I love Oman. What a beautiful country both for its geography and its people. In many ways it feels like you are stepping back in time as you cross the border from the UAE to Oman. Muscat I have heard described as the anti-Dubai. Though a city of several hundred thousand no skyscrapers mark the horizon. It is a landscape of white adobe structures glistening against the blue depths of the sea and carved from rugged mountains. I have an Off-Road UAE book and an Off-Road Oman book. Oddly enough most of the great off-roading described in the UAE title is actually just across the border in Oman. I understand that the UAE and Oman settled on their borders in 2008. The UAE got the short end of the stick when it comes to geography.
Our last visit to Oman took me three posts to get out the whole story: Camping in Oman Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. I won’t do that again but this post may be a little long. This adventure includes some disappointments but was also deeply memorable. The story includes sick children, scorpions, beautiful starry skies, strong winds, water falls, long hours in the car, a tow rope and a beautiful dawn among other things. Sadly the Palmers (off to Germany for the week) and the Andersons (off to Sri Lanka for the week) could not join us for this trip. Our friends Rik and Janele Villegas and their three youngest kids Kiana, Alicia and Jason joined us though. It just so happens that their kids almost exactly match up age wise with our kids and we all get along well.
Our first night in Oman took us just across the border to Wadi Madbah. This was one of those locations in the Off-Road UAE title that is actually in Oman. It is hard to gage just what a place will be like from the descriptions in the book. This one turned out to be a bust. A quick 5 minute hike took us to the first big pool of the Wadi. The pool was just big enough for a couple people to swim in. The trash around the site though did not make it very appealing. The water was a little murky too. A quick scramble up a short dry waterfall took us to the next and final pool and the highest waterfall in the region… it was more of a trickle and the surrounding rocks made it look quite a bit like a butt crack. The trash at the site was a sad thing to see. So far the adventure was not off to a great start.
After some quick exploring at Wadi Madbah we needed to find a campsite. A rugged back road led across a phenomenal open plain to the feet of some barren mountains in the distance. We’d hoped to cross the plain and set up camp in the shadow of those mountains. Alas the road proved too rugged for my little CR-V and my driving skills. This would not be the last time on the trip the CR-V was beaten.
Nestled between a couple very rustic farms at the foot of the hill the car could not overcome we set up camp. A goat had been slaughtered there at some point. The kids found its bleached white bones the next day. That night we had chilli for dinner. Well, Lisa and Kirsten and I had chilli. Lilli and Jaron just cannot handle anything that even intimates that it may be spicy. It was hotdogs roasted over the fire for them. I was rather annoyed when they complained that the hotdogs were too spicy. “They are not! You’d better eat those hotdogs or you’ll be in serious trouble,” I scolded. Later when I was eating the remains of their hotdogs as any dutiful father would to my surprise they were rather spicy. Turns out that bottle of ketchup was not any ordinary bottle but of the “Fiery Chilli” variety. I do not think I’ve seen Fiery Chilli ketchup anywhere else. Maybe its a normal thing in North America?
The next day was a series of border crossings and a long drive south beyond Muscat to Wadi Shab. As we reached the boarder Jaron clearly had a fever. Thankfully Janele had a great emergency medical kit which included a bottle of children’s Advil. Jaron basically limped from one dose of Advil to the next for the remainder of the trip. It was amazing how well he coped despite being ill. Of course, this meant that everyone of the kids eventually would present with symptoms. Its been nearly a week since our return and I too have finally started to get ill. It must have been those hotdogs!
We found a beautiful flat spot on the Gulf of Oman just up from Wadi Shab to setup camp that night. We were perched up on some cliffs above the water. You could sit on the edge of the cliff and peer down into the blue waters at the fish below. The kids were excited to see sting rays and turtles swimming below them. The crashing of the waves against the cliffs was lovely to fall asleep to.
Lilli had a close call walking around in the camp at night in her sandals. Lisa spotted the
giant scorpion just before Lilli could walk right into it. This was by far the largest scorpion I’ve seen thus far. It must have been 6 to 8 inches long. The dark and chasing the thing around with the shovel made it difficult to get any great pictures.
Wadi Shab like our last trip was really quite the highlight. We probably would not have gone back this trip but the Villegas family had not been and I couldn’t pass up sharing this place with them. We spent all day at the Wadi. This gave us the opportunity to explore more than we had the first time. The older girls bravely leaped from some cliffs into the pools below. Lilli surprised me by climbing straight up the waterfall several times to the pools above. Jaron spent quite a bit of time swimming and an equal portion of time bathing in the sun between doses of Advil. Jason and Alicia were also not feeling well and came for the hike rather than the swim – you can’t go to Wadi Shab and not swim. They were in the warm waters almost immediately.
