Into the mountains
After a lazy start of the day, we say goodbye to Maja and the good life and drove towards Nizwa. Not really knowing what to expect at Nizwa, we stopped at the supermarket for some groceries for the coming days just outside of Muscat. Arriving in Nizwa, the first things we saw were actually two brand new malls with true hypermarkets…having stocked up already, we continued to the old town with the souq and the fortress. We walked around to check the timetable of the fortress, knowing we would make an early start tomorrow to experience the ‘live stock’ market (also called ‘goat market’, however everything from goats to camels were shown to the potential buyers).
After the short visit, we drove a couple of kilometres out of town into a deserted area between two mountain ranges to set up camp. It was still warm (39 degree) but the much lower humidity than at the coast made it bearable. We prepared our dinner and by the time the sun had set the temperature had become very nice.
Expecting to be burned out of our bed before 7.00am, we had not set our alarm… (Un)fortunately, we woke up 7.15 and had to rush to make it to the goat market in time. The goat market was an interesting experience and a fun half hour to watch. Around nine, we make our way towards the restored fort and castle of Nizwa. It is not surprising that one says it is one of the nicest forts of Oman (and we agreed at that time…).
Jabel al Akhbar
After Nizwa, we made our way to the starting point of the climb of Jabel Al Akhbar. After the first few bends, the engine temperature got very close to overheating and we put the car to the side to remove the seed-screen in front of the radiator. It had done its job in Africa, but with the heavy climbing in Oman, it seemed to keep too much fresh air out. By the time the screen was removed, the engine was at a normal temperature and we gave it another shot driving up the mountain. Driving in first gear we slowly, but steadily drove all the way to the top without overheating the engine. It is not surprising that the authorities tell you to use 4wd in low gear upward as well as downward… but on our first lesson on 4wd-driving, they told us never to use 4x4 on concrete or tarmac (unless you drive a permanent 4wd, which we do not).
Once on the mountain range we first went to the furthest point out for a nice lunch at the Alila Jabal Al Akhdar resort hotel and close to the actual end of the road in the village of Ar Ruus. The views from the hotel were fabulous and so were the mocktails with the local specialty; rosewater. After our late lunch, we drove towards the village of Da’an Al Hamra to visit a sinkhole halfway. The campsite next to the sinkhole was unfortunately already being used by several campers and we decided to try our luck a plateau further. We drove back to Sayh Qutnah and found a nice spot at the plateau close to Hail Al Yemen next to a 4wd track into the wadi below.
The next morning, we continued our Jabar al Akhbar experience and visited the village of Sallot on the other side of the mountain. We first climbed a steep 4wd tracks for 900 metres and then descended over 1000 metres (and v.v.). We shortly visited the small village and its date plantation and made our way back.
It was our idea to have lunch at the hotel that has claimed ‘Diana’s viewpoint’, a viewpoint Lady Diana and Prince Charles visited in 1986, but the waiter told us all tables had been reserved for hotel guests (no table was used yet…), so we ended up only making a picture from the viewpoint.
Old Tanuf, Jabreen and Bahla
From here, we drove to the old city of Tanuf (which had been bombed by the British RAF on order of the father of the current Sultan in 1958/59 during the Jabal al Akhbar war). The city was destroyed, and most people (followers of Sheik Suleyman, later called the Lord of the Green Mountain after Jabel al Akhbar) had fled into the mountains behind the village. At our campsite at about 2000 metres, close to Blacktop Mountain we found some of the cans that the people had left behind about sixty years ago.
The next morning, we took the same road down and drove towards the fortresses and castles of Jabreen and Bahla. Both have been very nicely restored and are in our opinion much nicer than Nizwa castle (although Nizwa does have an informative museum on site, which the others (still) lack)). The Jabreen castle had been restored in its full glory and really looked as new. The Bahla castle had been restored in the way Wilfred prefers, as it was a combination of ruins, older restorations (some 100 years ago) and new restorations.
Hajar Mountain range and Snake river canyon
From Bahla, we drove back into the mountains to find another cool spot for the night. We followed a road with several promising camping spots along the 2000 metres climb and ended up on the edge of Sharaf al Alamayn with an excellent view of the Hajar Mountain range and the valley we would drive the next day.
