United Arab Emirates: The Empty Quarter

237 km and 551m of altitude gain (in total 7,842km and 48,082m of altitude gain)
237 km and 551m of altitude gain (in total 7,842km and 48,082m of altitude gain)

14 – 27 February, 2016 – It was time to end our hippie existence at the beach as our Dubai friends had invited us to a desert trip to the Empty Quarter, an experience we definitely didn’t want to miss. As we had enough time for the slightly more than 200km we hoped to find another beach camp spot in Oman before finally leaving the country. Despite a breathtaking and ear-popping ride on Oman’s most scenic coastal road there was only one suitable beach for us, but having cycled less than 20km we decided to move on not knowing that we wouldn’t find another place for a quiet rest – all of the other beaches were far too small and hence too close to the road. So we ended up crossing the border, which was challenging because we had to deal with the most stupid border officer you can imagine. First he didn’t speak English while only dealing with foreign passports and second he wouldn’t understand how we got to Musandam even though two other officers explained to him several times that we took the ferry. It felt as if we had spent hours at this border post and we were relieved when the guy finally stamped our passports and let us leave. The rest of the day we cycled through one big industrial area on a dusty highway together with hundreds of trucks. No fun at all and we were glad when we finally reached a resthouse, where we pitched our tent next to the empty swimming pool following another nightmarish discussion with the guesthouse staff. We just didn’t want to pay a lot of money for a depressing room and beach camping wasn’t possible due to all the factories.

Musandam Coastal Road:

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Camping next to an empty swimming pool
Camping next to an empty swimming pool

The next day we managed to find a smaller road again next to the sea, a big relief. Right after lunch an Emirati stopped us to take our picture in front of an old museum. He insisted on inviting us for a drink as we objected to having lunch right after lunch. We slowly continued cycling always looking for a good spot to camp. At around 4pm we stopped in a small village at a mosque to refill our water bottles. It was closed though and a nice man next door helped us out. His maid had to refill all our water bottles and after a short chat he invited us for dinner – at a 5-star hotel around 20km further down the beach. He also explained to us where we could camp and so we moved on. I need to add that by now we hadn’t showered in 9 days let alone washed our hair – at the beach in Khasab we used to swim in the sea and wash ourselves with two bottles of fresh water afterwards and in yesterday’s resthouse we were shown to the swimming pool facilities – toilets where we had to use ice-cold water coming from the toilet hose. We felt a little embarrassed entering the fancy hotel that dirty and were wondering if we maybe could get a good deal for a room. Johan asked for the hotel manager and after a longer discussion even the heavily discounted room rate was beyond our budget. But the manager offered us to take a shower at their spa, which was heaven and pure luxury at the same time. With a clean body, clean hair and clean clothes we felt so good again and ready to meet our dinner host. But first we wanted to find a good camp spot. We cycled along the main road of the island and succeeded behind a fence of a construction site. Back at the hotel they didn’t want to let us in again – the hotel turned out to be an All-Inclusive-Place and once in we could have enjoyed food and drinks for free. We explained our situation but were constantly asked who our friend was as we would have had to pay around 80 EUR per person for food and drinks, no matter when we would enter. We couldn’t believe our ears but were finally let in. As agreed we called Omar at 7pm but he didn’t pick up the phone. Same ten minutes later and no response either 20 minutes later. We decided to wait another ten minutes before leaving again when the phone rang and Omar called back. He would be at the hotel in ten minutes he told us.  We waited in front of the hotel lobby and about 45 minutes later Omar arrived in his red Jaguar F-type sports car, parking right in front. In the meantime we had made friends with most of the hotel staff and all were very curious to know who our friend might be. When they saw him, they all grinned and looked understandingly – everybody knew him and he seemed to be a welcome guest. Later he told us that he is working at the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi and he seemed to bring a lot of people to this hotel. At the restaurant the chef grilled special meat for us and came with us for a last photo shoot with the hotel photographer in front of the hotel. Unfortunately we never got the photos as Omar wasn’t able to send emails – when we asked him to email them to us he sent a WhatsApp photo of our photo taken with his smartphone camera :-).

The guy who invited us happened to be a keen motorcyclist
The guy who invited us happened to be a keen motorcyclist
The guy on the left is the one...
The guy on the left is the one…
The only and ominous photo with Omar in front of his car
The only and ominous photo with Omar in front of his car
Camping at a construction site behind a fence
Camping at a construction site behind a fence

The following day we cycled into Sharjah only to find out that camping wasn’t allowed on any of the beaches and we had to look for hotel accommodation once more. Cheeky as we are we went to the Sheraton asking for a good rate for two world cyclists. And we succeeded – we only paid 25% of the normal rate for a double room including buffet breakfast.

A bike race happened to take place on the road we cycled
A bike race happened to take place on the road we cycled
Who else could have been the winner :-)?
Who is the winner? Johan of course!

