Thursday, February 23: Today I drive up Jebel Akhdar to go on a hike with my Omani friend Moo. Moo has lived on the “Green Mountain” his whole life, so he knows every valley, every trail, every village. He knows the plants, the trees, the wildlife and the views.
This hike is his choice, and I put myself in his hands. I trust him to pick what he thinks I will like. He estimates our hike to a ridge overlooking Wadi Bani Kharus will take about 2 hours each way, 4 hours round-trip. It’s a glorious day, with crisp breezy air and blue skies ~ a perfect day for hiking. I don’t know what I will discover here, but I feel sure it will be something amiable, possibly even spiritual. And of course spectacular in its Jebel Akhdar way.
We drive first up to the area Moo calls Juniper Trees; the rocky mountaintop is dotted with centuries-old juniper trees. He has me park along the roadside and we start climbing slabs of rocks up and up and up. When we get to a high point, Moo points down a valley and tells me we will go down then up to a ridge way on the other side. I can see our destination in the distance, and it looks like quite a hike. I hope I’m up for it.
We pass more juniper trees, a grove of dead olive trees, gnarly trees gone wild. Green bushes all afire with sunlight. These bushes have no odor to them, but Moo tells me that when families cook their goat meat or beef in the ground during the Eid, they cover the meat with sprigs of these leaves. The herb imparts flavor to the meat as it cooks. I should try it next Eid, he says.
I take pictures of the bright green bushes and the gnarled, dead-looking trees, and when I’m not taking pictures, I’m getting my clothes caught on branches covered in thorns. After only an hour, we reach the ridge that we were aiming for. It literally takes my breath away.
I couldn’t see this from below, but at the ridge, the ground drops abruptly beneath our feet, a sheer and deep cliff. One more step and I would sail over the edge to Wadi Bani Kharus below. This cliff seems to spread infinitely to either side of us. Moo wants me to walk to the edge so he can take a photo, but I’m too terrified to get close. No mistakes can be made here, and as klutzy as I am, I can just see myself tripping over my own feet and falling to my death below.
It’s breathtaking. The view is a little dusty and cloudy today, but we can see the valley floor below with no trouble. Moo says that on a clear day you can see the beach at Sawadi, which is along the coast west of Muscat. We sit at the top and soak in the view for a while, then we make our way back down the mountain, and then up, then down again.
Back in the car, Moo says he wants to take me to see Wadi Bani Habib. At an overlook to the wadi below, another steep and terrifying cliff edge, Moo tells me this is where he took my sons hiking while I had to go work. He points to where they started at Juniper Trees and shows with a sweep of his hand how they came down the mountain, walked along the bottom of the wadi and then to the abandoned village at the other end.
We can’t see the village from this viewpoint, but we drive further down the road and find steps leading down into the wadi and to this village clinging to the side of a mountain. We walk through the wadi under the gleaming white branches of walnut trees and pink-flowering peach trees.
I LOVE exploring abandoned villages. The age-old houses are made of stone, rather than mudbrick, and set as they are among the greenery and the sandstone cliffs, they make a beautiful painting. The village is in total disarray, but that’s what makes it so picturesque and charming. We climb among the rocks and ruins and find little treasures around every corner. It is getting close to sunset, so the light on the crumbling walls and buildings is golden and glowing.
I could wander around here forever. I love this about Oman, the fact that you can find these beautiful gems that are not touristy or commercialized. There are no lines of tourists buying tickets, no vendors selling tacky souvenirs, no crowds or tour buses. It’s just an abandoned village, inhabited only in some bygone era; now only its ghosts remain. We can wander in and out to our hearts’ content, exploring its little treasures, taking the memory of it home in our hearts.
We also wander along the old plantations near the wadi bottom, and along a falaj which is still flowing with water. At one point we walk up some steps under which a stream flows.
It’s so strange being here in Oman where water and greenery are so rare. Because of this scarcity, whenever I see anything green, or any water, I get really excited, like a person lost in the desert who sees the mirage of an oasis. The local Omanis are the same; they go out in droves, entire huge families, to picnic or explore any green or wet place.
I will go back to Jebel Akhdar. Again and again. Yes.