It’s been 5 months and I finally feel like I can talk about the first few days of our trip to Salalah with our Australian travel mates. To recall our last day near Salalah see this post. I also feel the need to apologise for the long winded nature of this post…but it’s in my genes so suck it up or just look at the pictures.
Our trip started on Saturday, August 10. When we finally rolled off the University grounds at 6:00 am the temperature gauge read 33C. The day involved a lot of driving and a lot of stopping. The Ozzy’s suspected car trouble and Jacob’s feeding schedule left us wondering on more than one occasion where the Land Cruiser disappeared too. 4 hours into the trip and my new nickname for Joe was “The Magician”. We arrived at Shannah Harbor at 6:00 pm, the temp was 27C and we had made it just in time to catch one of the last few ferries across the bay to Masirah. I don’t recall the cost of the ferry but I feel like it was very reasonable. Basically you just drive up to the boat and wait for someone to wave you to backup onto the ramp. PS, there are toilets available for your use, BYOTP (bring your own toilet paper). BYOTP should actually just be a rule traveling anywhere in the UAE or Oman, keep it in your car always.
We arrived on the island at 8:00 pm under cover of night. The voyage had been rough and windy and we were all tired and hungry. The only lights to be seen were within the tiny town, so we drove beyond the lights before beginning our search for a place to rest our weary heads. 9:30 pm we finally decided that we couldn’t possibly drive any further. We turned off on a dirt road, crabs ran across our trail through the headlights as we looked off into darkness not being able to see 10 feet in front of us. Tired we decided to stop. The wind was still blowing wildly, but without more light, or more energy we were not going to find any shelter from it that night. James and I tore the gear from the CR-V and attempted to set up the tent. It was nearly impossible and every gust flattened the tent and filled it with sand. It was then that we decided that the kids would sleep in the car. We piled the buckets of gear into the tent to stabilise it and keep it erect while we attempted to tie the guy lines to the car for security. The wind blowing the way it was there was no way to make a fire, or even keep a stove lit. So we went to bed without dinner that night. Flashes of lightening accompanied the wind and kept us up most of the night. Unable to keep the fly tied down against the wind, sand filtered into our tent covering everything.
The next morning we woke early (did I even sleep) to a layer of sand over everything. It was in my hair, my teeth, my sleeping bag, my bra. I couldn’t have had more sand on me even if I rolled in it. We set off exploring right away, as it turns out we practically set up camp in somebodies back yard or goat herding path anyhow. We pulled over at several different coves and beaches to play in the waves and look for interesting sea life and sea shells. The men would even attempt to ask for directions from some local fisher ‘boys’ and some anxious surfers to help us find a better camp spot and safe beach for the kids to play.
One beach we stopped at the kids were in the water before I could get the sunblock on them, and they paid dearly for it (sorry guys). We picked our camping spot while we still had more than enough light, even giving ourselves time to collect firewood and get properly set up. Dinner that evening was generously prepared by our comrades while dessert was a bit of a disappointment.
My wonderful, pinterest “over a fire apple crisp” recipe didn’t work out so well.
Early morning again, and this time we were off in search for some sunburn relief before getting on the ferry back to the mainland. It was 11:00 am before we were on land and on our way to Salalah. Gas stations pepper the road every 50 km or there a bouts, so there is no need to worry about running out of gas in the middle of the desert (unless you neglect to stop at any of them). We stopped in Haima, temp. 44C, next to the gas station for dinner at a traditional Arabic restaurant where there were 3 items to choose from on the menu, Combo #1: chicken & rice, Combo #2: mutton & rice, Combo #3: fish & rice, utensils optional. A few minutes down the road and we were met by a police checkpoint. There were plenty of these along that way, a comforting reassurance to those who don’t make the long drive because of the fear of pirates. As if began to get dark we decided we would look for camp the moment the temperature dropped below 27C. The temperature didn’t even begin to get close to that mark until 10:30 pm when we reached a tourism/ police checkpoint in dense fog. They were checking drivers licenses and registration like every checkpoint before, but also instructing drivers to clean the protective paint off their vehicles. Around here when one does a lot of dune-bashing with a personal vehicle they tend to protect the paint by using a protective spray on coating. This spray on coating comes in many different colors and washes off ‘easily’ under soap and water. It is applied by hand usually and doesn’t tend to look very nice. In fact it can make your car look dirty, or like it was just plain vandalised. In Salalah, it is illegal to drive ‘dirty’ vehicles and can result in some very hefty fines. The temperature here was still warm, about 32C, we would still need to continue on to find someplace to camp. An hour later we arrived at the Frakensense Park (yes, like one of the gifts given to Jesus kind of Frakensense). The temp here was a perfect 24C, however it was likely a lot cooler than that if you factored in the blustering cool wind that rocked our car and threatened to blow us into the gulley. Tired we looked around the area briefly to see if there was some sheltered area we could set up our tents out of the wind. Alas, there was not. So back into the car we piled. As we drove into Salalah resolved to find a hotel we quickly learned that idea may not be possible as we came to a stop in a 5 km traffic jam, it was 1:00am. During Monsoon season (about May – September) this area becomes overpopulated with visitors from all over the place. Saudi’s, Yemenese, Omanis, Emirates, and Expatriates flood to this green oasis from out of the desert to party all day and apparently all night. 2:30, that was the time that James woke me up to crawl from the car into the tent.