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Some luxury after weeks of camping
Some luxury after weeks of camping at the Sheraton

After a good night’s sleep and a huge breakfast we cycled the final stretch to get to our friends in Dubai. The route started off nicely with wide palm-tree-lined beaches but would soon turn into an industrial area with narrow 4-lane roads and heavy traffic. I got so scared cycling there that we took a taxi for the last 15km just across the Dubai Creek. From there we once more cycled along the beach road and discovered the Bikers Café – a place where all world travelers eat and drink for free as long as they stay in Dubai. After two coffees, a photo shoot with their photographer and a short interview we said our goodbyes for now.

Our hotel in the background
Our hotel in the background

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This picture is now on the wall of Dubai's Bikers Café
This picture is now on the wall of Dubai’s Bikers Café

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Cycling through a metro station instead of crossing a major highway
Cycling through a metro station instead of crossing a major highway
And finally back in our cosy room 'Chez Nathalie et Stéphane'
And finally back in our cosy room ‘Chez Nathalie et Stéphane’

After a day’s rest and a lot of laundry business we embarked on another exciting trip with Stéphane and Nathalie – a desert trip to the Empty Quarter, close to Liwa. The Empty Quarter is the largest uninterrupted sand desert of the world and made famous by the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger who crossed the desert twice in 1946 and 1947. It covers some 650,000 square kilometers and includes parts of Oman, Saudi-Arabia, UAE and Yemen.

Our car packed till the top we left in the early morning to meet our guide and some other families in four different 4WD cars. To get there we had to drive for about 4 hours on a quite boring road. By lunch time we reached the Empty Quarter and stopped at a beautiful platform overlooking kilometers of sand dunes originally built for the nearby hotel as a remote restaurant but never finished. After lunch we rode further into the desert to find a good campsite, pitched our tents and left for an unforgettable ride through the most beautiful desert scenery we’ve ever seen.

A fully loaded car
A fully loaded car
Getting ready to rock and roll... deflating tires
Getting ready to rock and roll… deflating tires
Yes, there are still unmotorized vehicles in the desert
Yes, there are still live vehicles in the desert
Being the tail of your group means having always a clear view
Being the tail of your group means having always a clear view
Lunch break
Lunch break

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Setting up our dining area
Setting up our dining…
...and sleeping area
…and sleeping area

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Scary moment and yes, we've been there as well. But in contrary to this driver we made it in one go along the dune thanks to our fantastic driver Stéphane
Scary moment and yes, we’ve been there as well. But in contrary to this driver we made it in one go along the dune thanks to our fantastic driver Stéphane

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Drivers' instructions
Drivers’ instructions
Time for some fun in the dunes
Time for some fun in the dunes
Ever changing colors
Ever changing colors…
...and unmatched vistas so close to Saudi-Arabia
…and unmatched vistas so close to Saudi-Arabia
Our camp seen from the top of a dune
Our camp seen from the top of a dune
Stéphane and Nathalie
Stéphane and Nathalie
If you're sitting in the car this feels much steeper than it looks
Another scary moment – if you’re sitting in the car this feels much steeper than it looks
At a salt lake
At the small remainder of a salt lake

We spent two absolutely exciting and fun days and ended the trip with a joint lunch at the desert hotel. Thank you once again Nathalie and Stéphane for giving us the opportunity to join you, it was sooooo cool!

We spent another week in Dubai with Stéphane driving us around to be able to prepare for the continuation of our trip. Johan was busy packing our bikes as I worked and cleaned up all our gear. A few more times we all had lunch at the Bikers Café and on departure day Nathalie and Stéphane drove us to the airport – they needed to make sure we are really leaving 🙂 – and we once more said our goodbyes. We again had a great time at their house and cannot thank them enough for their generosity and hospitality! Hope to see you somewhere soon in this world!

Last days in Dubai
Last days in Dubai
Sundown
Sundown
Last lunch at the Bikers Café with Stéphane on 'Rare disease day' where I got a new high-vis jacket
Last lunch at the Bikers Café with Stéphane on ‘Rare Disease Day’ where I got a new high-vis jacket
Burj Khalifa between the clouds
Burj Khalifa between the clouds

Off to Thailand now!

 

Steep mountains, abundant castles and unrivaled hospitality

587 km and altitude gain of 1907m (7,503 km and altitude gain of 47,110 m in total)
587 km and altitude gain of 1907m (7,503 km and altitude gain of 47,110 m in total)
xx km and xx meters altitude gain (xx km and altitude gain of xx m in total)
102 km and 421 meters altitude gain (7,605 km and altitude gain of 47,531 m in total)

19 January – 13 February, 2016 – We left Nizwa in the late morning and shortly afterwards we also left the highway to cycle through small villages and old abandoned villages. Every Omani gets a plot of land in the village they grew up and they usually rather build a new house than keep an old one. A very unfortunate development we noticed everywhere, people don’t really appreciate the old if it comes to objects. It’s the contrary if it comes to people. Grown and married children continue living with their parents and most houses are full of life with several generations living under one roof. The younger ones take care of the elderly, grandparents take care of their grandchildren and everybody seems to be happy this way. Parents are well respected and always have the last word. We once got invited by an Omani to his old house and he mentioned that he had built a new one but cannot live in it, because his father doesn’t want to move.

