Snapshots: Bimmah Sinkhole

Bimmah Sinkhole, with the Hajar Mountains in the background

I don’t even know how many times I’ve been to Bimmah. It’s always a fun place to stop on the way to Wadi Shab or Fins beach, and there’s a playground that M really enjoys. There are clean bathrooms and spigots to refill water bottles, plus some nice shaded picnic pavilions.

There used to be a rope tied to a rock at the back of the swimming hole so you could easily climb the wall and jump off, but the last time I was there the rope and rock were gone. Even without the rope, it is still possible to carefully scale the wall and jump off one of the ledges. The water is also full of tiny little fish that will nibble on your toes and give you some free skin exfoliation. Yet another reason we love Bimmah!

The stairs down into the water

Another view of Bimmah

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Tips and Tricks for Wadi Shab

View along the Wadi Shab hiking path

Wadi Shab is, by far, the most popular wadi for tourists to hike when they come to Oman. It’s less than 2 hours from Muscat, there’s a well-marked path, and the first third is basically flat. All of the basic wadi-hike guidelines apply to Wadi Shab: bring water, sunscreen, snacks, and a lifejacket if you plan on getting in the water but can’t swim.

One of the pools you have to swim through to get to the cave

Wadi Shab isn’t complicated, and we’ve hiked it  numerous times, sometimes with M, sometimes without. Some of the trips there have been more successful and/or enjoyable than others, and here are some tips and tricks that will help you make the most out of your Wadi Shab trip excursion!

  • Go to Bimmah Sinkhole first. It’s so close-by you might as well visit, and I always enjoy it, plus it’s free. Some people think it’s a let-down but I think they’re just no fun. If you save it for afterwards you might be too tired or in too much of a hurry to get back to Muscat and you  might not stop.
  • Do not go on a weekend or an Omani holiday. It will be packed.
  • Don’t go right after a lot of rain. The wadi will contain more water than normal and you won’t be able to easily (or safely) get into the cave at the end. Also the water won’t be as clear and blue because of all the extra sediment.

    We hiked Wadi Shab in October 2018 and this area, which is generally mostly dry, was completely flooded.

    Do you see the white bird?

  • Wear shoes that you can wear in the water and on land. I always wear Chacos, but Tevas, Keens, etc all work well too. You do not want to make the trip to the cave in the back barefoot.
  • When the hike turns to the left and you see a long pool full of people relaxing and picnicking, stop hiking. This is basically where the hike ends, and from here you swim and scramble over rocks to get to the cave.
  • Slide over the rocks on your butt when they get slippery. I have seen numerous people fall on the slippery rocks between the pools by the cave. It might look silly, but if you’re already on your butt and you hit a slippery spot, you don’t have too far to go. This is especially  helpful when coming out of the cave and heading back to the main pool.

    The cave with the waterfall at the end of Wadi Shab

    Squeezing out of the tiny narrow opening from the cave

  • Bring at least one large waterproof bag. When you reach the part where you have to start swimming, transfer all valuables and anything else you can’t stand to lose into the waterproof bag and then just stash your backpacks and camel backs.
  • Bring a carrier for children three years old and under. This hike is definitely possible with little kids, and I’ve seen a strong two-year old complete 90% of it on her own. When we take M we always carry him in a pack, and if he wants to hike it, fine, but it’s always good to have the option to easily carry him. If your kids are experienced careful hikers, they’ll have no problems with Wadi Shab.
  • If you’re not a relatively strong swimmer don’t go to the cave without a life jacket. There’s nowhere to rest and you have to tread water the entire time.

Even though I’ve been a number of times, I enjoy Wadi Shab and each time I notice something new. The beauty of Oman never ceases to amaze me!

Time to swim!

More beautiful views along the trail

Wadi Tiwi

One of several pay-off spots on the hike

Happy New Year to all my awesome readers! 2018 was pretty great and I’m excited to see what 2019 has in store. Let’s get the awesomeness started! 🙂

We are finally in prime wadi hike season. Some people are able to do wadi hikes all year long, but I am not one of them. I don’t handle physical activity in the heat very well and I don’t particularly like being really hot; my face turns bright red, my body overheats, and it isn’t pretty. But now that the soaring temperatures of the summer have passed, it’s time for some hiking!

