Petroglyphs at Hasat Bin Salt

Can you spot all four people?

On our way to Misfat Al Abriyeen we made a quick detour to look at the Hasat Bin Salt petroglyphs. Oman Off Road sets your expectations low with the following language: “The most impressive petroglyphs of Hasat Bin Salt have mainly disappeared from the surface of this ancient rock, or been vandalized. This is particularly sad given that when they were found, the clear drawings of people and animals were said to be the most significant found in Arabia.” Whomp, whomp.

We followed the book’s instructions and turned off to the right when we were supposed to (right after the brown arrow pointing right saying “Hasat Bin Salt”), bumping down a dirt road. There were no GPS coordinates or specific instructions for how exactly to find the petroglyphs, however. We found ourselves crossing a dry wadi bed, wondering exactly where we were going. But we couldn’t stop because then we probably wouldn’t have been able to get back out of the six-inch deep lose gravel! Once we crossed the wadi, we stuck our heads out the windows to try to get an idea of where to go. Our friend spotted a rock maybe 100 yards away that was encircled with metal rebar sticking straight up into the air. Bingo!

If it weren’t for the rebar, this would have looked like just another rock.

We go closer to the rock and all we saw was lots of graffiti. I looked up a little higher on the rock, past the reach of the more recent artists that had been leaving their marks, and, much to my surprise, there were human forms carved into the rock. We were expecting gazelle etchings or something like that, not legit rock carvings. So that was pretty cool.

The GPS coordinates for the rock are 23.074553, 57.282935. You can easily see four human forms; from left to right there is a medium sized figure, probably a man, next to him there is another medium figure wearing a hat or something, possibly a woman, then a figure seemingly flexing his muscles (it seems men haven’t changed much over the past 5,0000 years), and finally smaller figure on the corner below the muscle man, probably a child. Apparently there are other human forms on the rock also, but they aren’t as easy to find; I think you’d probably have to really search. We mostly focused on the four obvious ones and didn’t find the others with a cursory initial glace.

From left to right: man, woman, and the Muscle Man

You can barely see the woman to the left of the Muscle Man and the child is carved onto the corner of the rock

Further research after the fact revealed that this rock is also called Coleman’s Rock, named after Robert Coleman, who apparently made its presence known in the 1970s. I hesitate to write that he discovered it, since the local people probably knew that it was there well before that. The petroglyphs are estimated to be over 5,000 years old! Yet there’s hardly any information available about them, and definitely no signage other than the initial arrow pointing in its general direction off the main road. It’s nice to see that someone tried to protect the area with rebar, but you can easily walk through and get close to the rock; we certainly did. Thankfully the petroglyphs are just high enough that you can’t touch them.

This is one of my favorite things about Oman: if it weren’t for the rebar, we would have felt like the first people to have ever seen that rock. It takes effort here to find things, which can be maddening, but it also keeps the casual tourists away. Oman is a do-it-yourself place where you really have to try to find what you’re looking for, but once you finally find it, it’s almost always better than you could have possibly imagined.

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Abseil trip to 7th Hole

I’m all about trying to conquer my fears, but I’m not quite ready to do that with my fear of heights. A few weeks ago, when Nate decided to hook himself to a rope and jump into a cave on top of a plateau in the Hajar mountains, I said “F*** no” and stayed behind. So I’m letting him take over to write about it:

When the Embassy fun coordinator (she has an official title, but that is a significant part of her duties) announced that there was going to be an abseiling trip into a 120 meter deep cavern, I first looked up what abseiling was, and then I enthusiastically volunteered. I also asked Kathryn if she wanted to come, but she did not seem super interested in hanging mid-air attached to a rope.

We had heard a lot of good things about the company that was guiding the tour, Twenty 3 Extreme, so I was fairly certain it would be a safe, competently led expedition. Our friend had used them for a trip a month or so back, and said all of their equipment was top of the line and in really good shape, which is what you want to hear when you’re going to be dangling over an abyss in short order.

I also liked that they required nine hours of training over the course of three sessions at a local climbing facility. If I need to use a lot of new equipment to do something, I want to get a lot of opportunities to use it in as safe an environment as possible.