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Old and new
Old and new
A fertile oasis
A fertile oasis
From dawn till dusk
From dawn till dusk
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A peaceful camp spot…
and some very welcome visitors eating our food scraps
…and some very welcome visitors eating our food scraps

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Our next longer stop was Al Hamra, a town consisting of many different villages. On day one we walked through a seven kilometer long wadi on an ever winding road with spectacular canyon views to a lonely village consisting of a few houses. The next day we cycled up to Jabal Shams, the highest road in Oman at around 2,000m with a dramatic vista of a 1,000-meter-deep canyon called the Grand Canyon. From there we could see the tiny houses of the village we walked to the day before. It took us six hours for an amazing and mind-blowing 40km-cycle up the stunning mountains and even without luggage we had to walk our bikes several times. Oman has unbelievably steep roads.

A beautiful walk through a wadi: 

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Cycling up the highest road in Oman: 
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Friendly Omanis helping us out with water on these steep slopes

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With our host in Al Hamra
With our host in Al Hamra

After a day’s rest we continued our journey along the mountain range, enjoyed Omani and Western hospitality through Warm Showers (an organization of people offering a place to sleep, to shower and often as well to eat for free), visited beautiful forts and castles along the way and two Unecso World heritage sites. The latter were tombs from about 2000 years ago, where one would assume that there are signs, entrance fees or at least a few explanatory signs. The first sight was already difficult to find as there were no sign posts at all. Once we had found it, we could just climb up the hill and look at the beehive tombs. The second site was even more difficult to find, we only noticed it because of a tiny brown sign stating that this was an archaeological site. Very bizarre!

Bahla
Bahla

At the Bahla fort – a Unesco World Heritage site: 

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With our Warm Showers host in Bahla where we stayed several days
With our Warm Showers host in Bahla with whom we stayed several days
Sightseeing around Bahla
Sightseeing around Bahla
Bahia at sunset
Bahla at sunset
The new computer shop of our host
The new computer shop of our host

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The shared kitchen at our host's house - we had a room at his old house where his staff lives
The shared kitchen at our host’s house – we had a room at his old house where his staff lives
Enjoying a cuppa in the sun
Enjoying a cuppa in the sun

More sightseeing in and around Bahla:

These guys look friendlier than they were - they started throwing stones at us when Johan took their picture
These guys look friendlier than they were – they started throwing stones at us when Johan took their picture

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Jabreen castle – another World Heritage Site:

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On the way to Al Ayn and Bat to see the beehive tombs:

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In the end we did not choose this road as we were afraid it was too remote and too difficult to cycle – instead we returned.
Lunch break
Lunch break at a mosque

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Two nice Belgian cyclists we met several times on the road
Two nice Belgian cyclists we met several times on the road

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The beehive tombs - more than 2000 years old!
The beehive tombs – more than 2000 years old!

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With our wonderful Warm Showers host Catherine in Ibri
With our wonderful Warm Showers host Catherine in Ibri
When we left Ibri we met the guy with the glasses in his fancy sports car who desperately wanted to invite us to demonstrate Omani hospitality - we spent a nice hour with his and a big part of his very big family
When we left Ibri we met the guy with the glasses on the right in his fancy sports car who desperately wanted to invite us to demonstrate Omani hospitality – we spent a nice hour with him and part of his very big family

Having visited many historical sites and having enjoyed the luxury of staying at houses it was time for us to cross the mountain range back to Sohar at the coast, go camping again and make use of the many free wilderness campsites along the way. In Sohar we finally met Salim again, who invited us to a delicious fish meal at the fish market. This time we had to say our final goodbyes to another great Omani we had met on the road.

Sultan Quaboos, the well respected head of Oman
Sultan Quaboos, the well-respected head of Oman
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‘Wadi Al Arshi’ – interesting naming, especially if you are German-speaking

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Back at the park in Sohar again
Back at the park in Sohar again
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Can’t get any better….

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Now we wanted to visit Musandam at the tip of the Arabian peninsula, a remote and rugged part of Oman separated from the rest of the country by the UAE. Cycling there was impossible for us as we couldn’t leave Oman and re-enter the same day on one visa as immigration laws require a gap of at least 30 days in between. For us the only way to get there was to take the bi-weekly ferry to Khasab. While looking for the cheapest ferry option we noticed, that there were Omani Warm Shower hosts close to the harbor about 60km north of Sohar. Happily we cycled along the coast, stopped at a gift shop to buy some chocolate for our soon-to-be-hosts and were welcomed by Khalid, shown into our room, got a delicious lunch served before we were left alone to be able to rest. Hospitality at its best! Khalid, his friends and family spoilt us the coming days and we started to feel heavily embarrassed for all their goodness and generosity. We went sightseeing in the area, each day accompanied by some other friends of the family, they paid for our ferry tickets even though we tried everything to pay ourselves, and to our biggest embarrassment we noticed that they had even paid for first class tickets. And as if that wasn’t enough after a full board accommodation and other treats we got more presents the evening before our departure: Johan a T-shirt and a scarf and I an Omani dress (which I left behind for practical reasons).

