Thursday, September 27: This morning Neziha, who works with me at the university, and her friend Andreas, have organized a convoy of people from InterNations who will go together to the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2012 at Wadi Shab.  This competition is the last leg in the series, with Colombian Orlando Duque as the current leader based on overall points.

Neziha & Bert, another InterNations member

Kathy. And Anna, peeking through the open door…

We are all supposed to meet at the Al Amerat Roundabout outside of Muscat at 7 a.m.  Of course, as always when people are waiting for a group to congregate, there are a few people who are late and hold up the whole show.  In this case, though we arrive right at 7 a.m., several people are as late as 7:40.  Finally, we give up on the few who still haven’t shown up and we head down the highway toward Wadi Shab.

Bert, Andreas, Neziha & Othman

me, myself and i 🙂

It is great to meet some new people outside of the university.  We meet a Dutch man, Bert, who takes on the role of family man by offering to carry two women and their three children in his big vehicle.  We meet a Palestinian guy named Othman and an Omani sea-captain who has taken Neziha to the Damaniyat Islands. When we stop for coffee and petrol in Qurayat, we meet another group from Rustaq, Brits and Pakistanis, who were late for the 7:00 meeting, but have still managed to catch up with us here.

the whole group when the late arrivals catch up with us at Qurayat

Our happy caravan cruises down the road. As we’re driving, Kathy says she feels uncomfortable in large crowds and so feels nervous about this event.  I also feel nervous in large crowds, but Anna and I say that it’s good sometimes to push ourselves and step out of our comfort zone.

me and Kathy with the event poster

For me, this weekend is really out of my comfort zone.  For one, I don’t do well in heat and humidity.  Second, I, like Kathy, don’t like large crowds.  Somehow having our smaller crowd of InterNations people feels cozy to me, so we’ll at least have a little crowd within a crowd to hang out with.  Finally, we are planning to camp after the event.  Most people know by now that I am not a camping kind of girl.  I prefer the comfort of a hotel.  Even when I do camp, which is rare, I’m the kind of person who will set up a tent and sleeping bag, and then run to the nearest restaurant to eat.  I hate the hassle of carrying all the cooking gear and food, collecting firewood, setting up a campfire, cooking over a flame, and then washing the dishes in less than ideal circumstances.  I don’t like it that I don’t have a private bathroom or running water or a shower to wash off the sand and salt.  So, between all of these things, I am really out of my comfort zone.

Red Bull: the sponsor of our show

Anna and I agree however, that it is good to sometimes push ourselves out of our comfort zone.  Maybe we will make some new friends or our lives will head off in some new trajectory as a result of this out-of-our-normal-pattern action.   Kathy is not convinced.  She just doesn’t like crowds. Little do I know how much I will be totally out of my comfort zone today, and how much I will dislike the crowds, the heat, and camping.

a close-up of the bridge

We reach the exit for Wadi Tiwi, next door to Wadi Shab, and head into the tangle of cars trying to find parking as close as possible to the entrance to Wadi Shab.  Already at 10:30, it is sweltering and, as usual in Oman, as there is little foliage anywhere, there is nowhere to escape the sun.  We trudge a long distance on the road to the opening of Wadi Shab.  By the time we arrive at the entrance to the wadi, sweat is pouring off of all of us.

already drenched and we haven’t even reached the competition point!

Usually there is a little boat to take people across the wadi, so I wonder how this will be handled with the lines of people traipsing along like ants on an anthill.  When we come to the wadi, we see the event managers (co-sponsors Red Bull and Oman’s Ministry of Tourism) have built a footbridge across the wadi.  We cross it.

the footbridge built over the wadi for this event

looking into Wadi Shab

Next, we must walk quite a distance over a sandy path underneath some brown date palms; after this, there is a long patch on the wadi bed of smooth rocks, bigger than pebbles but smaller than boulders, that roll about under our feet as we walk. It’s not easy going.  I’m surprised by the constant stream of people and we realize that this crowd is going to be a lot bigger than any of us imagined.

walking under the dried up date palms

the crowds entering the event area

By the time we arrive to where the event is to take place, the space between the canyon walls is filled with people.  People have climbed up on every available ledge.  People are overflowing from the rocky beach area into the water.  Some people are floating on inner tubes in the water.  Some people are huddled under slices of shade offered by overhanging rock ledges, while others are squeezed under a big Red Bull tarp.  Everyone is searching for shade as well as a decent vantage point to see the divers.

crowds of people

Almost immediately, when we join the crowd at cliff-diving central, Anna and I realize we have lost not only most of our InterNations group, but Kathy as well.  Kathy, who made it very clear to us that she does not like crowds.  We look and look for her, and send text messages and try to call, but there is not a good signal in the wadi. When the signal finally catches, the message is sent, but she is not checking her messages.

