Thursday, February 28: After leaving Nakhal Fort, we head east along the Rustaq loop to drive into Wadi Bani Awf. We want to explore Little Snake Canyon, a less scary version of the real Snake Canyon which lies deeper in the wadi, nearly to Balad Sayt.
There’s a lot of road construction going on as we go into the wadi, and we’re happy to find large portions of the road are now paved. I haven’t been to this wadi since May or June, and a lot has been going on since then. It’s still quite a drive over unpaved roads, but at least it’s now mostly a smooth ride. We arrive at the parking area for Little Snake Canyon and head out to explore.
Right at the entrance to the canyon, we find a little pool with fish, dragonflies and pretty butterflies, all surrounded by tall grasses.
We wander into the canyon and I can’t help but comment that it seems a rough version of Petra. It’s not nearly as amazing as Petra, of course (what could be, after all?), but the canyon is incredibly narrow with steep high cliffs on either side, giving it that Petra look. I tell Mario that it’s too bad the Nabataeans didn’t come here to settle, otherwise some of the huge boulders strewn throughout the canyon might have been used to construct something as amazing as the Treasury or the Monastery, or even the Street of Facades.
As it is, the first hundred meters of the canyon are a flat bed of smooth rocks. However, the further back we go, we are blockaded by huge boulders strewn about. It looks prehistoric; I can’t help but imagine a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex picking up the huge boulders and, in a fit of anger, flinging them all over the canyon. The rocks are so cumbersome and in such awkwardly precarious positions, that it seems as if they are the aftermath of a nasty temper tantrum. Some violent upheaval.
We scramble over the boulders as far as we think is feasible, and then we decide to turn around. Later I read in Oman Off-Road that “the canyon opens up into a wide wadi and then, for the next kilometer or so, is easy hiking among boulders. Just before you hit the second canyon section, you’ll see a huge ‘scoop’ in the wall on the left. The canyon really narrows (to less than 5m wide) and eventually gives way to a long pool. Continuing further will require approximately 50m of refreshing swimming in a section of wafer-thin wadi.”
“Easy hiking among boulders??” I don’t think so!! We have to slide along on our butts or climb up steep boulders to make any progress. Apparently, once again, we missed what we were supposed to see. I’ve done this too many times to count in Oman. I thought it was somewhat disappointing that we couldn’t go very far, but I guess we just didn’t try hard enough.
And swimming in “wafer-thin wadi??” So much for that. We never found a “wafer-thin wadi,” much less any pool to swim in. 😦
Will there be a next time? I simply don’t know if I’ll have enough time to go back there again!!
On our way out, we notice a number of cairns that people have left to mark their territory. Mario builds one too, leaving a memento of our visit.
We leave the Little Snake Canyon and drive to Rustaq, where we see the Rustaq Fort that is sadly closed for an extensive renovation. This fort is one of the biggest in Oman, with a huge central keep surrounded by low exterior walls topped by four towers. It is one of the most ancient in Oman, thought to have been built by the Julanda dynasty 50 years before the arrival of Islam. It was expanded in 670 AD and again in 1698; further towers were added by Sultan Faisal fin Turki in 1906 (The Rough Guide to Oman).
Rustaq’s fame was based on its strategic position between the coast and the mountains, managing the exits of several wadis through which goods would have been transported from the mountains above. The town became a major center for local commerce. Some of the country’s finest metalworkers and silversmiths were based here. The town is also the source of some of Oman’s best halwa (a dessert) and honey. Beekeeping is a popular local occupation today (Rough Guide to Oman).
We walk around the fort and take some photos from the outside. To me the most interesting things are the shadows of the date palms on the outer walls.
Rustaq’s residents have long been known for their care of palm trees and their dates. They’ve used branches and leaves to build shelter and make baskets. Leather tanning is also one of the industries in Rustaq. People use leather to save water and food, and for making shoes. Other prominent industries produced textiles, agriculture, daggers, swords, guns, blacksmithing, carpentry and others (Wikipedia: Rustaq).
Finally, we go to the Rustaq hot springs. Ugly concrete bath houses, for men-only, straddle the hot spring. Someone tells me there is a women-only bathhouse, but I don’t see it. Apparently the water, with its hot temperature (45 Celsius) and its sulphur content, has curative properties. Mario spends some time in the bathhouse, where he finds some relief from the back pain he often suffers. While he’s in the bathhouse, I chat with Mario’s friend Mohammed, who lives right down the road from Rustaq Fort and has joined us in our wanders around the town.
Both of the hot springs I see today, in Nakhal and here in Rustaq, are a big disappointment because of their crowded and commercial aspects. Not only that, but they are downright ugly. Oh well, like Mario says, I’ve been there, done that. Check.
We head to a hill to take a picture of the mosque in Rustaq. I’ve admired this mosque in the past as I’ve driven through Rustaq, but sadly I never stopped to take a picture. The dome on the mosque, during those earlier drive-bys, was gorgeous, but today, sadly, there is green netting over the dome for renovations.
Finally, we end our day by going to Al Musanaah‘s Gulf Sand Hotel, where some new little chalets have been built that are only 15 rials! I stay in the 15 rial room, while Mario gets the 20 rial room which has a pleasant patio shaded by trees. We sit outside for a long while chatting and drinking wine until I decide it’s time for me to crash.
Friday, March 1: In the morning, we take a drive back down the Rustaq loop to see the other famous castle in the area, Al Hazm, but we find it is closed for renovations. This must be renovation time in Oman! We try to take some decent pictures of the outside of the castle, but it is non-distinct and quite unimpressive.
Finally, we return to Al Musanaah, where Mario and I split, since we’ve driven separate cars during this whole trip. He heads to Muscat to do some shopping and I head home to Nizwa. It turns out to be almost another 600 km road trip, but with an overnight stop built in. I guess I better use my car as much as I can in the next month or so, because soon I will have to put it up for sale. I’m certainly going to miss my GMC Terrain and all the adventures it’s taken me on in Oman. 😦