Wadi Shab is about a 45 minute hike that takes all day. You can’t help but stop and play in the beautiful waters on the way out and back. At the end of the trek you come to a pool that requires swimming before you can go on. As the pool reaches what appears to be the end of the canyon a crack in the wall about a foot wide and two or three feet high rise from the water. Swimming through this crack for about 15 feet you emerge in a partially open cavern and a deep pool. Lisa had her iPone in its life-proof case which enabled her to get a few pictures this time. Unfortunately it is difficult to take pictures or video while treading water. I’ll share some of the better shots but they really do not do justice to just how amazing this place is.
Cracks in the roof of the cave allow for light. Someone placed a rope in the waterfall which allows you to pull yourself out of the water. The edges are eroded away such that without the rope it would be very difficult to get up. We didn’t realize it last time but if you climb all the way up the waterfall and squeeze through the opening where the water pours into the cave you emerge at yet more pools to explore.
That night when we emerged from Wadi Shab utterly exhausted and satisfied we headed to the Salmah Plateau to find a camping spot for the night. I was hoping to camp at the top of the Plateau. The route up the mountain proved too steep for the CR-V. I realize now that I made a couple mistakes. First I left the air conditioning running and the engine really could have used the extra power. Second I was down to a quarter of a tank of gas. The road was so steep that the gas light was coming on and I think the pump was having difficulty supplying the engine with enough fuel. The rugged single track switch backed up the mountain precariously. When the CR-V refused to move another inch I had Lisa jump out of the car and place a few big rocks behind the back wheels.
This was an interesting teaching moment. The kids began to freak out in the back seat. I can’t really blame them I was a little freaked out myself. The Villegas family was behind me in their Toyota Fortuner and we were perched on the side of a dusty gravel track. It was looking as though I’d have to back down the mountain a few kilometres. Naturally the back of the car was full of camping gear and I only had my mirrors to go by. This could be easily solved by rearranging a few things but the possibility that I’d begin sliding backward seemed inevitable. I said a silent prayer and then put the vehicle back in gear. We crept forward another 5 or 6 feet. Again I sat for a while and then another 5 or 6 feet and I made the next corner. I then saw the small pull out to my left. If I could get the car up the hill just another 15 feet I could back into this little turn around and head back down the mountain – with the front of the car facing the right direction. The CR-V was spent however, it tried but the tires could not find any purchase on the loose gravel.
That extra 10 or 12 feet though put me on a corner and there was room for Rik to get around me. I was very thankful for the tow rope I had picked up before the trip. With the Fortuner’s bigger engine and wider tires Rik had no trouble towing me up another 15 feet to where I could safely turn around. Looking back he could have likely towed me over the tougher spots and brought us up the mountain. My nerves were a little shattered by then with my kids in the car so it was probably for the best heading down the mountain rather than up.
We found a flat camping spot part way up the mountain and set up for the night. Up above the lights of the towns and villages we were in for a treat. The stars were brilliant in the deep dark of night. Unless you’ve experienced a truly brilliant starry night I don’t know that you can appreciate the grandeur and awe invested in such a scene. It was the perfect ending to an exciting day. Early the next morning we were in for a different kind of adventure.
At about 3:30am the wind began. Pouring down the gorge on the edge of which we had perched our tents the wind came sweeping across the mountain side. Our dome tents without their outer tent flies (too hot for the fly) were buffeted hard. The tents would nearly flatten with each gust only for the poles to spring the structure back in place between gusts. The pegs driven into the rocky soil held fast. Our friends’ tent is a large Coleman. It is large enough to stand up in which is often welcome but it presented a wall to the wind. The tent gave to the pressure and collapsed. At 4am their kids were asleep on top of their fully flattened tent their combined weight keeping it fixed to the ground. Unable to sleep any longer we setup our chairs to take in the rising of the sun. With its rising the wind subsided enough to start up the gas burner and cook up some eggs. We’d need our strength for what turned out to be a long day of driving.
We were fortunate to miss the rain while on the dirt tracks of the mountain. In fact we only drove through a little rain as we passed by Muscat. Back in Sharjah and Dubai we later learned that they had an incredible dust storm followed by rain that mixing with the dust brought mud from the sky. I kind of wish I’d have been there for that.
On our last day of our Oman trip we tried to visit Al Hoota caves. It turns out because of flooding they’ve been closed for over a month. The small geological museum is open but the caves are closed. I see now that there is a scrolling message on their website – I swear it was not there before (perhaps they overheard me complaining about it). Though I tend to ignore scrolling messages on websites by default so it may have been there. It was disappointing but by this time everyone was over tired and all of the kids were sick. So we were grateful for the nearly painless re-entry to the UAE at the border. A quick stop for dinner and a couple bottles of children’s Advil at a mall in Al Ain and we were practically home.
I thought to finish this post off I’d put together a little video of our fun at Wadi Shab – like I did recently with Wadi Shawka. I tried to increase the quality of the video from the last one hopeful that the file will not be too large for most people to stream.