We were given a helmet, a harness, an ASAP (a safety device with metal teeth that attaches to a rope running alongside your descent / ascent rope), an ascending device attached to our chest (a piece of equipment with metal teeth that keeps you attached to the climbing rope, but also allows you to move up it), a Jumar ascending device (a device with a foot loop attached to it that allows you to climb a rope essentially by standing up repeatedly), a descender device, and several cables attached to carabiners that could be used as safety devices when attached to anchors.  Most of these devices rely on weight and friction, and if you take your weight off them you can detach them from the rope you’re on. This became necessary when we were transferring from rope to rope mid-climb.

It took a little while to get used to all these pieces of equipment: I still can’t really describe the process of what I was doing as much as I can say it became much easier as I continuously did it. Pretty soon everyone was going up and down ropes with ease, and using the descender to more rapidly go down. The last part of the training was adding an additional 15 kilos of weight to the bottom of the rope we were using to see if we could still feed it through the descender device. This was to simulate having 200 feet of rope hanging underneath us, which we might need to manipulate at some point.

Getting the ropes ready to abseil into the cave (Photo by Stephen K.)

After the final training we packed up our camping gear and headed to the Hajar mountains, overlooking the town of Fins and some very deep canyons. The mountain road was extremely twisty and steep, and our Mitsubishi Pajero overheated twice before we made it to the hole we planned on abseiling into. We set up camp maybe ten meters away from the hole, and our guides Joe and Justin set up the ropes we’d be using the next day. We got a grill set up and cooked chicken and steak under the stars. The view of the sky was amazing. Joe and Justin regaled us with tales of their cave exploring throughout the world. One of their many interesting stories was Justin’s tale of cannibals threatening his life and the life of a BBC film crew while trying to explore a cave in Papua New Guinea.

The next day we woke up at the crack of dawn, ate some breakfast, and started dropping into the hole. I went second so that I wouldn’t psych myself out, though I don’t think I needed to worry. Joe was at the top, and was extremely reassuring, even though I was literally backing myself off the edge of a cliff. I did not look down very much, enjoying the views of the cave and the cliff above me. When I did look down, I mistook the mouth of the cavern for the ground, so I thought I was halfway down when I was actually about a quarter of the way there.  It took about 17 minutes to make it all the way down.

When we got to the bottom we took some group photos, signed the Twenty 3 Extreme cave guestbook they had hidden there, and hiked a short distance through a dark tunnel. We came out on the other side, rappelled down a ten – fifteen meter drop and then climbed up what was variously described as a 40, 50, or possibly 60 meter rock wall. Another short hike found us climbing a final 30-meter high rock wall. As we climbed we saw two huge lizards fighting it out for dominance of the cave by trying to grab each other by the tails and fling each other off the wall.

Climbing through the aforementioned dark tunnel (Photo by Stephen K.)

Climbing out of the 7th Hole (Photo by Stephen K.)

Another view climbing out of the cave (Photo by Stephen K.)

The cave itself was beautiful, deep, and cool. A nearby wadi feeds into it, and you can see where torrents of water have created a series of deep cauldrons. Apparently it goes another 160 meters down, though exploring that part is another expedition. The initial descent alone is worth the trip. I strongly suggest trying it out, and using Twenty 3 Extreme; their guides are excellent, and will make you a successful abseiler no matter how scared of heights you are.

Misfat Al Abriyeen

Abandoned houses in Misfat

I’d heard that the mountainside farming village of Misfat Al Abriyeen is one of the lushest, prettiest areas of Oman. With summer and its repressively hot temperatures encroaching quickly, we decided to make the drive to Misfat Al Abriyeen a few weeks ago before it got too hot.

I’ll tell you right now that it did not disappoint. There were hiking trails along the mountains, and also paths you could take through partially abandoned neighborhoods and down into terraced farmlands.

Falajs are used for irrigation

To access Misfat, you can either turn right by the playground after you go up the hill with all the switchback turns, or you can go straight. If you go straight the road curves right and you’ll find yourself in a parking lot. We followed two SUVs full of tourists up the mountain and they turned right, so we went straight. As we were unloading the car and getting ready for our hike, the SUVs came lumbering past. By going straight I think you access the hiking trails more easily.

HOLY SHIT! A map!

Yellow, white, and red flags mark trails throughout Oman, the W9 trail in this case.

