A heat wave welcomes us at the exit of Oman Airport in the late evening, and men with long white tunicas and small hats. We get a luxurious 6-cylinder taxi to our hotel, - 10 Omani Rial for 40 kilometers is not too bad. The driver even has fun to cram our bulky bags and bicycle into his car. On the motorway through the city, there are only such luxurious cars it seems. No more scooters nor smelly old trucks. Traffic just flows. The buildings we pass on our way seem to be all modern versions of old palaces – with fancy merlons on the roof and arched windows.
Muscat is located on the shore of the Indian ocean, and spreads out between steep rocky hills. The green strips between the highway lanes are irrigated. We learn that the many Indian workers here established a network of coffee shops, serving tasty cheap Indian food and fresh fruit shakes. Some people say, there is about 3 million Omani in the country, and another 3 million expat contract workers. Apparently it is mainly Indian, and we exchange a lot of “Namaste” and head shaking rather than “Salam aleikums”. They love their picnics on those green patches on the highways.
In the evening it seems to be cool enough for a first little bike tour in Oman. We head for the sea, and see the splendid sultans palaces on the way. In a small fisherman village, we find our way to the beach. Villagers take a bath, and we can't help jumping into the warm water with all our bike clothes.
It would take a week to get the Indian visas, we are advised at the BLS office on the second visit. Rather than waiting in our luxurious hotel, we decide to rent a car and tour the country. Petrol costs as little as 24 Eurocent per litre, even though Oman effectively imports it. By sunrise I'm on my bicycle, make may way out of the heavy city traffic and soon find myself on a highway through rocky hills. An hour later the first oasis town, then rocky desert again. Cicades hum high pitch songs. By 10AM, the thermometer shows 40°C. Kilometers fly. By 11, I'm out of water – 2.5 liters went down the throat. Kathrin catches up in the car near Qurayyat. The Omani highways are state of art, yet somewhat lack road signs at times which caused the little delay.
Rather than putting the bike in the car, I decide to cycle on. The heat on the following 30 kilometers to Fins on the hilly coastal road is almost killing me. Just behind the coast, a bald mountain range rises high up, divided every once in a while by Wadis, that is rocky narrow gorges. After twenty kilometers I'm out of water again, and wave my bottle at the traffic. No good idea to cycle around midday in Oman...
There is an impressive sinkhole near Fins with some 30 m diameter. Before we get to visit it, the park guide Hadib invites us for Omani coffee and dates and teaches us the Omani coffee drinking customs. The turquoise pond 18 meter deep in the hole is connected by small underground channels to the sea and to fresh water. Small fish in there are happy about every visitor and feed on their dead skin particles. Hadib invites us to camp here, rejects any money.
By car, we drive through picturesque villages. Little girls wrapped in colorful sheets giggle shyly when they see us. By sunset we reach “White beach”, have a swim and pitch our tent. Wild camping is no problem in Oman, and we have the pebble beach pretty much for ourselves. Heaven on earth!
After a beautiful sunrise, we drive to nearby Tiwi. Here is the entrance to Wadi Shab, a beautiful deep gorge with palms and flower shrubs. We hike in for two hours, enjoy a freshwater shower underneath a small waterfall. Deep in the gorge, the only way to move on is to swim in a bottomless turquoise pond between mighty round shaped rocks. After some time, there is a tunnel where only a head fits through above the water line. No ground underneath the feet. Thrilling, but we dare... Hand over hand we move through, and find ourselves in another crystal clear pond framed by rock walls and partly roofed by a giant rock. From one side, a waterfall sprinkles down. What a place!
We drive through the picturesque town of Sur with its lighthouse and castles, see the old Dau shipyards. By nightfall, we arrive at Ras al Jinz. A sanctuary has been established to protect the nesting turtles on the beach here, with a very informative exhibition on the life of turtles. We are allowed to pitch our tent in front of the visitors gate, and tie it to the car to ensure it stays there despite the fierce winds.
Visitors can enter the beach with guides late at night and very early in the morning to witness the great turtles laying their eggs, and see the hatched baby turtles find their way to the sea. We join the late night show in a group of some twenty people. It is black moon. Only the guides are allowed to use flashlights. They lead us to a turtle retreating back to the sea after laying her hundred eggs. Hatchlings crawl out of the sand and follow every light in hope for the sea. Incredibly fast crabs attack them, and perhaps foxes if there are no visitors around. Out of thousand eggs, only two or three will make it to grown-up turtles. Kathrin finds a little hatchling, successfully protects the fellow from the stampede of the tourists. Our guide takes the hatchling up, and keeps gesticulating for a few more minutes before releasing him. Probably our baby turtle got terribly sea sick...
Some more cycling on the next morning through stretches of sand dunes and rock deserts near the coast. Corpses of goats on the side of the road. Fierce and hot headwind no matter which compass direction the road takes. I'm happy to put the bike in the car again. In Al Kamil we spot a fortress from the road, stop by and soon find ourselves in a museum. Khalifan, the descendant of the former rulers of Al Kamil had the 300 year old castle restored few years ago, and put his large exhibition of traditional items in there. He and his staff explain us a lot about life in Oman decades ago and nowadays. We spend the heat of the day in Khalifans castle, enjoy Omani lunch and spice tea with milk.
We visit mighty red sand dunes with green oases and camels, cross unreal dark rocky landscapes on the way to Nizwa. The city is located at the footsteps of the Al Khadr mountains, and has once been the residence of the Imam. Wide date palm plantations surround the city. After a visit to the old bazar and the mighty castle we drive towards Al Hamra. On a side road we find a neat place to camp. Sharp edged mountains scratch the evening sky. Guitar songs. Gypsy heaven.
The fresh water pools some kilometers deep in Wadi Ghul are the perfect refreshment after hiking. The cliffs framing the gorge are at times up to 1000 meters high, and sometimes just 10 meters apart from each other. A giant, a majestic place! One side of the cliffs top can be accessed by car. That is a 30 kilometers ride from the entrance of Wadi Ghul. By 4PM, I hop on the saddle. By 5:30 I managed some 12 kilometers with shaking legs. Incredibly steep roads wind up here. Even the cars have difficulties. Of course the winds blow downhill. With the bike in the car again, we enjoy a majestic outlook over fantastic ridges above the valleys by sundown. Little later we pitch our tent on the rocks of Jabal Shams and enjoy another night under sparkling stars. Jabal Shams is sometimes named “Grand canyon of Oman”, and truly the outlook here is fantastic. Sitting on the cliffs 1000 meters above the ground is breathtaking.
Two days later we have the Indian visas in our passports, just in time to leave Oman before our 10-day visa expires.
The majority of the Omani seems to be wealthy and happy with their Sultan. We enjoyed camping so much again! The pretty much unplanned visit turned out incredibly well!