Camping in Oman and our camping checklist

Our Masirah Island campsite

Camping in Oman is a unique incredible way to experience the country. Whether you’re falling asleep listening to the waves crash on the sand or watching the sun rise over the rim of the Grand Canyon of Arabia, there are some things that you can only experience if you go camping!

Most visitors to Oman don’t know that it is actually possible to camp in Oman year-round. The winter is the best time to camp at the beaches, and summer is the best time to camp in the mountains.

Sunset over Fins Beach (#1 in the map below)

Dhofar beach sunset

Here’s a map of all our wild campsites in Oman (wild, as in out-in-the-wild-not-formal-grounds, not “Spring Break!!” wild):

Camping here is very easy to do. You can basically camp anywhere that is not private property or military land. You literally drive down a road, find a spot that looks good, pull over and set up your tent. It’s awesome.

Camping under a random tree in Jebel Akhdar

Sand dunes and the sea at the Sugar Dunes

Jebel Shams campsite

If you have lightweight camping gear, you can bring it to Oman in your luggage and then buy whatever else you might need at The Sultan Center in Muscat. Most major stores in Muscat, like Lulu and Carrefour, have camping supplies, but The Sultan Center has the best selection and carries firewood (which can be impossible to find).

Salmah Plateau campsite

I have a comprehensive camping checklist document that I print before each camping trip, and we store most of our camping supplies in two big plastic containers. We go through the containers and make sure everything on the list is there, gather up tents and cots, fill the water bladders, buy food and firewood, and that’s generally it.

Here are the checklists we use:

COOKING

  • Coffee pot + coffee
  • Plates + cooking gear + utensils + cups/mugs + removable handle
  • Bottle opener + corkscrew
  • Aluminum foil
  • Grill glove + hot pads + trivet
  • Cooking utensils (knife, scissors, potato peeler, spatula, serving spoon, wooden spoon, tongs, cutting board)
  • Dish soap + sponge + wash basin
  • Paper towels + cloth towels
  • Salt + pepper + olive oil
  • Water bladders (full, at least 2)
  • Trash bags
  • Wood + charcoal + newspaper
  • Long lighter + matches + chimney starter
  • Cooler + food + ice packs
  • Extra plastic containers + Ziplocs
  • Grill grate + skewers
  • Gas canisters
  • Gas burner + jet boil

SLEEPING

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags (2)
  • Sleeping mats  or cots(2)
  • Pillows (2)
  • Pack n play + sheet + blankets
  • Dust pan and hand broom

GENERAL

  • Head lamps + flashlight + lanterns
  • Tarp
  • Camp chairs (3)
  • Table
  • Good camera
  • GoPro + accessories
  • Portable charger
  • Speakers
  • M toys and books
  • Towels
  • Hatchet
  • Sunscreen
  • Kindles (3)
  • Clothes + diapers + toiletries
  • Sun shower
  • Oman Off-Road
  • 1st aid kit
  • Trauma kit

MAYBE

  • Hiking backpack
  • Beach tent
  • Plastic beach mat
  • M floaty + swim suits + hat + swim diapers
  • Toilet tent + toilet

IF BRINGING ATHENA

  • Athena bed + food + meds + bowls + toys + e-collar + leash

Obviously, you don’t need to bring this much stuff. But if you follow these lists, you will generally find yourself to be well-prepared for almost any situation with both a dog and a toddler.

Beach camping in Dhofar: one tent for sleeping, one as a beach shelter, plastic bins, plastic beach mat or tarp, and water bladders

A note on toilet facilities while camping: there are NONE. So far we haven’t had to use a toilet tent, but there were some situations when it would have been nice. Your mileage may vary depending on where you are and how many other people are there. Mostly we’ve been lucky because we’ve camped in places when no one else was there. But any time you expect other people to be anywhere nearby, you’ll need a toilet tent. Particularly when you’re beach camping because there are no gullies or bushes to hide in.

Fins Beach campsite (#2 on the map above)

It is possible to go camping during Ramadan. Chances are you’re in a remote place, not in the middle of a village, so music, food and drinks won’t bother anyone. However, keep this in mind when you’re picking your camping spot.

Also: creepy-crawlies. You will find bugs and insects, like scorpions and camel spiders. The latter, while appearing ugly and terrifying, actually eat scorpions and are not poisonous to humans. So don’t kill them! We have yet to come across a scorpion, but almost everyone else who’s gone camping, particularly in the mountains, has seen them, so be careful.

