This past weekend we went to the eastern part of Oman, and it might have been one of the craziest, but most fulfilling, weekends of my life. We went toured a bunch of wadi’s deep in mountain ravines, watched the sunset go down over the sand dunes, went cliff jumping off 50-60 foot drops. It was way too much to do in three days, and I certainly paid for it in the end.
But, to prevent some tangent-ridden rant, I’ll try to start at the beginning. We left school on Wednesday afternoon (weekends here are Thursday and Friday, due to the importance of Friday prayers), and drove to the Wahiba Sands, in the Sharqiyya region of Oman. A mountain range running parallel to the coast of Oman blocks any rain from reaching into the interior. Consequently, big rolling sand dunes have formed right on the other side of the mountains. These dunes look much more like the stereotypical image of a desert that people in America have in mind when they think of the Middle East, rather than the flat gravel beds that actually cover the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula. We went four-wheeling through the dunes with a local guide, who gets a kick out of making Westerners scream as they go down seventy degree drops on the sand slopes. Our driver was a local Bedouin, and many of the Bedu have traded in their camels for four wheel drive Land Cruisers. At the top of the dunes, we stopped and took pictures. We also got to jump off the lip of the dunes, and competed to see who could jump the farthest. It would be the first of many experiments with gravity during the weekend. After that, we sat and watched the sun going down, which was incredible. Dinner was at the camp, which was basically a bunch of Boy Scout tents covered in palm fronds, with a concrete base. We weren’t the only guests at the camp, and I met a Belgian making a low-budget movie about three women who get stranded in the desert and go skiing across the sand dunes. Don’t expect to be seeing it in any Western theaters any time soon.
The next day we did some basic touring around the region. Due to the lack of rain, the locals devised a system thousands of years ago that is still in use, whereby they are able to channel what little rain does get into the mountains through a series of incredibly intricate channels, all the way down to the farms. It’s quite the engineering feat. For lunch, we stopped at my new favorite place in the world, Wadi Bani Khalid. This wadi is one of the few that has regularly flowing water throughout the year, and it has cut quite a path through the limestone mountain. It’s great for swimming, but it can be a bit tricky. Since the water has worn through the limestone, you’re basically swimming through a rock gorge, and there aren’t many places to grab a hold of on the sides. And, since it’s a running river, there’s a bit of a current. But, since it’s been running through the channel for so long, there’s at least 15 to 20 feet of water in most places. This makes it perfect for cliff jumping. There are numerous places that are good for jumping, ranging from 10 feet up to 50 or 60. I worked my way through the 10 foot and 25 foot jumps, then climbed up to the 60 footer. It took me about fifteen minutes of contemplation, but eventually I managed to over-ride my self preservation instinct and jump, and had a solid three seconds of air time before hitting the water. It felt like the first steep hill on a roller coaster, when all your internal organs feel like they’re trying to squeeze out through your ear drums. So, I promptly did it two more times. And I got both video and photographic proof.
The only downside to my cliff jumping adventures was when I woke up the next day, and pretty much my entire upper body was sore. This was due to a combination of both the jumping, and the fact that I’ve mostly been sitting on my duff here in Oman, and my body was screaming at me from the exercise. Luckily, it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be overcome with ice packs, because the weekend wasn’t quite over. We finished our tour of the region with a visit to one of the two remaining boatyards where the make the traditional Arabian dhows, which was pretty cool. Then we came back along the coastal road, stopping at two more wadi’s. If Wadi Bani Khalid is my new favorite place in the world, Wadi Shab is a close second. Just like Wadi Bani Khalid, it cuts a deep channel through a mountain gorge. However, if you swim far enough up into the wadi, there’s a brief underwater swim, and then you’re in a cave cut from the limestone by years of water running through. The cave was unbelievably beautiful, and I cann’t even begin to estimate how deep the water in there was, despite it being crystal clear. The water had worn a number of ledges, about a foot wide, into the sides of the cave, which were perfect for sitting and resting, and there were channels that could be swam through all over the cave. Some local had installed a rope to climb out of the pool, and there were some good 20 foot jumps right into the cave pool. Nothing as dramatic as the day before, but still very cool. We also had company from a number of frogs, who were also perched on the shelves, staring back at us. Unfortunately we only had about an hour and a half at Wadi Shab, although I could have easily spent an entire day. Unfortunetely, I got a bit dehyrated this weekend during this feverish pace of activity, which made the ride back on the “coastal road” (which is neither near the coast, nor a road, more of a track), a bit interesting. But, it was a great weekend overall.