Salalah is the southernmost city in Oman and a popular destination for Omanis during the summer months, when everything is lushly green and blooming after the monsoon rains. Due to its location at the foot of the mountains, intensive farming is possible on the plains. Now, at the beginning of the new year, it is pleasantly warm and the locals are largely among themselves.
We have a beautiful parking lot directly on the beach under palm trees, almost like in the Caribbean. Others probably know it too, because at times we are there with almost ten overlanders. Every evening from 17:00 on, there is an endless queue of cars. Obviously, it is a traditional pleasure of the locals to drive up and down here and to get stuck in the sand from time to time. But after a few hours the nightly haunting is over and peace returns.
An attraction for tourists is the incense souq. Here you can find everything about the coveted incense resin in different qualities. Worth seeing is also the fish market where every morning there is a lively activity. Unbelievable how much fish is offered here. The fishing grounds in the area must be huge. Worth a visit is also the bright white Sultan Qabus Mosque, which is very elaborate and tastefully decorated.
After a couple of nice city and beach days we continue towards the Yemeni border. A stony road leads us down to the beautiful beach of Fazayah which we have almost all to ourselves. The white sandy beach, only interrupted by washed out rock formations, reminds a little bit of the Seychelles. In the afternoon a herd of camels actually comes by for a swim. They obviously feel well and even drink the sea water.
We continue a little further until 10 kilometres before the border with Yemen. The road leads through a great mountain landscape and again and again it goes up and down in steep serpentines with beautiful view points. We pass two military controls which welcome us nicely and friendly and let us continue after checking our papers. In between we have to have our exhaust welded which is done by a steel work shop in a village on the way for a few euros. The road to the Yemeni border has only existed since 1989, before that the area was only accessible on foot or by boat. The views along the way are magnificent and the routing is a masterpiece of road construction.
The next few days there will be strong winds and this is no fun on the beach or near the desert. Therefore we unfortunately must cancel our trip into the desert. We accelerate and drive the 1000 km back to Nizwa with only two overnight stops. The inland route is monotonous and leads along the edge of the Rub al Khali, with 650,000 sqkm the second largest desert on earth, only surpassed by the Kalahari with 1.2 million sqkm. During the sandstorm we sometimes feel like "blown away by the wind".
In the morning an Omani comes by our night place, spreads out his carpet and invites us for tea and dates. He tells us that his mother, who lives across the street from our campground, called him to come by and say hello. This hospitality is just incredible.
Shortly before Nizwa we visit the palace in Jabrin, a residential castle from the 17th century which was built by the Sultan as a summer residence. In 1984 the palace was extensively renovated and restored to its original state. The result is one of the most beautiful and picturesque buildings in Oman. Walking through the many beautifully designed rooms you feel like you are in a fairy tale of 1000 and one night.
Nearby is the fortress of Bahla which used to be surrounded by a seven mile long city wall. After the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, extensive renovation work was carried out. Today the Bahla Fortress is one of the most important cultural sights in Oman.
The next night we spend on the plateau of the Jebel Akhdar at 2000m. Before it goes up the steep serpentine road one has to go through a military checkpoint, for whatever reason. The continuation of the trip is only allowed with four-wheel drive vehicles, because it goes up very steeply, all others must turn around. From our parking place we have a wonderful view into the valley. In sight is also a luxury hotel that offers the same view with prices beyond $1000 per night. In the evening it gets really cold and for the sundowner we have to take out our thick jackets.
Friday is animal market in Nizwa. We stand on the parking lot across the street and the next morning shortly after seven we rush into the turmoil. The buyers and sellers travel from far away and transport the animals on the loading area of their pickups. A circle is then formed in the middle of the square and the owners take their goods around for inspection. Once the price has been agreed upon, the deal is sealed with a handshake. Apart from animals, all kinds of things are sold and it looks like a flea market. Despite the tourist hype, much of the originality has been preserved and it is a worthwhile event. The fort with its monumental fortress tower is also worth a visit. With a diameter of 45 meters and a height of 35 meters it is the most powerful tower in Oman and can be seen from far away. The souq is quite nice to look at, but is largely geared towards tourist needs and is less interesting.