The descent from the Hajar Moutains to Snake Canyon is said to be one of the nicest off-road drives in Oman. From our camping spot at 2000 metres we drove the dirt road winding its way down to 500 metres. We took a short detour for a lunch break to the small town of Balad Sayt. After that we drove to the edge of Snake Canyon to Little Snake Canyon. Our off-road book stated that you could do a 1,5km hike in the shades to a long pool (50-100 metres) in a narrow part of the canyon. So we headed into the canyon with our swimming gear. However, the shade is almost nihil and we needed to scamble over huge marble like boulders that were too hot to handle and needed to pass several small pools. So after 500-600 metres we decided to turn around and continued our drive to Sahtan’s Bowl. This part of the drive was through the actual wadi itself and it is not advisable to camp in these kind of location due to the possibility of so called flash flood. We felt very small in our truck whilst looking up the walls of the almost 1000 metres high gorge.
Before we headed to our campsite for the night we drove towards the most scenic parking of Wadi al Sathan to the small village of Wijmah. In a only a couple of kilometres we were ascending almost 1000 metres on a very narrow mountain road, reminding us of the mountain pass we drove 2 years ago in Morocco. Fortunately, this time, it looked and felt like a road. Our camp for the night was close to Al Hayl on a large flat area with amazing views of Jabel Shams. We could even make out the huge (but from where we were a very small) radar bowl. After a good night sleep the alarm went off at 05.30am to watch the colouring of Jabel Shams (Mountain of Sun).
Wadi Al Abyad’s, Hasab, Bat, Al Ayn and Wadi Damm
Wadi Al Abyad’s
After breakfast we left towards Wadi Al Abyad’s with it nice swimming pools according to our book (and after 5 days of using baby wipes and a little bit of water to freshen up in the morning) a dip in a fresh water pool sounded great. With high hopes, we drove the nice mountain pass towards Snake Canyon and continued on the very steep road towards Al Bir and the promised pools.
Our off-road book mentioned that you can swim in this wadi year round, but when we got there the wadi bed was almost dry and the huge pools not so huge. We still enjoyed a nice refreshing dip in the small yet shadowy pool. Unfortunately it was too small for a swim. Afterwards we drove to Nakhal to find a place to camp near the hot springs, but it was so busy with locals that we headed to Wadi Mistrall and found a quieter spot at 1000 metres overlooking Al Ghubayrah bowl. We had hoped to sit outside for the evening as the last couple of nights high in the mountains were, (believe it or not…) too cold to sit outside in the evening due to the cold wind. Indeed, too hot during the day and too cold at night…but there it was, a nice temperature to sit outside and we still ended up in the truck early due to: mozzies! We have been bitten more by mozzies in Oman then during our 8 months in Africa. Probably, because we were much less alert changing into long sleeves before sunset.
In the morning we relaxed a bit, had a ‘late’ breakfast and visited the small town of Hasab, where a local gentleman led us through the fruit gardens of the town with many pomegranate trees, peach trees and grapes. Afterwards we drove to the small town of Wakum with its hike to the top of the mountain using 700 steps…but (again) with 42 degrees and no shades we just looked to the top, looked at each other and both said: ’Nah, the view is great from here as well’. As we drove back towards the main road to Al Rustaq, we made a short detour to Wadi Bani Harras where to see the only glacier sediments of Oman. At the kilometre mark we started to look around not wanting to miss the plats of mountain rock…but no one could ever miss this as the road led right through the heart of it. The deposits looked like sheets or plates of rock stacked on top of each other.
Bat and Al Ayn
On our way to Wadi Damm, our destination for the night, we visited the archeological site of Bat where with its beehive tombs on top of the many hills. We were very disappointed as we could only see the ‘flat’ remains of the beehives on top of the hills. Hoping to still see the beehive tombs that we had seen pictures of in the National museum in Muscat, we continued towards Al Ayn. Luckily, these beehive tombs are in much better condition than those at Bat. They have the impressive background of Jabel Misht and are aligned over the rim of the hillside. This is what we remembered!
In Wadi Damm we camped above the actual gorge and were told by fellow campers that within a ten minute hike into the Wadi there is a very nice and deep natural pool for swimming. The next morning we walked down the wadi and could easily reach the natural pool for a refreshing swim. The wadi is also known for it nice natural pool with a broad carpet of mosses and ferns above a aquamarine coloured pool, but as it takes 45-60 minutes to reach this pool and the temperatures were already in the high 30’s we opted to this walk when we would return to this place on our way to Sohar.