Near the parking area is a tourist center with a map of the area! I was shocked; this is the first of its kind that I’ve seen in Oman. Note that the map encompasses a very small area. From the “you are here” star indicator to the mosque in the opposite corner, it’s maybe a 10 minute walk and that’s only if you stop and take lots of photos. Otherwise it’s about 5 minutes. You can easily explore the entire hillside in an afternoon and still have time for a rest break at one of the cute guest house cafes perched on the mountainside.

Beautiful scenery along the W9

Oman has a fairly well-developed network of trails, and one of them, the W9, starts in Misfat. It heads into the canyon away from Misfat and it looks to be a lovely walk as long as it’s not summer. We walked along it for maybe 20 minutes, although it felt like an hour it was so hot. There’s not a lot of shade and the sun reflects off the mountains and hits you full-force. Eventually we turned around an headed back towards Misfat, hoping to find a more shaded area to explore.

We heard this guy well before we saw him, whistling while walking his donkey along the trail

Walking on the shady breezy trails along the falajs, taking in the view and smelling the fruit trees, was exactly what I’d been hoping for. This was also when M decided he was “stuck” in his hiking pack and demanded to be turned loose. From here he did the rest of the hiking on his own, holding our hands on the stairs and trying to say “careful.”

Ruins in Misfat

A note for tourists: knees and shoulders, for both men and women, need to be coveredto enter the village. Those SUVs full of tourists I mentioned earlier? We saw them walking about with sarongs tied around their waists and scarves over their shoulders. You’re not going to be doing much hiking, or be very comfortable, dressed like that. Also, don’t pick the fruit. This community’s livelihood is farming.

Baby pomegranates

Oman never fails to impress. I have yet to go someplace and think, “Well that sucked.” Hopefully I didn’t just jinx myself.

Our tour here is 1/3 done :(

What post about the awesomeness of Oman is complete without the requisite Wadi Shab photo?

Yes, I feel so strongly about that I needed to put an emoticon in the subject line.

Folks, the past eight months have flown by. Like, I feel like we got here maybe 2 months ago. I’ve counted it off on my fingers several times just to make sure we are actually at the 8-month mark. (And I just did it again.)

Classic Oman: sand and camels in the Wahiba Sands

One thing I’ve learned in life is that things can go to shit real fast. Keeping that in mind, with every week that goes by, I remind myself how lucky I am. Oman is a truly incredible place, and we are very fortunate to be here. That might seem like a crazy thing to say, given the fact that we are in the Middle East, bordering Yemen, with Iran just across the Straight of Hormuz, but Oman is such a special place.

The beautiful Dayminiat Islands

Don’t get me wrong, there are things about Oman, or at least Muscat, that annoy me. Like the driving. The other day we were sitting at an intersection, and the light had just turned red. We watched a car turn right and head in the opposite direction from us, and then inexplicably do a 3-point turn and turn around, going in the wrong direction. He then proceeded to plow over the 8-inch tall median (in a sedan, nonetheless, so he must have really been keeping his foot on the gas) and t-bone a car waiting for the light to turn going in the opposite direction from us. It was nothing short of ridiculous. Nate was worried the driver had had a heart attack because why else would you drive like that, but then the driver got out the car and started pointing at the dude he’d just t-boned like he’d something wrong.  It was mind-boggling. I am convinced that if it weren’t for the red light cameras, all hell would break loose.

Deep under water, where crazy drivers aren’t a problem. We saw turtles, along with electric rays, moray eels, and loads of fish while scuba diving off Jissah Point.

But, for the most part, I feel like we have things figured out and we’re able to spend our weekends exploring and having fun. There are a few things that we brought with us or purchased since arriving here that have helped us to maximize our fun, or at least made life a little easier.

Bimmah Sinkhole

Here, in no particular order, are a few things that I would recommend you have when in Oman:

