My pandemic preparedness shopping list

I am not prone to panic. Worry, yes; panic, no. That said, I am worried about this COVID-19 outbreak. While there are no cases in sub-Saharan Africa yet, my gut tells me that it’s just a matter of time. I’m not being an alarmist. I’m being practical.

So, what am I going to do? I am going grocery shopping.

Some locations have seen a huge spike in the number of cases over the past few days, like Northern Italy, and others are locked-down, like Wuhan, China. In both of these places the grocery stores are either a mad-house or completely wiped out. Additionally, current WHO guidance states that anyone without a severe form of the disease should be isolated and managed from home. Remember that most cases of COVID-19 are basically nothing more than a cold (if you do not have an underlying health condition), so it’s completely do-able. But if someone in one home gets COVID-19, chances are that all other family members in that home will be self-quarantining too, which means no work, no school, no grocery shopping, etc.

At this point it’s not a bad idea to plan on potentially having to stay at home without leaving for several weeks, whether that’s due to a spike in cases, I’m sick myself, or someone else is sick. To do this, I’ll need to stock up on some basic groceries, plus some other things which I didn’t really consider at first.

When do I want to do a larger-than-normal grocery run? Now, before people are panicking and when products are still easily available? Or later, only when absolutely necessary, when thousands of my closest friends are running around the store like chickens with their heads chopped off and the shelves are bare?

I’d rather go shopping now.

The delightfully empty cleaning supply aisle at Super Spar

I’m not saying I’m going to start canning butter or go into zombie apocalypse mode; I’m simply saying that I’m going to buy a few more of everything than usual. The main thing is that I don’t want to buy anything we wouldn’t normally need. For instance, I don’t like canned vegetables other than tomatoes, so now is not the time to start buying them.

Worst case scenario, we are prepared to spend quality time at home by ourselves for a few weeks and maintain some semblance of normal life; best case scenario, we don’t need to buy pantry products again for some time.

Without further ado, I’m buying the following, which I think is a solid list applicable to just about everyone:

  • Cleaning supplies, particularly those for disinfecting things
  • Dish soap
  • Hand sanitizer/soap
  • Paper products: toilet paper, paper towels, tissues
  • Toiletries (toothpaste, shampoo, anything you use every day)
  • Tylenol, Advil, etc.
  • UHT or powdered milk (whole milk for M, skim milk for me)
  • Pasta/rice/etc
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned beans
  • Cooking oil
  • Meat, eggs, or some other form of protein
  • Frozen fruits and veggies
  • Squash (butternut, acorn, etc: fresh squash last a long time on counter)
  • Flour
  • Easy-to-cook frozen food (what if all adults are ill and no one wants to cook?)
  • Bread
  • Condiments (mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, any other family favorites)

We also have a few things are specific to our household that I’ll stock up on:

  • Peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Crackers
  • Mini-packs of Haribo gummy bears
  • Yeast
  • Popcorn
  • Granola bars

You may also want to buy if available/necessary:

  • Clorox wipes
  • Extras of any necessary prescription medication, if possible
  • Dog food
  • Cat litter

Oh, and wine. If I’m going to be stuck at home, I’m going to need some wine.

Keep in mind that in the case of a pandemic, utilities are unlikely to be affected because infrastructure won’t be damaged (probably). While it’s always a good idea to stock extra drinking water just in case, that’s not my primary focus right now.

In the meantime it’s important to stay informed. Here is the link for CDC’s COVID-19 information page, here is the link to the WHO COVID-19 page, and here’s the link to my favorite COVID-19 tracker. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

 

A weekend at Erindi

A huge elephant by the Camp Elephant watering hole

One of our best friends from Muscat came to visit us, and we decided to go check out Erindi Private Game Reserve. Just about everyone in Windhoek told us Erindi is absolutely amazing, and (spoiler alert) they were right!

There are two lodging options: Camp Elephant or Old Trader’s Lodge. At Camp Elephant, you can either tent camp or stay in a self-catering chalet. No matter which option you choose, I don’t think you can go wrong. The camping looks seriously nice: there are private flush toilets and showers, a refrigerator, hot water, grassy areas for your tent (grass!), picnic tables, and a kitchen sink. Coming from Oman where there was literally nothing if you didn’t bring it with you, the camping there is hardly even camping, other than the fact that you have to sleep in a tent.