Can you spot the camel spider?

If you have any questions about camping in Oman, please feel free to reach out!

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Hiking on Jebel Akhdar

Beautiful panoramic views abound on  Jebel Akhdar

If you’re looking for something to do near Muscat during the summer months, the mountains are your answer! The temperatures are literally 20 to 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler and there are lots of neat places to explore.

We’ve done a number of different hikes on Jebel Akhdar. None of them are flat, but some are easier than others. Here are five hikes that we’ve done on Jebel Akhdar, listed in order from easier to hardest.

  1. Wadi Bani Habib: This is a good, easy hike for exploring abandoned villages There is a public bathroom (it’s in rough shape) and go down the stone stairs. There’s an abandoned village immediately in front of you as you go down the stairs, but if you turn left and walk through the wadi a little ways, you’ll find a better one to explore. Turn right when you’re across from the well-maintained pomegranate farm, by a stone structure. The trail is a little tricky to see, but it climbs up the mountain with some rough stairs, and you’ll reach the village. Depending on how much time you spend exploring the abandoned villages, this takes between 90 minutes to two hours.

    The first abandoned village you’ll see at Wadi Bani Habib

    The second abandoned village, which is more fun to explore

    Windows in village #2

  2. The Village Walk or W18b: This takes you through farmland and villages and has terrific views. If you want the stereotypic Jebel Akhdar views, do this hike. Drive to GPS 23.0722, 57.6666 to start the hike. When you reach a point where you’re hiking through a rocky little gorge and the trail markers seem to end, turn right by the mosque and go up the sidewalk to the road. If you go all the way to Sayq, it takes about 2:30 hours.

    Sights along the Village Walk

    Village Walk views

  3. Mirage in the Mountains: This hike starts right across the street from the Alila entrance gate. There’s not a lot of steep climbing or drop-offs, and it ends at an abandoned village. This hike is more undulating than most. You’ll reach a point in the wadi bed where you can turn left or go straight. Turn left and you’ll go up a mountain, from which you’ll follow the ridge line to the village. Go straight and follow the wadi to the village (we didn’t take this route, but I imagine it’s less physically strenuous, although the views wouldn’t be as nice). The entire trail takes about 3:30 hours.

    What?! Legible, accurate information about a trail? A definite first

    The view on the hike back to the trailhead

    Desert roses along the trail

    The view towards the trail end, where the Discovery Trail (next on the list) also ends

  4. Discovery Trail: This one starts up towards the Alila and it is completely downhill, until you turn around and it’s all uphill. I’ve ranked this one as harder than the others because there are some pretty steep drop-offs with nothing below. Take one wrong step and you fall off a cliff. But the hike itself is not too steep. The whole thing takes about three hours.

    We found two trail maps in two days!

    The hike winds out down along the wadi

    Just follow the painted flags and/or the green dots. Why they chose green trail markers in a place known as “The Green Mountain” is beyond me. They might as well have picked tan markers.

    The view in the other direction from the last photo in the “Mirage in the Mountains” hike

  5. W24: This hike starts at GPS coordinates 23.092656, 57.730965, and you basically just follow the white swatches on the rocks. It’s a 3 kilometer hike to another trail that will take you to Wukan or Hadash. This is definitely more a trek than a walk. You need to be very careful where you step so you don’t break an ankle. The first half is unrelenting and up a mountain (which is where we turned around), and from here it follows the side of a mountain to the other trail. If you hiked to the other trail and back, it would take about three hours.

    Up, up, up, following the painted white swatches. Oh, you don’t see the white swatches? Welcome to this hike.

    The view out over the valley from a mountain halfway through one-way of the hike

    The hike was largely made of rough volcanic rock, which would tear your knees and hands to shreds if you tripped

    The hike back down the mountain. The starting point is the village in the middle of the photo

There are lots of other hiking trails on Jebel Akhdar! These are just the ones that we’ve done and enjoyed. The best way to explore Jebel Akhdar is hike during the day and then camp or spend the night at a hotel. This way you can get as much enjoyment as possible out of the cooler temperatures, plus you get to see a beautiful sunset and sunrise!

Jebel camping and PCS feelings

Sunset over Jebel Akhdar at the Alila

Oh, man. Things here have been nuts. I’m apparently terrible at following my own advice, and I’m scrambling to get everything done. In addition to stress-shopping at the souk whenever I get the chance. I just bought eight hand-painted (supposedly) Turkish bowls and plates that I don’t really need. But they’re very pretty and I will eventually use them, I swear.

