There are Rules. There are Rules for a very good reason.
1. The Golden Rule – NEVER GO IN A LONE VEHICLE
2. ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT: Car jack – wood for supporting car jack – tow rope – tool kit – mobile phone – fire extinguisher – tyre pressure gauge – first-aid kit – spare tyre – water (lots of it!) – foot pump – tyre repair kit – sand mats – spare fuses.
3. Optional Equipment: Multi purpose knife – torch – GPS – heavy duty gloves – jump leads
4. Required Paperwork: Insurance – vehicle registration card – driving licence – accident report card (existing damage only) – I.D. card
So it was that we set off on our very first adventure with nothing more than 2 litres of water, a couple of towels and our swimming costumes. It was approaching 11am and we deemed there to be sufficient time to go off-roading in the interior and be home in time for tea before it got dark at 6pm. Somewhere in the back of our minds was the list of essential things to do and take but time was getting on and we had yet to get out of the front door. With spirits high and a ‘gung ho’ sense of adventure coursing through our veins we set off to the tune of ‘We’re all going on a summer holiday…’ destination Wadi As Suwayh in the Al Hajar Ash Sharqi mountain range on the East coast of Oman. The guide book promised Mountains, Oasis, Wadi (dry river beds), rolling foothills, pools, streams and waterfalls; ideal for camping, hiking, swimming and cliff jumping. Yeeha!
The roads were dusty and bumpy and the scenery was stunning. Steady Eddy initially took the wheel. Well, we had all the time in the world didn’t we?
We trundled along merrily, flicking the auto changer between four wheel drive, high and low ratio, thinking we were really off-roading when, in fact, we were not. We were certainly off the road but off-roading…? I don’t think so.
The mountains rose up around us and the temperature gauge sat steady at 112 degrees Fahrenheit. The dust cloud behind us blotted out any rear view and as far as we were concerned, there was no one else out there. Further and further into the interior we drove, skilfully navigated by the co-driver who, eager to have a go in the driving seat, purposefully navigated the wrong way then cleverly blamed the driver to initiate the desired change-over. Oh, yes! It’s so easy to be clever!
The 4 x 4 was mercilessly thrashed which, I suppose, is never a good thing to do to a new car. Nevertheless, we were making headway and the village of Al Mazari would soon appear over the next horizon. Or maybe the next? Possibly the one after that? The navigator was useless and another quick change saw that we were, once again, heading the right way. The village was eventually reached and although the directions (taken from my birthday book) were comprehensive, we managed to get lost on a very, very narrow track that led nowhere. Some skilful reversing and three point turning all overseen by a brilliant banks-man saw that we were soon retracing our steps. Unfortunately, the matter could not be overlooked so another change of driver took place. The village was quaint, rustic and pretty much in the middle of nowhere, halfway up a mountain side somewhere in the region of 3000 metres above sea-level. The locals were out and about and as we entered the village square we decided to park and sit and look because, the village square did not lead anywhere and we could not lose face by appearing to have driven into it by mistake. The locals seemed curious and an elderly chap blocked the entrance to the square by standing in the road brandishing a particularly vicious looking scythe. The entrance was also the exit so we sat and we watched as the locals began to gather around us.
‘I reached around to the rear of my seat and took hold of the stock of my Winchester pump action shot gun. I eased it barrel first out of my window and using just one hand, plus the weight of the gun, managed to force a cartridge into the chamber by a flick of my wrist and a firm grip on the pump lever. I rolled the barrel towards the menacing local and pointed it directly at his head. He stood no more than 10 metres away and would have suffered a particularly nasty graze if I let him have it.’
Sweet mercy, that was just all in my head! I edged the car forward and the old fella just carried on his way. Did he really stop and block our path or was he just walking very slow? A roar from the 5.4 litres and we were out of there. Once again we were lost. Our only option appeared to be a track, extremely narrow, which led through a plantation. We headed down it and hoped for the best. Ta da! Out of the village and back onto the dusty, mountain roads. Good to be back on loose rock and dirt.
