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

Our trip to Rajasthan: Pushkar

The narrow, winding streets of Pushkar

Our primary reason for stopping in Pushkar was to break up the drive from Jaipur to Jodphur. Pushkar turned out to be a delightful, interesting, pedestrian-friendly town with lots of neat things to see and some great food. Definitely worth a quick stop!

Watching our lunch get made

Warily watching the world go by

We stayed at Inn Seventh Heaven, a quirky, fun haveli that M loved running around. There were cats to chase, elephant statues to investigate, stairs to climb, and swing benches all over the place, plus a water feature in the middle of the ground floor. Honestly, I think the most fun he had in Pushkar was probably exploring the hotel.

Looking up from the inner courtyard at the haveli….

…. And looking down into the same courtyard

Pushkar is a popular for pilgrimages because of its sacred Hindu lake and many ghats. A ghat is a set of stairs leading down to the water, and there are usually several ghats all for the same body of water. There are more than 50 ghats at the Pushkar Lake. One of the few temples to the Hindu creator-god Brahma is located in Pushkar, and this is also a popular draw.

A temple by a ghat

One thing to note about Pushkar is that because it is a devoutly religious town, almost all of the food there is vegetarian with no eggs. They still eat cheese and yogurt, and the main protein source is legumes. So be prepared for weak breakfasts if you like protein in the morning.

We were particularly glad to have a Pushkar city guide because he took us around the town in the evening. Experiencing the temples at prayer time was one of the more spiritual experiences I’ve had, and something we never would have done without our guide. We walked all the way around the lake and he got us into the Brahma temple 5 minutes before closing time (and showed us the best inexpensive place to store our shoes without having to worry about them getting stolen).

Pushkar lake, ghats and temples at sunset

We were pleasantly surprised by Pushkar, and unless you plan on doing some of desert adventuring based out of Pushkar, I think you probably only need to spend one night. After waking up early to wander around Pushkar Lake during sunrise, we ate breakfast (which left us all hungry an hour later), and we were on our way to Jodphur!

Our trip to Rajasthan: Jaipur

The Hawa Majal or “The Palace of Winds” is basically a facade; it is not a real building.

There’s so much on the internet about Jaipur already, I don’t have much to add.

My first-ever thali. Sadly nothing else on the trip was quite as good!

We stayed at the Pearl Palace Heritage Hotel (which is separate from the Pearl Palace Hotel) and it was wonderful. Our room was interesting and fun, and the breakfast area was super quirky. There is no restaurant on the premises, so they offer free tuktuks to their sister hotel, the Pearl Palace Hotel, which has a restaurant. The restaurant there is amazing: very good inexpensive food and excellent thalis.

We wanted to spend some time with elephants while we were in Jaipur. We found an elephant sanctuary called Elefantastic, and we had a really great experience. It was a bit canned and the guy seemed preoccupied with our potential TripAdvisor review (which I never gave), but we enjoyed ourselves and M loved it, so we were happy.

Our elephant for the day. The orange chalk line across her forehead kept the oil that was massaged into her scalp from running into her eyes.

We got to paint our elephant with natural mineral-based paints (where these colors exist in nature, I have no clue). It seemed gimmicky initially, but it was much more fun than I thought it’d be.

My handiwork

At the City Palace

We did all the normal stuff in Jaipur: the Hawa Mahal (much smaller than I thought it’d be), the Amber Fort (much larger than I thought it would be), the City Palace, etc.

Inside the Amber Fort

More of the Amber Fort. Picture don’t do it justice.

Between our city guide and driver, we were well taken-care-of, and the guide did a good job of being understanding of the limits of sight-seeing with a 3-year-old. Jaipur is worth the trip!

A Trip to Rajasthan: India for Beginners

Getting stared down in the Blue City: Jodphur

We are currently on home leave, and I thought now would be a good chance to finally blog about a trip we took last year in October to Rajasthan, India. I wasn’t planning to blog about it because what can I possibly say about India that hasn’t already been said somewhere on the internet. But, after some encouragement, I thought about it and I do have some helpful info and tips to pass along.

