It has been a few days since we’ve posted. This is because we’ve been camping in Oman. Oman is the eastern most country on the Arabian Peninsula. With borrowed tents, sleeping bags and even a borrowed car we set out with two other families this Eid weekend. A special thanks to our friends the Palmers who led our way and planned such a great trip. The weekend (Thursday Oct, 25 – Sunday Oct, 28) was packed with so much fun and adventure I hardly know where to begin. So, I will begin at the beginning and anticipate that it may take several posts to get the whole story out. This story includes swimming in warm desert oases, views of the sun breaching the horizon over the Gulf of Oman, exploring the Oman capital of Muscat, a trek across the terraced mountain village of Jebel Akhdar, finding cool temperatures in the mountains and navigating the border crossings and roadways of Oman.
This adventure, like so many others of late, begins with our dogs. After some investigation it became clear that we should not attempt to take our dogs into Oman. This necessitated finding a kennel that would take the dogs for the weekend. Lisa found the kennel and they sent her directions to its location in Al Zubair. The directions sent us up highway 311 from Sharjah toward Ajman. This highway can be heavily trafficked so when we headed out after work on Wednesday we thought it may be better to take the bypass road, highway 611. We had seen a sign to Al Zubair on the 611 the day before. Armed with a hand drawn map we took the 611 route rather than the route provided.
It turns out that just because you can get to the general location of a town you are not guaranteed to find the exact location especially when the directions include turning left at the orange fence and traversing several alleyways. So after driving up and down the roads of Al Zubair, avoiding the camel being herded by a man in a small SUV we thought to call the kennel for further directions, we had to be close. Unfortunately, we had run out of pay as you go minutes on the cell phone. We could receive calls and texts we just could not send any. The kennel kept texting us, “are you on the way,” “when will you arrive.” We had no way of getting back to them. It turns out that Al Zubair is really just a subdivision. There was no gas stations or stores from which we could recharge the phone. So we had no choice but to turn around and go back the way we came to follow the original route we were sent.
That original route included the traffic of highway 311 in rush hour. As we feared we found ourselves proceeding slowly toward our destination. Thankfully we eventually found ourselves turning at the orange fence down dirt alleyways. We pulled up to the locked gates of the kennel at dusk and hollered to the young man crossing the yard. He approached the gate but could not understand my English or my poor attempts at charades. He refused us entry. If only we could call the kennel office they would direct the young man to open the gates. We turned around again and headed back to the highway. I pulled over at the first gas station. Purchasing some minutes for the cell phone we could now call the kennel and let them know our plight.
I’d like to say that I handled this frustrating situation with grace and patience. Lisa and I simply smiled and joked with each other about how silly this comedy of errors really was. I would like to say that. When I came out of the gas station an Emirati man parked next to us in a shiny black SUV offered to purchase the dogs from me. He could see their cute little faces pressed against the glass. I could see Lisa’s beautiful face beyond them and swallowing refused to sell the little creatures.
Now you must know that once you get going in one direction on a highway in the UAE you may find that to go the opposite direction is nearly impossible. The gas station was on the south side of the highway and I needed to go back to the north. Try as I might that seemed nearly impossible. We ended up driving into Ajman and caught in heavy traffic. It seemed to take forever but miraculously we eventually found ourselves on the highway headed north and turning once again at the orange fence. This time the gate was open to us. Our 20 minute run to the kennel to drop off the dogs had turned into a several hour odyssey. The kennel operators seems friendly and knowledgable and the facilities passable. We abandoned the dogs to their care and made our way home. I still had to pick up the car we’d be taking to Oman (a Honda CRV) and prepare for a 5am departure the next morning. The friendly staff at the kennel directed us home… down the 611 to bypass the traffic.
At 5am on Thursday morning we with all our gear were loaded into the car and leaving the university. I was grateful for the Palmers in their little blue Forerunner (aptly named I think) directly ahead of me guiding the way to the Oman border. Within a couple hours we were passing through armed border crossings. Not just one border crossing but several. The last crossing required us to park the vehicle and head into a large building with everyone. It took over an hour to make our way through the lines to the guard who silently processed our Visas and collected the Visa fee of 50 dirham per visitor. Had I known better we would have changed some dirham to Omani Rial at the border. The first time we would need gas in Oman had me borrowing 5 rial from our friends the Andersons.
There were three families on this trip. Us with our 3 kids, the Palmers with their two daughters and the Andersons with their four kids. The Anderons’ children being the youngest of the group. 9 children and six adults exploring a foreign land seems a little crazy to me on reflection but it all went rather well. Our intrepid leader Jeremy Palmer, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is a linguist and fluent in Arabic; a skill that was beyond helpful. Many times I envied his ability to speak with the locals. I can understand the occasional word with my few arabic classes behind me but I am far from being able to communicate anything beyond my ignorance. Perhaps a day will come when I will understand the language well enough to hold a conversation; Inshallah (God willing).
