Happy December! I hope you are looking forward to the Christmas season and take a few moments to reflect on the past year and to spend time with loved ones. Spending time doesn’t have to mean being face-to-face, either. Sometimes the highlight of my week here in Kuwait is coming home from work to say hello to my sister and her miniature Australian Shepherd on Skype. She drinks a coffee to wake up, and I’m finishing up a bowl of ice cream after a long day. One of my other favorite things to do is to pick a new recipe to cook while I Skype my parents in the kitchen. We love to spend hours together, just talking about what their plans are for the day, and what I’m making for dinner.
Even though Thanksgiving has come and gone, I’d like to say how thankful I am for the opportunities to spread my wings and travel the world, while at the same time maintaining some of the deepest roots. I am thankful for my family, my friends here in Kuwait as well as abroad, and my wonderful, loving and supportive husband. I dedicate this blog post to all of you.
Now, if you HAVEN’T booked your plane ticket to Oman yet, I hope this post causes you to reconsider and begin checking prices on Expedia. (Or, Skyscanner, which is my new favorite flight search engine.) I combined two travel days together, which I did not only to save time, but to show what a country of geographical contrast Oman is!
When we woke up at the base of the moutnain, Jebel Shams, we took our trusty rental car and began gaining elevation. We were nervous, having been cautioned against taking a 2WD to the top, not to mention that the pavement turned into gravel about half-way up. Being the true Wisconsinites we are, we soldiered on. In forty-five minutes, we made it to the top of Jebel Shams! Our car held up well. We were greeted by a small village with a few people, beautiful views, and a garden of goats. Seriously. Goats in Oman are like horseflies in the Midwest during the summer. Not only are they everywhere, but to the point of inconvenience. Just when you think you are packing your lunch at the trunk of your car, you feel a nudge on your elbow, and all of a sudden you’ve got a new best friend! I have never liked goats; there is something about them that unnerves me. As you can see in the above picture, Sean particularly enjoyed watching me squirm. (Also, it was difficult to snap wide panoramas of the mountains due to the angle of lighting, but look at the road and the mountains in the distance of the photo!)
We were eager to leave the goats behind (and by “we”, I mean me), so we set out on our hike for the day. It was called the ‘balcony walk’ and/or the ‘abandoned village walk’, and we walked along the edge of a gigantic canyon to some small ruins set back in the cove of the cliff. The views were absolutely incredible.
We hadn’t anticipated the sheer size of the place! It was huge!
You can spot a person standing on the ledge above my head. One missed step and you had a long way to fall.
Here we are almost to the end of the hike. You can see the back of the canyon. I loved the “cave-like” rock formation behind us; it looked as if a whole chunk of the mountain was bitten out.
The haze prohibited us from getting long-distance shots, but Sean loved the sweeping views and plateaus of the place.
Once back at the bottom of the mountain, which also required some harrowing driving, we stopped for a picture at a small village called Ghul. It was, of course, near a wadi, which explains all the palm trees, and Wadi Ghul is famous for it’s crazy off-road experience. We chose to just take pictures from afar. We loved how the ruins were left on the mountainside—the more modern village (still very small) is to the right of this photo. Their farmlands are nestled at the base of the homes their grandparent’s grandparents lived in years ago.
After Jebel Shams, we had a ways to drive to our next destination. Jebel Shams is located in the Western Hajar mountains, really only two hours away from Muscat. Therefore, our first day was an easy drive. From there we needed to head around three hours south to Wadi Bani Khalid, and then East to the coast. The drive down to Wadi Bani Khalid was beautiful, but as we left the mountains behind, we drive through flat plains, with dunes on our right, and mountains on our left. All of a sudden, we came across an abrupt left turn in the middle of the plains, and we began to drive straight into the mountains. Up, down, over, under, curving roads wound us deeper and deeper into the hills. All of a sudden, we climbed a massive incline, only to drop deep down the other side to an isolated village that was flowered with hundreds of palm trees, flowing rivers, bananas, and little children saying hello. It was beautiful! Unfortunately, we failed to appreciate it at 7pm when we were unable to find a place to camp for the night. Since Wadi Bani Khalid is located in, obviously, a wadi, the steep sides of the canyon prevent for any place to escape the crowds and camp. We looked for two hours for a place, and finally decided upon sneaking behind this concrete corral and pitching our tent. We were a little disappointed, having heard that the camping here was excellent. Later we found out that the place to camp is actually ON the hike—you need to port your stuff in on your back and camp way back in the wadi on the hike. Regardless, with a glass of red wine, some fresh hummus, and the morning view in the photo below, we were pretty happy!
