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!

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Clean-up scuba diving at Bandar Al Khairan

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

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

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

Nets and ropes

Working on cutting the net apart

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

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

Yes, that’s a shoe.

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

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

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

A red-toothed trigger fish and Arabian butterfly fishes

A juvenile yellowbar angelfish

It looked like they were having a meeting!

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

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.