“Grand Canyon” of the Middle East, Nizwa, and the camping fiasco 

 

Alrighty guys I’m glad to announce that we made it to Jebel Shams! We left at around 7 AM to start our three hour drive to the mountains. The scenery progressed from the city of Muscat to the beautiful mountains. We decided to get to the trailhead of the hike with our rental car. Some travel blogs online suggested hiring a 4×4 to drive you up, others said it would be fine in a sedan. Although the roads were steep and twisty, it’s nothing like some of the roads I’ve drove on from the Rocky Mountains to road to Hana… I’ve been on some interesting roads. We had to use low gear at some points but seriously it was fine in our little car! We used maps.me to find the trail, so we just parked along the side of the road, grabbed our heavy packs, and were on our way. My backpack felt like a million pounds, stuffed to the brim with our tent, lunch dinner and breakfast, clothes, and four water bottles. The start of our hike was a steep uphill climb in the scorching sun. If you tell anyone you’re hiking in the Middle East in the summer they’d look at you like you’re crazy. Days have been getting up to 110 degrees, but luckily in the mountains it’s a bit cooler. It was a brisk 87 degrees when we began, so I felt like I was dying but we took tons of breaks. Before we knew it we got to the first overlook of the canyon. This area is called the “Grand Canyon of the Middle East” for good reason. It looked exactly like it, except we had the views to ourselves. IMG_8332IMG_8347IMG_8364The entire time we hiked we only saw two other groups of people, both ending their hike as we were still making our way up the mountain. One couple scared us, telling us that we should have 8 Liters of water each, and that they drank all of theirs already. They honestly looked pretty rough, with chapped lips and sunburns. But we continued pushing on, and before long the cloud cover increased and we enjoyed some amazing shade! It was awesome, the weather worked out perfect for us. About 4 hours from the start of the hike we found a perfect campground, with a flat rocky area and some trees. Mind you the rest of the way the rocks were very slanted there was no way we would be able to sleep there. We set up camp, and took a scenic rest alongside the edge of the canyon and snacked on some carrots and canned hummus. It’s hard to be creative with food when you don’t have fridgeration, and we didn’t want to have to cook. I ended up falling asleep on the cliff side (sounds so safe I know) but it shows how tired I was that I passed out on a rock. We enjoyed a nice sunset view from our campsite, which we only shared with a handful of goats and some donkeys. Dinner was a gourmet meal of pita bread and canned hummus and a pepper. Once the sun set the temperature cooled down, when we went to bed it was maybe 70 degrees. But by the time it hit around 11 AM I was shivering in just my little sheet. Id say it dipped down to maybe 63 degrees, which is pretty cold for a girl used to 90+ temps.

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Sunrise from Jabel Shams

In the morning we woke up at around 6 and had our “breakfast” of peanuts butter and jelly, and then packed up and we were on our way by 6:30. Because the sun was still low the temperature was super bearable, plus the trail was almost all downhill, so we spilt our time in half. It was awesome! We did get a tiny bit lost finding our car but we found it eventually. And as any adventure goes our car got a little bit “stuck” and wouldn’t go up a hill. So we emptied out the trunk, and I pushed the car from back, and by 5 minutes we made it! Lugging all our belongings up that hill after two days of hiking wasn’t super fun though.

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The trail marker we followed the whole way!

 

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Wild goats and donkeys were a common sight along the way

 

 

 

Our next destination was a historic town called Nizwa. But on our way there we passed a coffee shop so we gladly stopped. I got a huge mango passion fruit smoothie, which was so refreshing and a perfect post-hike snack.

Nizwa was beautiful, I highly recommend checking out this area if you’re in Oman. We did a tour of the Nizwa for .5 OMR, less than $1.50. The fort had tons of exhibits, and told about the history and architecture of the area.  We were there for maybe two hours. It was super hot out but I liked leaning about the design of the fort. Did you know that forts have pitfalls so any intruders trying to go up the steps could accidentally fall in and not get back out. There’s even these “murder doors” built into the entrance of the fort and when anyone tried to enter they could poor heated date syrup onto them which could scald them!  IMG_8471IMG_8465IMG_8444IMG_8429The fort also was right next to a beautiful mosque as well as a souq. The souq is huge and is composed of several sections. Like “artistry” “crafts” “fruits and vegetables” “livestock” “meat” “fish” ect. Because we were there at like 2:00 it wasn’t all open, but I didn’t really have any desire to take a look at dead meat anyway so I was happy that the crafts and artiste vendors were set up. The pottery was beautiful to look at, it was a photographers dream. Definitely made me wish I had my real camera but I made due with my iPhone.