An Nakhur gorge and Jabel Shams
An Nakhur gorge and Jabel Shams
Our next destination was Jabel Shams, the highest point in Oman (over 3000 metres) and Wadi An Nakhur, the grand canyon of Oman. It was an easy drive to the start point of the gorge. The drive to the small village of An Nakhur was according to our book, an exiting bone-rattling 4x4 drive... The weather was very nice no clouds and the wadi itself was dry. Following the track, we passed huge granite boulders and over some lose rocks and though some low water. In other words, the driving was actually very easy… Our guess is, that it will be much more tricky when the track is less visible due to higher water. After a couple of kilometres the wadi got smaller and smaller and we saw the steep cliffs of about 1000 metres high above us. We wanted to have a lunch break at the village of An Nakhur and see the radar bowl on top of Jabel Shams…but the weather took a turn for the worse. Suddenly the wind started blowing and very dark clouds appeared above us. As we knew that driving in wadi’s can be dangerous in bad weather condition we immediately turned around to exit. We drove to a picnic spot amongst juniper trees with a view towards Jabel Misfa and just as we finished preparing our lunch we felt a small drizzle. After lunch we drove through the rain to the plateau where we would set up camp for the night. The spot we chose was right on the edge of the mountain with a nice view towards Jabel Shams as well as into the gorge below overlooking the city of Al Hamra.
We stayed three night at this spot as the sunset is supposed to be true to the translation of the name of Jabel Shams: ‘mountain of sun’, but due to the rain the first two evenings, we did not see a sun setting. One of the days, we did a short hike on top of the plateau, but not the recommend balcony walk at 1900m just under under the edge of the plateau. We could see this trail passing right under our camp spot and the views could not be much better than on the trail and we found it much safer on the plateau!
During the rain we stayed in the truck and worked on our digital photo albums and finished the first two albums of our trip. Hopefully we will be able to find a fast internet connection to upload them for print.
The last night it cleared up and we made a fire to keep us warm and to make pizzas. It was our first attempt to make pizza with our cast iron pot. The first pizza was completely burned at the bottom... So we placed some flat rocks on the fire to temper the heat and the next pizzas were very tasty.
isfat Al Abriyyin and Al Hamra
The next morning, we went to the start of the balcony walk to see the small village and the view. Shocked by the garbage around us, we made it a very short stop and continued down the mountain to the old village of Misfat Al Abriyyin with its unique date plantation on terraces against the mountain hill and water system. The village is famous for its walks, but (again) with 42 degrees and no shade, we decided against it. Instead, we drove to another mountain for the view over Al Hamra.
Taking a detour towards Dubai
From Al Hambra, we drove towards our camping spot above Wadi Damm. We came back to this spot so we could again take a dip in the water the morning. While we drove through the wadi, we noticed that the rain from the past days had also contributed to the water level of this wadi. At several moments, we had to drive through the water. At one spot that had been dry the last time, we now drove through about 40 centimetres of water. When we went for our dip the next morning, we came to the conclusion that the spot that we wanted to go to, was inaccessible without proper shoes (that could get wet). As a result, we just washed ourselves in one of the ‘new’ small pools and went back.
During breakfast, we had already decided that we would drive back to the coast at Sohar (where we also started our journey through Oman) instead of directly to the border town Al Ain in U.A.E. We were really looking forward to fresh fish at diner and wanted to buy some fish for the coming days in Al Ain and Dubai.
Around five p.m., we arrived at the Radisson Blue and decided to try to upload one of the albums for print while enjoying a nice cold beer. Unfortunately both attempts failed due to the instable network of the hotel…
Muscat - Omani Dinner, collecting our Iranian visa's and road to Masirah Island
A true Oman dinner
On our first arrival at the Muscat beach, many locals and foreign residents had stopped by at our camping spot for a chat; many of them very interested in the conversion of our truck. Not surprising -if one knows Oman a little- the Omani are very fond of camping. Aside for the summer months (that we are certainly approaching as we speak), the weather is absolutely perfect and there are countless camping spots along the beautiful beaches, next to the wadi’s and in the mountains. One of the Omani that visited us with his grandson had invited us for a true Omani dinner at his place. Being very curious and looking forward to an Omani diner, we decided to give him a call… He had not forgotten and we were very welcome the next day. When we arrived, so did his brothers and his and their sons and we all went into the sitting area for a drink. After a while, a tablecloth was placed at the immaculate beautiful carpet and dinner was served on the floor. Oh boy… lets be very careful not to spill. It was a rich dinner with several dishes and bites, all truly delicious.