We’d been wanting to go to India ever since we were in Dhaka. We had good friends serving in Chennai, and we purchased tickets to visit them and got our visas, and then the terrorist attack happened. If we’d gone to Chennai we would have been “caught out,” which would have meant that M and me would not have been allowed back in Dhaka, and maybe they wouldn’t have let Nate back either. We decided we wanted to leave Dhaka on our own terms, and we knew there would eventually be an opportunity to go back to India.

Cows everywhere.

Ironically, the flight options from Oman to India are far better those from Bangladesh to India. When we lived there, you could only fly direct from Dhaka to Calcutta and New Deli. From Muscat there are flights to probably 15 different cities in India. And they’re super cheap! I was amazed by how easy it was to get there from Muscat.

We decided to go to Rajasthan because I always thought Jaipur looked like the most interesting part of the Golden Triangle (Dheli, Agra and Jaipur) and some friends said Udaipur was their favorite city in India. From there, we looked at a map, read the guidebook, and decided to also go to Jodhpur, with a one-night stop in Pushkar along the way to break up the drive.

A Jain temple between Jodphur and Udaipur, after which we got a flat tire.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive in Jaipur
Day 2: Tour Jaipur
Day 3: Drive to Pushkar
Day 4: Drive to Jodphur
Day 5: Tour Jodhpur
Day 6: Drive to Udaipur
Day 7: Tour Udaipur
Day 8: Tour Udaipur
Day 9: Depart Udaipur

So, logistics. The first thing to know about traveling to India is that, if you’re an American, you need a visa. You can easily apply for it online and I used the app PassportBooth to take photos and edit them to the correct size, and then I just emailed them to myself. One thing to note is if you do the e-visa route, you’ll get only a double-entry three-month visa. I have no idea how to get the magical 10-year multiple-entry visa. Apparently you can’t get it even if you apply at an embassy.

We hired a car and driver for the duration of our trip through Tamarind Global. It was excellent. We had a large Toyota station-wagon that our driver kept clean and stocked with cold bottles of water. We also had a different tour guide in each city that we went to. This was the first time that Nate and I traveled with a tour guide and, I have to tell you, it was awesome. We learned and saw far more than we would have on our own, and I think people were less likely to pester us because we almost always had a tour guide with us when we were walking around town. The cost of the car, driver, and tour guides came out to around $80 a day, which was definitely worth it for us, especially with a toddler.

More of The Blue City. It was obviously a favorite of mine.

I found hotels using The Lonely Planet guidebook and online reviews. We stayed in havelis, also called heritage hotels, which are basically old houses that have been transformed into hotels. Each haveli is different, and we really enjoyed the experience.

I bought a lot of textiles. Did I get ripped off? Probably. Was it worth it? YES.

I will say this: when packing your bags, ensure you have a lot of space for souvenirs. In our case, this was textiles. We went a little overboard. Shirts, pillow covers, fabric (namely cotton, silk, silk brocade, and linen), pashmina blankets, table clothes, table runners, paper products, etc. There are so many interesting and pretty things to buy there. God help us if we ever get posted to India. I’m going to buy so much furniture and everything else.

Antiques (both fake and real) as far as the eye could see.

I’ll do a more detailed post about each of the cities that we went to, but I will say this about the trip over-all: it was awesome and went extremely well.

We were prepared for all sorts of misery. Food poisoning, pick-pockets, terrible traffic, getting ripped off, an overwhelming and constant barrage of stinky smells, air pollution, and so forth and so on. Basically every bad stereotype that you think of when you think of India. Other than a few days of bad air and maybe an hour of unpleasant traffic, our fears were completely unfounded. Well, maybe I did get ripped off on a few things, but I never paid more than I thought was reasonable.

First stop: Jaipur!

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.

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!