Oman Day 5 – Just Deserts

Monday 25 Feb. Today was spent transferring to our final camp, in the Omani desert (Wahiba sands, to be more precise). The first part was a reversal of our way in over the salt flats, obvs. We passed the incoming Hudhud truck, which was there to take away the beach camp which had been our home for the last couple of days.

Then we joined the Salalah-Muscat coast road, which I had expected us to follow for a long distance to take us round to the north of the desert that lies south of Muscat. But no; we linked up with Said, a pal of Rashid’s who is bedouin and hence who knows his way around the desert, so that he could take us on a short cut across the sands.

En route we encountered a pretty well-understood hazard of driving in Oman:

A fairly standard Oman road hazard

(remember the sign from yesterday?) and also unusual-looking formations of what we thought was rock

but which turned out to be layers of sand which had been rained on, solidified and then covered in more sand and rain and once again solidified. Striking, but actually very soft and crumbly.

One might be forgiven for thinking that the desert is, well, deserted. And it has to be said that there can be long distances between highlights; but highlights there were.

The first one was a bedouin settlement. Not tents and camels, but a collection of shacks in which they live

this settlement, called Juraywah, even has a school, which you can see in the background here:

Rashid debunked any idea we might have had about Bedouin being a separate race who lived an ancient and nomadic life among the dunes, carrying their tents and camels with them as they moved. “Bedouin” simply means “nomad”, and today’s bedouin, who are mainly found around Oman and the UAE, are nomadic, but largely between two established bases – the desert in Winter and the coast (as here) in Summer. Rather than their camels transporting them, they nowadays drive the camels in 4×4 trucks (remember my picture from the Days 3 and 4 post?)

It turned out that Said had his own reason to cross the desert – he was taking equipment out for another (non-Hudhud) camp. So Rashid helped him and some mates load up.

Amazingly, everything fitted!

Then we were off into the unforgiving sands of the desert, which have a variety of colours depending on age and mineral content.

We had to stop so that Rashid could let some air out of the tyres, to make the journey safer and more comfortable.

As we bowled along there were a surprising number of distractions from the landscape, which was pretty uniform all the way to the horizon.

with, threading through it, tracks that only the bedouin can confidently navigate.

For example: goats;

Goats in the desert, Oman

Goats in the desert, Oman

bedouin habitations;

a couple of Pakistani guys who have lived in the desert for four months whilst digging a 50-metre deep well, paid for by the local people to replace an older nearby well that was no longer useable;

a mosque;

A mosque in the desert, Oman

in fact there are several in the desert, each of which has water for travellers and their animals.

This was actually our lunch stop, under one of the only trees available for shade.

after which the desert carried on in its relentlessly sandy fashion.

Oman desert sand - multicoloured

until we reached the first outposts of “civilisation” – a tourist camp.

We made a small detour to see the father of our bedouin guide, Said, who is devoted to his racing camels.

I took this photo to record the distinctive way that Said’s father stood while chatting to Rashid.

Soon after our little detour we were running through Biddiyah, prior to turning off once again into the desert, in the Wahiba sands area. The wind was really whipping up the sand – not quite a sandstorm, but certainly enough to make it uncomfortable standing outside.

We arrived at our camp soon after.

If you look at the dunes on the right above, you can see the wind whipping the sand up – and sand was everywhere.

Camp manager Patrick, waiter Janaka and cook were the same team as we had looking after us in the moutains, so a joyful (and warm!) reunion ensued! The tents this time, fittingly, were bedouin style, made of woven sheep and goat hair.

and perfectly comfortable (of their sort).

Patrick reminded us to be careful about our footwear. He had checked for scorpions and cleared the main camp area, but in any case, it was worth taking care and not walking around barefoot. Scorpions tend to bury themselves just below the surface of the sand, so it’s very difficult to see them. We went on a scorpion hunt later that evening and Patrick had with him a neat trick for detecting scorpions – an ultraviolet light, which really reveals them. So, for example, you might hardly notice one just below the surface

but he/she/it becomes much clearer under the UV light:

We found a couple of them around the site, a good reminder to take care. The pictures really are quite remarkable!

A scorpion under ultra violet light

We had another splendid dinner, although we had to move the table into the majlis as the wind was still gusting and sending the sand flying. The camp crew fought a losing battle sweeping and clearing our bedroom and bathroom tents, only for everything in them to be covered in sand again in no time. After a couple of gins and a convivial chat with Patrick we retired to bed (along with a cricket or two, much to the surprise of the crew who have never had crickets in the desert camps before. Jane had to pursue and catch one of them twice before successfully ejecting it from our bedroom tent). I tried my hand at taking pictures of the stars, but I’d frankly had one gin too many and the best I can say is that lessons were learned for the following evening. I will post the results of those efforts, and the photos from the rest of the day in tomorrow’s blog post, which I hope you’ll want to read. See you there?

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