Self-catering chalets

We booked the self-catering chalets since we weren’t sure if we’d have our camping gear or not. The chalets all border a watering hole and have two bedrooms, a bathroom, air conditioning, and a well-equipped kitchen with a microwave, toaster, and a two-burner stove. Then outside there’s a picnic table and two (two!) braai areas. It was awesome.

The front of the chalet, with a view of the watering hole and two braai spots

Watering hole and chalets at dusk

I can’t tell you much about Old Trader’s Lodge because Camp Elephant guests are “strictly forbidden from visiting Old Trader’s Lodge at all.” I’m guessing it’s fancy? I have no idea. I’m also curious about what must have happened to institute this ridiculous policy.

We visited Erindi on Thanksgiving weekend, so we decided to do a glamping Thanksgiving. We cooked all the food, except the turkey, on Wednesday and Thursday. We got the braai going as soon as we arrived, heated up everything else, and had a humongous feast. In hindsight, the fact that we thought we needed to bring additional food for Saturday night is laughable. We went home without having cooked some of the food we brought, and we never even had a chance to make s’mores. Oh well. Worse things have surely happened.

Thanksgiving desserts!

Sausages on the braai

On Saturday morning, E and I went on an early morning game drive while Nate stayed behind with M and slept in. The game drive was…. alright, I guess? It certainly wasn’t my favorite. There were a bunch of loud hungover people that arrived late, drank throughout the entire thing, wanted to wake up the lions, asked if you could hunt rhinoceros, watched youtube videos and video-chatted during the game drive, and asked the driver if he had more drinks. And the driver seemed hell-bent on driving through the tightest of spaces in an enormous safari vehicle. I sat in the middle to avoid getting swiped by thorny branches. He spent probably 10 minutes trying to drive over a tree. But we saw a male and female lion resting and then a cheetah family out on a hunt, so that was cool.

The next morning, Nate and E went on a game drive while I stayed behind with M. Their guide was awesome, super-knowledgeable about everything, and took them to see lots of lions (including cubs!). Plus there was the added bonus of no obnoxious passengers. So I guess the game drive tours at Erindi are a total and complete crapshoot.

Another option at Erindi is to do self-drive game drives. You have to stay on the road, so it’s unlikely that you’ll see any lions or large predators unless they literally cross the road right in front of you, but you’ll see lots of other neat stuff. We saw a lot of zebras, springbok, oryx, and giraffes. Plus some clusters of elephants and rhinos.

Since moving here I’ve discovered that I get carsick on the bumpy dirt roads (great timing, huh?) so Nate drove the first half and then I took over. I felt slightly better behind the wheel, but I need to buy some kind of medicine for next time.

The amount of wildlife visible from the chalets is awesome. Hippos and crocodiles live in the watering hole, and there’s no shortage of wildebeest, springbok, elephants and warthogs, plus a huge variety of birds. There are also scorpions and bat-sixed moths. A palm-sized scorpion wandered towards our picnic table while we were playing a board game outside after M went to bed. I shouted “Holy shit, a scorpion!!!” and I’ve never seen grown adults jump so quickly on top of a table.

Erindi makes for a nice weekend getaway, or a great first stop on a further-flung camping trip. There’s a surprisingly large well-stocked shop next to the reception with pretty much everything you could need if you forget something, including ice and firewood. That said, I started a list of things to make sure we bring next time: pool towels, tin foil, binoculars, extra dish towels, a silicon spatula, and a kitchen sponge.

Erindi, we’ll be back!

Update: We’ve since returned to Erindi and our second account was about the same. Guided game drives are a still complete crapshoot (even more so than last time) and the facilities are still amazing.

New trip-planning page is live!

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

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

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

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

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

The best places to spend your money in Muscat

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

Things to Ingest

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

Yes, that is real pork on the pizza from Tomato

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

Best Omani Food: Bait Al Luban

The alleyway to Bait Al Luban

Omani dates and coffee

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

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

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

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

Enormous grilled shrimp at The Turkish House

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

The halal breakfast sandwich that dreams are made of

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

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

Things to Take Home

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

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

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

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

It’s hard to not buy one of everything

Carpets too beautiful to step on

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

Things to Do

Best Daymaniyat Island snorkeling company: Daymaniat Shells

Yes, the water really was that color

Best scuba diving operator: EuroDivers

My kind of view!

Best adventure tourism operator: Twenty3Extreme

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

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!

