Tag Archives: Culture

Day 5 – What the fox that?

Saturday 3rd July, 2021.  One gets to be obsessed with the weather while on holiday in Iceland.  It’s not a conversation-easer like in England; here, it really matters.  The forecast for the day was hopeful.

but the reality was much better.

Ísafjörður looked lovely in the sunshine; and Jane pointed out that it also has an unusual-looking church. It seems to be a thing here.

We set off into the sunshine with a song in our hearts and a long day’s driving ahead.

Then we ran into the fog.

However, Dagur Had A Plan, and so took us up into the hills, where we could get some good views looking down on the clouds, which is always nice.

Today, we learned the proper Icelandic word for the “Valley Fog” that we’d first noticed yesterday. It’s called “dalalæða”; “dala” means valley, if my knowledge of Swedish is anything to go by.  This is a form of sea mist, but it’s pretty much unique to Iceland, as far as I can make out. Every so often for the rest of the day we entered a bank of mist, or it figured as part of the view.  So, for example, we stopped at an outdoor maritime museum at Bolungarvik, and could barely make it out through the mist.

But the mist also provided a lovely backdrop to a photo of Ísafjörður.

Our next stop was at a museum dedicated to the Icelandic Arctic Fox.  Officially, this is the same as arctic foxes found elsewhere; but an interesting information film gave the impression that actually the genetic makeup of most of the Iceland population is diverging from those elsewhere. It’s an appealing place

with coffee and cake if you want it, and several (stuffed) examples of foxes, such as this, which we judged to be the finest specimen on display.

Both Jane and I were under the impression that arctic foxes had a winter (white) coat, which changed into a summer (dark) coat.  It turns out that we were wrong; there are two “morphs”, white and blue, and while their coats may change a little in colour, it’s not the transformation that we’d previously thought.

And outside, in a large caged-off area, they have a real, live, fox.

Arctic fox cub

It’s just a pup; a Bambi fox, because apparently it’s parents were shot. It’s not known what its future holds, but for now, it is supremely cute.

Further cuteness was on display a short while later, as Dagur suddenly braked, turned round and went back along the road we’d come along.  It turned out that he’d spotted a lone seal on a rock, and so stopped and took some photos.

There is an “official” place to view seals a little further around the coast, so we stopped there; but one really needed binoculars to see the seals; my general-purpose lens could barely pick them out.

and my phone couldn’t do the scene justice, either.

(though, once again, this image is a tribute to the imaging power of modern phone cameras.  I could barely distinguish between seals and stones with the naked eye).

Shortly after this, we had a scenery stop at Rjukandi, where there’s a pretty cascade. But this is Iceland, so it’s not a real waterfall.  We did venture off-piste to try for a photo of three others.

I particularly wanted to capture this as a wonderful demonstration, suitable for any geography/geology lesson, of water’s power of erosion.

It was time for lunch, and serendipity stepped in at this point, as we were near a place where we could see a round of Vestfjarðavíkingurinn 2021, the Icelandic Strongest Man competition.

It was slightly surreal to see these large chaps congregating

and I was lucky enough to get a little video footage of a couple of the contestants

after which they came into the restaurant for lunch.

The commentator is a very big name in Iceland – Magnus Ver Magnusson, who won the World’s Strongest Man competition four times.

After this unusual lunch stop, we next visited Saltverk, a small factory producing some of Iceland’s (apparently) famous sea salt in a 100% sustainable fashion, based on a geothermal source at Sudureyri.

This heat is used to evaporate salt water taken from the sea from its normal salinity of around 3.5%, in stages, to around 28%, where the salt starts to separate out in its tanks and sink to the bottom, where it can be collected.

and then put into drying racks before being packaged up.

The salt is mixed with other ingredients such as thyme, or smoked, or sold untouched by further processing.

The rest of the day consisted of simply getting to our hotel, and thus completing a journey of over 350km.  The scarcity of towns and villages as we travelled underlines how isolated these parts of Iceland are, and goes some way to explaining why some places are struggling – the distances are too large for any kind of convenience in living.

We passed a couple of noteworthy buildings on our route to the hotel:  a house that looks more like a small castle (unoccupied definitely, and abandoned, it would seem);

and another for our informal collection of unusual church buildings – this one at Holmavik with rainbow steps.

And so here we are at our hotel, at Laugarbakki – a modern and quite imposing edifice, with, as we’ve now come to expect, very good food in the restaurant.  Jane had a salad which included unusual-coloured pea pods:

She didn’t eat it, of course, as she’s not a Purple Peapod Eater.

