The polarities of Foreign Service life

I wrote this post back in November of 2018 but I could never bring myself to publish it because it seemed like I would be jinxing myself. I almost published it when we were leaving Oman, but I just couldn’t. I’m glad I didn’t because then I’d think I had jinxed us. Turns out shit happens whether you tempt fate or not.

Without editing or further ado…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” While this quote was used by Charles Dickens to describe 1700’s London and Paris, it also applies to life in the Foreign Service. We only have about 8 months left here in Oman, and the past year has been absolutely amazing. That’s in stark contrast to our Dhaka tour, which ended up being a complete shit-show.

This got me thinking about life in the Foreign Service and all of the ups and downs. Sometimes it’s fun and fancy, full of incredible adventures, while other times it’s literally the stuff of nightmares. (Keep in mind, we’ve only been doing this since 2015, and there are a lot of more experienced voices out there than mine.) The same could be said for life anywhere, but sometimes you have to accept more risk to get more reward. Some of the best and worst times of my life have happened since joining the FS, most of them directly caused by our choice to live this lifestyle, which gives us so much, but also takes away a lot.

You never really know what you’re going to get. That’s a risk that we, as a family, are willing to take. For now, anyways.

Over the past year, we’ve done so many amazing, incredible things, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. Watching M grow into a little boy who loves the water and hiking, strolls around the Muttrah souk like he owns the place, loves his nanny and his teachers, begs to FaceTime with his grandparents, and runs to the door shrieking “Let’s go on an adventure!” is absolutely priceless. We are so very lucky to have the opportunity to live in Oman, and we appreciate the good times like they might never happen again. (Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc. that nothing catastrophic happens here over the eight months)

Then look at our experience in Dhaka: it was fine, great in fact, until it turned into a descent into literal  hell. It started with an Italian NGO worker getting shot to death outside of the grocery store that we shopped at every week and then a few months later one of the local staff at the embassy was hacked to death with a machete in his apartment. A few months after that was the terrorist attack at Holey Bakery, which resulted in the quick departure of over half of the embassy community.

Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse writing about how great Oman has been, because things could turn on a dime. But even then, we still would have had the past 14 months of pure awesomeness. Things were never awesome in Dhaka. Our best times were spent hanging out with our friends in each other’s houses, and on vacation in other countries. We never got to experience the real Dhaka or Bangladesh.

I suppose that all of this is to say that I’m grateful for life’s upswing that we’ve had here. We’ve been lucky, and we know it. Maybe Oman was our cosmic payback for enduring Dhaka, but we are very cognizant of how good we’ve had it over the past year. Bracing for our next tour, we go into it hoping for the best. But in the back of my mind, there are thoughts about how it could go wrong and what contingency plans we’ll need. Nate will continue to always sit facing the exit in any restaurant we go to, and I’ll always be jumpy about people walking behind me.

Our family motto has been and will continue to be “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.” There’s no time like the present.

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New trip-planning page is live!

Top left corner (clockwise): Wadi Shab, Daymaniyat Islands, Masirah Islands, Wahiba Sands

A quick administrative note: If you’re looking to plan a trip to Muscat, Oman check out the new “Things to do around Muscat” page! It’s in the tool bar at the top next to “Home” and “About.” I’m working on adding photos, but I don’t want to bog it down. Several of the items are linked to blog posts with more information.

There are several categories: forts/castles/other neat outdoors things, hiking, primarily indoor things (museums, the souk, etc), wadis, and beaches/watersports.

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

Top left corner (clockwise): Jebel Al Akhdar, scuba diving at the Daymaniyat Islands, Sa’al Stairs, snorkeling at the Daymaniyats

The best places to spend your money in Muscat

It’s hard to not spend money in Oman. Things here aren’t cheap, but there are definitely some places where your money is better-spent than others. So, without further ado, here are the top places where we will happily part with our hard-earned riyals.

Things to Ingest

Best pizza: Tomato
Expensive, but worth it. Located at the Intercontinental Hotel

Yes, that is real pork on the pizza from Tomato

Best burgers: Park Burger
15% discount for US embassy employees

Best Omani Food: Bait Al Luban

The alleyway to Bait Al Luban

Omani dates and coffee

Best Indian food delivery: Begum’s
phone number for the branch that delivers is +968-9307-4000

Best vegetarian Indian restaurant: Saravana Bhavan
Inexpensive and amazing. the Ruwi branch is the best

Best Japanese food: Tokyo Taro
Located at the Al Falaj Hotel

Best seafood: Turkish House
The grilled shrimp, fried calamari, mixed appetizer and freshly baked bread are fantastic

Enormous grilled shrimp at The Turkish House

Best breakfast sandwich: The Zed at Al Hawas
The spicy version is the best. Good greasy shawarma too

The halal breakfast sandwich that dreams are made of

Best craft cocktails: The Chedi
Bring bug spray if you plan to sit outside

Best cocktails with a view: The Edge
Pool bar at the Crowne Plaza Qurum

Things to Take Home

Bespoke tailor: Western Tailor
Mukesh +968-9637-4537: Inexpensive, high-quality tailoring. You must provide your own fabric. One of the few tailors that is not shy about taking female measurements.

