This latest adventure took us across the barren Arabian Peninsula to the land of Salalah in Dohfar on the southern coast of Oman a round trip of nearly 3,000 kilometres by car. A stone throw from the Yemen border we found amazing beaches and astounding views of tropical like landscapes rising dramatically from the Arabian Sea. Cooler temperatures made for tolerable nights in tents. The journey took 6 nights and 7 days and was packed with adventures ranging from interesting and entertaining to painful and life threatening. Kirsten is still in Canada so there was a little more room in the car but we’d have gladly squished together to have her with us. Our company included our Ozzie friends the Ziegelbauers: Joe, Alison and their two boys Reef (4years old) and Jacob (6 months old). It will take me several posts to tell the whole story. I’ve decided however to relate nearly the last adventure while the swelling has yet to go down and the tale is still fresh in my mind.
Our last day of camping took us to Wadi Uyun (a better transliteration I think is Ayoon). The Wadi is north of Salalah and is just outside the reach of the rains that have painted that area green. Wadi Uyun is once again settled into the parched landscape that characterizes the Middle East. Nonetheless It is not wholly outside the influence of the rising mountains and sea that combine to cool the region. Wadi Uyun leaves behind the humidity of the coast but retains cooler temperatures. The evenings were a refreshing 24 degrees celsius and we were also favoured by some light rain.
We set up camp on a flat rocky ledge overlooking the wadi canyon. The view gave tantalizing glimpses of shimmering pools amongst the rocky walls below. Clearly there would be all sorts of swimming possibilities here if we could reach the pools. Our guide book promised cliffs of varying heights for jumping and diving but warned that the descent into the pools may require a helping hand or a small length of rope. In the morning I led Lisa, Lilli, Jaron and our little friend Reef (4 years old) into the adjacent wadi which spilled its infrequent contents into wadi Uyun. We did not get far before I ascertained that the descent was too dangerous for the kids and turned us all around. Disappointed the kids picked their way back over boulders and across fissures and crags to our camp with promises that I would explore other routes to the water below and if I found a safe one lead them through it.
Alone I set out to find an alternative route into the wadi. I wasn’t alone for long. Jaron could not be persuaded to remain behind and I did not have the heart to press the issue. He is nimble and capable with a little help from his Dad. He followed not far behind. I reached a ledge that dropped about 5 feet and cautioned Jaron to remain behind as I determined if the path could be continued beyond this little drop. After lowering myself and continuing on for a few metres more I could see that indeed we had found a navigable way to the Wadi bed below. I turned back to help Jaron make the descent just as I heard him cry out. The land sloped upward from the 5 foot drop that I had just descend so that Jaron was about 15 vertical feet above me. I could see the terrified look on his face as he screamed again and called out “Dad! bees!”
Circling above Jaron were two or three very large hornets. “Just remain calm son. No sudden movements and they’ll leave you alone.” He was doing pretty well I thought at keeping calm as I stepped up to the ledge to climb back to him. He cried out and I knew he’d been stung. “Run, Jaron, Run!” I called as his screams intensified and I realized he must be receiving multiple stings. I scrambled up at what seems now an impossible speed. He wasn’t running when I reached him despite my shouts. Circling around him was an unbelievably large and dark cloud of nasty and enormous hornets. I charged scooping up Jaron in my left hand and pulling my wide brim hat from my head with my right hand. I swung the hat wildly no doubt crushing dozens of the monsters as I poured all my strength into carrying Jaron and me up the rocky landscape I had so carefully descended moments before. I felt the first sting on my exposed thigh which spurred me to greater speed and faster slashing movements with my hat. The hat tore free from my hand on a downward slash and flew away behind me.
“Water!” I screamed over and over as I flew up the hill. In pursuit were a dozen or so mad hornets. I hoped that we could throw water to defend ourselves against our pursuers. My panic stricken mind was picturing a garden hose and spray nozzle, two things we could not possibly have at hand. Joe, perplexed by my cry for help nevertheless came running with a large bottle of water. He grasped my intent rather quickly as he sloshed water into the air at the oncoming hornets as I sprinted past. Sadly the water was not as effectual as I had imagined it might be. I took Jaron straight to the car and deposited him as Joe called “Don’t lead them into camp!” I was horrified that I’d just led a dozen mad hornets into our little camp. Scooping up a towel I ran back toward the hornets swinging and then circled around camp leading the devils away. Amazingly they followed me and to their deaths.
The nasty things having been dispatched I sucked air and began to take stock. Incredibly It appeared I had just the one sting on my thigh. Jaron was not as lucky. He tallied up 8 stings in total. One on the back of the head and several on his arms and torso. We gave him some liquid tylenol (Panadol here) for the pain and he holed up in the back of the car nursing his wounds and refusing to come out.
My hat! My hat, was back down the hill somewhere near the source of those horrible things. They had a sting I was slowly realizing to match the immensity of their long wing span. Had it been my ball cap I’d have left it without a thought but this was my leather Australian made Jacura hat. They cost somewhere between 80-100$ and I’ve had it for years. This hat has been on countless adventures with me. There was no way I was leaving it behind.
