Thursday, April 26: Today we begin the road trip of all road trips, across the Western Hajar Mountains, through Wadi Bani Awf, into Balad Sayt, with a brief stop at the exit to Snake Canyon. My fellow adventurers are Tom and Kathy, colleagues and friends from the university. We start before 10 a.m., after making a stop at Lulu for picnic stuff, heading toward Al Hamra and up into the brown & jagged Hajar Mountains.
the viewpoint at the top of the mountains before descending into Wadi Bani Awf
The road from Al Hamra to the spine of the Hajar mountains is paved and, though curvy, is not too difficult. At the top is a lookout point, Sharaf al Alamayn, where we get out and find a big Omani family being buffeted about by a strong wind. We ask the grandfatherly guy in the group if we can take his picture and he allows it, though the women are too shy to pose.
an Omani grandfather at the peak of the mountain
Immediately upon leaving the lookout point, the road turns to an unpaved road with no warning and curves suddenly to the right. This is the same point where I almost drove myself and my two sons over the cliff in January! This time I’m ready for it and I warn Tom, who is driving, what to expect. We make the transition smoothly this time around and start heading down the edge of the steep mountain into the valley below. It’s a long drive, winding along the edge of cliffs and atop sheer drop-offs, but the view is spectacular.
Tom and Kathy at the top of the Hajar Mountains looking down into Wadi Bani Awf
We stop soon after the paved road ends to take photos and to marvel at the crazy rock formations that make Oman a geologist’s heaven. Geologists love Oman because the lack of plant cover makes it easy for them to observe geological phenomena without any barriers, according to Oman Off-Road: “The jagged Hajar Mountains, which form a backbone from the north-west to the south-east of the country, are composed of ophiolite rocks that rose from the ocean bed under the influence of volcanic eruptions in the former Sea of Tethys. The beaches of this prehistoric sea were pushed into folds, a phenomenon that is easily visible in many places. These limestone mountains contain marine fossils, like corals and sea urchins.” For more information about Oman’s geology, see The Geological Society of Oman.
interesting rock formations in the Western Hajar Mountains
At one point as we’re driving, we see a relatively new Toyota Land Cruiser at the bottom of a small mountain, all banged up. Someone must have taken one of the turns too quickly and gone over the edge.
a Toyota Land Cruiser that went off the mountain...
the road ahead... "There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting." ~ Buddha
a falaj connects to a pool where water is collected for the community of Hat
the entrance to the canyon leading to Balad Sayt
the entrance into the canyon that leads to the village of balad sayt
We clamber and wade through a narrow canyon filled with boulders and pools. It takes us a while to make it through. The water is thigh-high in spots and we get the bottoms of our pants, as well as our shoes, soaked. Several times we have to climb along narrow ledges with our bellies up against the canyon walls, using hand-holds and inching our way along. You can see more about our adventure going through the canyon in the post: 52 pick up: success (aka overcoming adversity).
the lovely village of Balad Sayt
After our adventure through the canyon, where Kathy is now shoeless, we come out into a kind of deep bowl in the mountains, where the picturesque village of Balad Sayt sits comfortably with its plantations of date palms, banana trees, onions, and other plants. It looks like many of the fields were harvested since the last time I was here, as they are barren and brown. Still, the village is lovely.
the mosque in the village
We take a long walk through the village and around the perimeter and through the fields. At one point we lose our friend Tom and wonder where on earth he has disappeared to. Kathy is still having a bit of a hard time walking through the fields in the huge plastic Pakistani’s sandals she borrowed. We wander and wander, enjoying the slight breeze and the beautiful views in this lovely village.
the village and the gardens
We run across a bunch of Pakistani workers in bright red overalls digging a trench through the village and laying some kind of flexible piping, possibly for water. I come across a cool looking ancient Toyota truck next to someone’s house.
an ancient Toyota truck outside of a villager's home
Finally, we spot Tom across a big field and wave and holler to him. He comes to meet us halfway and then leads me back to an excellent vantage point up a large rock outcrop. He and I climb up there and take some pictures from up high.