Pork: Duty free in the international arrivals baggage claim
It sounds strange, but it’s true! The pork you can buy elsewhere is extraordinarily overpriced, not to mention freezer burnt.

Frame shop: Ibn Al Farsi Trading Co.
Very inexpensive. Make sure to specify exactly what kind of glass you want and mat width.

Rug shop: Kashmir International
Shah +968-9589-3899: Beautiful rugs and weavings from Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Iran. Shah is extremely knowledgeable and friendly and will happily show you carpets for hours. Lots of beautiful scarves, blankets and other textiles and trinkets as well.

It’s hard to not buy one of everything

Carpets too beautiful to step on

Omani trinkets: Bait Al Zubair gift shop
Lots of good books on Oman, Omani handicrafts, prints, etc.

Things to Do

Best Daymaniyat Island snorkeling company: Daymaniat Shells

Yes, the water really was that color

Best scuba diving operator: EuroDivers

My kind of view!

Best adventure tourism operator: Twenty3Extreme

There you have it! I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting, so I’ll update this list if anything comes to mind.

The waterfalls of Salalah

There’s more to Salalah than Wadi Darbat

Around Salalah, you’ll see many sights called “ain“/”ayn”-something, which means “spring” and sometimes “waterfall.” We decided to spend our time around Salalah checking out all as many of the natural water features as possible. I mean, if we made a return trip and it wasn’t during the khareef, they won’t be there anymore! As with Wadi Darbat, you should not go in the water at any of these sites due to the prevalence of schistosomiasis.

The beautiful water looks inviting and you want to jump in, but don’t do it!

After going to Wadi Darbat, our next stops were Ain Tabruk and Ain Athum. Ain Tabrukwas unimpressive, but Ain Athum was really something. It’s basically just a granite wall with water cascading down the sides in a waterfall curtain. M enjoyed throwing rocks into the stream and I could have spent hours there taking photos. There were plenty of snack vendors around, but no public toilets.

Nice, but not awesome, Ain Tabruk

Ain Athum

We also drove to Ain Humran, which was more of a stream than a waterfall. It was pretty none-the-less and if we hadn’t been so tired by then we probably would have explored it a little more. M clambered on the rocks and wanted to go swimming. We called it a day and went back to the pool for some swimming in not-parasite-infested waters.

Muddy, green mountain roads

The next day we went to Ain Khor. Around half a mile from the actual waterfall, the gravel road was flooded and we didn’t know if our car could make it. Turns out, it definitely could have, but we erred on the side of caution. The last half mile wasn’t a terrible walk, and it was nice to stretch our legs. Once you reach the waterfall, be sure to climb the rocks over on the right side to get some nice photos! This was another spot where M wanted to swim, but that was, once again, a no-go.

Ain Khor

If I’m being picky, like, very picky, I’d say the water at this waterfall wasn’t as pretty as the others. But it still made for a great day trip!

If you only have time for one, go to Ain Athum. You won’t be disappointed!

Salalah: Wadi Darbat

Wadi Darbat waterfall

It’s time for the khareef, southern Oman’s monsoon season. Last year we went took an epic road trip to Salalah at the end of the khareef and I never got around to writing about some of the cool stuff we did. But I’m doing it now, just in time for you to go to Salalah to see it for yourself!

During the khareef, the two most interesting sites at Wadi Darbat are the big waterfall and the little waterfalls and ponds. There is also a lake, which is there year-round and, compared to everything else, is not spectacular. It is also full of the parasite schistosomiasis, so you can’t swim in it.

Approaching Wadi Darbat, you can’t help but notice the travertine curtain and the big waterfall. There are three ways to see this waterfall: you can hike towards it from below, you can drive/walk up the hillside for a beautiful unobstructed view of the whole thing, or you can explore it (carefully) from the top of the travertine curtain. First we drove to the parking lot and then walked up towards the waterfall. After that we drove up the hillside (you need 4WD for this, or you can walk) to get some more lovely views.

The river flowing down from the Wadi Darbat waterfall

View of the Wadi Darbat waterfall from the hill

Driving up towards Wadi Darbat, you’ll notice some nice little waterfalls and ponds off to the right. There’s a parking area, or you can also just park on the side of the road. This is a fun spot where you can spend hours walking around, exploring. There are clean public toilets near-by and also lots of food stands, selling snacks, toys and bug repellant.