As I began walking back down the hill I answered the others queries as to my sanity with a rhetorical question “would Indiana Jones leave his hat behind?” Armed with my towel I headed back down the hill. I hadn’t gone far though before I was set upon by more hornets. Retreating and slaying my pursuers I began to strategize my next attack. I put my pants on over my shorts and tossed on a hoody. I put on my leather gloves and duct tapped my ankles, wrists and waist to keep the critters out. With a scarf wrapped around my head and my hood up I ventured back down the hill. Again I was set upon almost immediately and still a good hundred yards or more from where my hat must lay in the dirt. I was less afraid armoured as I was but my confidence was short lived as the first stinger passed through my hoodie into my forearm and the second caught me in the ear. Again I was forced to retreat.
I put a second hoodie over the first and tightened up the scarf. This time I made a wide circle to come at the probable location of my hat from the other side and up wind from the enemy. I spent an agonizing five minutes or so searching the hill side in as stealthy a mode as I could go. I looked over the edge of the cliff and down deep fissures wondering if I’d see it hopelessly out of reach. Then I saw it laying out in the open only 20 yards away. It was being swarmed by hundreds of hornets. I inched closer wondering if I could make a mad dash for it when my wondering stopped. I’d been stung in my other leg. I began to back off quickly as I was set upon once again. This time they seemed to take aim for the little exposed flesh that I had, my face. I swatted at them but one got through stinging me in the neck and sending me into a rage. Somewhere in that scarf was a wicked little creature bent on causing me pain and I was determined to cause its death. It must have been a terrifying site for Lisa as I clawed at my face and neck and staggered up the hill.
What I needed I thought was a flame thrower. Sadly I had nothing that I could use to make one. I was defeated. I was still inclined to find a way to rescue my hat but I started to suspect that the only thing keeping those extraordinarily aggressive monsters a way from camp was the hat they seemed so intent on destroying. We began to finish breaking down camp.
When we all got into the car I asked Jaron how he was feeling. “Dad, I prayed when they started to circle me but He didn’t help me. I got stung anyway.” He said through his tears.
“Oh, son I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I was there to get you wasn’t I? In life we will have fear and pain. God will not keep us wholly from harm but what matters is what we choose to do with that fear and how we choose to react to that pain. We are safe now.” At these words the now familiar buzzing of the hornet erupted and a single black, red and yellow monster rose from some unknown hiding place into the cabin of the car. With shouts of surprise the doors flew open and we spilled out, all except Jaron. He was screaming but frozen in fear. I wrenched open his door and unbuckling his seat belt pulled him free.
I couldn’t help but laugh. We straightened out the car searching for hiding hornets before piling back in. I was immensely grateful it showed itself then and not while I was speeding down the highway at 120 km/hr. Back in the car we continued our conversation about what we learned from this experience and quickly came up with a list.
- Never go off by yourself while we are camping (Jaron has a tendency to do this and I do not wish to imagine what might have happened if he had been alone).
- God does not completely shield us from harm but He will help us get through hard things.
- Do not let fear or pain rob you of your wits. Fear and pain should move us into action.
There are probably many other lessons we can learn from this experience but this was the list we came up with in the car as we drove away from our campsite. When we got back to the UAE we looked up this species of hornet and learned just how lucky, how blessed, we had been. The Oriental Hornet is extremely aggressive and its sting is particularly venomous. The single sting to my left thigh had me limping by that evening. It feels like a particularly nasty bruise at this point. The sore area around the sting is larger than my hand. The white pustule burst emitting a small amount of puss at one point. Not all of the stings were this bad but the one on my right forearm and my neck in addition to this one remain sore and irritating. Jaron miraculously reports that none of his stings are continuing to annoy him.
When a hornet is killed or attacked they release pheromones that mobilize the colony into defence and attack. These pheromones were likely all over my hat I used to smash my way through them to claim my son. Our friend Wikipedia reports:
If a hornet is killed near a nest it may release pheromone which can cause the other hornets to attack. Materials that come in contact with pheromone, such as clothes, skin, and dead prey or hornets, can also trigger an attack, as can certain food flavorings, such as banana and apple flavorings, and fragrances…
Dropping my hat was probably exactly what I needed to do to keep the entire colony from chasing us down and bringing them all into camp with me. It also explains why they so readily followed me and seemed to leave everyone else alone. At one point Lilli had two hornets on her but they did not sting. As she ran past me I took one out with my bare hand and Lisa managed to get the other off of her without getting stung. In the end I think Jaron’s prayer for help was answered. It meant the loss of my hat which is sad but I am happy to make that sacrifice if it leant to the protection of our little party. If I am ever swarmed by hornets again I hope that I can take a few out with some spare article and abandon it as I flee for my life.
As we travelled down the highway Jaron spotted another hornet in the car. “Mom, Dad there is a hornet in the car.” he said in a very controlled voice. Keeping his eye on the threat he armed himself with a shoe. Further investigation revealed that there was not in fact another hornet but he believed there was. I was glad he didn’t scream out in panic as we raced down the highway. This time his fear did not rob him of his wits he mastered it and prepared to defend himself and others. I think he learned a powerful lesson with this experience. Though it leaves me wondering what further adventures may be in store for him having been required to learn these things so young.