Which one should I buy? How about all of them?!

We’ve been filling up the time with squeezing in as many more Oman adventures as we can. We recently got back from a four-day trip to Jebel Akhdar, and it  was more incredible than I’d even imagined. We spent the first night camping and then we spent two nights at the Alila, which was running an insanely awesome special. If you spent two or more nights, it was 99 OMR (about $250) for the room, plus breakfast and dinner. This is a hotel where the rack-rate for the cheapest room and just breakfast is over $700. It was easily one of the most delightful hotel experiences I’ve ever had, and definitely the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in.

Endless skies at Jebel Akhdar

I think sometimes people tend to forget that the mountains are so much more temperate than Muscat, because when we went to both Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar there was hardly anyone there. The temperatures were downright pleasant and it was perfect hiking and camping weather. I even had to wear long sleeves at night!

Sunrise over Jebel Shams

Our campsite on Jebel Shams was stunning. We were perched along the rim of the canyon, but with enough rocks and ledges just over the side that  the kids weren’t in danger of immediate death if they went over the side. The views were incredible, and everyone had fun keeping the goats away from our campsite. The goat deterrent methods of choice where to run after them banging pots and pans, or to just throw your arms in the air and run after them screaming bloody murder.

Goats and tents on the edge of the Grand Canyon of Arabia

The only problem came around 10:30 pm when a raging wind picked up and started battering our tent. Nate and I are not small lithe people and our tent and cots, plus M in his pack and play and our bodyweight was easily  more than 400 pounds. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel the edge of the tent picking up and moving my cot. It was terrifying. I was so worried that our tent was going to be blown over the side of the canyon. Nate assured me that that was physically impossible unless a tornado picked us up, but I lay there watching the wind rattle our tent like a salt shaker and resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to be able to sleep that night.

Eventually I did fall asleep, only to be woken up by the sunrise at 5 am. Fun times. At least there was hot coffee and sausage gravy with croissants for breakfast! We don’t kid around when it comes to camping cuisine. That reminds me: I should do a post on all the incredible campfire food we’ve made.

Breakfast with a view

Anyhow, the following weekend we camped on Jebel Akhdar, where there are a number of areas for camping. We chose one with higher elevation because it would mean cooler temperatures, and we found a plateau area with huge trees perfect for camping. We positioned the tent so that it would be shaded in the morning, and the tent stayed cool until we packed it up around 10 am. First time that’s happened in Oman!

Our tent is in the shade!!!

M loved this campsite because it was full of flat rocks and creepy-crawlies. Spiders, lizards, butterflies, beetles, ants, etc. We let him run around, jumping from rock to rock and exploring while we cooked dinner and finished off some of the wine we brought back from France last year. We all slept like babies and woke up at 5:45 am when it sounded like a herd of donkeys was running around outside our tent. I sat up and looked out the window, and this was, in fact, the case.

Donkeys, taken through the tent window at 5:45 am

With these camping trips behind us, we’ve basically finished all our big Oman adventures. We’ve checked almost everything off the bucket list, and now we’re wrapping things up. We’ve sold our cars and our nanny has signed a contract with a new family. We got our Windhoek housing assignment, made a downpayment on a car, and we’re interviewing housekeepers/nannies.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been sucked up into a whirlwind of crazy forward momentum when all I want to do is slow down and savor everything. We have such a short amount of time in the States, it’s going to be utterly insane, and before I know it we’ll be in Windhoek. There’s a certain amount of excitement and giddy anticipation that comes with any move, but also trepidation and dread. Moving to a brand-spanking new country is scary: making friends, finding new favorite restaurants, figuring out what you can buy at which grocery store, finding the best routes for walking Athena, driving on the other side of the street, adjusting to new jobs, getting M situated at school, etc. At least in Windhoek I’ll be able to comfort-eat bacon whenever I want. And there’s a wine bar five minutes from our new house.

Oh man, Oman. We’re not done with you yet! I plan on squeezing as much awesomeness as I can out of this incredible place.

A review of hiking Snake Canyon

Snake Canyon: one of the most beautiful wadis in Oman

Hiking Snake Canyon was not always something I wanted to do. I heard it involved jumping off of things, abseiling, and other crazy stuff. But then, I basically was like, “f*** it” and decided I shouldn’t let my fear of heights stop me from doing once-in-a-lifetime things. Plus, I was terrified of scuba diving and now it’s one of my favorite things to do. I decided I was going to hike Snake Canyon, goddamnit! That said, thinking about this hike literally kept me awake at night and gave me cold sweats.

