52 pick up: success (aka overcoming adversity)

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Thursday, April 26:  I came up with my photos for Sherene’s 52 Pick Up theme purely by accident this week.  In her photo challenge, she wrote: “Has there been a period of adversity in your life that you have overcome?  Have you successfully stayed away from junk food  for a hour, week, month?  Or maybe you are ready for swimsuit season!  Be creative and have fun!”

Today, two of my friends, Kathy and Tom, and I ventured across the Hajar Mountains in Oman.  We drove over a treacherous dirt road along the edges of steep mountains through Wadi Bani Awf toward an idyllic little village called Balad Sayt.

In order to get to this beautiful village, we had to clamber through a pool-filled canyon to emerge on the other side in an open bowl surrounded by mountains.  The village with all its lush green plantations sits in the middle of this bowl.

I guess this might be where Kathy took off her shoes in the canyon??

Walking through this canyon involves wading through some thigh-deep pools, climbing up through crevasses over deeper pools, and hugging the canyon walls while climbing along narrow ledges above other boulder-filled pools. It’s quite scary in some points because of the poor footing and the slippery rocks, which could easily result in slipping or sliding into one of these pools.  Slipping could in turn lead to broken bones or ruined cameras.

My friend Kathy at some point along the canyon walk decided to leave her shoes on one of the ledges in order not to ruin them while wading through the pools.  Had I known she was going to do this, I would have advised her against it.  I knew from having been here before that there was still a long gravelly path ahead in the canyon, as well as a lot of walking through the village of Balad Sayt.  I didn’t realize she had discarded her shoes until I heard yelping behind me as she started walking over the gravel path.  I looked and she was gingerly walking over the hot gravel and boulders along the path in her bare feet!

Kathy puts little boards on her feet to get over the gravel

Kathy puts little boards on her feet to get over the gravel

Several times she wanted to give up and just sit and wait for Tom and me.  I protested, saying she HAD to see the village; we didn’t come all this way for nothing!! So, with real pioneer spirit, she tried to devise different methods to protect her feet so she could continue walking.  First she found an old rotten piece of wood which she broke in half into two foot-sized pieces.  She made her way by lifting one foot and tossing the board in front, lifting the back foot and then picking up that wood and throwing it in front, etc.  As you can imagine, it was quite slow and tedious.

Kathy’s improvised bark shoes

For a brief time, she tried to use her towel as a kind of hammock for her feet, but that didn’t work very well either.

Finally we came to the road to the village, where at least she could walk on pavement.  However, the pavement was quite hot and she still had lots of walking ahead.  She happened to find some thin flexible bark and pieces of yellow twine lying in a jumble near the canyon exit. I guess it’s a good thing there is not good rubbish disposal in Oman.  She fashioned two makeshift shoes out of the bark and tied the bark to the bottoms of her feet with the twine.  After she did this, we walked slowly along and happened upon a garden of aloe vera plants, one of which she picked and rubbed onto the bottoms of her soles.  Meanwhile, we were all having a great laugh over the entire situation, which was really quite ludicrous!

Kathy with her makeshift shoes surrounded by aloe vera plants

Some Pakistani guys in a house we passed along the way later brought her some deteriorating plastic slippers which were huge on her, but she wore them anyway as we walked through the gardens.

Later, she wondered how on earth she would get back through the canyon.  There is a way to get out of the village without going through the canyon, but we needed a car and our car was on the other side of the canyon.  She said she just knew we would find someone who could drive us to the other side.  We figured our friend Tom could climb back through the canyon to pick up the shoes she left halfway along the path, while we drove back to the car with some kind-hearted Omani.  Sure enough, while sitting along the edge of the road, she found a villager going to Ar-Rustaq and she talked him into driving us back to our car.

Talk about SUCCESS (aka OVERCOMING ADVERSITY). I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with so much faith and determination. This girl definitely gets the award!

a treacherous drive through wadi bani awf: a near-tragedy, the picturesque village of balad sayt & a glimpse of the infamous snake canyon

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Monday, January 23:  Today I tell my boys we are driving over the Wester Hajar Mountains on dirt roads, using my Oman Off-Road guide, from between Al Hamra and Al Hoota Cave in the Al-Dakhiliyah region to Rustaq in the Al-Batinah region.  I am a little worried about accomplishing this feat, but only because I have heard I “might get lost.” But since I have my trusty guide with a pretty detailed map and instructions, I  figure we shouldn’t get lost.   We will double-check all landmarks along the way and if we can’t find any one of them, we’ll simply turn around and come back the way we came. The plan is, once we get to Rustaq, to go visit the hot springs there and maybe make a quick stop at Nakhal Fort.

