Friday, December 2: Though we plan to get up early to watch the sunrise over the Sharqiya sand dunes, we end up sleeping in. A cool morning breeze streams through the windows of our cozy little barasti hut. It’s hard to force myself to get up. During my work week, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. every day. And yesterday I was up at 4 a.m. to pick up Guido at the airport. This morning, I’m savoring this slumber, this breeze, the morning desert air.
After late breakfast at Al Areesh and more chatting with the French couple, Guido and I get in the car again to head toward Sur. This is my second time to Sur in a week, and I’m still not really sure what we’re supposed to see here. We drive around in circles and look at the corniche and the town and the beach, and then we begin our drive up the coast toward Wadi Shab & Wadi Tiwi, which are adjacent to each other. Last week I went to Wadi Tiwi, but because of the crowds I wasn’t able to drive up into its far reaches. I didn’t have time to see Wadi Shab at all on that day. So today I want to see Wadi Shab first. However, we drive around in circles looking for it but can only find Wadi Tiwi. It’s early yet, so we decide to climb the long winding roads through the villages and plantations to the top of the wadi. Little do we know it’s not actually the top of the wadi as the entire road extends 36 km inland and ends at a mountain village known as Mibam. I don’t find this out until later.
It’s a fun drive in my 4WD Terrain. The road winds through small villages, so narrow in points that only one car can fit through. It is paved some of the way and turns into dirt or gravel in other sections. It curves sharply, climbs steeply and drops precipitously. Guido and I are laughing at the adventure of driving up here. It’s not so bad though, as we see normal sedans driving through. I guess the 4WD is not really necessary. Still. It feels a bit like a dangerous expedition. Guido has a smile on his face and so do I because I love this kind of thing. I feel strong and free and independent; I’m an adventurer. I love this car of mine and I love driving it in these kinds of places.
We reach a point at the top where a number of cars are parked and find some people returning from an hour-long hike into the wadi. We don’t have time to take a hike because we want to go to Wadi Shab. The road appears to go further up the mountain but it looks very steep and treacherous. We decide we want to have time to see Wadi Shab, so we turn around and head back down. We make stops along the way, so that Guido can climb a big rock, so that we can put our feet into the boulder-strewn stream. It’s a lovely day, hot but not miserably so, and the sky is a cheery bright blue. I think I will have to compile a list of all the wadis I visit in Oman and rank them. This one will be near the top of my list.
Guido is adventurous and enjoys exploring these places as much as I do. In that way, he’s an excellent travel companion. Today he’s a little more quiet, so his non-stop talking doesn’t irritate me so much. It’s actually quite enjoyable to have him here with me.
After we return to the bottom of the wadi, we drive through the little village of Tiwi in search of Wadi Shab. We know it is north of Tiwi and we finally find what might be the elusive wadi. There are no signs visible to designate this as Wadi Shab, but we ask some people and find out it is.
Wadi Shab means, in Arabic, “The Gorge Between Cliffs.” The entry view is spoiled by the coast highway that is slung across it. Under the highway, we must take a boat steered by locals for 2 rials across the river that empties into the sea. The boat takes us across to the other side where it is possible to walk through groves of palm trees and little plantations and then along the giant-pebbled wadi to the plantations and turquoise pools beyond. It is quite a long walk before we reach the first of a string of pools and we walk along the cliff edges deeper into the wadi.
Sadly our arrival here in the late afternoon means that the sun will set soon. We walk and walk but realize it is quite a distance to get deep into the wadi to see the fig plantations and the pools and waterfalls that Wadi Shab is known for. We pass a lot of hikers coming out of the wadi and finally we sit on some rocks for some water and snacks.
Above where we sit on rocks are cliffs dotted with small caves. Possibly people once lived here, but I don’t know this for sure.
It’s lovely, with tropical vegetation and pink oleander around the water’s edge. The sun is going down behind the gorge and now we know that there is no way we can make it. We sit for a bit and then turn around, heading back through the wadi to the entrance.
On the way back a bunch of Pakistani guys stop and ask Guido if he will pose for a picture with one of them. Later Guido tells me all kinds of stories, only some of which I understand, about different Arab, Indian and Pakistani men who approach him in his travels and even in his hometown of Genoa. He believes they are attracted to him because of his blonde hair and blue eyes. He wonders if because the men in these cultures cannot freely go out with women, they develop a close relationship and attraction to other men. There is definitely a warm camaraderie that I notice here in Oman between Omani men and between the multitudes of Pakistani men here.
One thing I don’t understand is why ugly concrete blocks and reams of black tubing run all along the cliff walk into the wadi. It’s really an eyesore. Possibly they use the water for irrigation and run it through these tubes, but it seems there must be a better way to run this tubing so it’s not so unsightly for the tourists who visit here.
We return to the entrance of the wadi where we take the boat across the pool again and get in the car for the long 2 hour drive to Muscat. We drive up the coast highway with views of the sea and mountains all along. We worry a little as we’re running low on gas and it seems there no petrol stations for kilometers and kilometers. Finally we come to one north of Quriyat and feed my trusty and thirsty Terrain.
We arrive in Muscat without a clue where to eat dinner, but we end up stopping at a place called D’Arcy’s Kitchen in Medinat Sultan Qaboos. It has a lovely outdoor patio with lush greenery everywhere, but sadly they serve no wine and the food is mediocre.
To top off the day, we check into my favorite cheap dive hotel in Muscat, the Qurum Beach Hotel. The rooms and the hotel are quite shabby but the owners are always friendly and helpful and the location can’t be beat.
After a fitful night where I worry about possibly oversleeping and being late for work, I drive to Nizwa for work, while Guido stays in Muscat to explore on his own.