma Plateau/Frankinsense Trees that Oman was famous for during biblical times

Random camels

Pit entrance 1000′ deep into the cave of genies howling with wind. Some local villagers are gathered at the entrancelookig into the pit. There are no fences and it is eay to stumble into the cave to one’s death. 

Our next stop was a long drive to Wahiba Sands, a vast coastal desert of sand dunes not to be confused with the other sand desert in Oman along the Saudi Border called the Empty Quarter, the largest sand sea in the world. We arrived in Wahiba at night driving along the sand track and we just pulled over in a sand dune and started a bon fire and had some drinks.

 

Camping in Wahiba Sands

Sunrise in Wahiba Sands

 Camping in Wahiba Sands

We visited a few Omani forts across the country which like much of Oman were always empty and fun to explore. 

 

Locals at an Omani Fort

Our last stop was the turtle nesting sanctuary of Ras Al Jinz. We hiked out to the beach and saw turtle tracks into the ocean and demarcated areas where turtle eggs were laid and protected by villagers from dogs, but we didn’t see any turtles. it was good to see villagers fishing but also protecting the turtles and directly involves in their protection program.

 

Ras Al Jinz Turtle nesting beach

In the evening we walked along the beach and came across this abandoned ancient tomb of Bibi Maryam, the wife of Bahauddin Ayaz, prince of Hormuz, son of the founder of the Hormuz empire. Bahauddin Ayaz retired to Qualhat, where his family originated, and died there around 712 AH, 1312 AD and was buried in a splendid mausoleum built by Bibi Maryam. According to Ibn Battuta she also built the mosque ” a splendid building overlooking sea and harbor”. The most likely position of this mosque must have been close to the mausoleum where a large rectangular enclosure can be recognized in the rubble. Bibi Maryam must have been a pious lady of high standing and reputation which was even respected by the Portuguese. Her spirit has clearly survived in the ruins of her city.

Tomb of Bibi Maryam

From oman we drove all the way back to Dubai only stopping to surf in the manmade wave pool to Al Ain.

 

13 + 10 =

error: Content is protected !!