  • A large, durable water bladder.  We keep one of these MSR bags in our car all the time. It’s perfect for rinsing off after the beach and doubles as an emergency water supply if necessary.
  • A beach tent/shelter. The tent we had previously would blow away like a sail with every strong gust of wind, and I got tired of chasing it down the beach. This tent is anchored with sandbags and an attached floor that you weigh down with all your stuff. It’s stayed put through several strong wind gusts that would have certainly uprooted the other tent. This tent is also amazingly easy to put up and take down; I can do it by myself in less than 5 minutes.
  • For the ladies, I give you the perfect pants for hot climates. They are also great for traveling and hiking, and if you have to wade into the water at the beach fully clothed these pants will dry in less than half an hour. I got my first pair at 40% off, and given that summer and Ramadan are coming I recently bought a second pair at full price. At $79 these pants are an investment, but totally and completely worth it.
  • Oman Off-Road is the best guide for exploring Oman, and definitely worth the $50 price tag. You an buy it at any Borders book store (yes, those still exist here) and at some grocery stores. It is full of helpful info and you can do some of the routes in a sedan. I just wish it was spiral bound because it is so big that when I open it in the car the sides hang off my lap.
  • Shoes you can wear in and out of the water. We use Chacos, but Tevas or Keens would also work.

Water/hiking shoes an absolute must if you want to explore Wadi Al Arbaeen

  • A CamelBak or some other on-the-go hydration system. When we go hiking, Nate carries M in the metal-framed hiking pack and we use a 2-liter Platypus in our day hiking pack, which I carry. Everyone, including M, drinks out of the Platypus.
  • A high-clearance vehicle with four wheel drive, if you really want to explore and go on adventures. You can rent one, but most of them have a 200 kilometer per day milage limit (we learned this the hard way). Our CR-V is great for day-to-day driving, but she can’t handle anything more than light off-roading.

    You need 4WD to get past the police checkpoint if you want to explore Jebel Akhdar

  • An unlocked cell phone. The two main cellular companies here, Omantel and Oredoo, have shops in the airport and you can easily get a SIM card as soon as you arrive. They just need a photocopy of your passport. The cellular network here is pretty good, although I think Omantel is stronger than Oredoo. You can use Waze for turn-by-turn directions (not Google Maps) to get just about anywhere.

I’m glad we have 16 more months to explore Oman. There’s still so much we haven’t done: Jebel Shams, Salalah, Masirah Island, Musandam, the Sugar Dunes, Wadi Tiwi, the list goes on.

Al Thorwah Hot Springs, near Nakhal Fort

Also, if I do say so myself, if these photos don’t convince you to come visit Oman, you are immune to fun and adventure!

Wadi Dhum

Wadi Dhum

While we were visiting the Bat and Al Ayn tombs, we also checked out Wadi Dhum. It was totally worth the long drive out. The water is beautiful with lots of spots to jump in, the canyon itself is lovely and the rocks are surprisingly very interesting.

One of the best things about the hike to the end of the wadi is that it’s actually a pretty quick hike. I’d say 45 minutes maximum, and that included jumping into some pools along the way. It’s also more of a true wadi hike because you do have to scramble over some rocks and look for a relatively-unobstructed path. The only downfall is that it’s a 3 hour drive from Muscat.

On this wadi hike, make sure you bring a dry bag you can stash all your stuff into and shoes that you can wear both in and out of water. Also, as usual, bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen!

The view out of the wadi towards the carpark shortly after starting the hike

Oman Off Road has good advice for how to reach the end of the wadi, but I’ll go through what we did and what we’d do differently next time. First, if you have a high-clearance vehicle, you basically drive down the wadi bed until you can’t go any further. Park to the left under the rock ledge by the falaj if you want your car to stay shaded. If you’re driving a sedan, you might want to pull off the road where you can and park there because the closer you get to the parking lot, the more big rocks there are jutting out that could scrape the bottom of your car.

After you’ve parked, head up the wadi towards the dam. It’s maybe a 5 minute walk, and you could walk along the falaj or on the wadi bed. Cross the dam on the right side, and stay on that side for an easy walk to the a small waterfall with a massive boulder on the left side. Or, after crossing the dam go over to the left and jump into the first crystal blue inviting pool that you see to cool off. Then scramble over some slippery rocks to get to the right side with the trail to get to the waterfall. To the left of the enormous boulder by the waterfall you’ll notice a rope going up a rock into a cave-like rock formation. To proceed, either climb up the rocks by the waterfall (which I think would be possible if the rocks aren’t too slippery) or use the rope and climb up. If you take the waterfall route, bring a drybag for your stuff because you’ll have to swim to the rocks.

The rope is to the left of the large boulder, where the guys are standing.