Driving in Oman: rules, rules and more rules

View from the Muscat Expressway on a Friday morning

The best way to experience Oman as a tourist is to rent a car and hit the road. This is a very easy country to drive in, and most of the roads are really well-maintained. However, we have made some mistakes and picked up a few pieces of info along the way that might be helpful for anyone planning to do some driving in Oman.

First, car rentals. There are several car rental companies at the airport and if you want to really explore, make sure you rent a 4WD vehicle. However, make sure you get unlimited mileage. Lots of companies impose a 200 kilometer per day limit, and if you exceed that amount you have to pay out the nose. For example, if you rent a car for seven days, you get 1,400 kilometers. We learned this the hard way. Europcar is one of the few companies that does not have a limit, and you have to book online in advance.

Khor Najd, with its fun twisty crazy road

Second, driving in Muscat. There are a lot of rules/guidelines which you need to always follow, and the consequences can be serious.

Here are the biggies:

  1. NEVER EVER RUN A RED LIGHT. You will have to spend a night in jail. When the light starts flashing green, prepare to stop. (I’m not kidding)
  2. ALWAYS FOLLOW THE SPEED LIMIT. If you don’t know what the speed limit is, follow the speed of traffic. (There are traffic cameras everywhere)
  3. NO ROAD RAGE ALLOWED. No flipping the bird, no hand gestures, no yelling, etc. (The police will get involved and you will go to jail and be deported. Once again, I’m not kidding.)
  4. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR ANYONE TO PULL IN FRONT OF YOU.
  5. PRACTICE DEFENSIVE DRIVING.
  6. DO NOT PULL ALL THE WAY UP TO STOP AT A RED LIGHT. This is considered running a red light. You’ll notice that the locals stop a good distance back; follow their lead.

Here are some other helpful guidelines:

  • At traffic circles, those entering the circle need to yield to those already in the circle
  • For most lights with right turns, there is a designated right turn lane and you can turn right even if the light is red
  • If you come to an intersection without lights, drive like you have a stop sign
  • Watch out for maroon and white striped cars: these are student drivers
  • There are speed bumps everywhere
  • Just because there are arrows in a lane pointing in different directions doesn’t mean you can go any of those directions from that lane. It means you can get to lanes from which you can go in those directions from that lane. So for instance if you need to turn right, get in the far right lane.
  • Waze, maps.me and GoogleMaps give turn-by- turn directions here. Maps.me is helpful if you don’t have cell service because you can download the maps in advance.
  • On narrow, twisty mountain roads, honk your horn when you’re going around a turn to warn anyone coming in the other direction

Traffic can be a little more lawless outside of Muscat and away from the traffic cameras. Also, watch out for camels. They do whatever they want, including walk through the middle of the highway. Donkeys and goats also do this, but camels are the most dangerous.

Camels don’t care

Third, I also recommend buying a copy of “Oman Off-Road.” It’s available at Border’s (there’s a shop in just about any mall) or at Al Fair grocery stores. The book costs about 20 OMR ($50) and is definitely worth it if you plan on doing any exploring.

Lastly, if you really want to explore, you need a four wheel drive vehicle, and you need to be comfortable using the four wheel drive capabilities. If you want to drive in the sand you also need to have a gizmo to let air out of your tires down to 20 PSI and also an air compressor to put air back into your tires.

Now, go forth and explore! It’s going to be incredible!

Nate drove down this while I hyperventilated and swore.

The Sugar Dunes are impossible to reach with a 4WD vehicle

Good luck exploring this road in a sedan!

PCS tips from someone who may or may not know what they’re doing

Dhaka pack-out: Just a few of the boxes 
 PCS, or permanent change of station, time is upon us! We are leaving in Oman in less than three months. Yikes. We are preparing for our third PCS and, while I am by no means an expert, I have some helpful advice for folks that are PCSing, especially for the first time. This is mostly in chronological order, and I hope it’s helpful!
Make a bucket list and strategize to get it all done. For me this meant that in January I made a list of all our remaining weekends in Oman and started planning what we were doing when. I know it sounds crazy, but I wanted to make sure we could fit it all in! Or maybe you have several big purchases to make, like art, furniture, or carpets. Make a budget and start finding the best places to procure what you’re looking for.

We made sure to find time to go back to Wadi Damm

Start sorting through your stuff several months ahead of time. This way you can sell things of value that you don’t want any more rather than frantically giving them away a few days before your pack-out.