So many beautiful little waterfalls and pools

These colors are so pretty!

Just before you reach this area, it’s possible to pull over and hike to the top of the big waterfall. This is a pretty, easy walk and the view from the top of the waterfall is impressive. There are also more of those beautiful turquoise pools.

Looking down from the top of the waterfall

If you drive all the way to the end of the wadi, the road ends in a parking lot by a lake. We didn’t even get out of the car here, but you can go for boat rides and rent paddle boats. Just don’t swimming! Schistosomiasis, a snail-borne parasitic disease, is endemic in the mountain water around Salalah.

Don’t get schistosomiasis!

I would recommend going to Wadi Darbat first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. When we went there in the beginning of September, there was hardly anyone else, compared with the several-hour wait just to drive up the mountain a few weeks before.

Wadi Darbat is completely unlike anything else you’ll see in Oman, and it’s definitely worth going all the way to Salalah to see during the khareef.

Things I won’t miss about Oman

We pulled that net out of the ocean during the last clean-up dive at Jissah Point

As I mentioned in my last post, the last two years have been some of the best years of my life and we are incredibly lucky to have had the chance to experience Oman in the way that we have. It’s not a secret that I have loved living in Oman.

However, there are some aspects of life in Oman that I will happily leave behind. Do they out-weigh the positives? Definitely not. But, for posterity, here are the few things about Oman that I will not miss:

The trash: Muscat is a noticeably clean city. There is no garbage in the main streets, and all the roads I drive on every day are absolutely spotless. But as soon as you head out of Muscat, or go anyplace where people are expected to clean up after themselves (and there are no South Asian laborers to clean up after them), there is trash and plastic crap everywhere. Be careful walking on the beach because people bury their barbeque skewers rather than throwing them away, leaving them to impale the feet of just about everyone (WTF? Why on earth would you do that?). Whenever we go to the beach or camping, we clean up all the garbage and we usually have several bags full. It’s disgusting. I’ve seen people throw plastic bottles and all kinds of garbage out their car windows. And don’t get me started on the amount of garbage you’ll find in the ocean. It’s truly sad.

Nets, plastic garbage, ropes, cans, metal rods, shoes, masks and snorkels, carpets… the list goes on. You never know what kind of garbage you’ll find underwater.

The drivers: You will never hear me complain about traffic in Oman. Never. Even on its worst day, the traffic in Oman is nothing compared to the daily traffic of Dhaka. The driving, here, on the other hand, is mind-blowingly terrible. I’ve seen more single car accidents and dumb shit then I’ve ever seen in the US. People don’t check their blind spots, everyone cuts off everyone else, they don’t understand the idea of merging, no one waits their turn, and tail-gating is the norm. The women drivers are the worst offenders.  Most of the time when a car does something truly ridiculous, there is a lady behind the wheel. As a woman myself, this especially pains me.

The currency: One rial, or one OMR, is worth about $2.50. Not only does this make on-the-fly price conversions a little tricky sometimes, but it makes things seem cheaper than they actually are.  For example, you see some nice looking cheese at the grocery store. It costs 3.600 OMR. How much is 3.600 OMR in USD? Round up to 4, multiply roughly by three and then subtract a little. So in my head this is $10. Plug it into the currency converter later on and come to find, thankfully, that it’s actually $9.35. Victory! However, 3.600 OMR sounds like a lot less than $10, so you might think it’s a good deal. But it’s not. If something is “only” 2 OMR, that’s more than $5! I am really looking forward to living someplace where prices sounds more expensive than they are. When we were in India things seemed so expensive because there are 70 rupees in one US dollar. Something that costs 500 rupees sounds really expensive, because 500 of anything sounds like a lot. But that’s only $7! In Namibia, there are 14 Namibian dollars in one US dollar. Hopefully this, coupled with a comparatively lower cost of living, will help us save some money.

The speedbumps: Oh dear god, the speed bumps. I’ve gone over enough speedbumps in Oman to last a lifetime. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes I’ll take a longer route just to avoid speedbumps. Sometimes they’re marked, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they’re tiny, sometimes they’re massive. Hopefully you have another car in front of you, braking so that you know there’s a speedbump coming. The unmarked enormous speedbumps are the worst. I can’t even count the number of speedbumps we’ve gone over and there’s a crunch because the car’s shocks are 100% compressed.

The metal fixtures on the doors and exterior-facing glass is covered in condensation all summer long.

The heat: Obviously. I’ve complained about it enough that it’s old news at this point.