After the main dinner, several desserts were served among which also the traditional Halwa that never misses at Omani weddings closely followed with Omani coffee and dates.
After dinner, Judith is asked to follow our host and she meets with the rest of the family in the next room. When Wilfred showed the truck to the men, Judith showed our photo albums to the ladies. Especially one of the daughters was very interested and a photographer herself specializing in photographing eyes… Judith saw some very nice pictures.
After a while, Judith is brought back to the men. Realizing it was close to midnight (and everyone but us had to work tomorrow), we thanked our host for the very pleasant evening and drove back to ‘our’ beach…
Monday morning we did some errands (sending Wilfred’s suits by post to the Netherlands, getting supplies for camping the next nights) and we collected our passports with Iranian visas at the Embassy.
As summer is coming is Oman it is getting hotter and humid by the day. Towards the south are some very nice beaches and Wadi’s with lower temperatures than in Muscat. In the bookshop we bought a 4x4 routes and hikes book of Oman with some excellent routes to drive towards the south.
Following the coastal road to Masirah Island
We left Muscat after picking up passports with visa at the Iranian Embassy towards Quriyat from where we would leave into the mountains. Before we turned onto the dirt road, we visited the Dam of Dayqah and is Oman’s largest dams (75 and 48 metres in height). The dirt road that seemed recently maintained, brought us through several nice mountain passes and Aadi Dayqah. We stopped at the waterfall close to Wadi al Arbiyyin. As it was already getting late, we did not stop for a swim and continued through wadi towards the sea close to Fins where we visited Hawlyat Najm, a sinkhole – a deep natural depression caused by the collapse of the earth. The water in the sinkhole is 20 meters lower and the water is very salty, more so than the sea.
Hoping that the night would be cooler in the mountains, we once more climbed into the mountains towards Salma Plateau following the dirt road from Fins. The book mentioned several nice camping places at different heights each after some steep hairpins. We had set our aim at the highest plateau from where the stargazing would be amazing knowing that we could stop at anytime. The first hairpins went smoothly and we did not need to engage 4wd to get to the second plateau and decided to continue as planned. The next series of hairpins were much steeper (as correctly mentioned in the book) and we engaged 4wd. Close to the end of the series; we make it halfway of a very steep climb…Wilfred let the car roll backwards till the last bend and engaged low gear. He gave it another shot and makes it to the next bend. Not liking the fact that we needed to drive in 4wd on this winding concrete road, we turned the car and returned to the lower plateau for the night.
It was a much more pleasant temperature than at sea level, but it turned out to be very windy night. It was so windy, that at 3.00am, we closed the rooftop and started to watch some episodes of a series. Around 5.30am, the wind force had not reduced and we decided to start our day. The initial plan was to drive the route of the steep mountain passes, which would have been close to a full day with all the views, caves and wadi’s to admire. With the failed attempt the evening before we took the tarmac road towards Sur and continued towards Shanna, to catch the ferry to Masirah Island.
We arrived very early in Sur and when we went to visit the castle, the main gate was open, but not the castle itself. Famous for its dhow building yards, we also visited the dhow shipyard and the museum next to it. Again we find the main gate open, but the museum closed…with plenty of time to get to Shanna, we decided to follow the coastal road. It is nice stretch of road with an almost continuous view over the Oman Sea. Every now and then, we drove through a small fishing village and about half way to Shannah, the rocky dessert turned into a proper sand dessert. The ferry port of Shannah is located a couple of kilometers beyond the shoreline and to get there, we passed a long stretch of salt baths that were being harvested.
We got onto the three o’clock ferry and about an hour later drove the Masirah shore counter clockwise to find a nice place to camp. Although the wind was not as strong as the night before, it was still strong and we decided to camp in the sheltered mountainous area instead of on the beach.
The next day we completed the full island circle, every now and then leaving the tarmac road to drive through the sand towards more secluded beaches in search of a place to swim and stay the night.
Before we took a dip in the sea, we wanted to make the car ready for the night, allowing the car to cool down. Wilfred pushed the roof up; it felt more heavy than usual…having parked into the (strong) wind, he positioned himself better and gave it another shot… this time he certainly pushed the roof beyond the point where the gas struts should take over. But again, they did not…
Having replaced the wooden planks for a proper bed, we face a small challenge to fill up the space between the two benches… but with the fridge on the floor, two box covers, the ammo-box and a cutting board, we managed to make a reasonable bed. It was not the best night, but at least we had some sleep and no problem to wake up early to be on time for the nine o’clock ferry.