The view along the hike through Wadi Dhum

From here we kept to the ledge on the right side of the wadi, which eventually spat us out a good bit above the final pool. The wadi eventually makes a 90 degree angle to the left and ends with a cave full of bats. Right before the wadi turns left you’ll find the last few pools. Getting down to the pools involved leaping over a big gap between two rocks and then clambering down while being careful to not touch the black rocks, which by 2 pm were burning hot. Then you go down through an opening in the rocks to climb down into the pools.

In the beautiful final wadi pool

Next time we’d stay on the right side of the wadi, but stay closer to the water rather than going up. Leaving the wadi, we climbed and swam through the water until there were easy ledges on either side. This route is definitely easier than the one we took coming in. You’re on the same side of the wadi as before, but there’s less climbing, scrambling and leaping over rock gaps.

We reached the point where you’d have to use the rope to go back down the slippery rocks and we figured out how to avoid that entirely. Keep to the left side of the wadi, and you’ll notice a path that goes up past the waterfall on the left side. You’ll have to scramble up a dicey area full of loose rocks and thorny shrubs, but if you just keep looking where you’re going, you’ll be fine. Note that this particular stretch of the hike is why I would not recommend taking this route entering the wadi. If you slip and fall going down, there is nothing stopping you from basically falling down a steep incline and off the side of a cliff. But going up it isn’t bad. After the dicey part you come to a nice wide path along a ledge in the wadi and you just follow that until you’re near the car park. It’s easy enough to walk down the hill and climb over a few rocks from there back to the car.

View out of the wadi towards the carpark as you leave. Keep to the left on the rock ledge, and then scramble up when the ledge stops. I promise there’s a trail up there.

Alright, so I reread my directions and they’re a bit confusing. If you plan on going and have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me personally!

Race review: Muscat Marathon 2018 half marathon

Running along the sea during the Muscat Marathon 2018 half marathon

Last month I ran the Muscat Marathon half-marathon, mentioned here, and it was a fun race. I like to write race reviews mostly for my own benefit; they’re fun to go back and read later, but, who knows, I might actually be helping someone that’s considering running the race. If you don’t give a shit about running (and who can blame you) you might not want to waste your time reading this.

The race was run on January 19, 2018 and race registration closed on December 1, 2017. I thought that was a little odd, as it’s almost a two month gap, which is more than enough time to train for a 10 k or, if you’ve got a good running base, a half marathon. The half cost about $65, so is was pricey but nothing too crazy if you’re used to US prices.

The race date was Friday morning (the workweek here is Sunday to Thursday) and packet pick-up was Monday-Wednesday before the race. There was no morning-of packet pick-up. I wish I’d taken a picture of the packet pick-up. It was a huge tent full of tables and volunteers, but hardly any runners were there. I don’t know when people picked up their packets, but it definitely wasn’t 6:30 pm on Wednesday. The guy who gave me my race bib and stuff told me my shirt was in the bag, but I got home and discovered he’d left it on the table. The race was at Al Mouj (formerly The Wave) which is half an hour away, and I wasn’t going to go back and get my shirt. I don’t need another race shirt that badly.

The race was initially going to start at 7 am, but the week before they changed it to 6 am. We left home around 4:30 to make sure we made it in time, and let’s just say we made it with plenty of time to spare. I milled around for over an hour before getting to my starting corral. I couldn’t find the port-a-pots so I used the toilets in the mall, which are really nice (although as we got closer to the race start they ran out of TP and paper towels).

The race started around 6:20 and the first few miles were on brick pavers, then we ran through a sandy construction area for maybe a mile, then it was back onto the brick pavers as we ran through the Al Mouj golf course. Then there was another half mile or so in the construction area, during which I had to stop and dump the sand and pebbles out of my shoes. Next we had another 2 miles on brick pavers before finally hitting asphalt. The brick pavers are no fun because they are particularly hard, whereas asphalt has a little give. There were probably 6 miles on the asphalt, 5 on the brick, and 2 on packed sand.

Sunrise over the mountains while running through the Al Mouj golf course

There were regular hydration and fuel stations, although at the hydration stations they were literally handing out full-sized plastic water bottles. It was so wasteful. I felt like a terrible person for taking a few swigs of water and then throwing a 2/3s full water bottle onto the ground (there were no garbage cans, or recycling, for that matter). There were a few stations with gels and at least one station with bananas.