The view down the wadi during the drive in

Wadi Tiwi is the perfect wadi if you’re looking for a good balance of swimming, scrambling over rocks, and hiking. It’s only two and a half hours from Muscat, and you can easily do the whole hike and return before sundown. The hike takes about three to four hours round-trip, although it can be longer if you stop for lunch, swimming, jumping off rocks, etc.  It is physically challenging, but it won’t leave you feeling wrecked. I’d say it’s harder than Wadi Shab and Wadi Damm, but easier than Wadi Al Arbaeen.

The view down the wadi as you hike in

OmanTripper, one of my favorite resources for adventures in Oman, has an awesome post about Wadi Tiwi with lots of helpful info. The drive into the wadi takes about 30 minutes, and parts of it are really steep and narrow. At one point there was another vehicle coming the other way and we had to back up down the mountain to find a section of road wide enough for them to pass. If you do park someplace, make sure other vehicles can still get around you! The last section of the drive down to the trailhead (GPS: 22.7764288, 59.2247468) is definitely the steepest part of the drive and you need 4WD.  From the trailhead, there’s a staircase to the left of the parking lot that you can follow down. From the bottom of the stairs, turn right and just follow the wadi!

Lovely Wadi Tiwi

There is an easy gravel path to follow for a short distance, and once you start to hit some big boulders you’ll go up to the right, past a thorny tree, then back down to the wadi bed. Side note: there are lots of thorny trees and bushes on this hike, so watch out.

Eventually you’ll cross the creek and start hiking along the other side. There’s a section where it looks like there’s no easy way to go, but if you look to the right along the wall of the wadi, there are 3 cement stairs. There’s another part where there’s a cairn marking an opening through some huge boulders that you can squeeze through.

Other than that, there’s not a whole lot I can say about how to make your way through the wadi. Everyone’s strategy is different; mine is to try to use the water as much as possible and swim when I can rather than climb. But the fun part of any wadi is finding the best path!

The shallow stream eventually gives way to large pools and boulders. Now the real fun begins!

Swimming the pools and thick slimy algae. The water really is that color!

You either swim through the water or figure out how the climb the rocks. I usually choose to swim.

There are lots of neat rock formations and boulders along the way

About 90 minutes in you’ll reach a beautiful spot at a large pool with jumping-off rocks and a nice flat area for a picnic. From here you can climb up the waterfall on the right and go further back into the wadi. Eventually you’ll reach a large-ish waterfall at which point you can’t really go any further unless you use the rope over on the left to climb up the rocks. If you’re a braver person that I am, you can climb up here, go through some date palm fields, and follow the road back to the car. I, however, with visions of compound fractures and bashed-in skulls, opted out of this route and chose to hike back the way we came to return to the parking lot. The folks that climbed up and followed the road got back to the car about 5 minutes before we did, so you don’t save much time by taking that route.

All things considered, we really enjoyed Wadi Tiwi. Just make sure that you bring plenty of sunscreen, water, snacks, and, of course, a camera!

The best spot to stop for lunch and a leisurely swim. Plus jumping-off-rocks!

Our summer in Oman

How can you say no to water like this?!

Oman in the summer gets kind of a bad rap. It’s too hot, there’s nothing to do, it’s too hot, blah, blah, blah. Lots of expats leave during the summer, but we stuck around. We took a few vacations, but for most of the summer we were here. And you know what? It was pretty great.

Oman knows how to do a nice coastline

We spent a lot of time in the water. We explored some new beaches and returned to our old favorites, where the water was cool and the temperature wasn’t unbearable as long as you avoided the mid-day heat. M finally got used to wearing his arm floaties and now he loves being in the water. Before he liked the sand and splashing in the waves, but now he can actually swim. He’ll jump off the side of the pool and swim to whichever adult is closest, and he doesn’t freak out when he goes under water.

We also completed our Advanced Open Water scuba diving certification. Of all the times we went scuba diving this summer, the heat was truly terrible only once.

When you do more than one dive in a day, you have to spend a certain amount of time on the surface between dives, and this is called the surface interval. Standard practice is to have a 60-minute surface interval, and luckily we were diving someplace with decent snorkeling because I was about to either pass out or start vomiting, I got so hot. So I jumped in the water and snorkeled for the remaining 45 minutes of the surface interval.

I also learned early on that when it’s hot outside and you have to wear a wetsuit, the best thing to do is to put your wetsuit on and immediately jump in the water. Pull it away from your body so that water gets inside, and you’ll be so much cooler while you’re getting your BCD and everything else ready.

Air tanks and Fahal Island. We spent a lot of our summer here.

