The festival of Eid holiday is drawing to a close. A brief overview of this celebration includes the traditional sacrifice of a four-legged animal, the family gathering together and a great feast being shared. Many a fatted calf can be seen swaying to and fro in the back of a well worn Toyota pick-up as they are transported to their particular demise. At this time, we are bombarded by notifications from the Ministry of Health, via our mobiles, not to slaughter said animals at home and if we really must avoid the local abattoir, then we should don both rubber gloves and aprons to prevent the gush of blood from spoiling our clothes or spreading disease. I believe there is much concern over the health risks relating to the slitting of animal throats whilst at home but I cannot be sure as to what they are exactly. One just wonders at the whole process; the family gathered from far and wide, the cow brought forth, the frenzy as it is despatched and the grim task of skinning, gutting and hacking, only to find that it won’t fit in the oven. Anyway, it is a long held tradition in these parts and one that we have yet to witness or be invited to. Maybe next time?
Our return from merry old England also meant a return to the mundane. Work and domestic stuff has taken far too much of our time recently so, with these holidays to enjoy, we headed out into the countryside to explore and further wreck our once ‘immaculate’ vehicle. As an aside, we have, so far, had new sets of wheel bearings and countless new shock absorbers. We have an annoying squeal that cannot be rectified as it cannot be located and a most disconcerting ‘clunk’ on every left turn of the wheel. A strange vibration reverberates up through the steering column along with an unnerving bounce even when on totally flat surfaces. A matter of time we believe. Working from the official ‘Off Road Book of Oman’ ticking off every completed trail as we go, we found that we had yet to discover Wadi Abyad.
In fact, there are only three such unexplored routes that we have yet to undertake. One reads “for the off-road aficionados only” so we’ll leave that one ’til last (as the final nail in the coffin for the car). The other one quotes “one of the most steepest climbs – and we mean STEEP” so that should be a giggle and perhaps sort out all those annoying problems we are experiencing vehicle wise. Kill or cure!
For the adventure at hand, we headed to the vast expanse of the dry river bed that is Wadi Abyad. Only an hour or so away, the drive would be challenging as the river bed is either loose pebbles or very loose shale/gravel. We expected to find some water even though it had been dry for some time. There were promises (written in the guide book) of oleanders (flowers), butterflies and wild birds. A grab for the binoculars and the trusty ‘Birds of Oman’ book and we were off. At 09:30 in the morning, the outside temperature, as per the vehicle reading, was a worrying 38 degrees Celsius. We had enough provisions, water, crisps and my signature dish home-made mackerel pasties (remember those beauties?) to sustain us but the weather was not as cool as we had hoped for. This excursion included a four hour return hike to a remote village nestled in the canyon.
It wasn’t too long before we arrived at the tricky driving conditions that are the dry river bed and the car swayed wildly left and right as it sought traction and to free itself from the ruts of previous vehicles. In such a secluded area and with such difficult driving conditions, we were almost assured of complete privacy and that in itself presented one or two possible problems. Such as, should we get stuck in the loose shale or break down, we could not rely on any passing traffic to assist us. It is most unlikely that vehicle breakdown recovery will come to rescue us and we had, as usual, omitted to let anyone know where we were going and what time we ought to return. Ah well, fortune favours the brave, as they say. Who exactly are they?
Some water remained in large pools and some trickled it’s way from the mountains down to the lower levels. It was just too tempting so we headed for the wettest water crossing we could find but then soon despaired, all four wheels began to loose traction and the pedal was definitely down to the metal. Curiously, there wasn’t any wheel spinning, the vehicle just sank. Worrying though it might have been, this was not to be our demise; we headed deeper and deeper into the canyon, driving, nay sliding, along the brilliant white pebbles of the wadi bed.
We parked up on the only piece of firm ground we could find at the end of the wadi. Driving further would require a specialist 4×4 vehicle (now there’s an idea!) with a higher ground clearance, rugged tyres and a high lift jack just in case. We were alone and the heat was scorching. We splashed the sun block all over, filled three cans with water, packed in the pasties and horseradish sauce (oh yes. horseradish!) and set off.
