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Oh Man, Oman!

February 7, 2020

As you start to walk out on the way,

the way appears.
 

As you cease to be,

true life begins.
 

As you grow smaller,

this world cannot contain you.

 

You will be shown a being

that has no you in it.

 

                                            –– Rumi

 

In your life, you should visit a place with deserts where all you see an ocean of sand dunes. Or where the desert meets the see. Or where you swim in sinkholes with turquoise blue waters. Or where you find lush green oases in the middle of the desert. Or where you can gaze at pitch black night skies where the stars blaze and the heart floats through the Milky Way. Or where the sun sets the horizon ablaze during dawn and dusk. Or where people are so open-hearted that you will never look at a stranger the same way. Or, just visit Oman.

 

 

What to see in Oman:

 

Half-day trip – The Grand Mosque in Muscat. A spiritually stimulating place. The grande architecture of the mosque emerges from the the plaza while the gigantic chandelier sparkles like it is filled with millions of diamonds (my ladder wasn’t high enough to perform a spectrographic test). You have to take off your shoes, women have to wear a hijab which is provided, and walking barefoot on the carpet (and marble outside) feels connecting. I closed my eyes and listened to the many hushed voices. If you are quiet long enough, you might even hear the prayers from devout Muslims echoing through the halls.

 

 

During the morning or evening go for a stroll on the beach for sunrise or sunset, see people play football on the beach, or just gaze at the sea.

 

Muscat is not a walk or bike friendly city. Download the OTAXI App and you aren’t ripped off negotiating your fare. You pay what the meter shows in cash as the credit card option wasn’t working in December 2019.

 

 

 

Day trip – Nizwa, Jebel Shams and Bahla

 

Nizwa Fort – A fort structure built in the middle of the 17th century with a foundation going back to the 12th century, Nizwa Fort is Oman’s most visited national monument. Nizwa represented a strategically important location at the crossroads of important trade routes Historically signified by the name Frankincense Trail, it has an informative museum inside. While strolling through Nizwa, I recommend trying all the dates you possibly can. If you cannot find a date here, well, you won't find one anywhere.

 

Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun) – The Grand Canyon of Oman. A mountain range similar to the Grand Canyon, however on a much smaller scale. The drive up with a 4x4 is arduously bumpy but the views at the top are breathtaking nevertheless. There is a wire fence as safety guard at the steepest drop-off, but the other sections are not well secured. Tread safely. You can take beautifully panoramic images.

 

Bahla Fort – A UNESCO World Heritage Site. We only stopped at the fort for a picture but this location is definitely worth a whole day excursion. 

 

 

Day trip – Sinkhole and Desert Camp

 

Bimmah Sinkhole – Turquoise water fills this sink hole and is great for dipping your toes, or as a refresher during your drive. The locals call it Hawiyyat Najm which means ‘the deep well of the (falling) star’ as they believe the sinkhole opened as a result of a meteorite that had crashed here on the surface. I couldn’t corroborate that claim scientifically.

 

Wadi Shab – A wadi is a valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season. Wadis are prevalent in Oman. This Wadi is at the end of an approximately hour-long hike to the water hole, where the water is cool and refreshing, even for a Winter day. It must be even more cooling during the scorching summer heat. Bring your bathing suit and swim/walk about 15 minutes to the “bathtub” where you have to duck/squeeze your noggin through a narrow opening to find your way into an amazing cave, with water rushing through a natural waterfall slide.

 

Lunch by the sea – Eat like the locals. When you are driving all day, at some point you need food. Abdullah took us to this hole-surrounded-by-walls lunch place, where we devoured a whole plate of rice and tuna.

 

 

 

Day trip – The Desert

 

Wahiba Bedouin Rustic Camp – In the middle of the desert, no lights will impede your view. The generator is turned off at 10 PM and only the stars will guide you. The camp owner is ever so friendly and very engaging, as are his sons. After dinner we were dressed up as bedus with turbans and then were asked to perform a dance. Our host explained the “bedu dating” rituals: in desert camp dances you would wink at the woman of your desire, but quickly because her brother is nearby. Then you continue pursuing her in a courting ritual with visitations, gifts and more winking. However, the woman being courted would never say no to you directly, but alternatively send her brother to either beat you up, if your advances were not welcome, or he would communicate further interest. The head bedu of our camp has a lot of teeth missing.

 

The night sky is simply stunning and the clear night promised yet another soul-touching sunrise.

 

[Hum "Lawrence of Arabia" theme song]. On the five-hour drive through the desert, you get a sense of the heat and the vastness as well the unforgiving nature of a desert.  The locals prefer Toyotas, as they seem to withstand the summer heat of 40-50 degrees centigrade better than any other brand. Before we went on our ride, my guide Abdullah let air out of the tires to release pressure and increase the contact area with the underlying sand. Otherwise, this might happen:

 

 

 

There are "roads" that you drive on where the sand is relatively well packed.

 

 

After few stops, one to let the engine cool down a bit, we finally arrived at the coast of the Arabian Sea close to Ghalat. 

 

 

 

Day Trip – Arabian Sea/Annular Solar Eclipse

 

Sunset. Why do I post so many pictures of a sunset? They were simply stunning. Anywhere I was in Oman, one was better than the other. Each provided a backdrop that just melts away any troubles you might have. 

 

 

You can read a more detailed summary of my eclipse day here. There will be another annular solar eclipse with the path of annularity passing through Oman on June 21st, 2020

 

Eclipse day was another heart-opening day that showed the hospitality and friendliness of the Omani people. The family next to our campsite invited me for breakfast and I was offered eggs by the matriarch of the group. The daughter asked her mother why I received breakfast first and she responded: "He is our guest. I see you every day."

 

 

Key points about Oman

 

Oman's state motto: A friend to all and enemy to none.

 

Climate: It get's hot during the summer months. Really hot. Best months are Nov-Mar if you want to escape the heat.

 

Local Guides: I recommend local guides. Khalifa and Abdullah were amazing. You can contact Khalifa here.

 

How to get there: Flights are from JFK to Abu Dhabi and then Muscat.

 

What to Eat: Camel meat; dates; rice; fish. Whatever they serve you. Try it.

 

Where to stay: I stayed at the W Hotel in Muscat. Amazing buffet. For a desert camp I can recommend Wahiba Desert Camp (very rustic) but don't wink at the owner, or maybe do. 

 

Money: Omani Rial (1 to 2.60 USD). Have cash with you to pay at markets etc. when you are not in a city. Otherwise, major credit cards are accepted.

 

Useful Apps: Get the Omani Taxi app. You will need it to not be gauged when you hail a cab. Have cash ready for the fare as the app does not take credit cards yet.

 

Drone restriction: Drones are not allowed to bring into the country. I learned the hard way and had mine confiscated. I was able to get it back upon my departure. Sorry for the missing aerial pictures.

 

Arabic lessons with Abdullah:

 

 

 

Coda: 

 

The sunset, night sky, and sunrise were [insert your favorite word for beauty].

 

If there was ever anything natural in my live that filled my heart and soul with joy and a sense of cosmic wonder, they are the sun, moon, planets and stars. It triggers a longing and wanderlust in me of far away places that I get to visit in my dreams, dissolving my every fiber through dragon breath into rose-distilled water.

 

Thanks for reading. May you live with ease.

 

 

 

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