We’re back. Safe, sound and all tickety-boo.
The adventure to Salalah, the land of Frankincense in the Dhofar region of Oman, was unexpectedly cut short due to a distinct lack of interesting things to do. I suspect those in the know will dispute this however, these intrepid explorers found a fair bit lacking when it came to excursions and diversions. Many of the blow holes had, well, run out of puff and were simply holes in the ground. The sink holes were no more than a depression and the caves were not really caves at all, just overhangs or total misnomers.
It was because of these matters that our anticipated 3000 kilometre journey ended up a little short, a final tally of 2,750 kilometres round trip.
The adventure started with some map reading and a little research; places to go, things to do and sights to see. Car packed to the roof lining with equipment, food and water we headed into the desert for the long, featureless drive south. Somewhere about half way we entered the Empty Quarter, so called because…
If you haven’t seen it before the emptiness is quite something to behold. If you have seen it before its downright boring. We marvelled at the barren landscape and decided to camp, calling this Base Camp One. We played eye-spy and got stuck after four goes. We exhausted the words beginning with the letter ‘S’. Can you guess what they were? (Answers at bottom of page). It was silent, absolutely silent with no sounds whatsoever. No aircraft overhead, no vehicles, no wind rustling branches, no birds or crickets, no trains, people or residential noise. Nothing! It is the first time that the experience of total silence has ever been experienced and so enjoyed.
Along the way we saw camels. We saw camels everywhere. Wild camels, tended camels, baby camels, camels in fields, camels on the road, camels tethered and loose. We even saw dead camels (presumably hit by a passing vehicle) laying beside the road.
Second Base Camp was on a secluded beach, access to which involved a perilous drive down a switchback mountain road using all four of our wheels in low ratio gear (the faint, white zig-zag in the centre of the picture background is the road). Believing we were alone, skinny-dipping was the order of the day. Elation was short lived, being quickly replaced by surprise and then disappointment when we saw a convoy of locals heading down that same switchback road. Surprised to see low-riding two-wheel drive sports cars taking the same ‘perilous’ track that had demanded all four of our wheels and the disappointment of the invasion of our tranquillity. Not to be totally outdone, the following morning two of our party decided to use the Arabian Sea as their private bath and did bare all to take care of their ablutions. One of us remained fully clothed at all times – just in case another party of ‘low-riding’ locals ventured along. Of course, the first invaders had long gone so no indiscretions were on display to the outside world. Not until now, of course! Probably got a photo or two somewhere…
The only visitor was a Praying Mantis ( a good six inches long) who mistook our tent for some lush greenery.
Some more sights and then on to Base Camp three which was atop a mountain 1,245 metres high. Only the full moon prevented a stellar extravaganza, although the stars that we did see yet again reminded us of human insignificance.
Someone left a fingerprint on the camera lens. Doh!
Throughout the trip the obligatory sights were taken in – Job’s tomb, some really old graves with ornate headstones, abandoned villages, stunning scenery, incredible switchback roads and lots of camels.
Base Camp Four. This was, essentially a wadi, which just happened to be right next to the sea; peaceful and secluded until it was invaded by more barbecue b@*#@*ds. Three car loads of locals who ate, made a racket and left without taking any of their rubbish with them (a very, very common and disappointing feature of the countryside/coastline).
After some shell collecting we moved on to visit some more old towns with crumbling architecture and decaying infrastructure. Fishing villages barely getting by and subsistence living clearly visible.
Some more ruins (where the Queen of Sheba supposedly lived), followed by a climb into the second or third largest sinkhole in the world (depending on which guide book you read).
There was not much left to do but make camp.
Yes, this was Base Camp five. Rude not to really! Although wild camping is permitted almost everywhere that isn’t private property, the conditions are often unsuitable. The ground often resembles a moonscape with sharp rocks and too little level ground, animals that roam free or are herded leave a mess that attracts flies, locals use any space to barbecue or hang out or the roads are too close, noisy or dangerous. Anyway, we needed a good shower and a decent meal.
Some more camels, a souk, a quick blessing from an old fella who is the Guardian to Job’s remains, even more camels, preparations for the return journey home and some camels again. Homeward bound.
Hey, we saw a twister too!
Answer to quiz: Sand, Sky, Sun, Stones
The Empty Quarter – Rub Al Khali is the largest sand desert in the world. Bedouin tribes live on the outskirts. Summer temperatures reach 60+ degrees C. during daytime and fall to O degrees C. at night. Sand dunes rise to over 300 metres.
Jabal Samhan – Base Camp Three – A wilderness of limestone highlands including a 1500m high escapement overlooking the foothills and plains (see photo)
Switchbacks – Called the ‘Furious Road’ due to the number of switchbacks. Blasted out of sheer rock faces and climbing to some 400 metres in just 5km with endless hairpin corners. Some 6.4 million tonnes of rock and 160,000 tonnes of asphalt went into building the road at a cost of £75 million (see photo).
Job’s Tomb – Job is famed in the Old Testament for maintaining his faith in God in spite of the sufferings sent to test him. Job (Ayoub in Arabic) is revered by Muslims as well as Jews and Christians (see photo).
Fizayah – Base Camp Two. Coastal village and home to a superb beach hemmed in by spectacular sea cliffs and dramatic limestone formations (see photo).
Frankincense – Particularly from Dhofar is generally considered the finest. Hojari frankincense is considered the best with whiter and purer tears being favoured. The local souks are full of frankincense of all grades.
Tomb of Bin Ali – a 14th Century Muslim divine from Yemen. The mausoleum stands in the middle of an extensive cemetery studded with thousands of headstones (see photo).
Murbat – Most picturesque town in Dhofar with fine old houses, distinctive carved wooden shutters (anywhere else they would have been bought up, restored and sold on to European buyers. Sadly they are falling into disrepair).
Fishing village (see photos)
Tayq Sinkhole – misleadingly signed as Tayq Cave – a vast bowl scooped out of russet-coloured uplands. According to some estimates this is the third-largest in the world at 1km long, 750 metres across and 200 metres deep. Other estimates claim it to be the second largest or one of the largest in the world!
Al Husn Souk – You’ve seen one souk you’ve seen them all! (see photo)
Khawr Ruri – An archealogical site and once the palace of the Queen of Sheba. The waters of Wadi Darbat flow here and flamingos are a common sight. The sand on the beach is soft and the sea inviting (see photo).
Guardian of Job’s Tomb – A servant who it was hoped would cure the child of the nasty affliction of continually asking, “Are we there yet?” by the ‘laying of hand on head’.
And finally, what would this blog be without the lovely photo to finish with?