Our view at the top of the mountain before we almost go over the edge!!

Our view at the top of the mountain before we almost go over the edge!!

the rough track down the mountain; you can see the road carved into the side of the mountain to the right…

My friend Adil, who I met at Wadi Bani Khalid in November, and who lives near Rustaq, drove over this road one afternoon and popped in, with all his friends, to pay me a visit in my old villa.  He made it sound like it was no big deal, just an hour and a half, he said, and only about 70km.  No problem.

another view of the hajar mountains, this time from the dirt track

another view of the hajar mountains, this time from the dirt track

Things start out fairly well, as we take the road toward Al Hamra, and then take a right on a road signposted for Hat and Balad Sayt.  This is a good tarmac road that climbs up the mountain in a series of switchbacks. At the beginning of this road, I think it says 38km to Balad Sayt. At the top of the mountain, right before the point where the map says the road turns to a dirt track, we stop at the viewpoint of Sharafat al Alamayn and get out of the car to see the spectacular view, considered one of the finest panoramas in Oman, across the entire Western Hajar and down towards the coast below.  The wind is blowing hard and the air is so frigid, we feel a little worried at this point that we haven’t dressed properly for this excursion.  It is freezing!!

the wadi bed at Wadi Bani Awf

We get back in the car and turn on the heat and start driving.  At the crest of the mountain, we see three bikers standing at the top, talking and checking their gear. Taking a break of some kind.  As we drive by, we all three look at them and wave cheerily.  The next thing we know, and not one of us sees this coming, we are bumping over a dirt road full speed ahead and heading toward a knee-high gravel embankment, more like a big bump, on the other side of which is a sheer drop-off.  “Watch out!!” the boys yell.  I feel it before I see it, the pavement giving way to dirt and gravel, because frankly I am just turning my attention from the bikers to the road.  I see what is before me and it isn’t good.  I turn the wheel toward the sheer rock wall of the mountain, away from what could have been a long precipitous drop to our deaths!!

the entrance to the canyon leading to Balad Sayt

the entrance to the canyon leading to Balad Sayt

Oh my god!!  I almost killed myself and my precious cargo, my two darling sons, who have entrusted themselves to my care here in Oman!  As soon as we can, we stop the car, and all of us take a deep breath.  We are shaken and looking at the treacherous road ahead, wondering if it’s wise to proceed.  We decide to go ahead, but slowly and carefully.

the view from the canyon to the wadi bed

the view from the canyon to the wadi bed

We drive cautiously, using my 4WD numerous times to slow our descent down the steep-angled and bumpy dirt track.  Luckily, a kind of guard rail of sorts is all along the edge, really just a long continuous knee-high pile of gravel, which gives us some feeling that we’re protected from going off the edge.  I doubt that it would really stop my Terrain, however, from the pull of gravity and momentum if we lost control of the car.

the narrow canyon leading to Balad Sayt

the narrow canyon leading to Balad Sayt

It is a long and slow descent, the road worming its way down an almost vertical escarpment, with spectacular views all along the way.  These are the kinds of views that take your breath away.  We pass by the village of Hat on the right, with a big falaj that tumbles down the mountain.  We go through a very rough wadi bed, hard even on my Terrain, and pass two women coming from the opposite direction, from the Rustaq end of the route.  They warn, “It’s really rough going ahead.”  I say, “Oh no, it was really rough where we came from.  I don’t know how much more of this I can take!”

Alex sits on a rock to put his shoes on in the canyon leading to Balad Sayt

Alex sits on a rock to put his shoes on in the canyon leading to Balad Sayt

The thing we want to see most is the charming village of Balad Sayt.  Described in The Rough Guide to Oman as such: “Tucked away in the folds of the mountains, this Shangri-La-like settlement is one of the most famous traditional villages in Oman, although its size and relative modernity come as something of a surprise given the remote and inhospitable location.  The core of the village remains magical, however, with a picturesque pile of small houses, crowned with a tiny fort, sitting above a lush swathe of immaculate terraced fields.”

our first view of Balad Sayt after emerging from the canyon

a colorful door in the village

a colorful door in the village

Oman Off-Road describes two ways to approach the village.  They recommend the approach by foot, because “your first views of the town will come after you emerge from an improbable canyon cleft – it’s like discovering a lost city, seeing Petra for the first time.”   Having been to Petra in November, and knowing just what it feels like to walk through a canyon and to come upon a hidden treasure, I can’t resist this approach.  So, near the wadi bottom, we find the cleft in the canyon, park the car, and climb up into it, following an Omani who we have seen gracefully gliding up into the canyon.