The road to the wadi is easy to find

You have to use a guide for Snake Canyon, also called Wadi Bani Awf. Unless you are experienced at abseiling and have all the required equipment, this hike is dangerous and nearly impossible. We decided to go with twenty3extreme, the same company Nate used for the 7th Hole adventure. I highly recommend them; they were fantastic. We met our three guides at 7:30 am at the exit point for the hike, and the first thing they did was kit us up with harnesses, life jackets and helmets. Then we drove to the hike starting point, by the Bilad Sayt Audi football field.

View down the wadi towards the beginning of the hike

After hiking for about 15 minutes we reached the first abseil point, which was a six meter drop. This was a good chance to learn how abseiling works, and it was easier than I expected it to be. We slid and climbed down a number of other drops that would have normally scared the shit out of me and were far scarier than the abseils. With the abseils, I was strapped in and there was a safety mechanism to keep me from free falling. With some of those drops, I had to trust that there would be a rock someplace to cling to or step on that I just couldn’t see yet. And that’s scary.

We abseiled down the crevice in the upper left quadrant, and then down off the cliff in the middle of the photo, followed by quick fun slide down the wet rocks on our bums!

We eventually reached the second drop, an abseil of about 30 meters. That was followed immediately by another drop of eight meters, for the majority of which you have to just dangle and slowly lower yourself. After that it was more hiking, climbing, jumping, and swimming.

I used to be wary of jumping off cliffs into water, but this hike cured me of that. Just plug your nose, bend your legs if you don’t know how deep it is, and go for distance! The guides did an awesome job of showing us how to use our arms and our backs to lower ourselves when we were between two boulders and there was no place for your feet to touch. Also, the harnesses had canvas butt covers, so no one was at risk of splitting their pants. It sounds silly, but with the amount of sliding that we did, all of us would have emerged with torn pants had this not been the case

Taken just before sliding off a cliff into that crevice

There was one point where we swam through a cave. Cool, right? Then I saw what looked like a floating natural raft of trash to my left. Turned out it was actually garbage, and the opening to the cave that we exited from was literally full of trash. Apparently when it rains all the water comes through this point, so all the garbage collects there. It had rained the weekend before.

Eventually we stopped for a quick snack break and heard thunder in the distance. Warning bells went off and we hiked out as fast as we could. We got back to the car, took off our kits, and the drivers piled into one car and immediately set off to pick up the other vehicles. The rest of us stayed behind in an area with higher ground. Snake Canyon is prone to flash-flooding and we did not want to be there when that happened.

Had we not been rushing to leave the canyon, I would have spent a lot of time photographing that amazing curved rock

Storm clouds rolling in at the exit of Snake Canyon

After we had waited about 30 minutes for the cars to come back it started pouring rain. We found a goat herder’s “shelter” of palm fronds tied together that blocked the rain a little bit, but as soon as we saw the cars coming back down the mountain, we ran to them and piled in as quickly as we could. The sooner we got out of there the better. The ground here is so dry, it doesn’t absorb rain. Water just runs off of it like you’d expect with pavement. So the dirt road didn’t become muddy at that point, it was just full of huge puddles. Luckily we were all in 4WD vehicles so we didn’t have any problems. But we definitely drove out of there as fast as we safely could.

Storm clouds over Wadi Bani Awf

Rain is such a novelty, people stop to watch the flooding

I’m really glad I had the chance to hike Snake Canyon, and we’re lucky we actually got to go on the trek. We’d planned to go back in March, but it got cancelled due to a lack of water in the canyon, and they replaced it with a Tiwi trek. That got cancelled due to impending rain. Luckily for us the weather was perfect during the hike, and the prior weekend’s rain meant that all the pools were full, clear, and beautiful. This hike will definitely go down as one of my Oman favorites. It was incredible.

Oh, one more thing: I met the guy who writes the blog Beyond the Route. He was tagging along with our trekking guides, helping them with our group. He is a super cool dude and if you haven’t looked at his blog, you should. He provides some of the clearest, most accurate background info on Oman and the culture that you’ll find written by a non-Omani on the internet.

Driving in Oman: rules, rules and more rules

View from the Muscat Expressway on a Friday morning

The best way to experience Oman as a tourist is to rent a car and hit the road. This is a very easy country to drive in, and most of the roads are really well-maintained. However, we have made some mistakes and picked up a few pieces of info along the way that might be helpful for anyone planning to do some driving in Oman.

