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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We return to our hotel, where I fall asleep the minute my head hits the pillow. What a day!