The next morning we discovered that the men had managed to get us to the quiet end of a public beach. We took things slow, exploring the beach, playing in the waves, climbing coconut palms…. James managed to climb the palm to the top and drop several coconuts for us to try to open. Just before lunch we were packed up and back on the road. We had intended to go view the blowholes, but not realising how popular an attraction it is, decided against it upon seeing the packed parking lot, winding line of people and 2 dozen tents on the beach next to it. We carried on instead up the mountain to explore. The sites are truly beautiful so don’t be in too much of a rush not to stop and take it in every once in awhile. There are also many camel farms in the area, and could literally run into herds of 20 -200 on or alongside the road. We followed the signs down off the mountain top to a small village called Rakhuyt. Rakhoot Street circles the little town, and there appears to be a road that goes off around the mountain side. Our Australian companions may have been able to navigate the rocky, and sandy terrain but our CR-V lacked the required clearance and power to get much further than a couple hundred meters. We turned back and decided to head through the gate towards the beach. Out of curiosity we followed the unpaved road to its end (stay to the right) and came upon a plateau overlooking the ocean, perfect for a camp. We parked at about 3:00 and took the trail to the beach to explore. Tiny hermit grabs and snails peppered the shoreline as the waves washed them in and then pulled them out again.
The large boulders formed caves that the kids enjoyed playing in. James found a trail leading up through the rocks but we didn’t ever find the time to explore it more thoroughly. If we do make it back here, I’m sure that will be the first thing on his list to do. James was eager to run back along the switchback road we had just descended while camp was being set up so for an hour we sat around, enjoyed the view, and watched the kids playing in the cold ocean waves. The past late nights, made for an early bedtime that evening, and we were soon all tucked away into bed.
Happy Birthday to me! Lightening again in the night had made for light sleep. I woke up early to see the sunrise and also was startled to see a herd of cows and a small group of camels walked down the beach towards us.
They stopped abruptly about 200 meters and turned back the way they came. Lilli emerged from her tent than her and I run up and down the beach trying to chase the hermit crabs as they were washed ashore and getting video of the snails as they burrowed into the sand to escape us. After camp was collapsed and we were set to go we decided to collaborate and decide on our destination for the day. We were in agreement to continue down the road towards Yemen to Dalkoot to check out the fishing village that would likely be the point of departure to reach some scriptural locations we wanted to investigate. However, because of the choppy waters the marina parking lot was packed with parked parked boats instead of cars.
No one would be going anywhere on a boat. Rain kept us from spending a lengthy amount of time exploring and we were soon on our way. As it was my birthday I voted to go see the waterfall, but it was in the opposite direction and would add time to our trip. Instead we decided to find Wadi Uyun on our way back out of Salalah towards the highway home. Even here the signs using English alphabet are phonetically spelt and not always the same on every map. We missed the turn off and drove into the village of Uyun instead of heading to the Wadi.
Some directions from the locals got us headed back in the right direction and we found it without difficulty. Rain threatened us and lead to a rushed setup of tents and tarps. That evening we enjoyed dinner, birthday cake, and some really deep political and religious conversation. The trip to this point had been absolutely wonderful.
The next day was the day James wrote about 5 months ago. The day in which they are both still recovering from the traumatic series of events. I can’t even bring myself to write or think about this day as it only leads me to think of how much worse it could have been. After the attack we drove back to Haima and stayed at the Arabian Oryx hotel.
It was nice, clean, decently priced and had hot running water 🙂 We returned to a similar restaurant as the one we ate at our first time through to discover they had an additional item to their menu, Camel & rice! This time we ate on the floor on a woven carpet with a plastic sheet under our platters of food. No utensils were offered so we did our best to rolled the rice into balls to better eat it.
I can’t say that James and I were very successful but the kids were naturals.
The next day we were looking forward to an uneventful drive home, but were surprised by a flat tire 45 min into our drive. Between towns and gas stations there is not a whole lot to look at. There is nothing but a 2 lane road with broad paved shoulders (so more like a 4 lane road for the locals that drive it). This knowledge was a bit unnerving as we pulled off on the shoulder to change our tire.
I would have to say, being on the side of the road at 7:00 am in a cultural setting where the rest of the population isn’t getting up until 10:00 am worked in our favour that morning. There weren’t many cars on the road that morning, and on top of it, the temperature was bearable for spending time standing on the blacktop of the pavement. Once the tire was on the kids decided they needed to pee….
Did I mention there is nothing but pavement to look at? So out came our handy dandy portable changing room and a shovel and business was taken care of. By 1:30 we were across the border and in Al Ain. We took our traditional stop at Bawaldi Shopping Center food court for lunch/dinner, enjoyed Fun City courtesy of our Australian friends and then we were back on the road to home.
Enjoy these and other photos from our trip to Salalah. Can’t wait to go back again.