First, car rentals. There are several car rental companies at the airport and if you want to really explore, make sure you rent a 4WD vehicle. However, make sure you get unlimited mileage. Lots of companies impose a 200 kilometer per day limit, and if you exceed that amount you have to pay out the nose. For example, if you rent a car for seven days, you get 1,400 kilometers. We learned this the hard way. Europcar is one of the few companies that does not have a limit, and you have to book online in advance.

Khor Najd, with its fun twisty crazy road

Second, driving in Muscat. There are a lot of rules/guidelines which you need to always follow, and the consequences can be serious.

Here are the biggies:

  1. NEVER EVER RUN A RED LIGHT. You will have to spend a night in jail. When the light starts flashing green, prepare to stop. (I’m not kidding)
  2. ALWAYS FOLLOW THE SPEED LIMIT. If you don’t know what the speed limit is, follow the speed of traffic. (There are traffic cameras everywhere)
  3. NO ROAD RAGE ALLOWED. No flipping the bird, no hand gestures, no yelling, etc. (The police will get involved and you will go to jail and be deported. Once again, I’m not kidding.)
  4. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR ANYONE TO PULL IN FRONT OF YOU.
  5. PRACTICE DEFENSIVE DRIVING.
  6. DO NOT PULL ALL THE WAY UP TO STOP AT A RED LIGHT. This is considered running a red light. You’ll notice that the locals stop a good distance back; follow their lead.

Here are some other helpful guidelines:

  • At traffic circles, those entering the circle need to yield to those already in the circle
  • For most lights with right turns, there is a designated right turn lane and you can turn right even if the light is red
  • If you come to an intersection without lights, drive like you have a stop sign
  • Watch out for maroon and white striped cars: these are student drivers
  • There are speed bumps everywhere
  • Just because there are arrows in a lane pointing in different directions doesn’t mean you can go any of those directions from that lane. It means you can get to lanes from which you can go in those directions from that lane. So for instance if you need to turn right, get in the far right lane.
  • Waze, maps.me and GoogleMaps give turn-by- turn directions here. Maps.me is helpful if you don’t have cell service because you can download the maps in advance.
  • On narrow, twisty mountain roads, honk your horn when you’re going around a turn to warn anyone coming in the other direction

Traffic can be a little more lawless outside of Muscat and away from the traffic cameras. Also, watch out for camels. They do whatever they want, including walk through the middle of the highway. Donkeys and goats also do this, but camels are the most dangerous.

Camels don’t care

Third, I also recommend buying a copy of “Oman Off-Road.” It’s available at Border’s (there’s a shop in just about any mall) or at Al Fair grocery stores. The book costs about 20 OMR ($50) and is definitely worth it if you plan on doing any exploring.

Lastly, if you really want to explore, you need a four wheel drive vehicle, and you need to be comfortable using the four wheel drive capabilities. If you want to drive in the sand you also need to have a gizmo to let air out of your tires down to 20 PSI and also an air compressor to put air back into your tires.

Now, go forth and explore! It’s going to be incredible!

Nate drove down this while I hyperventilated and swore.

The Sugar Dunes are impossible to reach with a 4WD vehicle

Good luck exploring this road in a sedan!

Athena’s life lately and PCS plans

Athena looking sheepish because she knows that’s not her toy

Some of you might not know, but this blog is named for our dog Athena. Back when I started According to Athena in 2014 she was the center of our universe and my initial intention was to make the blog largely about our life with a dog and her life in the Foreign Service. Looking at my posts over the past few years, obviously that hasn’t really happened. Heck, part of that time I wasn’t even living with her when she and Nate were living the single life in Dhaka after we got evacuated out. But, rest assured, Athena is doing well, and I think she’s going to be very happy when we PCS and she (hopefully) has a huge yard to call her own.

Our plan is to drop Athena off at our favorite boarding facility here in Oman, where she will stay for at least two months while we go back to the US for a few weeks of training and a month of home leave. Then one of our friends will bring Athena to us. There’s a direct flight from Doha to Windhoek, so the travel time won’t even be that long. This way we are able to avoid a lot of stressors for her, including two very long flights across the Atlantic and back, jet lag (yes, dogs get jet lag and it’s miserable), traveling at peak summer heat, and figuring out what to do with her during home leave. Plus we only have to pay to ship her once, rather than twice.

