The variety is extraordinary. I have focused just on my personal highlights, but there are plenty more!
We went out on a boat from Muscat to try and see some Dolphins. The captain follows the tuna fisherman, as where there is tuna there are usually Dolphins feeding. I was confident we would see Dolphins but I didn’t expect to see 300 of them! Leaping, diving Dolphins in every direction that I looked … and yes some of them jumped right out of the water – 4 feet in the air. The captain kept us close without ever interrupting their hunting, but often they swerved right in front of the boat and we could see them clearly underwater corkscrewing as they passed by. We easily spent at least an hour with them and I know my daughter would happily have stayed another 2!!
Whilst I have visited a desert before I have never before been to real desert with enormous sand dunes that stretch on and on as far as the eye can see. It was stunning. On arrival at 5pm at the Desert Nights Resort we were whisked up to the top of a 80m Sand Dune in a 4WD. We grabbed a drink and wandered along the Sand Dunes off onto “virgin” Sand Dunes with not a footprint in sight to watch the sunset. To use a cliché the silence was deafening and the Dunes stretching as far as I could see overwhelming in their beauty and presence.
Rising at Sunrise we bravely clambered aboard camels for the 1½ hr Camel trek into the Desert. It was superb to get out into the desert away from everything. I was amazed how well the camels coped with the sinking sand and we noted how wide their hooves stretch to help with this problem. It’s only when your Camel stops all the time to eat that you appreciate how many bushes are dotted around the sand – somehow growing in all that dryness. Whilst admittedly at times a painful exercise, (my husband had to be pulled off the camel backwards to get off!) it was a wonderful way to experience the beauty of the desert first hand. You could not but not think about the Bedouins and Trading Caravans that used to regularly cross the Desert on Camel for days on end and have huge respect for them; by 8 o clock in the morning it was starting to get too hot for us! Our only regret of the whole holiday was that we didn’t spend longer in the desert. A great place to relax during the day (yes the tents are air conditioned!) and as the day cools a superb place to appreciate the majesty and drama of nature.
I was slightly sceptical about the Dune Bashing. I thought it might somehow be disrespectful of the environment, and spoil the peace and calm atmosphere. However I have to say I was soon converted as I squealed with excitement whilst appreciating and trusting the skill of the driver as we charged straight up our first dune, spun sideways across another and even reversed backwards down the next one. Great harmless fun.
Watching her heave her heavy body on her flippers slowly back to the sea is inspiring, but the most delightful part of the whole evening was sitting around a nest watching the hatchlings merge from beneath. First a flipper or a beak will show and then with great speed the rest of the body emerges and it starts its dash down to the sea. At one point there were about a hundred hatchlings hurtling towards the sea. We had to be careful where we walked! The next morning we walked down to the beach and had a wonderful swim and walk around the beach looking at all the turtle tracks and for the whole morning we were the only people on this beautiful beach!
The 4WD Mountain drive from Nizwa to Muscat is stunning, passing Palm Tree village Oasis’s created by Falaj irrigation channels. We were driven along tracks with breathtaking views, and sheer drops. In places the track had been seriously damaged by heavy rain the previous week and we had to extra careful! We stopped to see the hillside stained with Copper and a seam of Gold. Was this fool’s Gold or the real thing? – The guide assured us it was the real McCoy so we dug out a few tiny rocks to take home!
By far my most favourite walk was through the village of Misfat Al Abriyeen. Falaj irrigation systems have been created to channel the natural springs into irrigation channels. They have been built with various side channels which are blocked up with rocks and material. When the villager wants to irrigate his field he unblocks this side channel, blocks the channel further downstream and diverts the water to his crops. So simple and yet so effective as demonstrated by the wealth of palm trees, roses, wheat, apricot trees and more that we came across during our visit in Oman. This is a delightful shady walk up through the valley, where you can walk along the irrigation canals balancing as if on the beam. A really beautiful and fascinating couple of hours.
Up the Mountain at Jebel Al Akhdar at 2,700M high it is 10 degrees cooler, which makes the 2 hr walk down through the villages beneath the hotel perched on the Canyon edge even more pleasant. Again the irrigation channels had worked their wonders and we passed Roses, Fig and Apricot bushes as well as passing through traditional villages with mud houses and extremely friendly people. The hotel even picked us up at the end of the walk so that we did not have to walk back uphill. A short detour took us to see iridium- created when the meteorite hit the earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. Wow!
This stay in the mountain still had 2 more treats in store for us. Hundreds of Sea Corral Fossils litter the ground – at 2,000 M high! There were so many you found yourself stepping on them on the tracks. Finally at night I would recommend you use their telescope; we saw Saturn’s rings (how excited was I?!- it looked just like it was drawn in the comics!), Jupiter and 3 of its moons and our moon with all its craters. A very special experience.
There is so much more I could talk about; Portuguese Forts built in Vasco de Gama day, Sinkholes where you can swim and at times feel like you are inside a cave, Boatyards where traditional Dhows are still being built, The Spectacle of the Grand Mosque in Muscat, The Hustle and bustle of the Souks and stunning Wadis (valleys) where you can walk, explore and swim …. but I think I better stop now!