Stories

 

Oman


From the 18th of January to the 18th of February, 2016

That's it, I survived six months working in Geneva and I am more than ever ready for new adventures. Since my last trip in Iran, Raphael and Hyundi (his van) reached Dubai by ferry. In order to keep the tradition, he picked me up from the airport. After having lunch with Jean-Luc (a friend from Geneva), we left the city for our first night in the sand dunes.

    

The following day we crossed the Omani border with no hassle. The dunes gave way to a plain dotted with acacia trees. A landscape which looked just the way I would picture the African savannahs. A farmer welcomed us by offering some dates. In the distance we could already see the Hajar mountain range, home of hundreds of hidden wadis. Wadi Damm and its natural pools was the first of a long list. From the top of Jebel Shams we admired the beautiful canyon separating the mountain in two. On the Sayq plateau (Jebel al Akhdar), we discovered the abandoned village of Bani Habib. The structure of the roofs, stairs and upper floors is made of wooden beams covered with mud. Walls are made of stones and mud blocks while the doors and windows are made from carefully carved wood. This type of construction requires constant maintenance. Although some pieces of textile and other objects indicate that the village is not abandoned for long, many roofs collapsed, walls are disintegrating and within a few decades, everything will be naturally recycled by nature without leaving any trace.

    

After some hesitation, we decided to drive all the way to Salalah in the far south of the country. Eight hundred kilometers across an empty desert landscape. Passing the town of Haima, we noticed massive smoke in the rear view mirrors, caused by fuel spilling all over the car. We pulled over to the side of the highway and spent two hours with useless repair efforts. While calling a recovery truck, Masen and Faisal in the FJ cruiser showed up. They wanted to chat after seeing our license plate and were surprised to discover we were having some problems. Never the less, they were happy to help, towing us 55 kilometers back to Haima. There we hit a truck repair place where they cut off the leaking end of the fuel line pipe and replaced it with a piece of fuel pipe from a huge truck engine. Finally the spillage was fixed and Mazen even insisted to pay for the repair, "Welcome to Oman, any problem you call me!"

    

A few kilometers before reaching our destination, the Frankincense trees park reminds the visitors of the importance of the incense trade which made this region flourish for many centuries. We finally made it to Salalah. Most tourists come in summer during Khareef, the monsoon reviving the vegetation which remains dry for the rest of the year. Being there long after the last rain, the dry wadis made it hard to imagine lakes or waterfalls. In the absence of real greenery, cliffs along the coast offered magnificent views while the mountains were full of caves. This was also an opportunity to discover a more rural and simple lifestyle. At the very south of the country, a few kilometers away from the Yemeni border, trees, bushes and yuccas were the delight of camels, cows and goats. Its a completely different landscape then the plain around the town of Salalah. A camel breeder invited us to his camp for a tea and to taste his freshly milked camel milk. We had a very pleasant time exchanging a few words and watching the grazing camels, including one which was about to give birth.

    

The mechanical issues continued. After losing a bolt, the back stabilizer link pierced the car frame. Although nothing serious, our off-road drives had to be limited until repair. Before starting a long descent to sea level, we left the paved road in order to reach our night spot. We heard a metallic noise and instantly lost all breaking power. The noise was a break pad falling out! We took off the wheel with lousy equipment and discovered that everything was rusted. The falling break pad was the only one still braking. So worn and thin, it simply slipped through the slot between its position and the disc. Improvised repairs seemed promising but after one meter of driving they turned out to haven't changed anything. The 50 kilometers recovery drive back to Salalah involved crossing a thousand meter deep wadi. The street covered that height difference in only eight hairpins. We were dropped at the recovery headquarter and within 2 hours, the stabilizer got fixed, breaks were repaired and fitted with new pads just next door.

    

While driving along Al Mughsayl beach, we spotted some dolphins just off the coast and went for a swim with them. Too busy fishing, they did not even pay attention to the two snorkelers a few meters away from them. Further north of Salalah, the Khawr Ruri lagoon, home to a few flamingoes, is separated from the sea by a beautiful white sand beach. On the ocean side, sea turtles were surfacing to take a breath while a ray was swimming along the cliff. On top of the cliff, a desert fox frightened by our presence ran away.

The Salalah cliffs gave way to a costal desert dotted with fishing villages. Unfortunately the strong wind made it difficult to enjoy the beach. Before leaving the ocean for good, we made a last stop to Wadi Ash Shab. A 45 minutes walk led us to the natural pools. From there, we swam in the crystal clear water surrounded by rocky walls. The wadi became a narrow passage, just wide enough for a swimmer to reach the secret place: A waterfall finding its way underneath a huge rock before dropping into a beautiful cave illuminated by some sun rays. What a magical place!

    

We reached back to the Hajar mountain range, enjoying some off-road passes leading through the lunar landscapes of Salmah plateau, hiding treasures such as the Majlis al Jinn, one of the biggest cave chamber in the world. From the outside, it looks like a giant pit falling into the darkness of hell. Cave exploration is reserved to geologists.

From Wadi Bani Khalid, we reached the dunes of Wahiba sands for a night under the stars before heading to Wadi Al Satan through the off-road pass of Hat. The region seamed drier than usual. Some wadis were already dry and the mountain village's terraces were not as green as they usually are. This was the end of our stay in Oman before the last stretch to Al Ain and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

    

Three weeks surrounded by mountains, canyons, sand dunes and beaches, away from civilization. Excepted while refueling and grocery shopping, we had very little contact with locals. Women? Are there any in this country? Omanis are very warm and hospitable but they also respected our space and rather waited for us to make contact. The country offered a true sense of freedom. Points of interest and roads were free and the cost for refueling a full tank was about 20 Euros. Probably an extreme contrast to the countries ahead of us.

    

The next step was the shipping of Hyundi by sea freight in a 20' container to Africa. For a month, I was sending price inquiries which remained unanswered. A few days before the departure date of the vessel which we planned to take, I contacted Christophe and Devis, friends and former colleagues. Within a few hours, I had a list of agents, prices and the procedure details. Thanks a lot to both of you for your Swiss efficiency! Three days later, Shamil guided us through the export formalities and the loading of the vehicle into the container. Within four hours, it was all done and he dropped us at the metro station with our backpacks. Africa here we come!

Click here to read the following story about our first steps in Kenya.

See the album "Oman - January 2016"