Thursday, November 22:  Today, Thanksgiving Day in America but just a regular weekend day in Oman, we take a trip to Jebel Akhdar.  This is the first time that Mario or I have ever been up to Jebel Akdhar during the fall.  Mario’s Omani friend Mohammed has never in his 23 years EVER been to the “Green Mountain.”  So today is a treat for all of us.

juniper trees at Juniper Trees on Jebel Akhdar

We aim to do two hikes today.  One is a hike I did in February of this year, a hike an Omani friend calls “Juniper Trees.”  This hike goes through rugged rocky mountain terrain covered in age-old gnarly juniper and olive trees to the precipitous edge of Wadi Bani Kharus; vehicular access to the bottom of this wadi is only possible from the north of Oman, driving through Muscat and then toward Rustaq.  Our aim is to reach the precipice and admire the views over the north of Oman.

this is what the whole landscape looks like

The other hike we plan is to the two abandoned villages at Wadi Bani Habib.  I have been to one of these villages numerous times before, but I have never been to the second.  Today, rather than backtracking after exploring the first village, we plan to continue on a loop, going through the second village and climbing up the opposite side of a promontory jutting out into the wadi.

one of the few unusual things on the mountain, yet we never see it again

the rocky terrain of Juniper Trees

And finally our plan is to have dinner at our favorite Sahab Hotel, accompanied by red wine, which the restaurant so graciously allows patrons to bring themselves.

another pretty plant with dainty little flowers

We have no maps to Juniper Trees.  Since I’m the only one of us who has ever done this hike, we are relying on my memory to get us there.  Relying on my memory these days is a risky proposition.  After much driving around and not recognizing anything, we finally call my friend Moo, who took me here back in February, to ask him where the start is.  He tells us it’s NOT on the road to Ar-Roos (“Russia”), which is where we are when we call, but between the school and the Qaboos farm on the climbing road that leads off the main road up the mountain. (Oman doesn’t have names for roads, so it’s difficult to get your bearings or to give other people directions.)

here is the expansive but nondescript parking lot to the Juniper Trees hike

We remember passing the farm and the school, so we drive back and forth between the two, where we finally find a parking lot that looks only vaguely as I remember.  We park in an unfamiliar looking spot, and begin our hike.  There is no trail at all, and there are no distinguishing features to the landscape.  Frankly I’m afraid we will get lost and not be able to find our way back to my car.  But we set out over the rocks, trying to take pictures of interesting juniper trees as landmarks. Soon we realize the futility of this, as there are too many juniper trees and they all look similar.

Another juniper tree, this one dead.

We find a Heineken can, which we place in a prominent spot to mark our trail.  Mohammed builds a rock pile as a trail marker, but there are piles of rocks everywhere and I doubt we will ever see his again.

Mohammed’s rock pile trail marker

Mario finds a pair of dusty male underwear on the ground; we laugh at this discovery and joke that we should try to remember its location.  I say we should hang them in a tree, but we foolishly don’t do it.  We see a lot of dirt tracks, which we follow here and there, but they seem to lead nowhere.  One leads to a crop-circle-like place where people have obviously been camping.  We head from there into a wadi, because I tell the guys that I remember walking through a ravine with Moo.  We finally climb out of the wadi because it seems to be leading nowhere.

gnarly trees in the wadi

a close-up of the gnarled juniper trees in the wadi

On the horizon, we see a huge cloud which is suspended partially beneath a ridge-line, the top half bulges above the horizon like fluffy white cotton candy.  We figure this must be our destination.  But, every time we climb to one ridge, more valleys and ridges lie in front of us.  It’s obvious that we are not going to reach the overlook to Wadi Bani Kharus today.

the clouds on the horizon

Finally, after a good two hours, we turn around and head back.  It’s hit or miss as we try to find our way back, but surprisingly, in this landscape where everything looks alike, we do recognize a couple of things we saw before, including some of the tracks leading to nowhere.  Standing atop one ridge, we can see the farm and the main road in the distance, so we figure we are heading in the right direction.  At another point, we run across our Heineken can marker, but we never see Mohammed’s rock pile or the dusty underwear again.  It’s pretty pathetic that we have to depend on a Heineken can to get us to our destination.

a trail marker in an otherwise difficult-to-navigate landscape

If you’d like to see what this hike looks like when done successfully, with a proper guide, see the post about the hike I took with Moo in February: hiking jebel akhdar ~ a spectacular overlook at wadi bani kharus & an abandoned village at wadi bani habib

Mario & Mohammed at Juniper Trees

Oh well, it really doesn’t matter to us that we never find our destination as it is a glorious fall day up on the Green Mountain, with crisp and cool temperatures (unlike anything we would find in the rest of Oman), and it just feels good to get outside and hike.  And as we all enjoy each others’ company, that is an added bonus.

We make it back to the car, and then head to lunch at a small Pakistani-run restaurant.  Then we head toward Wadi Bani Habib…