There wasn’t tons of crowd support, and the course wasn’t particularly scenic, but I still enjoyed it. You run along the sea for a good chunk of it, and the part through the golf course is pretty. Running through the neighborhoods is fun; people are out in the bathrobes with their coffees, kids, and dogs, giving out high-fives.

The end of the race was kind of a mess. I ended as the 5k and 10k races were getting ready to start and the finishing area was jam-packed with people.

The morning of the race was unseasonably warm. I was expecting to be cold standing there in shorts and a tank top at 5:30 am, but I was sadly comfortable. I knew that meant I’d get hot quickly during the race, which unfortunately proved to be true. Thank god for those aid stations with water bottles; I also drank all the water in my hydration belt. When I finished I had crusty salt in my eyebrows.

In summary, the race was disorganized, but it was fun and you could tell the race organizers were trying really hard to make it as good as possible. I think in the years to come it will only get better!

On getting scuba certified

The world looks different from 50 feet under water

That’s right, I am now a PADI open water scuba diver! For me, it’s a pretty big deal. I was really nervous and hesitant, primarily since scuba diving goes against one of my main survival instincts: sinking is bad.

Maybe a year before we were scheduled to arrive in Muscat, Nate said the one thing he really wanted to do was get scuba certified.  My response was a half-hearted “Okay….” and I kind of hoped he would forget about it. But every time someone asked us about moving to Oman, Nate would talk about how excited he was to get scuba certified and I would usually smile wanly and say, “Well, it’s something I’m really scared to do, so I guess that means I should give it a try.” (And in the meantime, I still kept hoping Nate would forget or get too busy or something.)

Fast-forward to Nate’s first day at the embassy here. He came home and immediately said, “I already got a recommendation for a dive shop to use for our scuba qualification!”

Well, shit.

Fast-forward maybe another month or so and I had gone on a few snorkeling trips. The one big conclusion I drew from snorkeling was that if I really wanted to see anything, I’d need to learn how to scuba dive. The water is deep in the reefs here and everything interesting is usually pretty far below. I met one of the dive instructors on a snorkel trip and he seemed like a cool dude, and I was slowly starting to come around to the idea of scuba diving. Nate said he wanted to get scuba certified for his birthday, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and just do it.

A tiny anemone with some tiny clownfish

We decided to use the local branch of EuroDivers, and it was a great experience. EuroDivers came highly recommended because they have no minimum class size and the instructors take their time with the students and don’t rush you through anything.  We did the online theory portion at home, and then we had 3 diving sessions. For the first diving session we were in a swimming pool, the second time we did two dives off a beach, and for the third and final session we did two dives off a boat.

A note about the theory portion: if you plan to do the PADI open water scuba class and you want to do the theory at home, be forewarned that it is a slog. We’re talking five on-line modules, most with over 200 powerpoint slides. It takes a minimum of eight hours and you have to pay attention to the whole thing since they’re basically telling you how to not die.

For the first session, Nate and I were with three other students in the pool, but for the beach dives it was just us and the instructor. When we did the last two dives off the boat it was the two of us with two instructors. The amount of personal attention we received was really helpful given my inclination to freak out.

Reef wall in the Maldives

Initially I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy it, but now I love it. It’s incredible to think that the earth is over 50% water, and humans get to see less than half the world. On our second dive off Fahal Island we were encircled by a massive school of little barracuda. We swam over moray eels with heads literally the size of a person’s head, which was alarming but incredible. In the Maldives we dove along a reef wall that was over 100 feet tall. By scuba diving you get to see some of that other 50+% and as long as you float along and don’t touch anything, you are able to move easily in that other environment. That, my friends, is amazing and it’s a surreal experience.

If you’re thinking about getting scuba qualified, do it! If I can do it, anyone can.

I’m not complaining about the weather!

The Omani flag flying high at Jabrin Castle

Things here have been busy. We had our first visitors over Thanksgiving, took our first local vacation, got scuba certified, and I’m training for my first real race since 2014. We’re also putting up Christmas decorations, going to parties, and I’m baking a lot of cookies. There is so much to blog about and just not enough time.

First things first, the weather here is currently perfect. Around mid-November it was like a switch flipped and the weather got awesome. It’s in the 60s in the morning, and by mid day it’s actually comfortable to be outside in the sun. We drive to work with the windows rolled down and I leave the kitchen door open when I’m cooking. During my morning runs, even the ones that last for over an hour, I don’t get hot. It’s a fricking miracle. When we first got here everyone told us that the weather in the winter would make the terrible heat worth it, and they were totally 100% right. This is currently my climate paradise and it’s amazing.