An announcer tells the crowd to please be quiet for the warm-up dives, as the divers need silence to concentrate.  It’s hard to keep the crowd quiet, as hoots and hollers come from all quarters.  Despite that, the divers must have great powers of concentration, because they do their dives with seeming perfection.

the dive platform and a diver

Anna and I try to climb toward the VIP area.  Anna is so funny; she always thinks any barrier can be overcome and she will be able to talk her way in.  This is not the case here.  We are turned away at the steps that lead to the VIP area.  If you are looking to read a great account of the actual cliff-diving competition from the VIP area, you should visit the following posts by Andy in Oman.  HE was in the VIP area, as was his friend, who also posted a great blog and excellent pictures.  You can see those blogs here: 1) Red Bull Cliff Diving at Wadi Shab (Part 1) – Welcome & Warmup, 2) 2 Awesome Dives at Red Bull Cliff Diving Series 2012 at Wadi Shab, Oman, 3) Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2012 Final at Wadi Shab, Oman (Awesome Dives Clip 2), and 4) Awesome Dives Video Clip #3 – Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series 2012 Final.  Here’s another account by Andy’s friend, but I’m sorry I don’t know his name!! THE ROGUE AND PEASANT SLAVE: Red Bull Cliff Diving Championships in Oman.  And for the real, official version of what happened, please see: RED BULL CLIFF DIVING WORLD SERIES FINAL.

the dive platform above the heads of the crowd

setting the scene

Some of the facts of the cliff-diving competition, from the event brochure, are as follows: The dive platform maximum height is 28 meters (~ 92 feet) and the minimum is 26.5 meters (~ 87 feet).  Olympic diving is 10 meters (~32 feet)!  The free fall takes about 3 seconds, with physical forces of 2-3G.  The divers enter the water at speeds of 85-90km per hour (53-56 miles/hour), nine times harder than from a 10 meter (Olympic height) platform.

we might be filmed!

The highest risk of injury occurs during the plunge, when parts of the body are already exposed to absolute deceleration and others, above the surface, are still at full speed. At this point, absolute physical tension is absolutely necessary. Immediately after hitting the water, the athlete has to actively dive away to avoid compression or contortion of parts of the body due to the hardness of the water. However, major mistakes can be ruled out because of the divers’ technical training and experience. A pancake landing from such heights can be compared with a hard landing from 13 meters (~43 feet) on concrete.  That is why only about three or four dozen athletes worldwide pursue this exclusive and extreme sport.  Generally speaking, high diving over 28 meters is not justifiable. Due to the rapid acceleration, almost no time benefit occurs from higher dives, but the risk of injuries increases disproportionately.

yet another view of an empty dive platform… 🙂

Five international jurors judge each dive on the following criteria: 1) Take off, 2) Position in the air, and 3) Entry in the water, with scores from 0-10.

Sadly, this version of the story is simply my personal experience.  If you want to know what it was like to be in the masses, read on.  If you want the official, real details of the CLIFF DIVING COMPETITION, you should stop here and check the links above!

Anna ahead of me walking along the ledges

So, to continue with my saga: Anna and I clamber around on the rock ledges, trying to catch a decent glimpse of the cliff divers, to locate our InterNations friends, and to find Kathy. We are unsuccessful on all fronts.  We can only see the top halves of the dives; we can never see the divers hit the water because of all the people in the way.  I try to take some pictures of the divers, or at least I think I am doing so, but the divers disappear from the frame before the camera snaps.  I have no pictures of the divers! The only photos I get are of crowds and crowds of people, an empty dive platform, and the Red Bull tents.  Mostly I am too busy sweating to even bother to take pictures.  And then to top it off, as Anna and I are clambering through some bushes on the ledges, I get stung on my left hand by a very angry bee.

Anna shielding herself from the sun with a towel

I have had many bee stings in my life, and usually they barely bother me.  I don’t know what kind of bee this was, but I know he must have had some nasty venom in him.  It feels like I’ve been shot.  My hand immediately swells to nearly twice its normal size.  I am hot, thirsty and tired of fighting for a decent view and some shade.

hordes of people

While my hand is burning and stinging, down below us, Anna spots Kathy.  We fight our way down and sit beside her on the opposite side of the wadi from the crowds, under a few little shade trees.  We are all tired, hot and irritable.  We’ve totally lost interest in the dives because we can barely see them anyway.  Kathy is hungry and so am I, so Anna and I go to the Left Bank restaurant’s tent to get some chicken wraps.  A guy who is serving people in the hot sun looks drenched.  Anna says, “Wow, you’re lucky.  It looks like someone poured a bucket of water on you!”  He looks at us like we’re crazy.  “This is SWEAT!” he says.

check out the people on the ledges!

Finally we vote to leave the island. I mean the wadi. We have had enough.  So we trudge back out of the wadi, where luckily we catch a shuttle car to the bridge.  We cross the bridge, and slog up a hill until we finally catch another car for 1 rial each back to the parking lot.  I have never been so happy to jump into an air-conditioned car.

I’m sure the cliff-diving competition was a pretty fabulous thing.  What little I saw of the dives were amazing.  I read about it and saw great pictures from Andy’s and Rogue’s blogs.  But as for it being a truly enjoyable event…not in my book!

Later, when speaking about the event, I make a guess that thousands of people attended this event.  I don’t know the actual figure, but Neziha says she heard it was 6,000!  I don’t doubt it one bit!