Friday, November 9: I hiked this ancient donkey path before, in March of this year, on a much hotter day than today (the balcony walk at jebel shams). On that day, eight months ago, I never made it to the abandoned village of As Sab.
Today we make it.
This time, it’s Mario, Sultan and me. We drive over an hour on windy roads, some paved, some not, from Nizwa, beginning at 8:30 a.m. At 10:00 we begin our hike. The weather is crisp and breezy atop Jebel Shams, possibly 25 degrees Celsius, highly unusual for Oman. Not a single cloud is evident, but a heavy haze blurs the air. The views are stupendous, looking over the precipice into Wadi An Nakhur, “The Grand Canyon” of Oman. We walk mostly downhill from Al Khitaym (altitude 1,900 meters), along the west flank of the canyon. It takes us 2 1/2 hours to reach the abandoned village of As Sab because it’s slow going downhill. We stop for photos, exclaiming over the view. With the sheer drop-offs along both sides of the gorge, the path ahead looks treacherous, but once we come upon the spots we see from afar, we find the dangerous looking trail is an optical illusion. It’s actually relatively easy-going. And not as scary as it looks.
We finally reach the abandoned village of As Sab. This village, formerly known as Sab Bani Khamis, was home at one time to about 15 families. It was well-protected against enemies and had a good supply of water. The houses, which remain in dilapidated condition, were built primarily of stone. Local woods include spina christi, juniper, acacia, and olive. The crops produced on terraces on the mountainside included watermelon, onion, chili pepper, tomato, wheat, pomegranate, lemon and basil. The families also had livestock herds, including goats, sheep and donkeys. I don’t know the date the village was abandoned but, according to Explorer Oman Trekking, the former inhabitants now live in Wadi Ghul, a village at the bottom of the wadi, and Al Hamra, a larger village about 37 km away.
After poking around in the village, Mario and Sultan build a cairn (a man-made stack of stones) to mark that we were here. We’ve passed literally hundreds of other cairns along the Balcony Walk.
We check out the stone houses, the terraces, the rock overhang, and the little goats wandering around in the village. It’s difficult to imagine people actually farming on these steep & narrow terraces.
We have a plan to eat lunch at the Jebel Shams Motel. They stop serving lunch at 3:00, and it’s 12:30. We figure we better hurry to make it there in time. The return trip is all uphill. Believe it or not, though it took us 2 1/2 hours to get to As Sab, we make it back to the start in 1 1/2 hours. The guys have left me in the dust most of the way, and I find myself constantly gasping for breath. I don’t remember it being so steep on the way down!! Every muscle in my body is aching and my knees are killing me. I have on new hiking boots and sharp pins and needles are stabbing my toes. What’s the deal with that?
Finally, we have a mediocre lunch at the hotel; we are famished so it doesn’t matter that it’s nondescript. We drink fresh-ground coffee at a picnic table in the middle of the hotel grounds. On our drive back to Nizwa, Mario and I chat about the university and all our frustrations while Sultan takes a nap in the backseat. At my flat in Nizwa, we hang out many more hours, drinking wine, laughing, eating cheese and crackers, and simply enjoying each others’ company.
Since I returned to Oman, I’ve felt very depressed about being here for another year. But today is a happy day. I feel content and alive. I love it when the weather is nice enough to get outdoors for a vigorous and scenic walk, when I’m in the company of fun, lively, and dear, friends, and when I’m energized with exercise and exploration.
Oh happy day. 🙂