the view of the village from a high-up rock outcrop
the view of Balad Sayt from the wadi below
Meanwhile Kathy sits along the roadside hoping to catch a ride to our car. With her shoeless and aching feet, she can’t abide the idea of walking back through that canyon. Finally, she is able to persuade one of the villagers to drive her and me back to our car, while Tom goes on foot back through the canyon to pick up the shoes Kathy left behind.
the parting shot of Balad Sayt from the villager's truck as we climb out of the bowl to the mountain above
a bizarre rock formation that looks like a rotted tree trunk. The road we drive following our picnic is above the knothole.... 🙂
We continue our drive through the mountains, along a road at the top of a steep and precipitous canyon, and descend down into a wadi where we find a pretty shaded picnic spot. We park the car and munch on spring rolls, cheese samosas, dolmas, Pringles, mango pudding, marble cake, salad and a Coke Zero, all spread out over a rock. A couple of goats drop by to pay us a visit and beg for food.
our picnic spread in the wadi
our little picnic companion
our picnic spot under the tree
our view down the wadi from our picnic spot
After our picnic we begin our climb back up the mountain to the other side of the steep canyon. We drive along its edge. The views are amazing in every direction. We can see below us the cut in the rocks that’s known as Snake Canyon, or Wadi Bimmah; many adventurers trek through this narrow canyon involving daring jumps into rock pools and a lot of swimming through ravines. Over the years trekkers have lost their lives in this canyon in flash floods. People say that the name Snake Canyon comes from the twisting shape of the canyon rather than from any slithering reptile inhabitants.
We can see the cuts in the rock below us that make up Snake Canyon...
Finally we start descending from the heights and eventually we come to a small village full of palm trees at the point where Snake Canyon opens up into the valley. We drive through the village and the wadi and go to the exit of Snake Canyon and take a short walk into the opening. It’s quite beautiful, shady and cool inside and we wade through the pools cooling our feet.
Near the small village of Az Zammah is an impressive gorge that is the exit for Snake Canyon....
we wade through the pools at the exit to Snake Canyon
a local boy comes to greet us at the exit to Snake Canyon
yours truly at the exit to Snake Canyon
Soon, after meandering around at the canyon opening for a while, we hop back in the car for the remaining drive to ar-Rustaq and Sohar. We pass by a few more interesting things, but overall, the road reaches the valley floor and flattens out for the remainder of the way. We pass Rustaq and then head out to Al Musanaah, where we head northwest along the coast highway to Sohar.
a small watchtower on the way out of Wadi Bani Awf on the north side
Sohar is the major city in northern Oman, on the Al Batinah coast. In Sohar, we find a hotel called Butterfly Luxury Boutique Hotels, next to the more expensive Sohar Beach Hotel, and we get a room for three for 60 rials. We put our things in the room, take showers, and then head out for a dinner at the Green Palm restaurant that advertises Labanese food, but actually doesn’t seem to have any such thing on the menu. Our meal is totally forgettable.
The Green Palm Labanese Arabian restaurant in Sohar. Mediocre at best.
We drive down to look at the Sohar Fort, which according to my Rough Guide Oman is open and houses a museum. It’s described as a whitewashed fort that sits on a hill. It doesn’t look like it’s been whitewashed for some time, and the keep is under construction, covered in scaffolding; it’s definitely neither whitewashed nor does it house a museum. We actually drive by it numerous times, brushing it off, denying that “thing” could be the fort. Finally we read it’s across from the wali’s office, which Kathy and I remember seeing a sign for, so we go in search of the wali’s office. We find that the fort is in fact that thing we were brushing off. Oh well, not much to look at. Next door is a gold-domed mosque which seems quite pretty and I vow to photograph it tomorrow.
the sign for the wali's office with the "whitewashed" Sohar Fort in the background
We return to our hotel, where I fall asleep the minute my head hits the pillow. What a day!