Leaving Sohar
Leaving Sohar

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With our Warm Showers hosts in Shinaz: 

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With Omar

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Khalid’s friends, Hashim and Ibrahim
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My new outfit I decided to leave behind even though all Omanis thought it to be so beautiful on me 🙂
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Khalid and Ibrahim
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Ibrahim (on the right) and his nephew cycled with us to the ferry. When I told him that he was wearing a nice shirt he immediately took it off to give it to Johan – there was no way we could refuse this gift!

After a 4-hour ferry journey we disembarked in Khasab and pitched our tent at the huge beach just outside of town where we spent a full week. We made friends with another German couple ‘residing’ there as well in their camper van. We discovered the area by bike and by boat, watched dolphins during our little cruise around the peninsula and saw a stingray swimming along the full length of our beach. Every evening at around 5pm between 20 and 50 small speed boats left the harbor – Iranian smugglers who had to leave Oman before  nightfall. During the day we could see small trucks with all kinds of goods arriving at the harbor and we knew they were destined for Iran. Furthermore we collected shells, enjoyed the sea, built a fence around our home, got annoyed with people being noisy in the middle of the night, got even more annoyed with people throwing garbage carelessly on the beach, smiled at the thousands of cruise tourists arriving almost every other day with their huge cruise boats and just enjoyed our last days in beautiful Oman.

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First class to Khasab
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Our home for a week

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Dolphin watching cruise
Dolphin watching cruise

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Last coffee with our new German friends Andrea und Lutz and another German who had just passed by
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Our fenced area – one day a few Omanis stopped next to our fence, talked with Johan and – when entering ‘our’ area, they were taking off their shoes. Hilarious!
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Bad hair day! But what can you expect after days without a shower 😉
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On our way to a beautiful viewpoint
Arrived and worth all the sweating up the once more very steep road
Arrived and worth all the sweating up the once more very steep road
Well deserved lunch break
Well deserved lunch break
One late afternoon a group of motor club sportscars showed up to have a fun afternoon in Oman
One late afternoon a group of people from a UAE motor club showed up in their sports cars to have a fun afternoon in Oman

 

Steile Berge, unzählige Burgen und einzigartige Gastfreundschaft

587 km and altitude gain of 1907m (7,503 km and altitude gain of 47,110 m in total)
587 km und 1.907 Höhenmeter (insgesamt 7.503 km und 47.110 Höhenmeter)
xx km and xx meters altitude gain (xx km and altitude gain of xx m in total)
102 km und 421 Höhenmeter (insgesamt 7.605 km und 47.531 Höhenmeter)

19. Januar – 13. Februar 2016 – Am späten Vormittag verließen wir Nizwa und kurz darauf auch den Highway, um durch kleine und alte, oft verlassene Dörfer zu radeln. Jeder Omani bekommt vom Staat ein Stück Land und zwar genau dort, wo er oder sie aufgewachsen ist. Meist bauen sie sich dann ein neues Haus, da das einfacher ist, als ein altes zu renovieren. Wir fanden das sehr schade, da uns die alten Häuser deutlich besser gefielen als die Neuen. Im Oman wird Altes leider nicht so sehr wertgeschätzt. Das verhält sich allerdings ganz anders, wenn es um Menschen geht. Verheiratete Paare leben meist weiter gemeinsam mit ihren Eltern im selben Haus und die Häuser sind immer voller Leben, da mehrere Generationen unter einem Dach leben. Die jüngeren Bewohner kümmern sich um die Älteren und Gebrechlichen, die Großeltern kümmern sich um ihre Enkel und alle scheinen damit glücklich zu sein. Die Eltern werden immer sehr respektvoll behandelt und haben meist auch das letzte Wort. In Ibri wurden wir von einem Omani in sein altes Haus eingeladen. Er erzählte uns, dass er bereits ein neues Haus gebaut habe, aber nicht umziehen könne, da sein Vater dies nicht wolle.

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Old and new
Alt und neu
A fertile oasis
Eine fruchtbare Oase
From dawn till dusk
Vom Morgengrauen bis zur Abenddämmerung
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Ein friedvoller Zeltplatz…
and some very welcome visitors eating our food scraps
.. und willkommene Besucher, die unseren Biomüll genüsslich verputzen.

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In Al Hamra stoppten wir wieder für einige Tage, einer Stadt, die aus vielen verschiedenen Dörfern besteht. An einem Tag wanderten wir durch ein sieben Kilometer langes Wadi auf einer sich windenden Schotterstraße mit spektakulären Canyons zu einem einsamen Dorf, das aus nur wenigen Häusern bestand. Am nächsten Tag radelten wir dann auf den Berg Jabal Shams auf der höchsten Straße Omans auf etwa 2.000 m ü.M. mit dramatischen Aussichten in den 1.000m tiefen Canyon, durch den wir tags zuvor gewandert sind und wir konnten sogar das Dorf sehen. Wir brauchten für die traumhafte 40km-lange Strecke satte sechs Stunden und das ohne Gepäck. Teilweise waren die Steigungen so steil, dass wir sogar ohne Gepäck schieben mussten. Oman ist bisher das Land mit den steilsten Straßen!

