Oman - Part 1

سلطنة عُمان
Salṭanat ʿUmān

Sultanate of Oman

GPS tracks and waypoints here.

15/1/7 This crossing into Oman is even stranger than the ones before. Firstly, all the dump trucks we passed waiting on the UAE side turn off te road before the Omani border post, into no man's land. The post itself isn't finished yet, the workers are still decorating. There are mobile signs saying "Police Checkpoint" but there is no staff. We have to continue for another 30 km, passing several turnoffs to villages and wadis, before reaching the old border post. Before we get there, we spot a place halfway selling insurance. Since it's compulsory we stop and I buy a 3 month policy. Lars gives it a miss, as the 10 days offered are too short for him and 3 months too long and he thinks there will be more insurance offices at the border post. Wrong! There is only one, he still has to pay for 3 months and it costs almost double. This border is very efficient and we are through quickly. They do check and double-check our insurance, though!

We cruise into Sohar and there along its nice corniche. We are supposed to meet up with Ivan, but can't reach him, so we continue South. There are too many settlements and children along the beaches for us to camp, so we find a spot a little way inland.

16/1 There is a road bearing inland on our maps, but strangely on my GPS map it doesn't join up with the coast road. We meander offroad and along dirt tracks, but can't find it. We eventually get onto another one a little further South, a brand new wonderful road that winds through the mountains and the wadis. There are some nice oases and one of them even has a nice fort:

The road is so new there are no signs yet. It seems in Oman the signs come last. Sometimes we can see some on the remnants of the old dirt road, somewhere on the side. Then, coming over the crest of a hill and going down a steep slope into yet another wadi - Whooaaaa! - no road in the river bed! There is just a patch of dirt and some water. The further we go the more often we encounter bits of road missing. It seems that the contracts for the wadi crossings and the bridges were given to another company and they haven't kept up with the rest of the construction. Of course, there are no sigs to warn motorists of these dangers. After all, the tar road is an improvement over what was there before, so why put signs up in places that haven't changed? There are some detours around construction sites but we soon find ourselves off the new road altogether, going in a different direction along a wadi bed. Clearly, Omani road maps show what the sultan wants to be built, one day, rather than what actually exists. (That includes the map in my GPS.) This route is rough and includes some water crossings, but that is part of the fun and the scenery is just great.

Downtown Bahla

We stop briefly in Bahla. One third of its big fort is still in scaffolding, the rest looks restored, but we have been told it's closed. We set up camp outside Jibreen in the desert, not far from its fort. I climb a stony hill for the view:

The next day another glorious sunrise A short distance from our campsite, cross-country, we visit the fort of Jibreen. This has been very nicely restored inside and out.


Fashion store of a different world

Here even Lars' old bike could be new again. Check out the fragrance on the bottom right!

Our next destination is Wadi Ghul and Jebel Shams, aka the Grand Canyon of Arabia. On the way we pass the old abandoned village of Ghul.

The upper and lower parts of the road offer different kinds of fun on a bike:


The ride ends at about 2100 m altitude at a navy checkpoint. There is a radar station at the top of the mountain. Down again and we attack the next mountain, the road to Balad Seet. The ride up is a bikers' road again with some good views. At the top it turns into a 4WD track that descends very steep into the valley below.

Right here a car had to come the other way and not want to slow down

Wherever there is a little water there is life. Can you spot Lars?

20/1 Having left the wadis we head for the coast. As we leave the mountains clouds appear and it's starting to get chilly. We abandon our plan to camp on the beach and head straight for Muscat. Arrived in the port we spot 2 MZ Baghira bikes with German plates. We meet Maria and Henrik, who have shipped their bikes to Oman with Klaus Demel, who also organises bike and 4WD tours. We spend the next couple of days with them, visiting the Muscat Festival and exploring the walled city. Klaus gives us a few valuable tips for routes and helps Lars to try to find another tyre. We can't find anything suitable, so we swap a front tyre with Henrik's bike. They are leaving tomorrow and so don't need it.

The Fabulous Four in the sultan's palace

In the evening we help to store the bikes and accompany Klaus, who is taking the other two to the airport. It's the end of their honeymoon. Quick dinner before checkin:

Maria, Klaus and Henrik

20/1 GPS and tracks or not, finding the road to Yiti turns into a mission, not helped by me not trusting the instructions an Indian gives me. But the road is worth the searching.

