20 – 31 December, 2015 – We liked Oman right from the very beginning. The weather was great, people were great, cycling was great – most of the times. On our first day cycling to the coast we stopped in a small village to fix a puncture and fill up our water bottles and were soon surrounded by Omanis who invited us to stay. As we hadn’t cycled much that day we were keen on moving on and declined. We were cycling through rugged mountains on a relatively quiet road and reached Sohar in the early afternoon. As always, we checked out the luxury Sohar Beach Hotel for Wifi and asked if we could pitch the tent in their garden. Wifi wasn’t an issue at all and for camping they advised the nearby park by the beach where there were also showers and toilets. What more do you need? A SIM-card of course. Which was a few hours later provided by Salim, another Omani who saw us pitching the tent and desperately wanted to help us. We exchanged phone numbers as he lived near Muscat with family elsewhere and he invited us to stay at his place.
We were now cycling south along the coast and through small fishing villages looking for a beach hangout to take some days off of the bike. A difficult mission as we didn’t want to go to one of the expensive beach resorts nor pitch the tent somewhere where there wasn’t fresh water easily available. Cycling was a piece of cake as we cruised with the wind enjoying a quiet road almost all the time along unspoiled beaches. The villages were bizarre though. A lot of old houses along the road were broken down with the debris just laying around. Fishermen were still doing their business and a few shops were open but the whole atmosphere was odd. We were told that the government was planning to build a new coastal highway and had started relocating people living in that area.
After a few days we reached the Millennium Beach Resort, another 4-star hotel by the beach. As we needed WiFi and were still looking for our beach hangout Johan checked with the reception desk if we could pitch the tent somewhere on their property. We could and were sent to the far end of the hotel next to the sailing school. Happily we pitched our tent on a small piece of grass and went to the swimming pool. Unfortunately we didn’t consider that we were in a very dry environment and green grass will only stay green if watered regularly and we both woke with a start at 2am when the sprinklers went off! Thankfully we didn’t pitch the tent on one of these guys but the tent still got pretty wet. Despite the ‘rain’ we wanted to stay longer as Christmas was approaching and the sailing school offered us one of their changing rooms for the following nights. So we continued enjoying some of the luxuries of a 4-star hotel such as Wifi, swimming pool, beach, towels and a daily shower without paying anything for it and treated ourselves to a fine Christmas lunch and drinks.
After three days we eventually continued, this time no longer along the coast but in the direction of the mountains, as Salim expected us in Al Rustaq, a little town at the bottom of the mountains with hot springs and an old castle. On the way we met Derek, an English archaeologist and professor at the Muscat University, who invited us to stay at his house in Al Rustaq for the night. With a bunch of students he was looking for historical artefacts in the Batinah region. As soon as we had reached the town we called Salim. Unfortunately he had to return to Muscat that day and was disappointed that we hadn’t arrived the day before as originally planned. He took us around in his car to show us his town and renewed his invitation for Muscat. Fortunately we had met Derek and at his house we joined his students’ briefing and learned a lot about the Batinah coast – a formerly fertile area due to a unique ancient system of water channels called Falaj. Nowadays there is hardly any vegetation as fresh water resources become wasted by seawater due to the overconsumption of fresh water.
After a lovely and educative breakfast with Derek we continued our journey along the chocolate brown mountains and back in the direction of the coast. As we wanted to visit another castle in the area we pitched our tent at a nearby source. We thought this was a great idea as we could swim in the river with a water temperature of around 40 degrees Celsius. Signs were advising tourists not to use soap in the water but in the pool Indians, Pakistanis and later also some Omanis sat washing themselves – with soap of course. As it was the weekend it also wasn’t a good overnight place. People kept coming for a swim and partying until as late as 2am. On the nearby parking they were spinning their cars – a very stupid and scary hobby – or riding them through the hot river. Shattered we left the site the following morning to visit the castle and continued later cycling on one of the most dangerous roads in Oman: heavy traffic, no shoulder and very narrow lanes.
Back at the coast we called Salim again. In the meantime he had left for work in Sohar but he asked his brother Faris to pick us up to sleep at his place. The family lives on a small farm with different houses and we got our own house and were told to stay as long as we liked. The same evening Faris took us out for dinner and we made a big mistake. We paid the bill without him knowing and Faris got extremely upset about it. We thought it as a nice gesture for being able to stay at his place but Omani hospitality requires to take care of everything. We stayed two more nights, met the women of the family and a few more of Salim’s brothers and sisters, went to the beach and left on New Year’s Eve to Muscat without having seen Salim again.