Thursday, May 17: Today Mario, his Omani friend Sultan, and I embark, once again, on the road trip of all road trips across the western Hajar mountains through Wadi Bani Awf, to Balad Sayt, and on to Al Musanaah. We begin our journey around 9:30 in the morning, stocking up on picnic items, plenty of water, and a cooler full of ice.
I went on this journey once in January with my sons and then again on April 26 with my friends Tom and Kathy. This is the first time I’ve taken Mario and, surprisingly, the first time that Sultan, a native-born Omani, has ever been.
We drive towards Al Hamra and then up the mountain to the overlook point, where we get out to take pictures and get buffeted about by a strong wind. Then we start our drive, past the point where I almost drove myself and my two sweet boys over the edge. We drive down the mountain into Wadi Bani Awf, stopping along the way to admire the views, to inspect the geology of the mountains, and to take photos. I think Sultan is quite surprised by this place as he’s never been before. I have to admit I feel kinda like a tough girl taking this native Omani on this treacherous drive and introducing him to a part of Oman he’s never seen before.
We continue to the bottom of the wadi where the rocks seem to have been rearranged from recent rains. Even the place I parked as recently as 3 weeks ago looks like a different terrain altogether.
I tell Mario and Sultan they might want to approach Balad Sayt through the canyon. Since I know Mario will not want to risk dropping his very expensive camera in one of the pools in the canyon, I suggest they can go through the canyon and leave their cameras in my car, while I drive the long way to the village. They agree that’s what they’ll do.
Before I’m able to pull over to let them out, I drive over quite a large pile of rocks in the wadi. The rocks hit the bottom of my car with a loud bang and scrape. I back up and rearrange the car in a different spot and let Mario and Sultan out to walk and wade through the canyon. I take off by myself to drive up the steep mountain. However, as soon as I drop them off, I hear a high-pitched squealing noise; it almost sounds like a loud crazy bird chirping. I’m thinking, with not a little panic, WHAT THE H*** IS THAT NOISE!!?? As I always do when I am confronted with the possibility of any kind of car trouble, I try to ignore the sound and hope it will go away. It doesn’t. It gets louder and continues to chirp loudly as long as I am driving.
In the village, I drive to the point where the canyon empties into the village, and I encounter Mario and Sultan coming out. I have parked my car in an inappropriate spot, so I hop back in to find another parking spot. As I drive up the hill, the insistent chirping has now become more shrill, and I am feeling a true panic attack coming on. WHAT CAN IT BE? I know deep in my gut that whatever it was that hit the bottom of my car is probably responsible, but I continue to deceive myself into thinking THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MY CAR!! THERE CAN’T BE!! I keep seeing dollar signs flashing in my mind and GREECE with a big red X through it.
Finally, I park the car and wander around the village with Mario and Sultan. For a while at least, I can forget about the car and hope that it will correct itself while it is parked. HA!! I know this won’t happen, but there’s always wishful thinking.
In the village, hordes of Pakistani workmen in bright red coveralls are working digging up the streets and driving a big backhoe or bulldozer, some yellow piece of construction equipment. We finally guess they are putting in a sewage system. Or something.
We wander through part of the village and then into the plantations, where we can take pictures of date palms, banana plants, onions, corn, sorghum, roses, and glowing green fields set against the backdrop of the pretty Balad Sayt, which sits on a hill.
After a long while, we wander back to my car, which is now a toasty little oven, and get in. I start the engine, hoping the sound will have disappeared, but as soon as I begin moving, it is there again. Chirpy squeal!! Chirpy squeal!! ARGHHH!!
We are smack dab in the middle of Wadi Bani Awf, and this is not a place to have car trouble. We still have over 30 km to go over treacherous gravel mountain roads. All we can do is hope the car will get us out of this place.
We stop at the bottom of another wadi, where we have a picnic of samosas and Greek salad (
GREECE !!) and drinks. Some goats hang out with us and keep trying to steal our lunch until Mario reprimands one of them. Mario walks around in the wadi and finds beautifully painted rocks to add to his extensive collection of seashells and rocks.
After a lazy lunch we continue up another steep incline, where down below we see Snake Canyon crisscrossing below us. It’s GORGE-ous! Meanwhile the car is still making the loud shrill noise but seems to be functioning okay. We continue on quite a while until we descend to the bottom of the wadi and drive along on bumpy gravel and rock roads. Suddenly, a new noise joins the shrill noise. Now it sounds like something is dragging along the ground, making a loud AWFUL noise to add to the cacophony. We all get out and look under the car, but we don’t see anything dragging at all!! We can’t figure out what it is, but it just gets louder and louder. I cannot wait to get to the paved highway, where hopefully that sound will stop.
When finally we reach the paved highway, I step on the gas, hoping the sound will disappear. Instead it gets louder. The console between the driver and passenger seat is shaking like there is no tomorrow. Mario insists that we will stop in Rustaq and have a mechanic look at it. However, it is only 3:00 and we know the story. In Oman, most businesses close between 1:00 and 5:00 because of the heat, so it is unlikely we will be able to find anyone to look at the car. We will likely be stuck sitting outside in the heat waiting for a garage to open.
Finally, we arrive in Rustaq and lo and behold! There is a garage open. A Pakistani mechanic puts the car over a big hole in the ground after Sultan takes the guy on a test drive. He apparently makes some adjustment to a thingy in the middle of the car holding the drive train. Hmmm, I don’t know a thing about cars, so don’t know the terminology. But apparently, when I hit that rock, the middle differential bearing (??) got twisted and turned and that’s what was making that hellacious noise. The guy straightens it out, charges me 5 rials, and Al-Hamdullilah, we are on our way!
We drive straight to Al Musanaah, where we check into our little chalets at the Gulf Sand Hotel and drink a little wine. We’re all celebrating our success at making it safely over the mountains. I’m having a drink of sweet relief that something serious isn’t wrong with my car. We then take naps in our respective chalets, and later go for dinner at an Indian restaurant in town. Later, Sultan heads off to crash while Mario and I sit and talk about our writing endeavors; I tell him about the characters in my novel, including my Egyptian character who reads a medical encyclopedia to learn English and thinks he has every disease he reads about. Mario tells me about an interesting short story he wrote called “Buenas Noches Manuel.” It’s about an old man who decides he doesn’t want to live anymore because he’s alone and tired of life. He has an older sister who lives near him and as he plans his own suicide, he’s oblivious to his own sister’s parallel plans.
Buenas Nochas, Mario, Sultan and my faithful little GMC Terrain!