Leaving the last Muscat suburb behind

We then try to follow a GPS track Klaus made for us in a mapping program, but we soon stop in deep gravel piles in a gorge. Around the bend there are boulders and water. I wouldn't even ride a trials bike over these stones. But this is a good place for a camp, as nobody is likely to drive past here tonight.

21/1 We simply skirt the canyon by following the main track. Having the GPS is definitely a great help here, as maps are useless. Quick stop in Yiti for an oil change in Lars' bike's final drive and a quick look at the small fort. From here we follow the coast "road" to Sur. This is a rough, but scenic dirt road, but we soon discover that they are building a motorway along the coast. If we hadn't known it was there we would have missed it: only 300 m off the road, in a new picnic area, there is this little sink hole:

 

Very tempting for a swim, but it's getting late and we still have to find a camp site. Right in the middle of the village of Tiwi is the entrance to Wadi Shab. LP describes this as the most enchanting site in Oman and I agree with them. Too bad the entrance is the site of the construction of a new motorway bridge. The motorway will go right past the village, it seems... There is only walking access to the wadi (and the better for it!) so we can't camp here. So, we backtrack a few km to where I spotted earlier people camping on the beach. It's the only beach for miles and a wonderful spot. There is even a water tank with showers there. The other campers later tell me that they were told by the tour operator who put it there that it's empty, but I simply turn the main valve on and have a shower after my night swim. The water is marvellous: the small waves are fluorescent in the dark, as is my bow wave as I swim out. As I stand on the beach the edge of the water, as the waves run in onto the beach, are strung with glowing beads that slowly fade as the water seeps into the sand. All this is illuminated by a crescent moon over the land. Magic.

 

22/1 We walk right up the magic Wadi Shab. I'm afraid our pictures don't do the place justice.

On the other side of Tiwi is the entrance to Wadi Tiwi. This one is a drive-in affair. The upper reaches are a rough and very steep track and the scenery is similar to Wadi Shab, but, riding, we see a litle less of it. Unlike in Wadi Shab there are some villages in this wadi, like these:

  

P1220133 The kids are curious, as always, with eyes, mouth and hands On the way back I have to stop for a German tour group. They are standing near a water crossing, where I need to ride, and I amuse myself about a lady who is being helped crossing the shallow water. She is balancing on a stone, trying to get to the next one and holding the hand of an Omani tour guide who himself is simply standing with his sandals in the water. Once she has made across I become impatient, as the crowd is slow to move, and I decide to just take the slight bend in the water, intending to make a big splash as a show-off. I had crossed here on the way up without any problems and so I'm unprepared for the slippery algae and - SPLASH! - I'm on my side in the water. No real damage, but rack and panniers have buckled.

 

IMG_1465 Back to the coast and towards Sur. Just before the town the old road disappears under the new, right where the new motorway is sandwiched between the mountains and the fence of the coastal LPG plant. And right here a row of toll booths is under construction. There will be no way of avoiding paying once they are operational. As I didn't see any others (anywhere in the country) I wonder whether they will sting drivers the full whack, regardless of distance travelled on the motorway. Will the locals get an exemption? We give Sur itself only a passing glance, cruising the corniche along the inlet and around, then continuing along the coast South.

 

This is where dhows are born and come home to die                                                                                  Speed limit for camels?

Our next destination is Ras al Jinz, a very important turtle nesting site. There is a government camp site here with palm leaf huts, in which one cannot stay (don't know why). Here we meet the campers again who were our distant neighbours on the beach. Turns out she's a Middle-Eastern-Vietnamese from Singapore and he is a European from Oz and they live in Oman. That makes their son -- human. At 21:30 a large stream of cars passes on the way to the beach, to go turtle watching. We get told to walk there. Despite the big sign saying "It is not allowed to take photos to turtles or to keep away" the whole affair is rather chaotic, with people approaching the egg-laying turtles just about from all sides, shining lights on them and taking photos with flash. There are a surprising number of them (it's out of season) and there are also some tracks from young ones, who have hatched.

 

Beware of sandunes on the prowl!
(Vorsicht, Sand-Dünen auf der Lauer!)