Eine herrliche Wanderung durch ein Wadi: 

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Radelnderweise auf der höchsten Straße Omans: 
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Freundliche Omanis, die uns auf diesen steilen Straßen mit Wasser aushelfen

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With our host in Al Hamra
Mit unserem Gastgeber in Al Hamra

Nach einem weiteren Tag Ruhepause ging es entlang der Berge weiter. Wir nutzen mehrfach das Warm Showers Netzwerk (eine Organisation von Menschen, die Reiseradlern ein Bett, eine warme Dusche und oft auch Essen umsonst anbietet), besuchten Festungen und Burgen und noch mehr Unesco Weltkulturdenkmäler. Bei den Letzteren handelte es sich um 2000 Jahre alte Gräber. Man sollte annehmen, dass solche Stätten gut ausgeschildert sind oder dass es zumindest an den Denkmälern irgendwelche Hinweistafeln, Eintrittsgebühren oder Ähnliches gibt. Doch dem war nicht so. Nachdem wir die ersten Grabmäler mit Mühe und Not gefunden hatten, führte nur ein kleiner schmaler Weg zu den Gräbern. Die zweite Gedenkstätte fanden wir rein zufällig, da wir auf der anderen Straßenseite ein kleines braunes Schild sahen mit dem Hinweis auf archäologische Ausgrabungen. Das war alles schon sehr merkwürdig!

Bahla
Bahla

Die Festung in Bahla – auch ein Unesco Weltkulturerbe: 

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With our Warm Showers host in Bahla where we stayed several days
Mit unserem Warm Showers Gastgeber in Bahla, bei dem wir mehrere Tage blieben
Sightseeing around Bahla
Besichtigungen in und um Bahla
Bahia at sunset
Bahla bei Sonnenuntergang
The new computer shop of our host
Der neue Computerladen unseres Gastgebers

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The shared kitchen at our host's house - we had a room at his old house where his staff lives
In der Küche bei unserem Gastgeber – wir bekamen ein Zimmer in seinem alten Haus, in dem auch seine Mitarbeiter wohnten
Enjoying a cuppa in the sun
Ein Tässchen Kaffee in der noch nicht zu warmen Morgensonne

Noch mehr Besichtigungen in und um Bahla:

These guys look friendlier than they were - they started throwing stones at us when Johan took their picture
Diese Jungs sehen freundlicher aus als sie tatsächlich waren – nachdem Johan sie fotografierte schmissen sie mit Steinen nach uns

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Kastell Jabreen – auch ein Weltkulturerbe:

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Auf dem Weg nach Al Ayn und Bat, um die sogenannten ‘Bienenstockgräber’ zu besichtigen: 

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Am Ende sind wir hier dann doch nicht hochgefahren, da wir Angst hatten, dass diese Straße zu steil wird und zu abgelegen ist.
Lunch break
Mittagspause im Schatten einer Moschee

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Two nice Belgian cyclists we met several times on the road
Zwei nette Belgier, die wir mehrfach unterwegs trafen

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The beehive tombs - more than 2000 years old!
Die mehr als 2000 Jahre alten Bienenstockgräber

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With our wonderful Warm Showers host Catherine in Ibri
Mit Catherine, unserer super netten Warm Showers Gastgeberin in Ibri
When we left Ibri we met the guy with the glasses in his fancy sports car who desperately wanted to invite us to demonstrate Omani hospitality - we spent a nice hour with his and a big part of his very big family
Als wir dann von Ibri aufbrachen, haben wir diesen Omani mit Brille (rechts) in seinem Sportwagen getroffen, der uns unbedingt zu sich nach Hause einladen wollte, um uns die omanische Gastfreundschaft zu zeigen – wir verbrachten eine gute Stunde mit ihm und seiner großen Familie

Nachdem wir nun viele historische Stätten besucht und den Luxus genossen hatten, in Häusern zu übernachten, war es an der Zeit, die Berge zu überqueren und wieder zurück nach Sohar an der Küste zu radeln. Jetzt hieß es wieder zelten und die vielen wilden Zeltplätze auf dem Weg zu nutzen. In Sohar trafen wir dann auch wieder Salim, der uns abends zu einem leckeren Fischessen auf dem Fischmarkt einlud. Dieses Mal mussten wir nun wirklich von Salim Abschied nehmen, da uns unsere Wege nicht mehr kreuzen würden.

Sultan Quaboos, the well respected head of Oman
Sultan Quaboos, das sehr angesehene Oberhaupt Omans
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‘Wadi Al Arshi’ – für uns Deutsche doch ein eher lustiger Ortsname

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Back at the park in Sohar again
Zurück im Park von Sohar
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Viel besser kann’s kaum werden….