the charming Balad Sayt

It turns out there are many pools along the way that we must wade through.  I roll up my pants legs all the way to my knees, and they still get wet.  We have to wade through about 4 of these pools, some quite deep.  Finally, after quite an adventure, we arrive in the beautiful village, which is lovely but is not quite Petra!!  The actual view as you emerge directly from the canyon is not that magical, although after you’re well out of the canyon, we discover it is a totally charming little village.

the town of Balad Sayt sits in a bowl in the midst of the Hajar Mountains

We come immediately upon some Omani boys shooting a gun at a target and they let both the boys shoot the gun.  We then walk up through the village, where a young man comes out and introduces himself and then takes us on a tour through the village, beside the newly built mosque and through his own family’s plantation.  It is lovely, with terraced fields of crops set against the backdrop of the stacked village and the Hajar Mountains.  It sits in a bowl in the midst of the brown mountains, an oasis of lush greenery and golden houses.  Shangri-La.

the young man from Balad Sayt, Adam & Alex in Oman.

the young man from Balad Sayt, Adam & Alex in Oman.

the new mosque is a bright spot in the village

After our walk, I tell the boys I will wait at the entrance to the village while they go back through the canyon and the pools and get the car.  The young man who has given us the tour offers to accompany them and show them the way.  I sit alone for a bit, but then several boys from the village join me.  They can speak just rudimentary English, or none at all, so we just take pictures of each other and sit in silence.

villagers from Balad Sayt

Finally the boys return with the car, and we take off for the second half of the drive.  The girls we met earlier were right.  This part of the drive is much more treacherous and scary than the first part!  We drive along a dirt road on which one side is a sheer wall of rock, and on the other side is a straight drop-off into a deep and bottomless canyon.  The views are unparalleled, simply spectacular, but driving the road is terrifying.

waiting with one of the villagers

We pass by Snake Canyon (Wadi Bimmah), which takes its name not from actual slithering reptiles but from the twisting shape.  The canyon is a popular destination for adventurous hikers, and supposedly involves daring jumps into rock pools and swimming through ravines.  Apparently a number of hikers have died here from raging torrents caused by rain in the mountains above.  I don’t think Snake Canyon will be a destination for me.

the exit to the perilous Snake Canyon

Later the terrain finally flattens out and we pass by Little Snake Canyon, another smaller cleft in the rock face which is apparently easier to navigate than Snake Canyon proper.

a waterfall in the plantations of Balad Sayt

a waterfall in the plantations of Balad Sayt

By the time we finally get to Road #13, known as the Ar Rustaq-Nakhal loop, it is 4:30 in the afternoon.  We are too tired to search for the hot springs in Rustaq.  As a matter of fact, we don’t go to Rustaq at all, but head in the opposite direction, to Nakhal.  I want the boys to see Nakhal Fort, but sadly, it closed at 4:00, so we can only see it from the outside.

I love this little paradise in the middle of nowhere!

We decide we all are starving, as we haven’t eaten all day, so we’ll go directly to Muscat to eat at the Turkish House Restaurant, one of my favorite restaurants in Muscat.  We drive around and around in circles in Khuwair, and finally, by asking people walking along the road, we finally find it.  Though the boys are a little disappointed in the lack of vegetarian options on the menu, they do find a delicious hummus platter on the menu that they devour happily. Food is always a happy ending.

the drive out of wadi bani awf

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Romancing Reality

Linda Grashoff's Photography Adventures

Jill's Scene

A small town take on the big, wide world

eatprayjade

eating and traveling in pursuit of la dolce vita

Japan Wonders

Exploring Japan's popular tourist spots and off-the-beaten path

A lot from Lydia

You can learn a lot from Lydia...(It's a song, not a promise.)

Ink Arts by Carol

My site for offering my alcohol ink arts

I see Beauty everyday

Blessed be the ones that see beauty where others see nothing

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Debra's Excellent Adventures in Reading and Travel

Marsha Ingrao

Traveling & Blogging Near and Far

PIRAN CAFÉ

Notebooks from a trampfest. Travel tips, tales and images, online since 2006.

Word Wabbit

Wrestless Word Wrestler

Cardinal Guzman

Encyclopedia Miscellaneous - 'quality' blogging since August 2011

Pit's Fritztown News

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