After the border we drove along the Gulf of Oman south through the capital Muscat and on to the little village of Tiwi. Our destination was the Wadi Shab. Driving through Tiwi was a treat. We scooted our little SUVs through the narrow village streets waiting for the goats to cross and watching the locals dressed for Eid preparing for the holiday. The ocean to our left would appear between the plastered buildings that looked as old as the landscape. We parked beneath the highway where it crossed over the waters of the wadi as they merged with the green-blue waters of the Gulf.
You could hire a small motorboat to carry you across the water to the trail head but the water was only waist deep and we were on our way to get wet. I wondered at what the locals charged for a boat crossing but didn’t bother to investigate as the waters of the Wadi were calling my name. The trail meandered through the deep walls of a canyon and appeared and disappeared among the broken rock and boulders on the canyon floor. Palm trees grow along the banks of the Wadi and the occasional tree clings to life along the walls. Jaron was nearly uncontrollable with his delight. He first lost a sandal in a mud hole beneath about 2 feet of water. Lisa took the time to search the mud thoroughly and eventually produced the sandal. Every hole in the rock side was a treasure cave and every new bug, lizard and fish a wonderful treat to Jaron. He could have spent the entire day at the trail head never knowing the majesty of what lie at the end. To him the beginning was as grand as anything the end could possibly offer.
The trail was challenging for the little legs of the children but they traversed it with hardly any complaints. Jaron would accept no ones help and would much rather go over any rock than around it. He picked the most difficult path he could find and relished the challenge. A trait that seems clearly genetic. The hike in all took about 45 minutes. The first substantial pool that we came to was once used as the site of a Red Bull cliff diving competition. I had a great time climbing and jumping from the cliffs. This you tube video of the Red Bull diving will give you an idea of the immensity of the canyon and the beauty of the water.
Of course, I only climbed and dove from the cliffs at the bottom of the dives you see in the video. That was plenty high and plenty challenging for me. I did have a great fan club though. A chorus of “Dad, dad ,dad – jump…” as I prepared each leap.
This was just the first swimming hole though. On we went and how glad I am that we took the time. I had seen the cave at the end on youtube so I knew something of what awaited us but there is nothing to compare to actually being there. We reached what appeared to be as far as we would be able to take the kids and took a break for lunch. I went ahead with the Palmers. All the kids and 3 of the adults remained behind. We scrambled and swam to the end of the Wadi. You must swim the last 100 yards or so before it comes to what appears to be the end. There is, however, a crack in the canyon wall. By the time we arrived the canyon was in shade and the crack which passed through the canyon wall was dark. About 1 and a half to 2 feet of cave extended above the blue water of the Wadi. Swimming about 20 feet through the wall you emerge into a stunning open cave filled with clear water. A waterfall pours into the cave with a rope extending down its face. Using the rope you can climb the water fall and jump into the warm waters below. The roof of the cave is open in various places to allow for light to reflect off the walls and illuminate its interior. I cannot imagine that anyone could tread water in that cave and not be overcome with gratitude for life. I absolutely had to share this with my family.
After a few moments in the cave and a quick dive from the waterfall I raced back to where I had left my family. I swam hard and ran over the rocky banks. I passed several people who must have believed I had seen a lion in the caves. I was doubly glad for the small life jacket I had bought Jaron just a couple days before else he would not have been able to join us. Lilli did need the canyon wall a few times but she did marvellously as I led them back through the canyon and the crack in the canyon wall. This youtube video should give you some perspective of the beauty of the scene:
We played there for some time but not too long as I wanted to be sure we made it out of the canyon before dark. As it turned out we did make it out before dark but barely. We then drove back up the highway a few miles and found a place to pitch our tents on the rocky beach of the Gulf of Oman. In the dark we cooked up a batch of chilli which the kids inevitably found too spicy. We spread out on top of our sleeping bags to the gentle crash of the ocean waves on the rocks just below. In the morning I awoke as the sun rose from the ocean a burnished orange orb. Though the hard ground made for stiff joints I was immensely happy to be sharing this with my family. Jaron and I pulled on white collared shirts and the girls dresses and we set out with our friends to find the small branch of saints that meet each Friday in Muscat. I leave it here for now. I hope to finish the tale in the days to come.
Lisa took so many great pictures. Here is just a sample of the first day. We didn’t have a waterproof camera but the Andersons’ did. They took some pictures of us in the cave. If they turned out I’ll post them here later.