We know Jebel K9 will take excellent care of her, and hopefully our grand plan works out! It’ll make life a lot easier for everyone, plus our friend who is bringing us Athena gets a free ticket to visit us in Windhoek. We are taking care of as much of the veterinary side of things right now as we can, including updating vaccinations and rabies shots, and hopefully she’ll be squared away by the time we leave in July.

As she’s getting older, I worry about how she’ll handle 24+ hours in her crate without being let out, especially when it gets hot, and I’m really glad we’re able to (hopefully, fingers and toes crossed) avoid that this time around.

Athena had lots of adventures over the winter, including camping trips, time at the beach, and cozying up to visitors. We also discovered that her stomach can no longer handle chicken, which was a bit of a puke-filled wild ride. She’s not allergic to chicken, she just can’t eat it without throwing it all up. Luckily we got that resolved quickly and relatively easily, and our house has been dog vomit-free since.

The weather is getting hot these days, and our walks are becoming shorter. She’ll only walk so far before she just plants her feet and won’t walk any further unless we turn around. I’m not one to argue with her, since I’m usually miserable outside too. (As you can imagine, the days of lovely morning runs on the beach are over.)

She knows change is coming, maybe because we’re sorting through boxes, or she can just sense it in the way that dogs are able to know these things. I’ve felt bad for her with the lack of easily-accessible outdoor space here in Muscat. In Dhaka we had an apartment, but at least we had that lovely rooftop grassy area. Here’s there’s literally a cement carport and a tiny patio off the kitchen.

It’s not easy having a dog in the Foreign Service, and we’ve been lucky to have a good support network for Athena at both our posts so far. Windhoek seems like a relatively dog-friendly place, as long as she doesn’t get too close to the huge spiders and snakes we’re probably have in our theoretical yard. She’s done a surprisingly good job at handling change, and she’s learned to love her alone time in her crate. She knows it’s her safe place where no one can bother her, and that makes traveling with her much easier.

Good girl, Athena!

Stopping to smell the flowers

Relaxing at the beach

Posing with one of her favorite toys

Athena and her buddy (who we’ve named Ginger)

Basking in the carport

Keeping the donkeys away from the campsite

Hiking up Sa’al Mountain

View of the sunset on the hike back to the car

On a cooler-than-usual Friday we finally hiked up Sa’al Mountain! We’ve been meaning to tackle this hike for some time, but it’s not long enough to make a full day of it and it’s too long (and tiring, in my opinion) to do during the week after work or after you’ve already gone on some other adventure.

This is a rewarding, but challenging hike. OmanTripper, my favorite blog for exploring Oman, has a good post about it. Basically, you hike about 2 kilometers up, the first half of which is a dirt path and the second half is about 600 cement stairs, and then you hike back down. It’s unrelenting and the dirt path is steep and slippery. But the view from the top is stunning, and it’s one of the best places near Muscat to watch the sunset!

The view from the parking lot as you’re starting the hike

Getting closer to the stairs!

The starting point for the hike is about 45 minutes from Muscat, towards Nizwa. If you type “Sa’al Stairs” into Google Maps or Waze it will put you near the hike starting point. I wish I had dropped a pin at the hike starting point for exact GPS coordinates, but you’ll eventually end up on a dirt road and when you reach what looks like a parking lot, you’ve reached the hike start point! It’s a dirt path leading up initially, and you can actually see the steps curving up along the side of the mountain.

This dude was carrying a walkman blaring Ace of Base.

A village below the mountain

The only flat chunk of the path on the whole hike

The ascent, until we reached the part where the stairs ended, took us about 45 minutes with frequent breaks. Then it’s about another five minutes to reach the satellite dishes at the very peak. You’d think the hike down would be a lot faster, but it’s not because you need to be so careful where you put your feet. Nate slipped and fell once, and I definitely skidded along on the loose rocks several times.

The sun setting over the towns and mountains

We went all the way to the satellite dish at the very top!

This hike is a popular place for exercising. We were passed by several groups of men basically racing to see who could get to the top fastest. I wish we’d discovered the trail sooner because I would have loved to hike it regularly during the winter. Better late than never.

Definitely bring plenty of water on this hike. Also make sure you bring a headlamp or flashlight if you’re starting the hike less than 90 minutes before the sun sets! The hiking trail is in the shade in the morning, and in the sun during the afternoon. I think it’s best if you take it slow and steady, and enjoy the beautiful panoramic views!

Lights started popping up as the sun sank lower. Not a bad way to end a lovely hike!

Clean-up scuba diving at Bandar Al Khairan

It’s time to get this fishing net out of the ocean!

