You’ve been waiting for it… an adventure outside of Kuwait! Since we got back for our second year, all of my blog posts have taken place here inside the sandy country we call home. (Or short-term residency…) I have tried to rediscover Kuwait with new eyes, and feel that it’s gone fairly well. Regardless, Sean and I have an insatiable appetite for outdoor recreation which will never be satisfied here. The first chance we got, we returned to our favorite country in the Middle East, Oman.
We went to Oman last year for a professional development conference and absolutely fell in love. Mountains beckoned to us in the distance, crystal blue water lapped on sandy beaches, and friendly faces smiled and welcomed us everywhere we went. This year we waited patiently for our Eid Al Adha holiday to be declared. (Eid Al Adha is the festival of sacrifice—I posted a slaughtered sheep last year, remember?) Once we found out we would have a five weekend, we booked the tickets to Oman. We had been out camping in the desert once this year already in Kuwait, so we had picked up a good tent from a new sporting goods store called Decathalon in Marina Mall. We also got two mid-weather sleeping bags that pack up really small, so we were good to go.
Unfortunately, due to the last-minute notice of the holiday, the only flight we found that was reasonably priced had a five hour layover in Dubai. Five hours isn’t so bad…. unless it’s from 2am – 7am.
Once we landed, we picked up our rental car, threw our backpacks in the back, and headed for the mountains. The skies were blue, the weather was a balmy 75 degrees, and we were ready to have an adventure!
Our first diversion was an impromptu decision to stop at Wadi Qurai. See, we have an amazing book called “Oman Off Road”, which guides you to all the waterfalls, hidden beaches, mountain hikes, you name it. You simply pick a route you want to travel, and it maps out all the places you can stop along the way. Now, a “wadi” simply means a bed, valley, or canyon that is dry during the dry season, and full of water during the wet season. The “wadi”, when wet, creates what you picture when you think of an oasis. Tall cliffs towering over you, the parching sun baking everything on the high cliffs, but you, bathed in the shade of the mountain shadows, dip your toes into an emerald pool beneath palm trees and babbling books.
In the picture above, I am walking into Wadi Qurai. We found it in the guidebook as a ‘small wadi’, worthy of an hour’s stop on your journey. Because of the arid nature of Oman, the wadis are tapped by an intricate aqueduct-like system called a “falaj”. They’re ancient systems of water channels that were created years ago, and still used today. Of course now the people in the villages who channel the water down to them have built concrete pathways for the water now (or the Omani government has probably done this), but the origins are ancient. The only time you see the falaj is at the mouth of the wadi—they do an amazing job of hiding them within the rocks, never over-developing their natural resources.
What I also love about Oman is that nature is wild and ever-present within the lives of the people. There are no roped off parks or preserves. You can be hours away from any road and find evidence of someone’s old barbecue pit, and then shortly thereafter find a boy carrying a package walking among the rocks. They respect their natural areas, and revere them with pride. They love to share them with visitors, and have many sophisticated programs in place to keep them clean and undeveloped. But more on this later : )
Remember what I said about an oasis? As the walls closed in, the sound of rushing water grew deeper. We were glad we wore our swimsuits, and dived right in. We found lots of little toads and tadpoles!
You forgot you were in the Middle East!
We spent a few hours here, relaxing and letting the stress flow downstream with the water.
After hiking back out of Wadi Qurai, we continued on our journey. The game plan for our first day was to get as close to Jebel Shams (the tallest mountain in Oman) as we could. We had a Toyota Yaris for a rental car, which if you know anything about the Yaris, eliminates any possibility for extreme off-roading. Regardless, we wanted to see how high up the mountain we could get. Our goal for day one was to see Wadi Qurai, stop in a little village called Nizwa, and then camp near Jebel Shams for an early morning ascent the next day.
Once in Nizwa we had fun walking around the touristy area. They loved pottery! The whole city of Nizwa was centered around a major fort that was built hundreds of years ago. Now the fort acts somewhat for tourism, but is also the location of their souk (bazaar).
The sun was setting, and we felt the eerie sensation of stepping into another culture, another era, if only for a short moment.
Sean loved the fort : )
It’s so amazing seeing these ancient villages being a part of a collage with the present. Right next to these crumbling relics were people hanging laundry and standing on their modest balconies.
We drove as close to Jebel Shams as we could before it got too dark, and pitched our tent under an Acacia tree. We feasted on fresh hummus, cut vegetables, and even a Corona or two, then passed out from sheer exhaustion and sensory overload. We were ready to begin another day in paradise. (Then we were woken up in the middle of the night by a herd of goats passing by our tent… I guess I said we were looking for an adventure!)
I know I didn’t post too many photos in the blog, but I wanted to break up our Oman trip into manageable chunks that I could write about and reflect on. Besides, it gives me another world to escape to when I am tired of the sand and the sun in Kuwait. I hope to finish the blog posts on Oman this week, and then I have MORE adventures in store for you! Not only did Kuwait have the record-breaking, largest fireworks display in the entire world, but Sean and I were sitting there to document all of it. Then, we may have taken another guilty-pleasure trip out of the country… but stay tuned to find out where!