After a few days in the loneliness near Nizwa, MOMO gets a service at MB in Muscat and then it goes to the beach again. Time flies and at some point we have to say goodbye to our dear travel friends. After about 9 weeks in which we had a lot of experiences and a lot of fun with each other, we are now parting ways. Reinhard ships to India, Susa & Pit drive via Saudi Arabia and Israel to Germany and we ship to South Africa. It was great and we will miss you.
At Sawadi Beach we enjoy the peace and quiet once again before we continue on to Sohar. There we stock up on our favourite Kingfish and Tuna at the fish market. On the way to the border we make another detour over a bumpy and steep road to Ain Sabhan to a hot sulphur spring. Here mountain water comes together with warm spring water and forms a couple of nice swimming pools where we spend two days. Because of the sulphur deposits the water almost looks like glacier ice.
We leave Oman and cross the border at Al Ain. We have got to know an incredibly diverse country. Endless white sandy beaches in the south, up to 3000m high mountains in the north, the many wadis and of course the desert. In addition there are off-road tracks that demand everything from man and material and often make you sweat. Not to forget the friendly and unobtrusive people who invite you spontaneously to tea and dates and never give you the feeling of being unwanted. All in all a great country and always worth a trip.
Now we are back in the United Arab Emirates. Al Ain is with 630.000 people the second largest city of the Emirate Abu Dhabi and was once a vital oasis on the caravan route between the Gulf and Oman. Here is the last public camel market in the country. In the middle of the city lies the Al Ain Oasis, a palm grove with paved paths where you can stroll around for hours and enjoy the pleasantly cool microclimate.
Not far away is the Jahili Fort which was elaborately renovated in the 80s using traditional methods. A feast for the eyes is the round tower with three floors which looks like an oversized wedding cake. Al Ain has a total of 18 historic fortifications, all built with mud bricks.
After we have been "blown away by the wind" in the desert in the south of Oman we use now again the opportunity to experience the desert without strong wind. On the way there we pass an oldtimer museum, a crazy life dream of Sheik Hamid. In a huge corrugated iron pyramid there are more than 200 oldtimers, mainly from USA and Europe. As always in UAE, superlatives are not to be missed and you can admire the largest off-road vehicle in the world, under which a normal car can easily pass. To go with it, there is also the right caravan of 20m length, 12m height and eight bathrooms. Who needs it? We actually get along well with our one bathroom.
After almost endless 300km through the desert, which is lined by a green belt of palm trees, we can leave the road for the first time in Hameem and drive a track into the dunes. Before that, the whole stretch is fenced in with a double fence and the few passages are secured with a barrier. This is probably all oil and gas production area and must not be entered. After a good 10km of sand track we find a nice place in the dunes and can admire a wonderful starry sky without extraneous light. The dunes change their shade depending on the sunlight and shine in different colours throughout the day.
A few kilometres further on we come to Liwa, an oasis area that stretches over 100km from east to west. The place is surrounded by the high sand dunes of the Rub Al Khali. Attraction is the 300m high Moreb Dune. Just the drive there through the lonely desert landscape is spectacular. The dune itself is mercilessly marketed and the surroundings look like a ski resort. On weekends all hell breaks loose here when the locals come with their off-road vehicles and want to have fun. Outside the weekends there is nothing going on here and we have the dune for ourselves.
Then we are already back in Abu Dhabi and slowly the circle closes. One attraction is still to come which we left out on our first visit two months ago. In March 2019 the presidential palace was opened to the public and can now be visited. Before that, it was reserved for state guests from all over the world. We are used to superlatives from the Emirates by now, but the palace adds another one. The area is huge and the tourists are driven to the entrance by shuttle buses. Inside the sheer magnificence and size is overwhelming. The main hall alone measures 100m by 100m and is 60m high. The main dome that spans over the large hall has a diameter of 37m and the chandelier consists of 350.000 crystals.
Now there are only a few days left until we deliver MOMO at the port of Jebel Ali in Dubai and ship it to Durban in South Africa. Our car gets a spring cleaning and after that we enjoy the beach feeling and campfire on the Arabian Peninsula for the last time.
While the vehicle is on the road we fly to Germany. We will continue our journey in South Africa at the end of March. We are looking forward to another part of our world trip and are curious what to expect. Until then have fun reading and looking at the pictures.