Last month, EuroDivers led a day of no-cost scuba diving at Bandar Al Khairan to clean up some popular dive and snorkel sites, and it was awesome. As I was reading through the April EuroDivers planner, I saw “FREE DIVES” and I signed up immediately. It meant taking the day off work, but would you rather sit in your office all day or go scuba diving for free to help the environment? The answer is obvious.

I was able to recruit one friend to come with me, and we piled into the dive boat at Marina Bandar Al Rowdha at 8 am, along with six other divers and two dive leaders, to make the short trip to Bandar Al Khairan. We reached the dive site, where we were given scissors, knives, and mesh bags, and then the real work began! Our goal was simple: remove as much garbage and nets from the ocean as we could before we got low on air or had been underwater for 60 minutes.

Nets and ropes

Working on cutting the net apart

The team found an enormous fishing net underwater, resting on the reef, and we got to work cutting it into segments and carefully removing it from the coral. We were intentionally over-weighted because we knew we’d be spending most of the time at shallow depths. When you aren’t very deep and your air tank is less than half full, staying at the bottom can be a challenge. So, maintaining a neutral buoyancy in this case was a little challenging.  We had to hover over the spiky coral and sea urchins, taking shallow enough breathes that we wasn’t moving up and down constantly, while hacking at this fishing net and dissecting it away from the coral. It was like doing hovering underwater coral surgery.

We filled up the mesh bags with garbage, large segments of fishing nets, ropes, plastic bottles, and anything else we could find. Once the bags were full, we took them to the surface and handed them off to the boat captain, who would empty them out and give them back. Then we’d go back down to pick up even more. It was challenging, tiring, and rewarding work!

Yes, that’s a shoe.

Our maximum depth was about 8 or 9 meters for each dive, and each dive was about an hour, and everyone was making multiple trips to the surface to drop off the garbage. After my last trip up, I descended where I thought I saw bubbles (which means other divers are below you). But the current was so strong, it had pulled me away from everyone else and when I got to the bottom, all I could find was a sting ray. I watched the ray glide away and then I ascended.

One thing to note: the water is warm enough that it’s possible to wear a shorty instead of a full wetsuit. I opted for the full, which, in hindsight, was a smart choice. I spent a lot of time kneeling in the sand, and several of the other divers wearing shortys cut up their knees and elbows. The full wetsuit zipped up in the front, I just unzipped it after I put on my BCD and there was enough water circulation that I didn’t overheat, even though it was physically strenuous work.

If you like the idea of scuba diving for free to help the environment, you’re in luck: EuroDivers is planning to do clean-up dives once a month. They are during the work week and you need to be Open Water scuba qualified. Contact EuroDivers at eurodivemuscat@gmail for more info.

A red-toothed trigger fish and Arabian butterfly fishes

A juvenile yellowbar angelfish

It looked like they were having a meeting!

Ain Sahban Sulphur Springs

Surreal Ain Sahban

I’d seen photos of Ain Sahban but I could never figure out 1) what it was called, or 2) where exactly it was. But then one day some friends mentioned it, sent a GPS point, and invited us to go on an adventure. We can’t say no to that!

The drive there went great until we were literally a mile from the springs. We reached a point where the road was blocked by a bulldozer and a rock cutting tractor-thing. A rockslide had completely blocked the road and these guys were working on clearing it. We had driven 2 hours and 45 minutes, and we were not giving up. So we parked the cars, gathered all our water bottles, slathered ourselves in sunscreen and walked towards the springs in the hot 100 degree mid-day sun. Luckily after about five minutes of walking an Omani driving an SUV came towards us and told us he’d give us a ride. Woohooo! It was about a 5 minute drive to the springs, and we were all very grateful to not have had to walk the whole way.

Along the road to Ain Sahban, before we encountered the rockslide

The springs are a beautiful light blue, like cotton candy. The water was nice and cool, and it didn’t smell bad, which was surprising since it’s a sulphur spring. There’s clay in the rocks and M got his first-ever spa treatment! We spent over an hour exploring the spring, climbing around, floating in the crazy-colored water and coating ourselves in clay.

The view looking up Ain Sahban

The water looked like cotton candy

All that white residue made the rocks really easy to walk on and not slippery

One thing that I loved about Ain Sahban, especially compared to every other rocky place with water in Oman, was that it was not at all slippery. The sulphur left a chalky residue on the rocks, and you could literally walk up the little waterfalls. It’s also mostly pretty shallow, so it’s a great spot for kids. The water gets deep in the narrow part between the spring walls, but otherwise it’s no more than three feet deep. But M wore his floaties as a precaution, just in case.

