Ibri, Nizwa, Wadi Bani Khalid, Wadi Tiwi, Muscat, Sohar.
Initially we planned to visit Oman only for 10 days, but after so many recommendations of other overlanders and residents we plan to visit 3 to 4 weeks, before heading to Iran. Our actual route will be different from our planned route...
Border crossing and Sohar
Exiting the U.A.E. went very smoothly. We had selected a small border crossing (as it turned out, there are two border crossings at Al Ain) and after waiting in line in our car at the ‘drive in’ border, we were directed into the customs office and the immigration office to immediately receive our exit stamps. Back in our car, we needed to make an interesting U-turn towards Oman, crossed the police check point of U.A.E. and found ourselves at a police checkpoint for Oman…after a friendly conversation, they directed us towards the customs and immigration office: “turn left here and go straight…”.
After turning left, we found ourselves in a narrow street with some shops, but no customs or immigration. The road became wider after 500 metres, but still not customs or immigration…after about 3km’s, we decided to ask someone. Instead of being told to turn the car and go back, the guy told us to continue another 6km’s… and so we did. After a couple of km’s we indeed found a large government looking building with police guards. At the gate, we asked if this was customs and immigration, the officer let us through and directed us to the last building in sight. At the office, we found out (at least this is what we made of it) that since we did not have our visa yet, this was not the right office… we had to go back to the main road and continue straight for 20 km’s… and so we did J
Around 20km further, we found a small shop and an insurance agent, but still no customs or immigration. Wilfred walked into the insurance agent to inform on the insurance options as well as the location of customs and immigration; we were instructed to follow the road for another 10 km’s. A mere 4 km’s down the road, we were pulled over by a police car. With Africa still in our veins, our initial though is: Oh boy, now we are screwed…how in the world are we (as experienced travellers) going to explain that we are 30km’s from the border and still have no visa, no car insurance and have driven a car knowingly into a country with our declaring it. But of course, the guy had seen our foreign licence plate, was very interested in what we had done and in what we were going to do, so after a short chat and a look at our passports, he told us to continue for another 6 km’s. Very re-assured that we had not missed immigration, we continued the last 6kms to the official border post.
Formalities at the border post were fast and after buying the car insurance, the insurance agent took us to a little tourist information booth. It turned out he was also a guide (in the winter months). He was so enthusiastic about his country that we spent the next 30 minutes chatting with him and listening to all the locations, attractions and wild camp spots we should not miss…on his advice, we continued towards Sohar (his home town, he proudly told us), ate at the Turkish restaurant famous for its fresh grilled fresh fish opposite the fish market and camped next to the Radisson Blu, right on the beach and next to a beautiful park…what a great start in Oman!
The next morning, we visited the fish market. This market is built in the shape of the famous fishing boat, called a Dhow. We bought ourselves a kilo of very fresh yellow fin tuna for only €5,00 and were very tempted to also take some shrimps and lobster…if only we had a larger fridge.
Coastal route to Muscat
The rest of the day, we visited some castles on the coastal road from Sohar to Muscat. They all looked very well restored and kept, but only one was open for the public to visit. All castles/forts were built on the edge of the sea and any were not sign-posted, but as long as we drove towards the sea we could find the right place. Just after lunch, we passed ‘Muscat City Centre’ (a large mall) and its Carrefour and bought matching ingredients for our tuna steak.
From the mall, we followed the highway towards one of the first beaches of Muscat and found the spot where other overlanders had stayed a month prior to us. It is a very relaxed spot; a little bit busy at night when locals come to swim and picnic and really quite in the morning. To our surprise, there are even fresh water showers. What a welcome treat after 5 hot days without a shower…
Beach camping in Muscat, Old Muscat and Yiti
Camping at the beach in Muscat
We had parked the car on the beach not too far from the showers, but Wilfred wanted to turn it around to have a better position towards the beach and sun in the morning. When he tried to start the car, we only got a dry click…the battery monitor told us, that the battery was on 9 Volts. Strange to say the least, as we had been driving almost the whole day, with at least 20 minutes of driving between the various stops…
The next morning, our aim was to drive to the Iranian Embassy to have the electronic form pushed to Tehran…waiting for the sun to have charged our battery, we enjoyed a very slow morning with lots of coffee. Close to 11.00AM, the monitor tells us the battery is over 12 Volts and we made ourselves ready to leave. Like the last time in Zambia however, the 12 Volts is not the best indicator…and still nothing happened. Wilfred walked to the official parking to found someone that could help jump-start the truck and was back in two minutes. The first Omani he noticed, immediately asked him to jump in and he drove onto the beach to the truck…alas, a jump-start did not work either…we dismantled the battery and thanked the guy for his help. He would not hear of it and pointed us to his car and we drove off to get a new battery...after two shops, we found a battery that would at least fit and an hour later, we are back at the car. Eureka; it started!
Too late to go to the Iranian Embassy, we drove again to the Muscat City Centre mall where we had also seen a Toyota dealer and service station. We asked them to check if the battery charging system. All mechanics are out for lunch, but the guy asks us to switch on the main lights, turn off the car and start it again… It still started without hesitation and he said: ‘You’re good to go’.
