Thursday, April 19: This morning Mario and his Omani friend Sultan are to meet me at my flat at 7:30 a.m. for a trip to Ibri, the Beehive Tombs at Bat and Wadi Damm. I am awakened by a vicious thunderstorm at about 5 a.m., and I think, OH NO! Our trip is going to be spoiled by the rain! Mario, who lives in Izki, over a half-hour from my flat, texts me around 6:15: “Hi. We may have to delay our departure time. It’s really stormy here.” By this time the storm has already passed through Nizwa but has apparently landed in Izki. We adjust our departure time to 8:30 and I happily go back to sleep, still recovering from my night of rakı.
At about 8:30, Mario calls to tell me that the wadi behind the Al Diyar Hotel is overflowing, a swift and deep river, meaning he can’t get to my house. Neither can I get to him. He advises me that I should drive the back road from my house to the Nizwa souq, where he and Sultan will meet me.
Before I can even leave my house he calls again to tell me that the entire parking lot at the souq is a roaring river. “You won’t believe it!” he said, with incredulous excitement in his voice. He tells me he will meet me near the book roundabout and we can take off from there to Ibri.
It takes me awhile to drive the back road to the souq, but when I get there I see to my right that the ENTIRE parking lot at the souq, which is HUGE, is a tumultuous brown river, churning and flowing with incredible force. If anyone left their car in that parking lot overnight, it was certainly carried away! I am shocked by the depth and force of the water trampling over that sedate and always-dry parking lot!
Little do we know that our whole trip will be one misadventure after another of precarious wadi crossings in my tough little GMC Terrain, which, at least since it’s been in my possession, has never crossed a swift flowing river! On our way to Ibri, we encounter a kind of road-bridge (at the same level as the highway) with an underpass built-in, under which a thick and muddy river is churning and roaring. We get out of the car and take photos and videos of this crazy wadi. Thank goodness that the road was built over the river, or the river would probably wash the road away with its torrential force.
We continue driving along the road, crossing many more wadis along the way. At one point we follow a truckload of chickens across a wadi, one of the shallower ones we go through.
After all our driving and crossing these hazardous waters, you would think we would have enough sense to turn around. But no…. We continue on, loving the adventure of it all! As we are driving along, enjoying our adrenaline surge, we happen upon a gargantuan traffic jam.
Whereas at other wadis, people are either pulling off briefly and then plowing through, at this wadi the entire long queue of cars and pickup trucks and semis are sitting at a dead standstill. No one is coming from the opposite direction except people who are turning around. We park the car and trek quite a distance to the wadi itself. Once we get there, we see the reason no one is crossing. This wadi looks deep, wide, rough and downright dangerous. One truck is stuck up to its chassis in mud and a number of men are trying to dig him out.
We finally decide this wadi is not going to subside any time soon, so we reluctantly turn around and head back in the direction of Nizwa to find the exit to Wadi Damm. I guess we’ll have to save the Beehive Tombs of Bat for another day. Along the way, we pass a small local restaurant where we stop for a lunch of chicken masala and chapatis.
After finishing our tasty meal and leaving the hole-in-the wall establishment, we head for the beehive tombs of Al Ayn, which are on the way to Wadi Damm. We can see the tombs up on a hill with the spectacular Jebel Misht behind, but when we park the car to climb the hill, we traipse through a muddy field to encounter yet another deep and fast-flowing wadi. The last time I came here with Sandy and Malcolm over Christmas, the wadi was bone dry and I parked my car directly in the wadi!
Sultan tries to walk to the edge of the wadi to see if he can cross over, and gets his feet stuck in a quagmire of mud. I have to lend him a hand to pull him out.
Once again, foiled by a wadi!! We wonder whether it’s a waste of time to go further, but we decide we’re on this adventure till the end, whatever that end may be. We continue on, crossing over piles of rocks and gravel strewn jauntily across the road by some earlier flooding. We cross one very wide wadi, where we can’t even see the other side clearly, following in the wake of local men in pickup trucks. We cross several deeper wadis, following another group of Omanis who waves for us to follow them all the way to Wadi Damm. We barrel on in my trusty GMC, luckily making it through safely. Finally, we make some rough crossings over a couple of wadis filled with bumpy rocks; at this point I am becoming too worried about possible damage to my car. I tell the guys I just don’t see the point in continuing. I know from having been to Wadi Damm before that we must drive directly through a boulder-strewn wadi in the end, and with all the water we’ve seen today, it’s unlikely we will be able to do it.
At the point we decide to turn around, we see a little town with some ruins and plantations on the right side of the wadi. It turns out it’s the little town of Al Hayl. We drive up the road and park by the mosque and then set out on foot to explore the village. We run across some locals who pose glumly for a picture.
The first thing we encounter is a cemetery similar to other cemeteries I have photographed in Oman. It looks like a rock-strewn field, but this one is covered partially in water and has a few upright stones that resemble tombstones. Mario is singing a song by Natalie Merchant, “When They Ring the Golden Bells,” as we make our way gingerly along the muddy border of the cemetery:
There’s a land beyond the river
That they call the sweet forever
And we only reach that shore by faith’s decree
One by one we’ll gain the portals
There to dwell with the immortals
When they ring the golden bells for you and me…
Mario is determined to climb up the mountain behind the village, following in the footsteps of some goats he sees up there, in order to get a good photo of the village from above. He and Sultan climb to the top of the solid rock mountain and he’s thrilled that one, he does it without killing himself, and two, he gets a great photo of the village. Sadly, I don’t climb up, so I don’t get the picture!!
We leave the village of Al Hayl after exploring the ruins and watching some village children trying to cross the wadi. After our drive back, we stop at the Nizwa souq to check out the flooding there, and though it’s still flooded, it has subsided quite a lot since the morning.
Mario and Sultan join me at my house, where I make chicken fajitas with peppers, onions and eggplant, topped with avocado and salsa, on pita bread. We hang out and share conversation, laughter and wine throughout the afternoon and evening. We are all happy despite the fact that we never reached our destination. We had an adventure, and that was enough.
Sultan tells us that he received a “broadcast” over his phone: “You cannot add days to your life, but you can add life to your days!” And that’s just what we did. 🙂