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Jetzt wollten wir Musandam an der Spitze der arabischen Halbinsel besuchen, ein sehr schroffes und abgelegenes Gebiet Omans, das außerdem vom restlichen Oman abgeschnitten ist, da die Vereinigten Arabischen Emirate dazwischen liegen. Leider konnten wir dorthin nicht radeln, denn wir hätten dann wieder 30 Tage warten müssen, bis wir ein neues Visum für den Oman bekommen hätten. Um das zu umgehen gibt es aber zweimal die Woche eine Fähre nach Khasab. Als wir uns nach den Optionen erkundigten, fiel uns auf, dass es am nächstgelegenen Hafen sogar Warm Showers Gastgeber gab. Was für ein Zufall. Freudiger Erwartung radelten wir die 60km von Sohar in Richtung Norden, kauften Schokolade für unsere Gastgeber und wurden am frühen Nachmittag von Khalid in Empfang genommen. Er zeigte uns unser Zimmer, in dem wir auch unsere Räder parkten, servierte unser Mittagessen und ließ uns dann den restlichen Nachmittag ausruhen. Das nenne ich Gastfreundschaft vom Feinsten! Khalid, seine Freunde und seine Familie verwöhnten uns die nächsten Tage und wir fühlten uns fast peinlich berührt von dieser Güte und Großzügigkeit. Gemeinsam schauten wir uns die Gegend an, jeden Tag wurden wir von irgendwelchen Freunden der Familie begleitet, sie bezahlten sogar unsere Fährtickets obwohl wir heftigst dagegen protestierten. Zu unserer größten Überraschung bekamen wir dann sogar 1. Klasse-Tickets. Und als ob das alles nicht schon mehr als genug gewesen wäre bekamen wir zum Abschied auch noch Geschenke: Johan ein T-Shirt und einen Schal und ich ein Omani-Kleid (das ich allerdings aus nachvollziehbaren Gründen zurückgelassen habe).

Leaving Sohar
Auf dem Weg nach Shinas

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Mit unseren Warm Showers Gastgebern in Shinas: 

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Mit Omar

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Khalids Freunde, Hashim und Ibrahim
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Mein neues Outfit, das ich dann doch zurückgelassen habe, obwohl alle Omanis das so schön fanden 🙂
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Khalid und Ibrahim
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Ibrahim (rechts) und sein Neffe radelten mit uns zur Fähre. Als ich Ibrahim sagte, dass mir sein T-Shirt gefiel, zog er es sofort aus und gab es Johan und alle Proteste halfen nichts, Johan musste es behalten.

Nach einer ungefähr vierstündigen Fährfahrt kamen wir in Khasab an und stellten unser Zelt am riesigen Strand außerhalb der Stadt auf und blieben dort eine ganze Woche lang. Wir befreundeten uns mit einem anderen deutschen Pärchen, das ebenfalls mit seinem Campervan am Strand residierte. Wir entdeckten Musandam per Rad und mit dem Boot und beobachteten Delphine auf unserer kleinen Bootsrundfahrt um die Halbinsel. Wir sahen einen wunderschönen Stachelrochen, der den ganzen Strand entlang schwamm. Abends gegen 17 Uhr verließen immer zwischen 20 und 50 Schnellboote den Hafen – das waren die iranischen Schmuggler, die vor Einbruch der Dunkelheit den Oman wieder verlassen mussten. Tagsüber sahen wir viele kleine LKWs mit täglich unterschiedlichen Waren in den Hafen einfahren und wir wussten, dass diese für den Iran bestimmt waren. Außerdem sammelten wir Muscheln, genossen Abkühlungen im Meer, bauten einen Zaun um unser Zelt, waren genervt von Leuten, die sich mitten in der Nacht lärmend am Strand aufhielten oder waren noch genervter von denjenigen, die ihren Müll einfach am Strand liegen ließen. Wir belächelten Tausende von Kreuzfahrttouristen, die fast täglich mit den riesigen Kreuzfahrtschiffen ankamen und genossen unsere letzten Tage im Oman.

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1. Klasse nach Khasab
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Unser Zuhause für eine Woche

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Dolphin watching cruise
Bootsfahrt, um Delphine zu beobachten

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Eine letzte Tasse Kaffee mit unseren neuen deutschen Freunden Andrea und Lutz und einem weiteren Deutschen, der gerade vorbeikam
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Unser eingezäunter Bereich – an einem Tag hielten ein Paar Omanis neben unserem Zaun, sprachen kurz mit Johan und als sie dann in ‘unseren’ Bereich eintraten, zogen sie doch tatsächlich die Schuhe aus :-). Fantastisch!
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Bad hair day! Aber was kann man auch erwarten nach Tagen am Meer ohne Dusche…
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Auf dem Weg zu einem herrlichen Aussichtspunkt
Arrived and worth all the sweating up the once more very steep road
Da ist er auch schon und jeden Tropfen Schweiß wert, den wir auf dem Weg nach oben verloren haben
Well deserved lunch break
Wohlverdientes Mittagessen
One late afternoon a group of motor club sportscars showed up to have a fun afternoon in Oman
Eines späten Nachmittags kam eine Gruppe eines Motorsportclubs mit ihren Sportwagen aus den VAE an, um sich hier am Strand zu amüsieren.