So here we are at the end of a varied day. We have a similarly mixed programme of things to look forward to tomorrow, so I’d be very glad if you were to come back and Read All About It then. For now, good night!

 

So – Oman, eh?

Our final day was spent entirely at leisure, giving us ample time to wander the grounds of the hotel taking photos – it really is very nicely arranged.

Then, with a cry of “Ready, Chedi, Go” ((c) the distaff side) it was time to pack, take a final contemplative gin and ponder on the last few days. At this point, let me remind you about that Times article about the country and its Sultan.

I think the keys to what we saw in our ten days in Oman, and particularly our time under canvas, are: Planning; Preparation; and Persistence.

Despite my carping about camping, the team at Hud Hud Travels did a simply outstanding job of making it appear easy to offer top service whilst operating under difficult situations, such as having a kitchen up a mountain or in the desert, for God’s sake!

Above: Lakshan in his desert kitchen.

Above: Chanaka and Patrick in the service area of their desert tent.

Patrick and Devon managed the camps superbly and I still find it awesome that all that stuff was set up and run specifically and only for the two of us – planning and preparation of the highest quality.

Add to this the enthusiasm, energy and expertise of Rashid, and the result was that Jane and I were able to experience aspects of Oman that were simply not available any other way. The luxurious comfort of our stay at the Chedi was hugely relaxing and enjoyable, but also felt starkly at odds with the realities of life we’d seen in the previous days.

I still have strong reservations about camping, but I also admit that my experience would have been less trying with better planning and preparation on my part. Remembering to take my walking boots would have helped, for example, as would a more suitable choice of night attire and other footwear.

But the award for most admirable planning, preparation and particularly persistence has to go to the people of Oman who live in the desert and the mountains. For them, there is no electricity; water quite possibly arrives only once a week on the back of a 4×4 truck; food may well be shared between those who have and those who have not. Theirs is a tough, tough life, unimaginable to a soft westerner such as myself, perched precariously on a higher level of the Maslow pyramid; and yet they live it with patience and determination and they live it well. It was remarkable to see the effusiveness, humour and mutual respect in their interactions as we experienced the different environments. For these people, planning and preparation is not just for comfort, it’s a matter of life and death; and their persistence in making it work is at once admirable and bemusing.

I now return to a life with all mod cons and creature comforts, and I do so gladly, for I have been habituated to such a life and can’t easily cope with any other. But at least I do so with my eyes opened wider and my horizons broadened further, thanks to the efforts of all of the people who have made the last ten days truly memorable.

Oman Day 6 – Wadi View!

Tuesday Feb 26. After a good night’s sleep, lulled by the song of our crickets, we found that the wind, and its accompanying flying sand, had dropped somewhat: so the only hazard we had to deal with over breakfast was the flies, who fancied a share of our fare.

Apart from covering the food, another way to discourage them is to burn Frankincense; the scent seems to keep them away. The breakfast was, as all meals at the Hud Hud camps, excellent, and so we set out for the day feeling replete.
On the way out we passed a goat farm where the goats were all trooping along for their morning drink.

Goats returning to their farm for water, Oman desert

As we exited the desert, it was interesting to see just how clear and sharp was the delineation between it and not-desert – you see flat flat flat flat – desert,

Abrupt start to the Oman desert

alongside which is a stern warning!

Stern warning to all sand farmers, Oman

Frankly, I’m not sure how they’d know if you popped in and took a couple of truckfuls, but anyway….a longish drive back into the mountains took us to the outskirts of the village which takes its name from one of the most popular wadis in the area, Wadi Bani Khaled.

Before we took a walk along the banks of the wadi, Rashid took us off road to see it from above. The view over the village is quite striking

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

but the view of the wadi itself from even higher is, I think, the most spectacular view of the holiday so far.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

The photo hardly does it justice; the contrast between the ruggedness of the rocks, the way the village nestles among them and the greenness of the wadi below makes this absolutely remarkably to stand and see. Even Rashid was struck by it

although his mate appeared to have his mind elsewhere.
It looked deserted from up there. We went down to discover that the parking was nearly full and that there were hordes of people heading up the wadi. Bloody tourists, giving tourism a bad name. However, it wwas a nice enough walk up the wadi, which has several irrigation channels running off it, obvs – the Omanis are vigilant in finding ways to get water to where it’s needed.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

After a short walk, you arrive at a couple of pools

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

and you begin to realise the extent to which the area has been set up for tourists

with specially-installed viewpoints and also a restaurant, on the left in the picture below.