We wandered about until I began to get really hungry. The restaurants here don’t necessarily have names and all just have a “coffee shop” or “restaurant” sign out front. We tend to walk in and ask “do you have anything vegetarian” and then we have to clarify “no chicken… nope no cows…no no fish, no seafood please” lol I feel so high maintenance but there’s no way I’m going back to eat meat at this point in my life. Anyways you have to be flexible while traveling in a foreign country. So I generally have no clue what I’m ordering, how much it will cost, or really anything except hypothetically it should have no meat. This method has generally been super successful. This specific restaurant was having some sort of festival (their flyer wasn’t in English so I have no idea the specifics) but they were only serving on meal and it was vegetarian. Ann Marie and I decided to go ahead and split it and sat down for a hilarious meal. It was served on a giant banana leaf, with a bunch of little dollops of different foods. Sorry I can’t be more specific, as I mentioned I had no idea what I was eating. They also had around 5 different soups and two desserts. It was a low key feast. Some of the things were way too spicy for my liking. Others were surprisingly sweet when I thought I was biting into potatoes or something. It was interesting to say the least.

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Even our meals turn into an adventure

 

After lunch we walked around the souks for a little bit longer and discussed what our next destination would be. We found some ruins that were on our way to the desert, where we planned on camping in the evening. The ruins are called Birkat al-Mooz. These are ancient looking mud buildings built on the side of a mountain, very picturesque. You can get a good view if you climb to the power tower on the hill, it’s a good workout but you can see the entire village from above which is a cool perspective.

Our final destination for the day was to the sand dunes in the desert about two miles away. On our way there we saw ominous grey skies, indicating an oncoming storm. We kept driving and it seemed we were out of the way of the bad weather. It was an adventure to find dinner. We parked the car in the closest “town” we could find and walked along the main highway in search of a place to eat. It seems every single place you can get food is either called a “coffee shop” or “restaurant”. We try to go to the coffee shops for breakfast for a fresh juice and coffee. Restaurants for lunch and dinner. I’d also like to add that every time we go into these places it only us eating. And other tourists? Forget we’ve seen like four on this whole trip, and they were at the wadis (swimming areas I’ll talk about later).  Also, every restaurant we go to sells Indian food, so we’ve eaten this quite a bit. We sat down in “Restaurant” and asked for vegetarian and they smiled and said yes. We were unsure if he had any idea what we said but we went with it and just continued waiting at the table. Before long, our pirata (I apologize for having no idea how to spell this, but google it it’s freakin delicious) and some sort of veggie curry stuff that you eat with it. After dinner we had the adventure of finding our campsite. The sun was setting so the temperature was finally dipping below 100 degrees. I really wanted to see expansive sand dunes, and maybe even find a 4×4 to bring us duning. We used our map to find a secluded spot on the outskirts of the dunes, still on the “comfy” sand. It was comfy compared to the rocks we had been camping on the previous night. We parked the car and walked for like 20 minutes up closer to the dunes (didn’t want to drive our sedan rental car too far on the sand). It was dark out so we were using flashlights to navigate. I thought I found what looked like a great flat spot, and then looked with my flashlight near a bush and saw the remains of dead camels. It’s bones being covered by years of blowing sand. That’s when I realized the whole area was scattered with bones, it was what looked like an animal graveyard. We quickly got out of there and eventually found a good spot with no dead animals. We had to set up our tent as fast as possible because the wind was starting to pick up. We initially agreed to sleep without the rain flap because it was soo hot and we were sweating up a storm. But the winds began blowing so hard that we were being pelted with sand through the mesh windows of the tent. We went outside and began to setup the rain flap. We retreated back inside the tent and attempted to sleep against the tent slowly turned into a sauna (more that it already was) and then like 15 minutes later the wind became unbearable and it felt like we were going to be covered with sand or get blown away. It was impossible to sleep through, so we decided to reconvene in the car and discus our next move. This involved packing up our tent, but of course as soon as we got out, the wind picked up the tent and started blowing it away super fast. I sprinted after it and in a desperate attempt I threw my backpack onto it which was on my back. Fortunately this was a success! It pinned down the tent so we stepped on it and carefully took it down to avoid losing it again. We repeated our trek back to the car and discussed if we would sleep in the car or find a new spot to camp. We looked at our maps.me app and decided to camp near the next days destination, Wadi Bani Khalid. This was a little more than an hour away and would we away from the desert. A wadi is like a valley with water in it, so we planned to go for a swim and explore the area. We headed to the wadi, and when we arrived we couldn’t find a good parking spot so we pulled over to the side of the road and I searched to the entrance of the wadi. That’s when we realized we were in the wrong spot, this was indeed “Wadi Bani Khalid (meaning the river, not swimming hole) and the river was dry. Oops! We decided to sleep here anywhere so we went to the very end of the road and fortunately found a perfect camping spot. No cars in sight, and in a beautiful valley. Of course when we arrived it was late and we couldn’t really see, but we set up the tent and quickly fell asleep. The next morning I woke up the the incredible views of the valley. As I went to the bathroom I noticed a lot of greenery in an otherwise very dry landscape, so I headed towards it and found a tiny little swimming hole. I returned to camp, got Ann Marie, and we put on our bathing suits, grabbed our hairbrushes, and headed to the water. It felt so refreshing and amazing to finally clean off and take a dip. I brushed my hair, washed my face, and felt like a whole new person. The landscape was so amazingly gorgeous, with the deep walls of the canyon and crystal clear water from the spring, it truly was an oasis.IMG_8529IMG_8533IMG_8538IMG_8540

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