 

Two Beach Bums in Oman

771km and 3,578 meters altitude gain (in total 6,916km and 43,097 meters altitude gain)
771km and 3,578 meters altitude gain (in total 6,916km and 43,097 meters altitude gain)

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.

Coffee and dates with the Muscat taxi drivers while Johan is negotiating our room rate
Coffee and dates with the Muscat taxi drivers while Johan is negotiating our room rate; I just got the scarf from a shop owner who advised us a place to stay in case you were wondering.
A room with a view - this is Sheik Quaboos' private yacht
A room with a view – this is Sultan Quaboos’ private yacht
Old Muscat
Old Muscat
Life isn't too bad as a taxi driver in Oman
Life isn’t too bad as a taxi driver in Oman

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The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace

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.

Leaving Muscat, a gardener's heaven as all highways are lined by colourful flowerbeds
Leaving Muscat, a gardener’s heaven as all highways are lined by colourful flowerbeds
Just one of the very steep gradients
Just one of the very steep hills
Beach camp...
Beach camp…
...with a view.
…with a view.

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Wadi Lahloo: 

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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.

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At the sink hole
At the sink hole

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Another nice camp spot by the sea
Another nice camp spot by the sea

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Arabs are so photogenic in their white dishdashas
Arabs are so photogenic in their white dishdashas
Wadi Tiwi
Wadi Tiwi
Accident aftermath
Accident aftermath

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Sur: 

Breakfast and hiding from the soon downpour
Breakfast and hiding from a short downpour

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.

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Selfie-time
Selfie-time

A day at the beach: 

First glance out of the tent checking the weather
First glance out of the tent checking the weather
"I am still sleeping"
“I am still sleeping”
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Our home for a few days
Cooking out of the wind
Cooking out of the wind
Collecting shells
Collecting shells
And taking a shower where the fishermen shower
And taking a shower where the fishermen shower
Turtle watching at night (for those who might be worried about the light: this is a photo of a postcard)
Turtle watching at night (for those who might be worried about the light: this is a photo of a postcard)
A hatchling, which we saw as well as our guide caught one the day before, something we didn't like so much even though he promised to make sure it get's safely into the sea
A hatchling, which we saw as well as our guide caught one the day before, something we didn’t like so much even though he promised to make sure it get’s safely into the sea

Watching a traditional celebration in Ras al Hadd: 

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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.

Still one more day cycling along the coast
Still one more day cycling along the coast
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Selfie with camels
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These mosques are so convenient – there is always accessible drinking water to fill up empty bottles

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Looking for a camp spot at the end of the day
Looking for a camp spot at the end of the day
Found the perfect spot
Found the perfect spot
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There is always a helping hand on the road

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I think they meant moving sand dunes :-)
I think they meant something like shifting sand dunes 🙂
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At the camp
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Our camp next to the camp

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Leaving the campsite
Leaving the campsite

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Al Kamil castle: 

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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.

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Acacia tree and thorns we don’t like very much while camping

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Refilling watertanks at a desalination plant

Cycling through Old Nizwa:

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At the cattle market and souk: 

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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.

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Sonne, Sand und Meer

771km and 3,578 meters altitude gain (in total 6,916km and 43,097 meters altitude gain)
771km und 3.578 Höhenmeter (insgesamt 6.916km und 43.097 Höhenmeter)

31. Dezember 2015 – 18. Januar 2016 – Muskat ist eine weit verstreute Stadt, die sich über ein sehr bergiges Gebiet ausdehnt und mit riesigen Autobahnen miteinander verbunden ist. Verzweifelt haben wir nach einem einfachen Weg in die Altstadt gesucht, hatten wir noch immer die Erinnerungen von Dubai im Kopf, kamen aber an den Autobahnen nicht vorbei. Am alten Hafen mieteten wir uns ein billiges Zimmer, das normalerweise nur an Arbeiter vermietet wird und gönnten uns einen Silvester-Drink in einem Hotel mit Blick über den bunt beleuchteten alten Hafen. Moslems feiern den Jahreswechsel erst irgendwann im Februar und da wir wie üblich nicht in einem schicken Hotel untergekommen waren, gab es auch keine besonderen Feierlichkeiten. Es war ein Tag wie jeder andere.

Coffee and dates with the Muscat taxi drivers while Johan is negotiating our room rate
Kaffee und Datteln mit den Taxifahrern in Muskat während Johan den Zimmerpreis aushandelt. Den Schal bekam ich übrigens kurz zuvor von einem Ladenbesitzer, der uns den Tipp mit dem Zimmer gegeben hatte.
A room with a view - this is Sheik Quaboos' private yacht
Zimmer mit Ausblick – auf die private Yacht von Sultan Quaboos
Old Muscat
Altstadt von Muskat
Life isn't too bad as a taxi driver in Oman
Das Leben als Taxifahrer im Oman könnte schlechter sein

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The Royal Palace
Der königliche Palast