Order the essentials and ship them several weeks before you are scheduled to arrive. Do an Amazon or jet.com box full of Tupperware containers, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, parchment paper, fluffy toilet paper, and whatever else you think you might need. Along these lines, change the address for your Amazon subscribe-and-save well in advance and then your subscribe-and-save items are there waiting for you.

Don’t spend too much time prepping for your pack-out. Yes, you should carefully consider what you want to put in UAB, but that’s about it. Put your UAB in a separate, easy-to-identify location and then let the movers do their thing. In normal circumstances, there’s no need for colored post-its, a careful labeling system, or any of that. Ultimately, all your shit will get packed and it will arrive where it’s supposed to. Unless the boat sinks or something.

Pack your suitcases and then shove them away in a bathroom with a sign on the door telling the movers not to enter. This way you know how much will fit in your luggage and you have all the necessities (for us this means passports, VPN router, my favorite kitchen knife, AppleTV, expensive jewelry, clothes, etc.) all in one place and you know they won’t get packed).

Watching all our stuff get packed up during our very first pack-out in Alexandria

Ship your mattress. I am so glad we did this. Nothing is worse than sleeping on a bad mattress for two years or more.

When you arrive, say “yes” to everything. Even if you’re tired or it seems like something you might not enjoy, do it anyways. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet the community members and learn more about life in your new location. It’ll be exhausting and sometimes challenging, but you never know when you’ll meet your new best friends.

Let the movers unpack the boxes. Put all the leaves in that dining room table and be prepared ahead of time! When things are strewn all around your house and everything is covered in stuff, you are much more likely to put everything away than you would be if it all stayed in the boxes. Also, it is so much easier when the movers take away the boxes and packing materials versus having to do it yourself. Maybe the idea of strangers touching all your stuff makes you uncomfortable, but at least have them unpack anything breakable. Otherwise you can’t document what arrived broken and you won’t be able to submit a claim.

Our kitchen in Dhaka after our HHE was delivered. Believe it or not, we were able to make dinner in our kitchen that night

Our kitchen in Muscat following HHE delivery. This is a great way to make sure everything gets put away as quickly as possible. As someone who likes an organized kitchen, this is hell.

Hi, my name is Kathryn and I have a china/glassware problem.

I hope this was helpful, and it’s time for me to start following my own advice!

Logistics for a trip to Musandam

Along the road to Khasab

We recently got back from a trip to Khasab in the Musandam peninsula. Musandam is separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE and is located right across the Straight of Hormuz from Iran. We found that there are lots of things to consider when planning a trip to Musandam, and here I’m going to lay out all the options!

Note that this information is only for Khasab; there are other destinations in Musandam like Lima and Dibba. We didn’t travel to those places so they’re not mentioned below.

Khasab coastline near Bassa Beach

How to get to Musandam:

  • Driving: We chose to drive because we have a 4WD vehicle and we wanted to explore the mountains and other areas.  Plus we wanted to avoid the added expenses of buying plane tickets for three people and a rental car. Assuming there’s no traffic, the actual driving takes about five and a half hours. The expressway basically goes all the way to Hatta, but make sure you leave Muscat with a full tank of gas. Once you pass the Barka/Rustaq exit there are no more gas stations close to the expressway until you’re practically at the border. The borders can add an extra hour or two, possibly more. We crossed at Hatta and at Sha’am (past Ras Al-Khaimah) and the Sha’am border was, by far, the worse of the two. Hatta was a well-oiled machine and Sha’am was a mess. Friends advised us to “bring a can of bacon bits and let M run amok” on the UAE side in Sha’am.  Luckily it didn’t quite come to that, but I did tell him that if he wanted to start screaming that would be okay.

The practically-empty eight-lane expressway will take you all the way from Muscat to the border

Depending on the route you take, you might see the interesting industrial side of the UAE