In my last blog post I was whining about how our stuff wasn’t here yet. The following week it arrived, and never in my life have I been so excited to see our stuff. I actually clapped when they unpacked my sari stamp block mirror that we had made in Dhaka. I unpacked and put away almost everything within about three weeks, and we got rid of a lot of stuff. There are clothing donation bins all over our neighborhood, and we probably donated a few hundred pounds of clothes and shoes. We don’t have tons of storage space, so I turned off the water to two of our four showers and they are now perfect for storing large plastic boxes. With our books on the shelves, stuff put away, and pictures and art on the walls, and our house finally feels like home.

Sunrise in Muscat

I’m training for a half marathon and so far it’s going well. My weekly milage is building, slowly but surely, and I have stayed injury-free (knock on wood). While waking up at the crack of dawn kind of sucks, I love running here now that the weather is perfect. Running along the ocean, watching the sun rise over the mountains and hearing only the sound of the waves and my own breathing is amazing every time. I will never take this for granted and if I ever do, someone please punch me.

Bimmah sinkhole

Some friends from Dhaka came to visit over Thanksgiving and it was so much fun. They only stayed for three days, but we packed as many Oman highlights as we could into the long weekend and everyone had a great time. We spent most of the first day at our favorite beach and then we went to Thanksgiving dinner. The next day we woke up bright and early and drove to Bimmah Sinkhole, followed by Wadi Shab, and on their last day here we drove to Nizwa and then checked out Jabrin Castle.  Oman is such an incredible and beautiful country (and there’s still so much we haven’t even seen yet!), and showing visitors and friends our favorite parts is so much fun. Seeing the wonder and amazement reflected on someone’s face and knowing that they are just as fascinated as you are is pretty cool.

The sun setting over the Wadi Shab entrance (and freeway)

There’s still so much more to say, but I have to get back to baking Christmas cookies!

Bringing a dog into Oman

Athena at the beach

Arranging Athena’s travel is, by far, the most difficult, stressful, and expensive part of changing posts.

Before M was born, a friend told me that if I thought traveling with a dog was bad, just wait until I try traveling with a baby. That friend was wrong. No matter how terrible a flight with a baby is, at least you know your baby is with you, getting its needs met in a temperature controlled environment. Whereas if your dog is in the belly of the plane in cargo, who knows what is happening. Our total travel to Dhaka was over 24 hours and during that time, Athena got no food or water. Apparently she has an iron-clad bladder because she also held it the entire time.

Our travel to Muscat was on United and Swiss Air with one layover in Zurich.  We’ve all heard the United pet travel horror stories.  A dead golden retriever, a dead giant bunny, the list goes on. When pets travel on United they travel through United’s PetSafe program, which supposedly keeps them in a temperature controlled environment the whole time, they are offered food and water, and they can be taken out of their crates during layovers. I called PetSafe, booked Athena on our flight to Zurich, and was told United “doesn’t do codeshares” for pet travel. Meaning Athena would be booked through only to Zurich and we would have to recheck her there for the Muscat flight.

Great… So now our dog is also entering Switzerland, which has it’s own set of pet importation rules. Ugh.

I called Swiss Air and they, very politely I should add, assured me that she would never leave the transit area and there was no need for all the Swiss pet import documents.  But it was required that the dog be clean and not smell bad in order to board the plane. Okay, fine, hopefully her iron bladder would hold.

One more thing about United’s PetSafe: it is ridiculously expensive. For Athena and her crate it should have cost $1194 just to Zurich, given the total weight. Instead the guy quoted me $843, which is the cost for the weight class taking into account just Athena’s weight.  I figured United would realize it’s mistake when we were checking in and we’d be taken to the cleaners at that point.

A few weeks before we were scheduled to fly out, we filled out the Omani pet importation form, and the embassy arranged for our pet importation certificate. Athena didn’t need any special shots, rabies titers or anything strange; the process was quite painless. Oman doesn’t have a quarantine or anything, although your pet does have to be inspected by a vet upon arrival and if it looks unwell it could be quarantined. We were told that Omanis like to see stamps on official documents and that it would be a good idea to get Athena’s health certificate USDA certified but that it wasn’t required. We figured we weren’t going to go this far just to get her turned away because there weren’t enough stamps, so we spent a day of home leave driving to Richmond and paid $32 for a stamp and some signatures.