We walked up these little waterfalls!

This narrow section is the only deep part

Floaters!

Now, how to get there. Plug “Ain Sahban” into Google maps and you’ll drive north towards Sohar, turn left towards Al Buraimi, and eventually find yourself on a dirt road. If you follow that road until the end, you can park, and carefully climb down through the terraced farmland into a wadi. Turn left (away from the ruined watchtower to the right) and follow the wadi upstream. You’ll eventually reach the springs, after maybe a 5-10 minute walk. Apparently there are also beautiful deep pools by the watchtower.

The view towards the watchtower from the parking area if you decide to hike in

The relatively-dry wadi hike

Conversely, while driving on the dirt road that ends by the wadi, you’ll see a sign for Ain Sahban telling you to turn right. You can follow that sign (and a few clearly-marked others) and you’ll find yourself on a road right next to the springs. If you’re not up for adventure, this is the easiest route. The other route is definitely more fun and interesting. You could do the first route in a sedan, where you hike in to find the springs, although you’d have to take it pretty slowly. The second route has a wadi crossing, which was dry when we went, but it could involve crossing some water, so I’d recommend a higher clearance vehicle for that one.

I’m glad we finally had a chance to explore Ain Sahban, which is now one of my favorite surreal spots in Oman!

Cramming it all in

I already miss my morning runs along the beach.

In my last post I mentioned making a list of all our remaining weekends so we can make sure we cross everything off our bucket list. At this point that strategy has been paying off and we’ve been able to visit several old favorites and also cross some new destinations off the list! I’m not letting myself go down the “this is the last time I’ll ever see x, y, or z” path because that would just be too depressing. Instead I’m enjoying every minute and soaking in as much as I can.

One of my favorite views in Oman: The Al Ain beehive tombs and Jebel Misht

A few weeks ago we went back to Wadi Damm and I was reminded of why it’s easily one of my favorite wadi hikes. It’s not too challenging (in fact, every time we figure out how to make the hike even easier) and the payoff with the beautiful pools at the end is top-notch. This last time we went a week after some big rain storms and I’ve never seen that much water in the wadi before. It was incredible. What’s usually a dry drive was full of splashing through puddles and streams. On the hike out of the wadi we got to talking with some young Omani men and they invited us to share lunch with them. Two hours later, we left the wadi stuffed with watermelon, rice, and chicken. We topped if off by stopping to explore some new ruins that, somehow, we’d never noticed before. The road that leads to Wadi Damm is quickly becoming one of my favorite roads in Oman, there’s so much neat stuff to do off of it. Plus, there’s a really nice clean public toilet that even has toilet paper!

Wadi Damm

How had we never noticed this huge ruined village right beside the road?!

Date palm plantations and a small stream behind the ruins

We were planning to go to Thailand over Eid, but instead we’re going to stick around and squeeze everything we can out of our remaining time in Oman. We’ve done a lot of exploring, but it’s shocking how many new places there are to see! Last weekend we went to Ain Sahban, which deserves its own blog post. That place was incredible. We have plans to finally go camping at Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar, and to stay at one of the fancy mountain resorts. There are dive sites I haven’t been to yet that I want to try, ruins to wander through, and a few forts that look interesting.

Sunset by the Mutrah souk

The most scenic chunk of sidewalk in Muscat

I finally printed some of my favorite photos from our time in Oman, and I have plans to go to a framing shop. We’re so used to electronic copies of photos, sometimes it’s hard to remember to actually print them. I also finally took the gemstones I bought in Sri Lanka to a jeweler in the souk to get set and made into jewelry. I don’t know why I decided to save all these things to the last minute, but better late than never, I guess.

Taking care of business at the jeweler

We’re lucky we have an amazing onward assignment to look forward to. If we were going someplace crappy I don’t know I’d manage leaving here. I’d be an emotional basket case.

It can be hard to be present in the Foreign Service, and that’s something I’m really mindful of.  It’s easy to get caught up in the future and what’s coming, sometimes even if it’s a long ways away. But we haven’t left Oman yet: we are still here. I shouldn’t be sad about leaving when we still have 10 more weeks to make the most of and enjoy with our friends.

We are trying to eat as many masala dosas as we can before we leave

Departing means cleaning out the pork drawer in the freezer! Carnitas tacos, yummmmm.