  • Flying: The main disadvantage to flying is lack of transportation in Khasab. There are no official rental car companies, like Enterprise, Budget or National in Khasab. However, you might find that you don’t actually even need a car. If you book your activities (diving, mountain “safari,” dhow trip, etc) through a tour operator, they will pick you up at your hotel. While we were there we ran into a German tourist who had planned to fly to Khasab, but wound up taking a bus because Oman Air grounded all the planes that fly the Muscat-Khasab route, all of which are the seemingly ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX 8’s.
  • Ferry: There is a ferry that goes from Shinas to Khasab and back. Shinas is about 2.5-3 hours by car from Muscat and the ferry appears to take 3-5 hours (the times on the website vary so wildly it’s hard to know what’s accurate). You don’t really gain any time by taking the ferry, but you do avoid all the border shenanigans. The main problem with the ferry is that it only runs each route twice a week in the afternoon. Currently the ferry to Khasab only leaves from Shinas on Sundays and Thursdays, and the ferry to Shinas from Khasab only leaves on Tuesdays and Saturdays (current schedule with times here).  The National Ferries Company boats are really nice, and it’s not an uncomfortable way to spend the afternoon, assuming your schedule fits with theirs.

The Khasab harbor

Whether or not to camp in Musandam: All the good camping in Musandam is in the mountains. You could camp at Khor An Najd, but there is no privacy, the beach isn’t nice, and there are no discreet toilet facilities (other than the lagoon). Beach camping could be possible, but you’d be right by the main road. We chose to stay at a guest house which suited our needs just fine. In hindsight, we are particularly glad we didn’t camp because it would have been cold, wet, windy and miserable. And we would have gotten stuck up on the mountain after all the rain that washed out the roads.

How to budget your time: Seeing the fjords and the mountains are the two main must-do’s in Musandam. If you arrive in the morning on Day 1 and leave at night on Day 2, you could fully experience these two things. We spent one day scuba diving, another on a dhow trip, and our last day we went to the Khasab castle and tried to explore the mountains. If you’re flying and you want to go scuba diving, note that you’ll have to stay at least 2 nights because you have to wait 24 hours before you can fly after the last dive. There are both half day and full day dhow trips available, and I’d recommend a full day because you’ll get to see more of the fjords and there will be more time for snorkeling, swimming, etc (assuming the weather isn’t terrible).

Along the mountain road outside Khasab

The fjords of Musandam

Eating in Khasab:There’s a Lulu Hypermarket which is the perfect place to stock up for picnics and lunches on the road. We bought deli meat, peanut butter, and Nutella to supplement our guesthouse breakfasts. Most of the tour operators and guesthouses will take you to a fresh fish store where you pick out your fish and then they’ll drive you to a restaurant that will grill your fish. Novelty aside, this was not the best grilled fish we had in Khasab. Our favorite restaurant was a little Iranian place called Restaurant Wadi Qada. It was expensive (for Khasab, but standard for Muscat) but the owner tells you what’s fresh, the pomegranate juice is amazing, the food is top-notch, and the tea is great. I even liked the halwa, and I don’t usually like halwa. Al Shamaliah Grill Restaurant is another popular restaurant, with a good variety of grilled and Indian dishes. The kid’s meal is chicken nuggets, fries, and a hamburger bun. We combined that with a lemon mint drink, and M was in seventh heaven. Notably, Al Shamaliah will deliver, so if you don’t have a car you can just give them a call! There are a number of other restaurants in Khasab; these are just the ones we went to.

Call the phone numbers at the bottom of the menu for delivery!

Iranian tea at Restaurant Wadi Qada

Iranian halwa is less greasy than Omani halwa

Grilled fish at Wadi Qada

Delightfully empty aisles at the Khasab Lulu

A trip to Musandam might be a lot easier than you’d expect, and it’s definitely a part of Oman that is worth visiting. Hopefully you’ll have better weather than we did!

The Musandam coastline along the road

How to survive a game drive with a toddler/young child

Game drive vehicle at Gocheganas, the best place for sundowner game drives near Windhoek

Game drives are one of the most fun things to do in Namibia. You never know what you’ll see: maybe herds of elephants or a lion eating a zebra or springbok pronking. Or you might get to have gin and tonics with rhinos. You never know.

However, with a kid, game drives are not always so great.

One of the first things we learned when we moved here was that we needed a solid strategy for keeping M entertained and happy, particularly during guided game drives in an open vehicle. They’re usually 3-4 hours long, and sometimes you’re not allowed to get out of the vehicle. There can be lots of driving without seeing much of anything, and usually the animals are far more interesting to us than they are to him. I could watch zebras all day, whereas M is finished after 5 minutes, max. There are also times when you don’t want your kid making tons of noise. Best case scenario, it scares the animals away; worst case, the animal thinks you’re a threat and charges you. Or, if it’s a carnivore, it could try to eat your kid. This is why Erindi doesn’t allow children five and under on open vehicle game drives.

