Friday, January 13: This morning I return to Wadi Shab for my second time, determined to penetrate into its depths and find the pools and caves that are the wadi’s claim to fame. The boys and I have the whole day ahead of us, so there is no setting sun to cut short our aspirations.
We park under the suspended highway and take a small boat across the stream at the head of the wadi for a cost of 200 baisas each.
We walk along a beach dotted with dry date palms, many of them looking brown and half-dead. When Alex tries to climb one, the bark breaks off under his feet and he slides to the bottom, his chest all scraped and bloody. We continue on and he finds a pool to wash off his chest. After treading gingerly, and quite awkwardly, through the long wadi bed over smooth rounded rocks, we reach the first of many pools in a deep canyon.
Like the first time I visited, I am disappointed by the view of the ugly man-made graffiti-covered concrete blocks dotting the pathway, along with the black tubing that carries water down the wadi. I really wish someone would remove these ugly blocks or at least do something to make them blend more with the canyon walls. They are an unsightly blight on this walkway going deep into the wadi.
We walk a long way past all the pools and then come to a wide and long part of the wadi bed strewn with huge boulders. There is a falaj on each side of the wadi and we discover after a lot of scrambling over boulders that we can walk most of the way along the sides of the falaj. We do just that.
After a long dry and hot spell where we are wishing we had brought water to drink, we come to a small pebble beach area alongside a new set of pools. A lone man is sitting down by this beach. We continue along the higher path, climbing and climbing along the cliff edge. We can see the pools down below but no way to access them from the high path we are on. We ask some guys who are camping along the edge where we should go and they direct us further up the path. But after walking and walking, we see no way down to the pools and decide to backtrack.
Back down by the pools, more people have now congregated. I meet two nice teachers from Sur, one of whom, Rebecca, is a friend of June, the teacher in Sohar who asked me at the Royal Opera House if I was the Nizwa blogger. I’m always amazed at what a small world Oman is. It was really nice to talk with Rebecca and her friend, and we exchanged mobile numbers. I really hope she’ll come to visit me in Nizwa one day! Rebecca encouraged us to wade and swim down the length of the pool to see the caves hidden around a number of bends. I ask another Omani man who is standing nearby if I can take my camera. He says you must swim part of the way and you can’t take your camera. He tells me I can leave my bag there on the beach, but I’m not about to be THAT trusting. I know Omanis are very trustworthy, but a lot of people are coming into Wadi Shab and I have EVERYTHING in my bag, including my labor card, money, credit cards, phone and camera.
The boys and I debate about the situation and I tell them to go ahead without me and I will stay with my bag. It takes a while but finally they convince me they won’t go without me and they say we will take the bag and try to find a spot to leave it when the going gets rough. I reluctantly agree, and we wade down the pool. Finally, we get to a point where there are some ledges alongside the pools. We can see there is a spot ahead where the cliffs are shear on either side and the pools are deep. This is the place I MUST leave my bag, camera and all.
We find a hiding place for it behind a small bush and then we swim through the next pool, scramble over some rocks and go into one long pool that ends with a huge rock across the pool. This looks like the end.
We can see a small hole in the bottom of this huge rock face. It has a keyhole shape; more accurately the hole is in the shape of a person’s head and shoulder, right above the surface of the water. There is light shining on the other side of this hole and we know this is the cave we were told about. The hole for the head looks so small, I worry that my big head will get stuck in the hole as I’m passing through. I say, No! I can’t go!! Adam says if I don’t go he won’t either. Alex forges the way and swims through, yelling back that we HAVE TO come, it’s amazing!! Adam and I are afraid and are just treading water looking at that little hole. I say, Go, Adam!! You should go ahead without me! He says no way, he won’t go unless I go. Stalemate.
Finally, I go forward gingerly, putting my head through the hole, and holding on to the rocks as I swim through. I feel that my head barely fits, but I make it and Adam follows shortly behind. Inside the cave, it is stunningly gorgeous. A waterfall cascades over a round rock; the splash and rush of the water echoes against the walls. A rope dangles into the pool alongside the waterfall. Sunlight streams into the cave from the opening above. I tread water in the cool blue water and enjoy my sons’ enthusiasm. I love this place myself.
Alex climbs up the rope beside the waterfall and clambers over the rocks at the top. Some other boys are up there and they show him where he should jump off a cliff into the pool. The rock ledge is quite high and it bulges out, so if he jumps he will have to leap forward to avoid getting scraped by the rock. He stands at the top for quite a while, takes a deep breath and leaps. “Woohoo!” he yells, as he bobs to the surface after a big splash. “That was amazing!”
Of course Adam follows behind him and jumps as well. Alex climbs up and jumps again. Meanwhile I am treading water in the pool below watching my boys do these death-defying leaps. Though I’m enjoying the thrill of it all, I also have a mother’s worries about them breaking their legs or their backs on the side of the rock. I wonder what on earth I would do, an hour-and-a-half deep into this wadi in the middle of nowhere, if something were to happen to them. Dangerous stuff, and risky, and I can’t help but feel a great burden of responsibility for them.
After a couple of leaps, we decide to head back out of the cave and down the wadi again. We reverse course, swimming through the pools, picking up my bag, and wading the rest of the way back. I have FINALLY seen what I’m supposed to see at Wadi Shab! Hooray!!
We put on our clothes over our wet bathing suits and take the long trek back to the entrance to the wadi, walking along the falaj as far as we can. Finally, we arrive back at the car and drive the long drive back to Nizwa, stopping at the Lulu Hypermarket to stock up on fruit and food for the week ahead. We arrive home, exhausted after our first weekend together exploring Oman’s hidden treasures. 🙂