We went camping at a beautiful white sand beach near Fins towards the end of August. We arrived around 3:45 pm, and it was surprisingly pleasant out. Athena came along with us, and she immediately found a shaded spot under a rocky outcropping in the sand. She loves swimming and playing fetch, and she tired herself out running around in the water and swimming through the waves. The next morning, the minute the sun crested over the horizon it got boiling hot out. We were rushing to pack up camp by 7 am, and I think we finally left around 8:30 after we took a break to go swimming and cool off.

Athena living her best life

Campfire and the moon, with the lights of Fins in the background

Athena protecting the beach tent

In August we went on a snorkeling trip to the Daymaniat Islands and on the way there we saw whale sharks! Swimming with whale sharks is on my Oman bucket list, and finally getting the opportunity to snorkel with them was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. There’s nothing like jumping off a boat into the water when a 20-foot long shark is swimming straight at you with its mouth open. That was really something else.

A whale shark!

You’ll almost always see turtles at the Daymaniats

An enormous Arabian Angelfish

Another big thing that happened this summer was that a lot of our friends departed Muscat. In the Foreign Service, lots of jobs end in the summer, so you get lots of folks departing from June to August. It sucks and it can be really hard. Luckily, the world is a surprisingly small place and I know that we’ll see them again! It’s easy to get bogged down in how much it stinks when friends leave, but it’s also fun to meet new people and welcome folks into the community.

We did an overnight trip to Ras Al Jinz, and we took several trips up into the mountains. Then we capped the whole thing off with our trip to Salalah. All in all, it was an awesome summer, and I’m glad we stuck around. I’m glad we still have one more summer left before we have to leave next August. There are lots more fun times to be had, even though it will be hot out!

Exploring the abandoned villages of Jebel Akhdar

Oman’s Grand Canyon, Jebel Shams, on a particularly overcast day

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.

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.

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!

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!

To, in, and around Nakhal Fort

Inside the Nakhal Fort main wall

During the Eid holiday we drove to Nakhal to visit the fort and check out a near-by hot spring. We weren’t sure if the fort would be open because of the holiday, but we figured in the worst case scenario, we’d admire the fort from the outside and at least we’d know where it was for next time.

The drive took nearly three times longer than it should have. I looked at the route the night before on Google Maps and it looked really straightforward: take the expressway north and exit on highway 13, which basically takes you straight there, all in about an hour.

However, Google Maps doesn’t work for turn-by-turn navigation here. Everyone uses Waze. As we were backing out of our driveway, I typed Nakhal Fort into Waze and it had us taking this strange route that would take nearly an hour and 45 minutes. I decided we would ignore that route and take the route Google Maps had given me. We were happily driving on the expressway and our exit was coming up; long story short, we missed the exit and the next exit was in eight miles. After the exit you had to drive another 1.5 miles to a roundabout to finally turn around. So after driving 20 miles out of the way, Waze was still insisting we take the wonky route. I said, “F that, we’re taking highway 13,” and we did. Until the road was closed and we took a detour onto a road that appeared to not go all the way to Nakhal. So we pulled a U-turn, got back onto the expressway, and drove another 10 miles to the route that the Waze app wanted us to take. Instead of arriving at 10:30, we arrived around noon.

On the drive back, Waze had us take 13 straight to the expressway. There was a road closure but we took a parallel road the whole way, and imagine our shock as we drove by the exact spot where we pulled the U-turn to take the stupid Waze route. That was annoying.

Anyhow, the fort was in fact open and only cost 500 baisa (about $1.25) each. It was hotter than hell so we didn’t do that much exploring. We found a nice room with pillows and air conditioning where we ate lunch, and then we ventured out to look around a little more. We didn’t last long in the heat and M was turning beet red.

Nakhal Fort is particularly interesting because it is built on pre-Islamic ruins on a rocky mound (which was done to avoid having to construct a sound foundation) and the shape of the fort is irregular because it follows the shape of the rocks. There were lots of hallways and rooms to explore, and I think M will have more fun running around during our next visit.

Hajar Mountains and date palm plantations around Nakhal Fort

Nakhal is full of date palm plantations and we drove through them to see the hot spring, which was rumored to have a picnic area and playground equipment. Turns out the hot spring is basically a nice stream and, with the Eid holiday, the entire river bed was one big picnic area. There was zero parking and we didn’t even get out of the car.  I was a little bummed because M would have loved it, but it was ridiculously crowded. We’ll check it out more thoroughly next time.