From Shannah, we drove the fastest way back to Sur to see if we could find a shop that sold gas struts…quickly we gave up this challenge and headed to a carpenter to find strong hardwood poles to keep the roof up. With hand and feet, Wilfred managed to make clear what we needed and the carpenter went to the back of his workshop a came back with an old door panel with nice wood carvings…had he really understood? Seconds later, the nice door was put on the table-saw and two poles were created out of it. With our new solution at hand, we headed out of town towards a quiet spot near the white sandy beaches of Fins for the night.
Fins, Wadi Bani Khalid and more of Muscat
En route to Fins, we found a sign for a fortress near the city of Al Mahyul named Ja’alan Bani Bu Hassan and decided to pay it a visit. To our surprise, it is not only a fort, but it also includes a small castle. The whole place was recently restored and looked brand new. The castle had some interesting rooms. Next to an officer’s mess, armory, men and women prisons and a reception room, there were amongst others also a mosque and a date storage. The next day it was sizzling hot and after a swim in the Oman Sea we headed into the mountains towards Wadi Bani Khalid instead of driving back towards Muscat.
Route to Wadi Bani Khalid
To get to Wadi Bani Khalid, we needed to cross a mountain pass. Whilst discussing the plan for the coming days, we started our way up…when all of a sudden, Wilfred noticed that the engine was very close to overheating and he immediately put the car on the side of the road. We opened the bonnet and saw the coolant of the car boiling and dripping out of the engine. Deep in our conversation, we had forgotten to switch of the air-conditioning…a small half hour later, we were able to continue our way up as if nothing had happened.
Too late for a swim (according to the signs at the parking…), we headed into the mountains behind the village and found a very nice spot high above the pools and town. Although still 35 degrees when we arrived, there was a nice cool breeze.
The next morning, we woke up early and headed down towards the pools for a very necessary bath and refreshing swim. Even though it was weekend, we had the pools to ourselves till about eight thirty.
After our refreshing dip, we continued our drive towards Muscat. In Muscat, we made an attempt to find the gas strut at one of the industrial areas, but without success and ordered them in the Netherlands. If we could not find them, we could then at least have them shipped to Dubai in parallel.
Muscat - Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Royal Opera House
During lunch the next day, we ordered tickets for Dee Dee Bridgewater, who was that night playing at the Opera. We had expected that the attire had to be a little formal, however at completion of the order, it was stated very formal…men to wear a dinner jacket or suit and women in, a conservative, gown. Having just sent Wilfred’s suits back home by post, he ended up buying another one…
We spent the night in the Holiday Inn to be able to freshen up before the Opera. The Performance of Dee Dee Bridgewater (a Memphis jazz and blues singer) and her band was built around old(er) song from well known artists that had influenced her over the years. The show was almost sold out and a very nice opportunity to not only see the Royal Opera House from the outside, but also from the inside. When we arrived, we noticed that we were certainly not overdressed, but could have survived without buying a suit for Wilfred. If not appropriately dressed, and several men were certainly not, one would get a traditional dishdasha (a floor length robe) and massar (an embroidered wool turban which is worn tied neatly around a kuma, a specially sized (as opposed to one size fits all) hand-embroidered cap that has small holes throughout the embroidery which help keep the head cool in the hot Omani sun) from the opera house.
An unexpected, yet very welcome invitation
During one of our mornings at the beach, we had also made friends with Maja and Jurjen. We had met up with them before our trip to Masirah Island, but they had been very busy with the exam project of their kids and had made arrangements to meet up when we would be back at Muscat for dinner. The dinner was planned for Tuesday when on Monday morning we received a message that we would be very welcome to stay at their place -instead of in the heat- for the rest of our stay in Muscat. We gladly accepted and had several pleasant evenings with them before we headed for the mountains. One night, we had dinner at Bait Al Luban, a traditional Omani restaurant with their specialty Shuwa; goat meat that is slowly cooked underground for at least a day and served with baked rice.
During these couple of days in Muscat, we serviced the car and visited some of the must sees like the Grand Mosque and the Old Muttrah Souq near the cruise terminal, corniche and fish market.