Friday morning, November 25: I call Al Hoota Cave at 8:30 a.m. to reserve a spot for three of us to go there at 10 a.m. I find, as always at holiday time in Oman, that they don’t have many openings; luckily, they can squeeze us in at 10:45. As with holidays in Korea, or even in America for that matter, everyone is on the move, entire families stuffed into vehicles and headed to some relaxing or interesting destination. However because everyone is on the move at the same time, it rarely makes for a relaxing journey as traffic congestion and crowds create bottlenecks wherever you go. This is the problem with being a teacher on a school calendar. When the kids are out of school, EVERYONE is on the go.
I pick up Antonio, my South African colleague and office mate, and Kathy. After making a stop at Bank Muscat (we just got paid yesterday!), the three of us head at the Souq roundabout toward Bahla. About 30 km from Nizwa, at the Oman Oil petrol station, we turn right into the sloping Hajar Mountain range. We stop for snacks at the Oman Oil station only to see a small van overflowing with a family consisting of parents, grandparents, and about 100 kids of all shapes and sizes. People in Oman have huge families.
On our way to the cave, we stop to take pictures of a gorgeous view of a desert valley flanked by two mountain ranges, with a tall dramatic, but hazy, mountain in the distance. Oman’s landscape is really stunning.
I’m impressed by the modern facility at Al Hoota Cave, which sits at the foot of Jebel Shams, Oman’s highest mountain. It has a geological museum displaying some of Oman’s famous geology, the Karma gift shop, Zajal Restaurant with Lebanese and local cuisine, and an outdoor cafe with views of the surrounding hills. We wait in a waiting area for a train to take us into the cave. Once in the cave, we are not allowed to take pictures. Guides explain the history of Al Hoota Cave, which I think they say is as old as 1-2 million years old.
We walk along safe and modern walkways through stalagmites and stalactites forming fantasy creatures such as a huge lion, an elephant, a lady seated on a chair, an old man, a dinosaur and SpongeBob SquarePants (!).
As we get deeper into the cave, it gets more hot and humid, unlike most caves I’ve been in, which get cooler the deeper into them you go. We climb many steps into big softly lit chambers where we see impressive columns and other formations.
We see a unique lake created by the underground ecosystem, where apparently blind, transparent fish thrive in large schools. We look into the lake, but all we see are tiny little fish and there’s no way see if they’re really blind or not. They feed on organic nourishment carried in by rain and water. We’re also told that within the cave live 8-legged spiders with 8 eyes.
After we finish the 40-minute walk, we wander into the geological exhibition which showcases over 150 items of rock, wood, corals and other materials unique to the area. We check out the life-like exhibits of wildlife as well. All in all, it’s very tastefully done. In the gift shop, I buy a couple of postcards of the interior of the cave, since we’re not allowed to take pictures.
On the way home, I quiz Kathy about a Bedouin camp called Al- Areesh in Wahiba Sands because I am forming the idea to go there this afternoon. I originally had a plan to explore the east coast of Oman, including Sur, with two friends from another college, Lazina and Gretchen, but those plans were cancelled because our Omani driver’s wife had to have surgery. So, left without plans, I must devise my own on the spur of the moment. While Kathy and I chat about this camp, which she’s been to before, Antonio sits in the front seat, earphones in his ears, listening to music that is apparently more interesting than our conversation. Hmmm…..