Weiter ging es die nächsten Tage auf dem malerischen Küstenweg. Kurz nach Muskat musste wir extrem steile Berge hoch und runter fahren und kamen daher nur sehr langsam voran. Wir waren auf dem Weg in das kleine Fischerdorf Yiti, da wir dort einen Tag am Strand verbringen wollten. Dort angekommen, gefiel es uns doch nicht so und wir fuhren am nächsten Tag weiter. Auf der Suche nach dem kürzesten Weg zurück zum Highway radelten wir durch einen wunderschön einsamen Wadi, meist auf einer unbefestigten Straße und immer wieder steil nach oben. Wir genossen fantastische Aussichten und obwohl wir uns fast wie am Ende der Welt vorkamen, tauchte nach einer Kurve immer wieder ein kleines Dorf auf. Wir konnten uns sogar bei einer Moschee mit kaltem Wasser erfrischen. Nur wenige Autos fuhren an uns vorbei und am frühen Nachmittag waren wir wieder auf der Hauptstraße.

Leaving Muscat, a gardener's heaven as all highways are lined by colourful flowerbeds
Hinter Muskat, ein Traum für Gärtner, da alle Hauptstraßen mit farbenfrohen Blumenbeeten bepflanzt sind.
Just one of the very steep gradients
Der Beginn vieler steiler Berge, die noch kommen sollten
Beach camp...
Zelten am Strand…
...with a view.
…mit schöner Aussicht.

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Wadi Lahloo: 

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Wir waren jetzt auf dem Weg zu den Stränden, wo Schildkröten ihre Eier legen. Auf dem Weg kamen wir an einer faszinierenden Senkgrube vorbei, in der man auch baden kann und zwei weitere, dieses Mal ganz andere Wadis. Wir fuhren mit den Rädern im Wadi Tiwi und waren plötzlich von Palmen und grüner Landschaft umgeben, ganz ungewohnt für unseren Augen, die mehr an die vielen Erdtöne gewohnt waren. Dieser Wadi führte auch Wasser und kurz vor Ende der Straße kreuzte das Wasser die Straße. Da ich bereits zahlreiche Flüsse überquert hatte, machte ich mir keine großen Gedanken und fuhr langsam weiter, verlor aber sofort die Kontrolle über das Rad und fiel. Die Straße war moosbewachsen und eisglatt. Ich konnte noch nicht einmal alleine mein Fahrrad wieder aufrichten, so glatt war die Straße. Johan hatte das alles nicht mitbekommen, da er am Fotografieren war. Alles was er zu sehen bekam, war mich im Wasser sitzend. Außer einer leicht schmerzenden Schulter sind sowohl ich als auch das Fahrrad mit dem Schrecken davongekommen.

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At the sink hole
An der Senkgrube

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Another nice camp spot by the sea
Ein weiterer schöner Zeltplatz am Strand

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Arabs are so photogenic in their white dishdashas
Araber sind so photogen in ihren weißen Dishdashas
Wadi Tiwi
Wadi Tiwi
Accident aftermath
Nach dem Unfall

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Sur: 

Breakfast and hiding from the soon downpour
Frühstück und Schutz vor dem bevorstehenden Regen

Mittlerweile waren wir in Ras al Hadd und an den Stränden, an denen die bedrohten grünen Schildkröten ihre Eier legen. Sie werden im Deutschen auch Suppenschildkröten genannt, womit klar wird, warum sie bedroht sind. Hauptsaison ist eigentlich erst im März, wenn Hunderte von Schildkröten nachts am Strand beobachtet werden können. Uns wurde aber versichert, dass sie das ganze Jahr über Eier legen.  Und wir haben tatsächlich zwei gesehen! Wir hatten unser Zelt am Strand aufgestellt und gegen 21:30 Uhr holte uns ein Guide ab, um mit uns die Strände abzufahren. Am vierten Strand hatten wir dann gegen 23:30 Uhr Glück: zwei grüne Schildkröten waren dabei, ihr Loch zu graben, um darin ihre Eier zu legen. Wir beobachten eine davon mit großem Abstand, um sie nicht zu stören. Erst als sie wirklich Eier legte, durften wir den Prozess aus der Nähe betrachten. Das Loch war ungefähr einen Meter tief und nur ca. 15cm breit. Die Eier sind rund und sehen wie Tischtennisbälle aus, mit einer weichen und zugleich sehr robusten Schale. Als sie fertig war, schüttete sie das Loch mit ihren Hinterflossen zu und lief langsam und erschöpft in Richtung Meer. Dabei verlor sie noch vier Eier, die wir dann bei den anderen Eiern vergruben. Wir hatten ein ziemlich schlechtes Gewissen, da wir dachten, die Schildkröte beim Eierlegen gestört zu haben, erfuhren aber später, dass die Tiere beim Eierlegen nichts mehr um sich herum mitbekommen und waren wieder beruhigt.

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Selfie-time
Zeit für Selfies

Ein Tag am Strand: 

First glance out of the tent checking the weather
Erster Blick aus dem Zelt, um nach dem Wetter zu schauen
"I am still sleeping"
“Ich schlafe noch!”
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Unser Zuhause für ein Paar Tage