Saturday, November 26: After my side trip to Wadi Bani Khalid, I drive 150 km to Sur, a beachfront town known for its beaches, forts, and dhow-building. On the way, I try to make a reservation to stay the night but am unable to because of the National Holiday. As a last resort, I call the Ra’s al-Hadd Beach Hotel, about 45 km south of Sur, where they tell me they have one “cabin” available. When I arrive at this desolate and dreary place at the end of the world, they show me what amounts to a giant metal container that contains a long line of dingy and dark rooms. Looking at this pathetic excuse of a hotel, I decide it is better to drive nearly 350 km back to Nizwa than to stay here. Depressed and tired after such a long day of driving, I meander up the road and come to a sign for the Turtle Beach Resort, which Vicki’s boyfriend Hilal had recommended the previous night while we were all at Al-Areesh. I figure it is probably booked as well, but I drive in anyway just to check and see if they have a room. Surprisingly, they do. I pay the hefty price and check in to another kind of barasti hut, similar to the ones at Al-Areesh Camp, but more spacious; it has a fan and a light that operates any time you need it, unlike at Al Areesh, where they turn the generator off every night at 1 a.m.
I change promptly into my bathing suit and go out to the little lagoon at the resort, but there are swarms of flies lighting over my entire body and it gets to be mighty annoying. I wade into the water, which feels like a giant bath, and have to wander out quite a way to be in waist-deep water. Back on my beach chair, the flies descend again, making my arms, legs, stomach and face their home away from home. Finally, I give up and take a nice warm shower, relax for a short bit in my room, and then go out to the expansive outdoor dining area, in the shape of a wooden dhow, where I make myself a cup of tea.
Sitting here at the cafe, the flies are still swarming, but they’re not as annoying as they were at the beach. I look through my map of Oman and my guidebook to determine my plan for tomorrow. Ras Al-Hadd and Ras Al-Jinz are on the easternmost point of the Arabian peninsula. Ras Al-Jinz, a short distance from where I’m staying at Ras Al-Hadd, is an important turtle-nesting site for the endangered green turtle. Apparently, over 20,000 female turtles return yearly to this beach where they hatched in order to lay their eggs.
Oman plays an important role in protecting these turtles and has harsh penalties for disturbing the females or their eggs. The only way to visit the beach is through the Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Visitor’s Centre, where you must make a reservation to visit the site with a tour guide after 9 p.m. Sadly, I called this morning to make a reservation, and again, because of the National Holiday, all the tours were booked. So I have come all this way to Ras Al-Hadd and I don’t even get to see the turtles.
As I’m sitting and enjoying my tea, a British couple sitting at an adjacent table strikes up a conversation and then asks me to join them. It turns out that the man, Ian, is a teacher at the Royal Guard of Oman Technical College in Muscat (RGOTC). His girlfriend Charlotte is visiting from the south of London, where she works as a prison guard. I assume that it’s a women’s prison, but she says, “Oh no! I wouldn’t work at a women’s prison. Women prisoners are crazy!” She goes on to explain that women prisoners take on all kinds of familial roles in prisons, becoming sisters or mothers or daughters to each other. She says it’s really too weird.
We spend quite a bit of time talking and talking, with Ian telling me all about the good deal he has at his college, with a much bigger salary than mine, 60 paid days of leave a year, and only a small number of teaching hours. It sounds like a dream job. They tell me they only met about 9 months ago, and she has been to visit Ian numerous times during that period. It is clear they have a nice romance going. I tell them I am about to give up hope on finding a romance, that maybe I’m too old, but they say NO! It’s never too late! They are about my age after all, maybe a little younger.
We eat the buffet dinner at 7:30, which is quite extensive and delicious. Ian mentions he knows of a place where I can go to see the turtles. He tries to explain to me where it is, so I can go on my own, but then Charlotte says she’s never been and she’d like to see them herself. Ian has had some car trouble so I offer to drive all of us there. Funny thing is, the place he is talking about is the same place I called this morning to make the reservation, Ras al-Jinz Scientific and Visitor’s Centre. When we get there, I say, “Oh no! This is the same place I called earlier. They told me they were all booked!” Ian, not willing to accept this, goes into the building and somehow manages to secure 3 tickets for us to go on the tour.
With a large group of Indians and a few Omanis, we follow the guide for about a half-hour walk out to the beach. The guide continually has to shush the Indians, who don’t seem to know the meaning of the word quiet. He also tells everyone numerous times that no cameras or flashlights are allowed, yet the Indians seem to have trouble understanding those instructions as well. They keep taking flash pictures and turning on little flashlights. Finally we get out to the beach, where the guide is still having trouble keeping this group quiet. It’s so annoying, Ian and Charlotte and I keep saying “Shhhhh!!” But they are constantly chattering and giggling.
We have to wait quite some time before a turtle is spotted and finally, when one is found, the guide takes us over to the hole that the turtle has dug. She is in the hole, tossing out sand with her flippers and laying her eggs. Finally the Indians manage to quiet themselves slightly. We watch as the female continues with her process and then she climbs out of the hole and heads back slowly into the sea. It’s quite amazing to watch this and I can’t help to get a little choked up.
Sadly, this one turtle is the only one on the beach tonight. The guide tells us that it’s the end of the season for the turtle-nesting; the high season is in July and August, the hottest parts of the year in Oman. Ian says he came before in the summer and saw literally hundreds of turtles much larger than the one we saw. I guess I will have to make another trip here during the summer months.
We slog through the sand again back to the Visitor’s Centre and then I drive us all back to the Resort. I am tired from my long day at Wadi Bani Khalid and the long drive, so I just get in bed early and fall sound asleep.
The next morning I get up and eat the great breakfast, take some parting shots of Charlotte and Ian and the resort and head up the coast. I make a stop in Sur at a coffee shop overlooking a little lagoon and then take a brief walk down the corniche. I will need to one day figure out what there is to see in Sur. Possibly it’s just the forts and the beach, I don’t know. But I head on through Sur and up the highway where I will explore my next spot, Wadi Tiwi.