Today’s blog post focuses on the Oman that everybody pictures when they hear “Oman”…. unless you’re like us, and couldn’t even pin Oman on a map before we moved to Kuwait. Never fear! The Oman that we documented on today’s travels is a part of the “Muscat-Sur Road”. It’s the major road that runs North – South along the coast. When people travel to Oman and want to do a drive-by vacation, this is the road they take to see some of the more easily accessed sights. Down and back, you could do this in a day or two if you really tried. Everything (except where we camped), is paved, so it’s easy traveling. The coast was, no joke, unbelievably beautiful. While the mountainous part of Oman had villages and people in every nook and cranny, the coast seemed wildly abandoned. Due to its rocky nature it was never conducive to farming or setting up shop near the wind and the waves. Therefore, it’s still in its untrammeled state.
Here I am in Sur. We made a loop with our driving, heading North up the coast to Muscat. Sur was a cute, quiet town on the ocean front. It was surprisingly empty! We barely saw anyone the few hours we were there. I know, it sounds silly, but we were spoiled by the wild natural playgrounds the mountains and beaches of Oman had to offer. After forty-five minutes in a city and we were ready to head to the hills again!
Oman has a long and interesting history. It was disputed over for a long time between the Arab tribes and the Portuguese. For a period, the Portuguese were successful in their conquests and held control over Oman. They build hundreds of forts all throughout the country. You can’t drive twenty miles without seeing a small fort/stronghold/lookout built into a nearby cliff! During the 90’s, Sultan Qaboos (the “president” of Oman) made it his mission to modernize Oman by building up its infrastructure and promoting its tourism. However, he was adamant about still keeping their cultural heritage in tact and highly present. Therefore, alongside the fancy, paved highways and the plethora of rest stops and road signs, he reconstructed hundreds of forts and cultural sights so that the Omani people would hold on to, and be proud of, their history. Didn’t I say I loved this country?
This was the “beach” Sean and I walked along in Sur. There was no sand on the beach—it was comprised of millions of shells. They say there’s great snorkeling and diving in Oman, too!
After Sur we drove up the highway a bit, frantic about finding a place to camp before sun set. When you’re dispersed camping, it gets stressful when you have to just pull off the road and “find a spot” to pitch your tent! While you have more privacy (hopefully), you don’t have the peace of mind that comes with an established campground. After about an hour on the highway, I grew extremely frustrated by the crowded beaches stocked with tents and SUV’s, so I turned on my flashers and pulled a hard right into the dirt. Since the highway was so close to the ocean, I figured there HAD to be private, secluded places to camp. Lo and behold, I was right! Not only did we have beautiful views, but we didn’t hear the roar of a generator or the music of other campers or a passerby all night. My chaotic, “Ok, this is enough! We’re stopping here!” ended up being entirely fruitful and pleasant!
Our first destination on this new and beautiful day was Wadi Shab. This is the most accessible, and therefore the most popular, Wadi in all of Oman. We set out on the trail at 7am and lucky beat the crowds. The first step was to wade through a river half a football field long! (On our way back, when it was crowded, we found there was a guy in a small boat ferrying hikers from side to side. We still waded through the river on our way back. You’ll see why in a minute.)
(Click on the above photo for one of Sean’s amazing panoramas!) Wadi Shab started out immensely large. The cliffs were high and the canyon floor was wide. We didn’t know how far back we were supposed to go, but just keep trekking on.
You can see pools forming in the bottom of the Wadi below me in both of the above photos. I always find it hard to believe that a country as seemingly arid as Oman on the outside can be so lush and full of water if only you look hard enough! Where does it all come from?
Sure enough, we quickly found what makes Wadi Shab so famous. The gigantic hidden swimming pools! After climbing over a series of massive boulders, we were met by deep emerald pools, perfect for swimming. (We weren’t alone!) Turns out, if you swim around the corner in the above photo—which we did—you come across a narrow passageway you must swim underneath. Once you swim through that, you find a beautiful hidden waterfall, completely immersed in a cave! The guys in the above photo were trying to climb up and over the barrier instead of swimming under and through it. You can go both ways. We swam under and through.
Sean took a great panorama of the Wadi on our way out.
The final place we stopped was near Wadi Shab. After the hike out of the Wadi, we wanted a place to stop and have lunch before driving up to the Muscat area for our final night. We had heard of a “forested park” and a “sinkhole” near Wadi Shab. Sure enough, we came across a very popular park-like area not too far from the Wadi. You parked your car on a gravel road, and walked into a fenced off area complete with gazebos and picnic areas. It reminded me of State or a County park in New Mexico. The whole reason for its existence, though, was the sinkhole…Sean took this great photo (click for panorama) of the Bimmah sinkhole. (Also called the Dibab sinkhole.) It’s about a quarter of a mile away from the ocean, and is VERY salty! You wouldn’t want to swim in it unless you wanted massive amounts of salt crusted onto your skin and baked to perfection under the relentless sun. It’s like a human potato-chip maker! But in all seriousness, the sinkhole is a natural phenomenon that occurs from erosion. The guidebooks say there are fish who live in the waters that nibble your toes for a natural pedicure. I decided to pass on that one. The pool is so deep people dive from the rim into the water. We didn’t see anyone do this on our trip though, and I’m somewhat thankful for that. Overall, it was a wild place to visit!
Okay, okay, there is only *one* more blog about our trip to Oman. After that… the secret place I was hinting about last time… it’s all coming up soon! Then, Sean and I are off to meet my parents and sister in Egypt for Christmas. Never a dull moment. I want to leave you with a thought I heard from a friend of mine today…
“Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. – Tim Ferriss