Entering Oman at the Hatta border crossing is not easy. The computer system doesn't work and at the counters people pile up in long queues.
We watch the whole thing for a good two hours and then decide to set up camp in the parking lot and spend the waiting time there. Only after nightfall we start to move forward again and the queues are slowly being worked off. Around 8pm the waiting time is zero and we get our entry stamp. Now it is too late to continue and so we camp with four big trucks on the parking lot of the border police.
Oman is a relatively young tourist country and only opened up for tourism in the 90s. As absolute monarch, Sultan Quaboos has ruled for decades. Over the last 40 years he has left his mark on the country and transformed it into a modern industrial nation. Where once there were mud huts and almost impassable roads, there are now modern buildings and four-lane highways running through the country. But if you leave the few urban centres, you will find wild mountain landscapes, endless deserts and white sandy beaches. In short, a paradise for individual travellers, ideally with off-road vehicles.
In any case, we are very curious what to expect and in the morning we drive down the coast to the south until about 100km before Muscat. There we find the ideal place to celebrate Christmas on the beach of Al Sawadi. We are a funny group of eight and cook together and set a big table. With our feet in the sand and the view of the sea we enjoy our Christmas Eve.
Two days after Christmas Eve we are invited to an Omani family. Reinhard got to know the host during a trip to Norway in spring and then contacted him here. Very close to our beach he has a farm for the weekend and we go there in the evening. The farm turns out to be a huge area that is often rented out for company events. We get a friendly welcome and a princely hospitality. The family is huge. The landlord has 14 brothers and sisters and his cousin even has 18 brothers and sisters of three women. It is very interesting for us to get a small insight into the way of life of an Omani extended family.
After a few days on the beach and sunshine we are drawn to the mountains. Here there are countless wadis, dry river valleys with underground water. But caution is required because in less than an hour sudden rainfalls turn into torrential rivers that wash away everything that stands in the way.
Via Al Rustaq we drive towards Snake Canyon in the Wadi Al AWF. We have chosen a route that will lead us to a 2000m high viewpoint. We didn't really consider that the route is actually only suitable for jeeps and less for big trucks. Already the approach on gravel roads which often lead directly through the river bed is difficult, narrow and steep. But after an overnight stay we really get going. The track leads in narrow serpentines with up to 30% gradient up and down and demands everything from us. In the end we can hardly believe that we survived this hellish ride unharmed. This was by far the most difficult offroad track we have ever ridden. A small video is also available here: Offroad
The Jebel Shams is with 3000m the highest mountain of Oman. A largely asphalted road, which is a dusty runway only on the last kilometres, leads up to 2000m. Almost a piece of cake after our tour in Snake Canyon. At the top we have a breathtaking view of the Jebel Shams opposite and a several hundred meter deep gorge which is also called the Grand Canyon of Oman. We spend the night directly at the edge and experience a spectacular sunrise in the morning.
For the end of the year we look for a nice place in Wadi Tanuf surrounded by steep rock faces. Firecrackers and fireworks are not to be found here. But we spend a nice quiet evening with our travel friends. Once again it is boiled up and we enjoy the absolute silence and a magnificent starry sky. Contrary to our expectations we actually manage to stay at the campfire until midnight and toast to the new year with a glass of champagne.
On New Year's Day we continue to Muscat in the so-called Capital Area. This area stretches over 60 km from east to west and almost a quarter of Oman's 4.5 million inhabitants live here.
The Sultan Qaboos Mosque is the largest and most worth seeing in the country and was opened in 2001 after six years of construction. The 4200 square meter carpet in the prayer hall has 1.7 billion knots and was for a long time the largest carpet in the world. So was the huge Swarovski crystal chandelier made in Bavaria, until both were relegated to second place by the great mosque in Abu Dhabi.
We park in the parking lot at the port in the Mutrah district and visit the fish market right next door in the morning. By wheelbarrow the fish are driven directly from the boats into the hall and sold there. You can also have your purchases professionally filleted directly at special stands. We buy a kilo of Kingfish and prepare a delicious meal.
In the afternoon and evening we walk through the souq and visit one of the old fortresses and defence towers that used to protect the village from attacks. Apart from the narrow and winding alleys, the souq is not very interesting and the offer is largely geared towards cruise ships.