Five days after getting the health certificate certified by the USDA, we were at Dulles getting everything checked in. Athena’s crate met the specifications; her food, collar and leash were taped to the outside; “live animal” stickers covered almost every visible surface of the crate; and all of our flight info was taped to the crate.  Nate took Athena outside for one last hurrah while we got everything sorted out (we got there 3 hours early and ended up needing almost every minute of it). It came time to pay and the lady mentioned that the guy had quoted us the wrong price, but that she would honor that price. I was shocked. She assured me that paying a lower price would not affect the care Athena would receive, and then she slapped the Dulles to Zurich baggage tag on her crate.

We arrived in Zurich with a 4 hour layover and Nate went to go get Athena and recheck her while I dealt with a toddler who was running (literally and figuratively) on minimal sleep. A few hours later Nate found us at the gate, and apparently he and Athena had to exit the airport. He didn’t even have to show her health certificate and Athena had a nice little layover in Zurich. She drank Evian because water fountains aren’t a thing and, after spending another $350 for her ticket, she was on her way to Muscat with us.

Having to pick her up in Zurich and recheck her was a bit of a blessing in disguise, even if it was a pain in the butt. She got food and water and a chance to stretch her legs and take care of doggy business. Plus she got to experience Switzerland. Athena has now been to five countries!

In Muscat her crate came out on the luggage belt with the rest of the bags and she looked good. She handled the flight well, passed the vet check, and we loaded her into the embassy van to go to our new home.

She’s adjusting well so far to life here. She spends most of the day inside, as do we all, and we enjoy our evening walks when it’s cooled down a bit. Athena has joined us at the beach several times and she still doesn’t quite understand that she can’t drink the water. She’ll get there eventually.

VPNs and Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab

Over the past few days we’ve had a five-day weekend for Eid al-Adha. It’s been awesome. Having that long of a weekend just after arriving has been really convenient because it’s given us time to sort out lots of stuff and we’ve been able to start exploring our corner of the country.

First, and maybe most importantly, we finally got our internet installed the day before the Eid holiday began. I spent several hours the next day trying to get our VPN router set up. We purchased a router through StrongVPN so that we can use the VPN connection with our AppleTV. It worked well for us in Dhaka, and, now that it’s finally set up here, I’m happy to report that we were finally able to watch the end of the last season of Game of Thrones.

On a related note, we both fell asleep during the finale. There was so much talking. It was boring. (GoT spoiler alert, although I’m guessing that if this matters to you you’ve probably already watched it) Can someone please tell me why the hell Dany didn’t just blast the Night King with dragon fire in the 6th episode? He was right there. Ugh.

Moving on, a few days ago we went to Wadi Shab, a canyon filled with pools of water and a cave with a waterfall at the end. I was wary going into it because, as you know by now, it’s super fricking hot here and a hike, even just a 45 minute one, sounded like the worst thing ever.  But we took it slow and I survived. I looked like a boiled lobster, but I didn’t pass out or get hurt, so I’ll take it.

Start of the hike into Wadi Shab

The cave at the end was amazing. The passageway in was really narrow, probably 12 inches wide, and to get through you had to tread water and shimmy sideways. Leaving the cave, the sunlight lit up the water and it was practically neon blue. It was incredible. We left our cameras in dry bags once the swimming part started, so I didn’t get any photos of the best parts of the Wadi. Hopefully we’ll go back again soon when it isn’t so damn hot out.

We left M at home with the nanny. We weren’t sure how much of it we could do with him in the hiking backpack and we wanted to be able to explore as fully as possible our first time out. In the future, we’ll bring him with us and once we get to the beach where you have to start swimming we will take turns going to enjoy the cave while he hangs out in the shallow water.

This is the beach at the start of the swimming part of the trek. Usually there are hardly any people here.

One thing to note: we will never go to Wadi Shab over an Omani holiday weekend again. It was PACKED.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought it’d be the perfect chance to explore the wadi. There were at least a thousand people there. Pools that are usually turquoise were brown because of all the people kicking up sediment. Lesson learned!

The parking lot is usually empty!