A few posts I talked about the logistics of visiting the Salmah Plateau, and this post is going to cover what we did and, of course, what went wrong.
We drove to the Salmah Plateau with our friends, who were driving their own 4WD vehicle, and we departed Muscat around 11:30. Once on the plateau, our first stop was the Majlis Al Jinn cave, which we reached just before 1 pm. Majlis Al Jinn is the second largest known underground cave in the world (according to Wikipedia). Supposedly 5 jumbo jets can fit inside! It can only be accessed from above, and you have to go with a licensed tour operator. There are a number of access points for the cave, and when we threw a rock down one of the holes, it took nearly 10 seconds to hit the bottom. We made sure to stay very far away from the edge! Nate chatted with a Bangladeshi goat herder who was stunned by Nate’s Bengali abilities and showed us the different cave openings.
From here our plan was go drive to the beehive tombs and find a camping spot. We were using maps.me and at one point it had us turn right to drive down a washed-out road. If we’d stayed on the road we were on, it appeared that we would have gone pretty far out of the way and there was no easy way to get back to the tombs. We all stopped and compared routes, and this was also the route that Oman Off Road said to take. So we turned and followed the dubious-looking road down a steep hill, towards a dry wadi bed. There was a shepherdess with a large flock of goats in the middle of the road, and as we slowly approached the goats scattered and went literally running up the side of the wadi. The woman was super pissed off (who can blame her? I have no idea how or if she got her goats back) and picked up a large rock to throw at our car. Thankfully she didn’t actually hurl the rock at us, but we should have taken that as a sign to just turn around then and there.
Instead we proceeded towards the river bed, with high rock walls on either side. The “road” turned into deep gravel full of boulders, with steep sides and ditches that made the car swerve and sway like we were driving through thick sand. Eventually the road ahead was a field of boulders and we stopped, unable to go any further without probably breaking an axle. We were unable to turn around because the “drivable” path was so narrow, and Nate had to back out. We were travelling with friends in another vehicle, and they stopped before entering the wadi bed. Our friend, S, who grew up in Colorado, luckily had more experience navigating this kind of terrain than we did, and she kept a level head and guided Nate out. I stood on the side in the shade, holding M, hyperventilating and near tears. I was convinced we were either going to break an axle or hit the wadi rock-face, and that we’d need to get a ride out with our friends and abandon the car. Luckily it all went ok and with S’s guidance Nate was able to back out of the river bed. Our Jeep is “trail-rated,” which apparently means it can handle some serious shit and come out unscathed.
The sun sets early this time of year, around 5:30. By the time we got out of the wadi and back up the washed-out road it was nearly 3:30. We decided we’d keep driving for another hour towards the beehive tombs, at this point having no idea where to go since the route in Oman Off Road and in maps.me was impassable. Luckily, after driving for about 30 minutes, we found an awesome spot right by the beehive tombs, but in a somewhat sheltered area that wasn’t too windy. There was also a nice ravine that doubled as toilet facilities.
Before long we had our tents up and the campfire going. The kids ran around, playing nicely. There was surprisingly minimal rock throwing, given that the entire area was covered in them. We had popcorn, dried French sausage, steaks, vegetables, potatoes, and s’mores. And lots of adult beverages.
After the sun set it got cold fast. M insisted on wearing his short-sleeved pajamas (why I thought it was a good idea to give him that option, I don’t know) and around 6:30 am I woke up to find him lying in his pack-n-play, in fetal position, blue-lipped and shivering. Next time I’m only bringing the warm pajamas!
The next morning we were all chilly, but as soon as the sun crested the mountains, the temperature was much more comfortable. After we packed up camp, we spent about an hour exploring the plateau before starting the drive back down towards the coast. You can easily follow the route in Oman Off Road back down the mountain, and it took about two hours to go from the tombs to the beach, which included some stops to see the sites.
We pulled off on a dirt track towards some houses and goats, where the view of the canyon was supposedly amazing. We didn’t feel comfortable basically driving through these peoples’ backyard, so Nate parked and I walked toward the canyon. As I walked back to the car, I saw Nate and M, hand-in-hand with young Omani girls, walking around getting a tour of the family’s farm. A young lady who spoke perfect English was pointing out all the baby goats and sheep and that just about made M’s day. Afterwards they invited us to their house for khawa (Omani coffee) and dates, so we sat on the floor with them and learned more about their family and life on the plateau. The young lady goes to the university in Sur, where she is studying public administration, and she came back to visit her family for the long holiday weekend. They gave M candy and apples, while they fawned over his white-blonde hair and tried to get them to sit by him.
From here we started our descent down the mountain, which, on my part, involved a lot of swearing and squealing. Nate kept telling me to just close my eyes, but I said that if I’m going to die, I want to see it coming. I much prefer ascents over descents and I’m glad I wasn’t driving.
We stopped at Fins beach once we reached the coast, and it was so full of vehicles, tents and people I was absolutely shocked. Usually when you stop by that beach there’s a vehicle every 500 meters or so, but this was like how you’d expect a beach in the US to look on a holiday weekend. It was really refreshing to see everyone out having fun and enjoying the lovely beach over the long weekend. We saw an RV with a huge water tank on top. You know those people were in it for the long-haul.
We really enjoyed the Salmah Plateau, and I finally got to cross it off my Oman bucket-list! There are so many amazing places in this country, and every time we are out adventuring I pinch myself, I can’t believe how lucky we are.