Game drive tire change at Mt. Etjo

On every game drive, we make sure we always bring…

  • High-value snacks: I’m not talking about apple slices and carrots; I’m talking about brownies, cookies, M&Ms, lollypops, etc. The good stuff. It’s hard to talk when your mouth is full of food. And hangry kids are no fun.
  • An extra camera: preferably a light-weight one with a wrist strap, easy-to-press shutter button, and a big display screen. After a game drive where M insisted on using my enormous DSLR camera himself nearly the entire time (and I asked if I could leave him with the rhinos), I always pack our little point-and-shoot from 2010 for him to use.
  • A water bottle: It’s easy to get dehydrated in an open-air vehicle, and sometimes we fill it with juice when we worry that M isn’t drinking enough liquids.
  • A jacket or sweat shirt: Especially on the evening game drives, it can get cold surprisingly fast. Or it might rain. Open-air vehicles in the rain are also no fun.
  • Kindle/iPad/etc: We went on a game drive at Mount Etjo that took a solid hour longer than expected, and towards the end it was freezing cold and raining. Luckily we had M’s jacket and he was warm, cozy, and happy playing a game on his kindle while the rest of us sat there shivering and miserable.
  • Close-toed shoes: All of us always wear close-toed shoes on game drives. You never know what you’re going to have to potentially walk through, whether it’s animal poop, rocky terrain, or thorns. M calls his sneakers his “safari shoes.”

Lastly, follow the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If your kid is happy doing one thing, don’t make them stop because you think they should be doing something else. We took M on the carnivore feeding tour at Na’an Ku/se and instead of looking at the caracals, leopards and cheetahs, he wanted to stay in the truck and play a game on his kindle. Was I annoyed? Yes. But it was a hot, miserable day and he was happy, so I let it go.

Zebras! But M just wanted to look at his Kindle, which was fine.

This list will morph as M grows and changes (and is allowed on the Erindi open vehicle game drives) during our three years here. But for now, this is what we’ve got and it’s working pretty well so far!

Riding in style at Na’an Ku Se

How to get tickets for the National Ferries Company

The NFC ferry to Masirah Island

We recently returned from a trip to Masirah Island, and the most difficult part of the trip was getting the ferry tickets with the National Ferries Company (NFC). Today I am here to explain exactly how to make a reservation, pay, and, importantly, actually get the ferry tickets with step-by-step instructions so you don’t make the same mistakes we did!

NFC ferries are labeled with the destination on the side

It’s a catamaran ferry!

I will make one caveat: maybe there’s an easier way (and I’m missing something huge). If there is, we are completely unaware of it. However, if you follow these instructions, it should be a relatively painless process.

  1. Email reservation@nfc.om with the ferry dates and times you want, round-trip. Ferry schedules can be found here. Attach copies of the front and back of your vehicle registration license and copies of the passport biodata page for each traveler. Also give them your phone number. They responded to my email quickly, giving us the reservation the following day.
  2. Print a copy of the reservation and go to the office in Muttrah (by the flour factory) to pay. You must pay in advance of the trip.
  3. Now you are ready to drive to the ferry dock, with your payment and reservation confirmation in-hand. When driving to Shannah port, you have to turn right to drive down the long narrow jetty to the pier. Rather than turning right, turn left first to go to the National Ferries Company office to get your actual tickets. This should not take long. [Side note: ferries usually start boarding about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time and I’ll tell you now that there is not a lot to do at the dock other than take photos and roast in the sun.]
  4. Board the ferry and give your tickets to the NFC employee. Make sure you keep your reservation and payment confirmation papers.
  5. When you are ready to board the ferry to come back from your trip, once again you need to get the actual tickets. On Masirah Island, the NFC office has clear signage and is almost directly across from the ferry dock.

You have to get camels to the island somehow…

Overall, we were really impressed with the NFC ferries. They were good-sized catamaran ferries with separate air-conditioned cabins (with clean bathrooms!) for families and men. M had a blast running around in the cabin with all the little Omani kids. The sun deck is bare-bones, and has no shaded areas and only benches to sit on. And the thin cables under the railing weren’t enough to keep me from worrying about M falling overboard.

The roof deck

I’d definitely rather take the NFC ferry than any of the other options! “Safety first,” indeed.

Some of the other Masirah ferry options available

SAFETY FIRST

You couldn’t pay me enough to get on this boat