31 December, 2015 – 18 January, 2016 – Muscat is a far-scattered city spread over a mountainous area connected by huge highways. We desperately tried to find a good way to the old part of town still having the nightmarish Dubai experience in our minds, but ended up on another big highway. At the old harbor we stayed at a cheep place where rooms are usually only rented to foreign workers and enjoyed a New Year’s Drink at a hotel overlooking the illuminated harbor. Muslims celebrate their new year sometime in February and as we weren’t staying at a fancy hotel it was a day like any other.
We continued our journey along the scenic coastal road for a few more days. Right after Muscat we faced extremely steep climbs and made little progress. We were headed to the small fishing village Yiti as we wanted to spend a day at the beach there. The location wasn’t ideal and we continued the next day trying to find the shortest way out. We ended up cycling through a beautiful wadi mostly on a gravel road winding itself through a fantastic valley and up and down some hills allowing pretty vistas. Even in this secluded environment we passed small villages and were able to refresh ourselves with cold water at a mosque. Only a few cars passed and by the early afternoon we were back on the highway.
On our way to the turtle reserve – our next longer stop – we passed a stunning sink hole and two more scenic wadis and decided to cycle to the end of wadi Tiwi. Suddenly we were surrounded by lush green nature, palm trees and a clear stream bubbling next to the road. Right before the end of the road the water-filled wadi crossed the paved road. Having crossed much deeper water before, I continued cycling and as soon as I was in the water I lost control over the bike and fell. The road was as slippery as ice due to the moss growing on the concrete and I was unable to get my bike back on the wheels without Johan. He was behind but didn’t see the accident as he had taken photos. All he saw later was me sitting in the water trying to get up again. Other than a sore shoulder and wet clothes I and my bike came out of it unhurt.
We had arrived in Ras al Hadd and the beaches, where the endangered green sea turtles lay their eggs. The main season is March when hundreds of turtles can be spotted on the beaches. But people assured us that they can be seen year round. And we did see two! We had pitched our tent on the beach and at around 9:30pm a guide picked us up in his car to drive us to the first potential turtle beach. With no turtles to be seen we continued to three other beaches. At around 11:30pm we finally succeeded: two huge green sea turtles were busy digging holes. We watched one of them from a distance and once in her final stages we could have a closeup look. She had dug a hole approximately one meter deep and not more than 15cm wide. The eggs are round, look like table tennis balls with a very soft and at the same time strong shell. Once she had finished her business she shoveled the sand back with her hind flippers and walked slowly and exhausted back to the sea. On her way she lost a few more eggs, which we collected and burried with the other eggs. We felt a bit bad because we thought we had maybe disturbed her but learned later, that they are in a kind of ecstatic state during the process without noticing anything around them.
A day at the beach:
Watching a traditional celebration in Ras al Hadd:
A very disturbing experience was all the filth and plastic on the beaches. If people do their grocery shopping everything gets packed in plastic bags. They usually don’t even fill them up but take as many as possible instead. I often had to fight and earned laughters or raised eyebrows for reusing old plastic bags or packing everything directly into our panniers. Reusable shopping bags are available but I haven’t seen a single person using them. Omanis also love their beaches and they become crowded as of the late afternoon. They drive in their cars as close to the sea as possible, often don’t even get out of the car, take their food and water packed in plastic bags and once finished the rubbish will be either thrown out of the car or just left behind were they sat even tough there are enough dustbins at public beaches. Official beaches get cleaned up every morning by Indians, Bangladeshis or Pakistanis but everywhere else its eventually blown into the sea.
It was time again to get some exercise and we cycled in the direction of the Al Hajar mountain range, the highest mountains in the eastern Arabian peninsula. We passed the Wahiba sands and saw some massive sand dunes. We spent one night next to a beautiful desert camp, pitching our tent outside the camp as the camp itself was far too expensive for us. It would have been ridiculous anyway to pay for a tent while we have our own tent with us. Oman is the perfect country for camping – it is very safe, there are abundant places to pitch a tent in the nature or at a park where you usually have the convenience of toilets and water and it is warm with little precipitation. Hotels are very expensive, hostels and guesthouses don’t exist, Oman is catering for the rich tourist. This meant for us that camping was the norm with very few hotel treats in between. At the end of a day we would stop at a mosque, fill up our drinking water bottles with chilled water and our washing water bottles with warm water and look for a good place for our tent. The next morning we would again stop at a mosque and besides filling up our drinking water bottles would wash our clothes as well.
Al Kamil castle:
We now were a little bit in a hurry because we wanted to visit the Friday cattle market in Nizwa. Again we found ourselves on a dangerous road with heavy and fast traffic and no shoulders for the last 30km before Nizwa. Having arrived we got a fantastic deal at an apartment hotel we couldn’t resist to accept and shortly later we found ourselves in a huge apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living and dining room and a kitchen. The only downside, which turned out to be an upside later, was the fact, that it was on that dangerous road and meant cycling on it every day again to visit Nizwa. On market day we got up early and hitched a ride with an Australian tourist who just left the hotel. The cattle market was fantastic. For hours we watched the sellers negotiating and getting angry with their potential buyers; goats, sheep and cows walked with their owners in circles, some of them quite well behaved, some of them rather pulled their owners and scared off many spectators. Later we strolled through the souk and hitched a ride back to our hotel. Lucky as we are Wilhelm from Namibia stopped and invited us within five minutes to join his barbecue later that day. We spent a fun evening at his house with some of his friends, drinking wine and beer and eating yummy grilled food.
Cycling through Old Nizwa:
At the cattle market and souk:
We stayed a few more days in Nizwa, visiting the beautiful castle and enjoying the luxury of our apartment before we moved on deeper into the mountains.