Looking into Wadi Bani Khalid in the morning.
I strongly encourage you to click on the above photo and open it on a new page. Sean has done a fantastic job stitching together beautiful panoramas, and I’ve put a few onto this blog. The photo above is on the first half of our hike in Wadi Bani Khalid. We climbed a small cliff and looked back into the village.
Here’s Sean walking into the most popular part of the wadi, the pools. You can see the falaj system! (The aqueducts!)
We had to hike this part really early in the morning due to the crowds. Since we went over a holiday weekend (Eid Al Adha, the festival of sacrifice), all of Oman had a week-long vacation. Therefore, the place became absolutely packed during the afternoon. Can you believe these are all-natural pools in the above photo?
Walking back further into the pools, the walls grew more narrow, and the scenery became more stunning. We had the place all to ourselves! We think this is where our friends recommended we should camp. We’ll just have to go back again : )
We took a quick dip in the pools. All that climbing around the rocks heated us up! It really is the true definition of an oasis.
After the pools, we knew there was another part of Wadi Bani Khalid that needed exploring. See, you need to picture the wadi like a T intersection. Once we drove in, we could turn left, to the pools, where the canyon walls narrowed and the water accumulated, or right, where the walls also narrowed and the water again grew plentiful and tumultuous. In the photo above, we have just set off on the hike to the “right”, back into the steep part of the wadi. This was the quiet part of the day! This part of the wadi was really difficult to access as you had to hike a ways over rocks to get there. Behind me is the village.
The further back into the wadi we hiked, the more beautiful it got. Eventually there were entire boulders blocking our passage, and deep, rushing rivers. If you’ve ever been to Zion National Park, it’s much like that!
After climbing some more rocks and picking our own route (you really can’t get lost in a canyon. You’re either walking in or out) we came across our first waterfall. We couldn’t believe it! I don’t know what we expected, but this blew our minds. It was gorgeous. We spent time swimming and relaxing, basking in the sun and the silence of paradise.
I love this photo (above) because it helps show how narrow the wadi really gets.
Click on the above photo for another fantastic, beautiful panorama Sean created!
This is also another panorama Sean took in the wadi. Click on it to see the real scale. We loved how narrow and twisty it all was. There was a hidden swimming pool and water slide around every corner.
After exploring the wadi for a few hours, we realized we had better turn around and hike out. We had a limited supply of water, and the wadi was getting hot. It’s easy to over-extend yourself when hiking downhill, back into a canyon! We wanted to make sure we could get back out.
Sure enough, we made it out safe and sound, and began our drive out of Wadi Bani Khalid. We couldn’t resist taking the photo of this guy, going about his daily activities.
I like the photo above for two reasons. One, you can see that the road and the river are flush with one another. There is no ledge to prevent your car from driving straight into the water, Wisconsin Duck-style. Secondly, these guys are cleaning up all of the sacrifices from Eid Al Adha. Since this Eid is the festival of sacrifice, the people in the village just brought their sacrificial animal down to the road by the river, held their traditional ceremony, and then many of the inedible innards of the animals were left there afterward. These guys were cleaning up shop. (Barf.)
Our final view as we drove out of Wadi Bani Khalid. It sure helps put it into perspective! This photo is looking back into the “right side of the T intersection” as I was describing it. This is where the waterfall hike was : )
I have hopefully one or two more posts on our Eid trip, then I have a fantastic secret, magical place to share with you! If you ever find yourself in Dubai… I am going to show you the secrets of swimming with dolphins and diving off cliffs… (kind of). But seriously, so much awaits the eager reader, and the even more eager blogger! Stay tuned! And remember to be thankful for how beautiful our lives truly are. Every day that passes will never be had again. Make it count. Call or Skype someone you care about. Take a walk. Sean is standing next to me right now, begging to go to Mc Donald’s for ice cream. Guess it’s time to go be thankful for the love of my life.
See you next time!