Thursday, June 14: Since we have a surprise holiday ~ a 4-day weekend! ~ for the Prophet’s Ascension (Leilat al-Meiraj), my friend Tom and I decide to take a trip up to Musandam, at the northeastern most tip of the Arabian peninsula. It’s a stand-alone region of Oman, separated by a 70km wide swathe of desert belonging to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), that extends north to the Strait of Hormuz.
According to Oman Off-Road: “Khasab is the northernmost of the four wilayats that make up the governorate of Musandam and is also the capital of the area. This isolated enclave of Oman is known as the ‘fjords of Arabia,’ from the jagged cliffs that plunge into the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz to form beautiful hidden inlets – perfect for snorkeling, picnicking and exploring. Until recently, the area was a restricted military zone (to the north is the Strait of Hormuz, through which the majority of the Gulf’s oil trade passes, and Iran is only 45km across the water), but it is now open to civilian visitors.”
We get an early start, sometime around 8:15 a.m., and drive toward Ibri, following Tom’s navigation system, as he has kindly offered to drive his Kia Sportage. Quite a distance after Ibri (it’s about 3 hours total from Nizwa to the border), the navigation system sends us to a border crossing. The crossing seems to be out in the middle of nowhere, with only a few cars passing through. Some confused guards ask us for our passports, and they ask us if we want a stamp. I wonder why on earth they are asking us, when it seems they should be the ones to know if we need a stamp or not. After they stamp our passports, we promptly put them away, not giving them another look.
We see a sign after this border (which it seems later turns out to be a faux border!) showing it is still 40 km to Buraimi, which is still inside of Oman! Tom insists the border we went through was the Hili border post, but later, looking at The Rough Guide to Oman, I think it was the Wadi Jizzi border, which is normally approached from Sohar. How we got to this border I have no idea, as we were just blindly following the GPS.
Here’s what The Rough Guide says: “You will be stamped out of Oman here [Wadi Jizzi border], even though the road beyond the border post is still in Omani territory – you don’t actually reach the UAE border until Al Ain, 40km distant. Entering the UAE from Buraimi, foreigners have to pass through the Hili border post just north of the town center.”
Well. Somehow we never pass through the Hili border and I have no idea how that happens! We just keep driving and following the GPS up toward Musandam, on a 6-lane bypass highway which whizzes us by Dubai, Sharja, and Ras Al Khaimah through salmon-colored sand dunes dotted with more green bushes than I would expect to see in the middle of the desert. We end up at the border post at Tibat.
At Tibat, we encounter a small problem. Though we hadn’t realized it at the time, the border patrols at the off-the-beaten-path Oman border (Wadi Jizzi I believe) only gave us an exit stamp for Oman, but since we never came across another border into UAE, we don’t have an entry stamp into UAE! Now we are trying to leave UAE, and no one can figure out how we got in!!
We are held up for a while, with the border patrols questioning us, but neither of us can say for sure which border we entered UAE through. Tom insists it was Hili, but later, when we leave through the REAL Hili border post going back to Oman, I can see it isn’t the same border! The border patrols make numerous phone calls and it takes some time, but finally, they stamp our passports with the exit stamps, charge us 35 dirhams (around $10) and we head into the northern section of Oman.
Whew! After that hassle is over, we have smooth sailing the rest of the way, driving along a coastal road cut into steep cliffs that fall sharply into the Gulf of Oman. It’s quite scenic and dramatic, but also hazy and hot, about 46 degrees Celsius (!), so the photos are not great. We stop at a couple of places along the way to take pictures of some fishing boats and then head into Khasab, where we check in at the Khasab Hotel.