We still have a look at the sultans palace and then we are drawn further south to the beach. Unfortunately, we have again overlooked the weekend and that then the sound of the sea is drowned out by party basses until the early morning hours.
We like the Wadi Al Arabiyin better. Over a narrow and dusty track we reach a beautiful place at the river with our own swimming pool and can enjoy the evening in absolute silence.
On the further way south we make a short stop at the Sink Hole, a collapsed cave with crystal clear water that invites you to swim. Not far from there we stand for two days on White Beach and are glad that we can still drive through the mud holes after a heavy rain shower, in contrast to some cars which have much more trouble getting out again.
In the town of Sur we refresh our supplies and drive on to a turtle sanctuary. Here the huge animals come ashore at night and lay their eggs. Of course we don't want to miss this and stand on the cliffs from where you have an excellent view of the place. Until shortly before midnight we pilgrimage to the edge again and again and have a look down. It is soon full moon and the view is excellent, if only the animals were there. But they probably have their own plan and apart from the "tank tracks" that show us that there must be something there we don't see anything. But then, shortly after sunrise, there are two of them and we can watch them wonderfully as they lay their eggs and then fight their way back to the water.
The next 800 kilometres lead through nothing and past the Wahiba Desert. Again and again we drive through swarms of locusts that are suicidally attacking MOMO's radiator grill. Filling up with water becomes more and more of a problem. Often we have to talk to a tanker driver and then with a lot of patience bring the different connections together and then hope that there is enough pressure to fill the tank at some point. Around the town of Duqm we pass a huge construction site where a refinery, a harbour and a mega tourist centre is being built for 20 billion dollars. You can watch as a big city is virtually stamped out of the desert. In between we always find nice places to stay overnight at small lagoons where the camels watch us having breakfast.
Only about 300 km before Salalah the landscape changes and changes into a mountain and valley ride with breathtaking rock formations and wonderful views of deeply cut and dried up river valleys.
Then the news reaches us that Sultan Quboos died on January 10 after a long illness and a three-day national mourning was ordered. As a result, life has come to a standstill in the big cities. The Sultan was very popular and brought the country to where it is today. Accordingly, the worship of the monarch in the population is great. One can only hope that the succession will be seamlessly arranged and that this beautiful country with its hospitable people can continue to develop positively.
We decide to spend the days of national mourning in solitude and turn off into the Wadi Shuwaimiyah. Over a good 20 kilometres we walk over hill and dale, through watercourses and broken off tracks. Again and again we pass small palm oases with swimming pools. Shortly before the end of the valley we set up camp and finally, by chance, find ourselves standing there with six large overlander trucks.
Shortly before we get to Salalah, we get the information that a family of dolphins often circles in a bay along the route. We stand there for the night and lie in wait. And in the morning they are suddenly there. Armed with snorkel and fins we go into the water and they come so close to us that we can almost touch them. It was an amazing experience and we are completely happy that we were able to experience this. In addition to the pictures there is also a small video here: Dolphins
In Mirbat we stand at a very beautiful beach when suddenly at 5pm the "predicted" strong wind sets in out of nowhere. Who believes something like that if one can still swim relaxed in the waves until one hour before. We flee the area and stand in a place halfway protected behind a wall. The wind is supposed to blow strongly for the next two days and so we leave the beach and stock up with fresh fish at the fish market. One can neve r know what will come
We overcome 1200 meters of altitude difference on a winding and steep serpentine road of only 25 kilometers. Apart from many photogenic camels and cattle, we are rewarded with a beautiful view into the valley and onto the coastline. We spend the night down in Wadi Darbat with a beautiful view of some waterfalls.
After a driving distance of 1800 kilometers since we started from Muscat, we reached Salalah, the southernmost city of Oman. From here it is only about 150 km to the border to Yemen. Not far from the Sultan's Palace there is a beautiful palm beach where you can stand and relax. Here we will now spend a few days and in between we will have a look at the city.
In the next few days we will continue our journey towards Yemen for a few more kilometres before we head back to Dubai. What we experience you will find out in the next blog. Until then have fun reading and looking at the pictures.