Are any of these things deal-breakers? Nope. It’s all things you learn to deal with, and we always try to do our part to mitigate the effects, like picking up trash, driving responsibly, and always keeping an eye out for speed bumps. You really only run into problems if you are bad at pricing things (and spend all your money) or a terrible driver (and you get in non-stop car accidents)!

What I’ll miss the most about Oman

The bluest of water at the Daymaniyat Islands

I’ve been writing a lot of introspective and reflective blog posts lately. Our two years here are nearly over, and I’m coming to terms with leaving and what that means for me, on a personal level, and for our family. It’s a lot to process, honestly.

Now, reading my own words, that sounds ridiculous. It’s only been two years, and I’ve moved a lot. I should be used to this by now.

On the other hand, I’ve never loved living anywhere like I’ve loved living here. Oman is an incredible place.

Lots of people have asked what our favorite thing to do here was or what we liked the most. It’s a hard question to answer. We’ve done so many amazing things, and but there are a few things that stand out as my absolute favorite things about Oman.

The undersea life: Snorkeling and scuba diving are at the top of my list of favorites. Imagine swimming alongside a 100-year old turtle slowly making his way to the surface, or finding yourself in the middle of a school of baby barracuda encircling you peacefully, or swimming along and suddenly finding a brave little clownfish in your face telling you to back off. Or kneeling in the sand 50 feet underwater next to a sting ray who just can’t be bothered to wake up from his nap (Who, in my defense, blended in so well with the sand that I thought it was the imprint of a ray who had just swum off. Then I saw it’s blinking eyes. Wow.) Absolute favorites: snorkeling at the Daymaniyat Islands and scuba diving just about anywhere.

A beautiful turtle at the Daymaniyat Islands

A juvenile emperor angelfish! (plus some brown fish)

Watching this octopus swim away was pretty cool

Camping: In Oman you can camp anywhere that isn’t private property. And that means you can camp pretty much anywhere. We’ve camped in some seriously amazing places, and some of the most fun I’ve had here has been while camping. From Masirah Island to the Salma Plateau to a random beach in Dhofar, nothing beats cooking dinner watching the sunset and curling up in (or on top of, depending on the weather) my sleeping bag under the stars, listening to the waves crashing 30 feet away. Absolute favorite: The Sugar Dunes (Nate) and Masirah Island (me).

Beautiful scenery at our Sugar Dunes campsite

Sunset from our Masirah Island campsite

Wadi hikes: I’ve done a lot of hiking, but, prior to Oman, I’d never done anything even remotely similar to a wadi hike. Bouldering, swimming, rock scrambling, hiking, and then doing it all over again for several hours was a completely new, and kind of frightening, experience. I was hesitant jumping from boulder to boulder, not trusting my feet to land where I needed them to so that I wouldn’t break a leg. These days, I have more confidence and I’m not as worried about compound fractures. I know I can pull myself up a rock and jump of a ledge. And there is nothing like climbing up a boulder or rounding a corner to find an untouched crystal blue pool just beckoning you to jump in. It’s an unbeatable experience. Absolute favorites: Wadi Al Arbaieen (Nate) and Snake Canyon (me).

It’s impossible to take a bad photo at Wadi Al Arbaieen

Hiking Snake Canyon was so much fun!

The do-it-yourself-ness of adventuring: If there’s one thing to know about exploring and adventuring in Oman, it’s this: the route to that trail head, or that UNESCO World Heritage Site, or that other supposedly-amazing thing that you’re trying to find will never be well-marked. I can’t even count the number of times we’ve driven or wandered around aimlessly trying to find something. Sometimes we find it, sometimes we don’t. Frequently, we don’t, we go home,  I research it some more, we go back, and then we find it. The amount of effort that goes into doing most things around Oman just makes the adventure, and the pay-off at the end, all the better. And, honestly, it keeps away the casual lazy tourists who just want instagram photos. If you really want to experience Oman, you have to work for it. And I love that. Absolute favorite tricky-to-find places: Ain Sahban Sulphur Springs and the Al Ain Beehive Tombs

The baby blue, cool water at Ain Sahban is worth the drive

These beehive tombs are easy to see, but tricky to actually get to

Our Grand Road Trip to Salalah: This was definitely our top multi-day experience in Oman. It incorporated all our favorite things to do (with the exception of snorkeling or diving), and it was truly epic. This road trip was a great way to experience and see so much of Oman, and I would not change a single part of what we did.

I’m not going to mention how much I’ll miss our friends because I don’t have time or the emotional bandwidth to deal with those waterworks. Luckily, when it’s time to leave I’ll be saying “See you later!” rather than “Bye” because so many friends have promised to visit us in Windhoek.

Thinking about my favorite things has also gotten me thinking about what I won’t miss about Oman. I’ll have to write another blog post about that!

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!

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.