Back at the mall, we got ourselves a local sim card (the previous day we could not as they refused to use our drivers license for registration) and had lunch while Wilfred searched the internet for causes of our dead battery. Was it the many start-stops on one day? Could the air-conditioning have drained it? Has the heat such an impact? (in Zambia it was also extremely hot when it happened). We had noticed that the same fuse that had blown in Zambia, was looking less clean as it used to, but certainly did not look like it was blown…anyway, something to be checked when back at the beach.
At around three, we walked went to the Carrefour for some pre diner snacks and headed back to the beach. We planned to bbq at night, but so many people stopped by to look at our truck, interested in our trip, asking to see the truck, where can I buy such a truck?, etc. So in the end we just had some French cheese and crackers for dinner.
The next morning we did a second attempt to get to the Iranian Embassy. When we got there we noticed an announcement above the entrance that if individual want to apply for a visa they must use one of the travel agencies listed below…the window opens and a friendly man asked us if we were here to apply for a visa…yes, we are. ‘Online?’ he asked…yes, we did. After a phone call we were allowed to go to the visa section. As the online process is fairly new (implemented (somewhat unsuccessfully) since last January) the man behind the counter asked us to fill in the normal application, we paid for the two visa and were told to pick up our passports on Monday…can it really be this easy. Guess we will find out next Monday!
It was also time to do laundry again and this time we had a huge bag of laundry (maybe more than 8kg), but all laundry shops charge per item, making it extremely expensive to have our laundry done. So, when a someone stopped by our truck to ask about our travel, Wilfred asked her if there is a Laundromat in Muscat where we can do our washing…and she replied: ‘You can do that at my house’. We spent a couple of hours at her house, drinking coffee, chatting, getting tips for our trip in Oman and updating our travel blog.
After three nights camping on the beach, just south of Muscat Centre we were finally ready to visit some places in Muscat and Old Muscat. We drove towards Qurum Beach where there are some nice places to have breakfast. After that we drove towards the port of Muscat where a lovely drive along the corniche started. We made lots of stops to enjoy the views of the harbour. The fist picture stop was Fort Mutrah, a fort built by the Portuguese and still used for military purposes. We made a short stop at the restored watchtower (also built by the Portuguese) sitting proudly on a promontory out the sea. Passed by the Riyam monument, a giant ornamental incense burner, took a short stroll in Kabul Bay Park. Then we reached the gates of Old Muscat. This is a newly built gate for the city and the old gates are housed inside the museum. Until 1970 the old gates were closed every night (but not since the current Sultan is in charge). But as it a Friday the museum is unfortunately closed. So we continued to Old Muscat and our first stop is the Sultan’s palace (Al Alam palace), an enormous palace with very distinctive pillars made of blue and yellow, called mushroom pilars. It is built on the former site of the British Embassy and there used to be a flagpole during the slave trade with East Africa. The legend is that if a slave was able to reach and touch the flagpole he/she would be granted his/her freedom. Guarding the east entrance of the harbour is Fort Al Jalali, also built by the Portuguese and it can only be reached by a very steep flight of steps. Making it perfect to house prisoners for many years. Next we walked to Al Mirani Fort, perched on a small hill overlooking the sea and guarding the west side of the harbour. Legend is that this place contributed to the fall of the Portuguese in Muscat; the Portuguese commander fell in love with the daughter of a Hindi supplier. The marriage did not take place because the Hindi supplier refused based on a religious match. He was threatened by ruin, but convinced the commander that the fort supplies needed an overhaul. But instead of resupplying the fort supplies he gave a nod to Sultan Bin Saif, who retook the Fort in 1649 and soon after that the Portuguese were ousted from Muscat.
Later afternoon on Friday the National Museum of Oman was open and we spent the next two-three hours visiting the nice exhibitions on Land and People, Maritime, Coins, Forts and Arms. This is very nice museum with proper English explanations on the exhibitions.
After our visit to the National Museum we drove south of Muscat through a small mountain pass towards Yiti where we camped at a small-secluded beach. Many locals visit the beaches at night, but after 23:00PM it is quiet for the night. After a late breakfast and some swimming we drove back to Muscat to collect our Iranian visas the following day.
Back in Muscat
As we needed to collect our visas at the Iranian Embassy on Monday we headed back to the beach in Muscat to camp. On one of the previous nights we were invited to have dinner by an Omani man we met on the beach. He was very interested in our truck and where he could buy a tent like ours (but ours is a pop up roof). So we gave him the contact details of a supplier in South Africa. And on Sunday night we went to have dinner with Salah and his family. We received a very warm welcome by him and his brothers and son. Dinner was served ‘Omani-style’ sitting on the floor with a really nice, pristine looking Persian carpet. All the food served was delicious and we enjoyed a very nice dinner. After dinner Judith met Saleh’s wife and daughters and Wilfred showed our truck to the men. It was a very nice and heart warming experience.
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.