Immediately, two things happened. One, the heat of the sun stunned us where we stood and two, the world and his dog descended upon us. As if we had paved the way for the entire population, vehicles with extended families slid in behind us, parking in front of us and creating merry-hell as they unloaded their cargo of people, barbecues, gazebos and all manner of glamping (glamorous-camping) equipment. We were not alone. In one respect, we felt a little safer in the company of others, should anything untoward happen to the car but then again, we also felt the intrusion was an invasion of our privacy.
We continued on our journey.
The loose ground was not too dissimilar to walking upon very soft sand, in as much as it strained the calf muscles and took much effort to progress.The heat sapped our strength and with only a few hundred metres covered, we had already consumed half of our water ration. Steep rocks either side of the canyon meant little or no shade and it was approaching the hottest part of the day. The smooth white rocks, that were much easier to walk on but treacherous to negotiate safely, soon gave way to water and we waded down river and through the red and white calcite coloured pools.
We stopped under the overhang of a rock, had lunch, watch fish dart about in the receding pools, spotted a solitary wading bird and an oleander bush or two. We finished off our water and considered our lot; we were no more than an hour into our journey, having left the crowd way behind, finished all of our water and were definitely feeling the adverse effects of the heat. Besides, someone was constantly moaning about the giant hornets that appeared to like my pasties as much as she did. Saying, that said hornets will not bother you if you do not bother them, had little calming effect so we removed ourselves from the shade and nuisance of the flying insects (not to mention the moaning nuisance) and stood in the brilliant sun. As creatures go, the hornets were the least of our problems. There are numerous venomous snakes in the area and should you wish to walk along in the cool waters, you should also be very wary of water snakes. Just like the pink one that was snapping at the ankles; or was it after that frog that sat solemnly upon a small rock at the water’s edge? Either way, they darted in opposite directions as the chaos ensued upon spotting the pink swimming serpente. Splish, splash, splosh and all were gone.Unfortunately, it was all too quick for a photo but we believe it to be one of either two snakes that are known to be in the area. One is the harmless thread snake and the other is also harmless(ish) being the very rare mole snake. Whatever, we survived to tell the tale. What did concern us was whether we should carry on.
As you are well aware, we often put our heads into the lion’s mouth, just to see what is inside but we are not totally stupid. When the danger signs truly present themselves, we take appropriate action. A slight breeze was like a furnace on our skin, the temperature, we estimated from later readings, to be somewhere in the region of 50 degrees Celsius (that’s 122 F) without the heat index (the opposite of wind chill and also known as the summer simmer index). We took the disappointing but very sensible decision to cut short our journey and return to the car where cool water was stored and the a/c would cool us down. On our return journey, we paused a while to look at the flowers that we had come to see and get that family photo, just for the album.
Our decision to return had been the right one. By the time we got back, we were suffering heat exhaustion and dehydration. The dangers of mother nature were quickly revealed to us in the few hours that we were exposed to the elements. How much more serious it all could have been had we not the sense to read the warning signs. We dragged eachother back, both physically and psychologically, cajoling and manhandling where the need dictated.
Liberal amounts of cool water and a long blast of the a/c did the job although to the outsider, we probably did look a lot worse that we actually were. We even told eachother just how bad we looked. The least affected, discerned by the continual expression of her dislike of hornets, was the smallest of us who appeared unaffected by it all.
Finally on an even keel once again, we drove away to negotiate the pebbles and shale but this time knowing help was at hand if an emergency arose. Vehicles continued to make there way to the place we had just left. Traversing the river once again found us axle deep in sinking gravel and it was only the full torque of our 5.7 litre monster that we were able to make enough headway to get ourselves free. A diversion, to park in the shade of a tree, saw us face to face with another local creature. Sat inches from our window, we watched it, watching us, watching it.
We saw other species of lizard on route, globe skimmer dragonflies, a frog, the highly suspect snake, little fishes and a wading bird that we were to hot to identify. All was not lost and we would return once the weather was cooler.
With a few days left before the end of the holidays, we will revisit one of our mountain favourites, to take in the cooler air and maybe break something else to add to our car catastrophes. Until then, the album shot to prove that all’s well that ends well.
We shall return…