The road became badly broken; there were big boulders and little boulders, lots of debris and bits of mountainside that had broken off and fallen down onto the track. The boulders then became loose stones and dirt and then the track disappeared…
The concern was, if we committed ourselves to this road there was no going back. Certainly not through the village let alone reversing back up a crumbling mountainside pass. I sent the navigator down to have a look. Follow the road down with your eyes and there she is, standing just to the right of the big yellow bush at the end of the road. From that vantage point she deemed that the road went sharply round to the left, a hairpin of a bend, something our long wheelbase would probably have difficulty negotiating. It was about now that the Rules were beginning to reaffirm themselves in my head. Low ratio and first gear we drove down, then with two reverses and a bit of jiggling we were round the bend. Now we faced another steep track where the road just morphed into loose rock and gravel. In fact, half of the track had fallen over the edge of the mountain and it was very debatable whether our car width was in excess of that track width…
Apart from the initial shock of the ‘hole’ that you can see on the right side of the tarmac above, if you look at the middle of the picture by following the track down, THERE IS NO TRACK, IT’S FALLEN OFF THE MOUNTAINSIDE!. Our mouths were dry and we stopped to re-assess what we were doing and why we were doing it…
The voice in my head which had been saying, “who’s been a silly boy then?” was now saying, “Go for it, Indy”. As you can see, there was nothing to spare and so it was that we proceeded to edge of sanity and crawled our way down the track, heads out of windows – ” to me, to you, to me…”
The treacherous track continued to test our nerve and driving/navigating skills. It bonded us and minor bickering gave way to farewell hugs.
We were nowhere near to out destination; oasis and pools for swimming and diving, hiking and camping besides idyllic waterfalls. The decision was made to bypass Wadi As Suwayh and try to make it to the highway. We were not even halfway through our mountain journey and the time was approaching 3pm. Long shadows were beginning to taunt us and some of the wadis were already dark in full shade. Total darkness would envelope us about 6pm at this time of year. Worst case scenario: The track would be impassable further along and we would have to return the way we came.
We desperately needed to head north but the only track continued to take us south. Some water pools, palm trees, dry river beds, large rocks and dusty tracks led us to our original, intended destination – just the place we didn’t want to be. However, the waterfall and pool was pretty but unfortunately we had no time to stop and admire, let alone swim or hike…
The track stopped here so it was yet another about turn and we retraced our steps in the hope of finding another trail. There was no other trail! It would appear that there might be a way out through the wadi, driving along the river bed and through the gorge. It was definitely getting darker, we were on the last of the water and with no food or camping equipment we took our last chances on heading along the wadi. The track kept going and going, weaving in and out of the water pools, crossing rivers and gravel beds, rocks and endless dirt and dust. We covered 10 kilometres but it seemed a whole lot more before, in the distance, we spotted the welcome sight of concrete and a highway flyover. Phew! Time to relax and one last photo opportunity, just to prove we did it…
This is Wadi Al Arbiyyin. We drove down the middle of to get to our beloved concrete and tarmac. Along the way there were homes and caves where people lived a meagre existence. Odd individuals were dotted along the route and were seen fishing and washing in the many pools that will soon be flooded by monsoon rainfalls. For us it was the end of our first adventure and how we laughed as we took the track up onto the highway but headed South, totally the wrong direction, in order to go home. Another 15 minutes of travelling in the wrong direction before we could turn around and then all was well. We arrived home at 7pm or thereabouts. Everything was covered in red dust and we left the car in this dusty state as a testament to the fact that we survived.
360 kilometres later we reflected on our journey. The guide states a 240 kilometre trip with easy driving conditions. The route is considered fun and appealing for the whole family! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, clonk!
Flora and fauna et al:
The onboard twitcher spotted many species. I recall seeing a couple of Yellow-spotted Agamas (blue backed lizards with yellow tails) and that’s where my interest ended.
All in all, another action packed and fun episode which we shall remember for a very long time.
Our next adventure is looming but this weekend I think we’ll just go shopping. Now what could possibly go wrong there then!?
By the way, don’t leave kids in cars during the hot weather…