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

The restaurant serves a mean lemon-and-mint juice, and Jane reported herself satisfied also with the watermelon juice. The juice stop gave us a nice view of people having a nice time.

It’s then possible to walk a little way further up the wadi, where you can see pools that people can paddle or swim in.

though, this being where it is, there are some caveats about dress

(which were being quite widely ignored, sad to say; bloody tourists again, eh?).
Beyond that the path gets very rocky and in places slippery, so we didn’t go much further. on the way back, Jane got a fishy pedicure:

which started off apparently being very ticklish but soon became quite addictive. There was certainly one chap just up from where Jane sat who had been there with his feet in the water for quite some while.

After we’d exhausted the entertainment possibilities we headed off for lunch. The path beside the wadi passed a couple of mango trees, both magnificently in flower.

We’d enjoyed Wadi Bani Khaled, but at the same time found it slightly weird to have such (relatively speaking) naked pandering to tourism after all the other, less exploited places we’d visited. As our late neighbour Cyril used to lament, tourism is ruined by tourists, and this was the first inkling we’d really had about the encroaching effects of tourism in Oman. It’s an important industry, and the country needs to develop and grow it; but the downside is that nature will get built upon. Let’s hope that the Omani government will try to ensure that tourism development is done in the best possible taste.

Lunch was as usual an excellent picnic courtesy of our Hud Hud chef. After that, we headed back into the desert. En route, we saw the extent of the date palm plantation outside Biddiyah. The water supply that feeds it means it can spread until it butts up hard against the desert behind it.

Desert and Oasis outside Biddiyah, Oman

The object of going back into the desert was to visit Said’s gaff to gain a little insight into the bedouin culture. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but in the event it turned out to be a sizeable room, constructed in a traditional manner out of date palm trunks, stalks and leaves. That sounds insubstantial, but, as you can see from the picture below, it is a sizeable and robust fabrication. As you can also see from the cars parked outside, we weren’t the only visitors.

A Bedouin Family House, Oman

Half of the room is given over to carpets upon which coffee and dates are served to seated groups of visitors.

A Bedouin Family House, Oman

and the other half to, well, stuff – artefacts and domestic things, some of which are for sale and some of which aren’t.

A Bedouin Family House, Oman

To give you an idea of the construction, here are close-ups of the ceiling

which is date palm leaf stalks, and the walls

which are also date palm stalks, but with the leaves left on to provide a fibrous surround.

Our stay there was reasonably short, and we headed off back to the Wahiba sands to get back to camp in time for sunset.

En route, we saw several things worthy of a photo: some opportunistic goats grabbing an illicit snack;

Opportunistic goats, Oman

racing camels being taken back to their farms after exercise;

Racing camels returning after exercise, Oman

and some more hazards on and off the road (which carries right on towards Muhut until it suddently stops being a road and deposits you onto flat sand, at which point you are on your own – further underlining the need to make sure you’re properly prepared for desert travel).

We also stopped off to allow me to try for some arty shots of dunes

Wahiba sands, Oman desert

Wahiba sands, Oman desert

To get to a decent viewpoint for the sunset, we piled into the car (taking an extra member of the camp staff with us to help dig us out in case we got stuck on a dune somewhere) and Rashid took us dune-bashing via a circuitous route to the top of a dune overlooking a valley and served coffee whilst we awaited sunset.

The sunset itself wasn’t particularly spectacular, but the location was very zen.

Sunset, Wahiba sands, Oman desert

When we got back to camp, we had the usual excellent dinner and, while Patrick and Jane went off to hunt more scorpions, I set to to trying to get some images of the stars. I got some stills which were rather ho-hum, and then set a timelapse going. Again, it’s nothing too dramatic, but it looks like some aeroplanes came through, (I originally thought they might be shooting stars, but I now doubt that):

A post shared by Steve Walker (@spwalker2016) on

After all that excitement, since we were due to leave camp the following morning, there was nothing for it but to try to finish off the gin we’d bought on arrival in Oman. Patrick manfully stepped up to the plate to help us out and by hook or by crook we finished it off with just about time for a reasonable amount of sleep before having to face the next day, which is, of course, covered in the next gripping installment of this blog, where I hope we’ll meet again.