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28 Feb 2020

Oman – beautiful land without tourists

Oman – beautiful land without tourists

The first real journey since the change of residence from Warsaw to Dubai. Moreover, it was not in the company of people randomly met on the flight, as occurred in the last half year (Jesus! Already so long?!), but with closest friends who decided to visit me here in the desert.

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After presenting them the country and the city where I live now we went towards south to Oman. You’re probably wondering what the hell is to do in Oman?! The idea about a trip to Oman came up to my mind for the first time about a year ago after reading an article in National Geographic Magazine about subtropical land in the southern part of the dry Arabian Peninsula called Salalah. I started to read about this country (the size of Germany, but only with 3 million inhabitants) more and it turned out that the country has a lot to offer, and what’s even better, tourism hasn’t developed so much there yet. You still won’t see hundreds of tourists occupying the most interesting corners of the country.

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The best word to describe Oman’s current situation is “renaissance”. After the present Sultan, the absolute ruler (he’s the Prime Minister, the Sultan of Muscat – the capital, the minister of foreign affairs, defense and finance in the same time), in a coup overthrew his father in 1970. country began to catch up with the fast pace the other countries in the region. Before the coup in whole country there were only two primary schools, two hospitals run by the American mission, and the transport infrastructure consisted of 10 km of asphalt roads. The present sultan – Qaboos ibn Sa’id expanded network of roads, created more hospitals, universities and the whole mass of schools. Electricity reached almost every village in the country and almost every village he visited by himself. Sultan frequently travels through the country and asks residents what they like and what they don’t like, and the people offer him whole bunch of gifts, like for example goats.

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The main income Oman derives from oil (25th largest oil reserves in the world), industry and from tourism.

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The difference with the other countries of the region, and especially with the northern neighbor UAE, lies in the fact that Oman remained conservative. Sharia law hold true here, and thus religious norms. Women have to wear Hijabs, visitors to the country, even if they’re not Muslims must adhere to Islam’s principles. When we visited the Grand Mosque in Muscat, security guards didn’t let me in because of the shirt with the emblem of Poland I had (an eagle with a crown with a cross). Eventually I rewound t-shirt on other side and went in, but it shows how this type of standards are approached here.

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In rented Volkswagen Jetta first we went to the mountains in the northern part of the country to conquer the highest peak of Oman – Jebel Shams (3075 m). Although the nature of the roads we were crossing was designed for a typically 4×4 car, our sedan Jetta (we didn’t pass any other sedan car in the region: D), made it!

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On the evening we parted tents on the campsite at the bottom of the mountains, ate dinner with disgusting mortadella, canned tuna, pita breads, crisps and fell asleep. Due to the presence of only a few other travelers in the whole camp, during falling asleep we could hear only crickets, calm noise of wind and through the windows in the tent pierced the sky full of stars. Although the night was going to be a fairy tale but  it turned out that night wasn’t a fairy tale whatsoever. Since we didn’t invest much funds into mats, I felt in my back every single stone, the wind significantly increased its power and tent flapped so much that we thought it’s going to fly away.

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Fortunately, however, the desired sunrise has come. We ate breakfast (in content very similar to the dinner), and we went on the trail. Working in the camp, in the middle of nowhere, Indian (they are everywhere!) pointed out a course on the trail.

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One of the many advantages of Oman is relatively very small number of tourists. This in turn affects the quality of tourism infrastructure, which in Oman is very basic. The advantage of this is the feeling of true travel, into the unknown, the unbeaten paths, almost like Indiana Jones! The downside however is that if there is a trail there, it’s hard to find it because it is indefinite. And so we started to stumble among the mountains and tiny villages in the surrounding ubiquitous goats, a good hour and a half. Reaching out to the homes of years away from civilization, where in the woman you could see only her eyes, a small Arabian girl milked goats, and all of that surrounded by massive mountain ranges.

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With the help of a passing car came a local that clues us on the right track. Further climb took us about 3.5 hours. Passed by military bases, which the soldiers guarding with a smile guided us further, and when we answered questions about the country of origin and says “Poland”, still smiling they were nodding and saying “aaa Holland, Holland”.

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The first peak gained me and Piotrek, Kamil with his beloved – Ania, came later but they did it! Bravo Ania! I saw already the Grand Canyon in the USA, one of the deepest canyons in the world in Peru (Canon del Colca), but when we saw Grand Canyon of Arabia we were stunned! We expressed our amazement through the bunch of the most popular Polish words generally regarded as unparliamentarily. And we were completely alone! No tourists flock! Fatigue, sweat, burnt skin gave a misery but we were happy!

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After surviving another night we took the direction to Muscat – the capital. Along the way, however, we visited two Arab forts from the old days. First, we visited Rustaq, which used to be the capital of the country (seventeenth century). The fort was built in 1650 on the ruins of the Persian fort, which in turn was built in 1250.

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The second was explored Fort Nakhal, spectacularly built on the rock, which is its foundation. Constructed in 1834 on the ruins of the structure from pre-Islamic times.

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I used the word “explore” not by accident. In the Western world in this type of constructions we are used to that there are some places that you can’t enter, nothing can be touched and so on. Here, however, was quite different. We could go anywhere! To dark, damp and stuffy underground channels with bats flying overhead. We opened the old, dusty boxes, took old guns, we could do everything! and all that for 1,5 $ :)

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After admiring the architecture and the corners of the two forts we gave our bodies and senses to relax in Ath-Thowra hot springs.

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On the evening we arrived to Muscat. Accommodated in an exclusive, one star hotel, with a “very quiet air conditioning” (double in this shit hole for about 70 $! And this is due to the very small number of accommodation facilities). We had dinner with a view of the bay and we went to the market in a typical Arab style – Muttrah Souq. After the obligatory bargaining we returned to the hotel with bags full of souvenirs.

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The next day we visited the Great Mosque of Sultan, who made a great impression on us. A beautiful example of modern architecture in the Arabic style. Mosque was a gift for the people of Oman founded residents to celebrate the 30 years of Sultan reign. The interiors are incredibly rich. Persian carpet in the main prayer hall measures 70×60 meters (second largest in the world after the Persian rug in Abu Dhabi) and was made manually by 600 women in four years!

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We also visited the Royal Opera House of Muscat designed by the same architects as the Grand Mosque.

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We saw as well where the Sultan lives and we went south to the small fishing village of Tiwi. This was to be our base for Wadi Shab – canyon with a small stream at the bottom, lush vegetation, caves, waterfalls and natural pools where we wanted to go to swim.

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We imagined accommodation on a beautiful deserted beach, in tents with gentle sound of the waves… And the beach, yes, was uninhabited, but certainly not beautiful, not to mention its accompanying smell. So we started to weave around a village in a car until we came to another wadi – Wadi Tiwi, where we pitched our tents completely wild. Unforgettable atmosphere! After dinner, we lay ourselves on mats under the open sky, we looked at the stars and touched all the possible topics that just came to our minds. From the most trivial to the deeper ones. A further scenario similar to earlier one. Tent almost flew away, and my back again closely met with all the stones underneath.

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In the morning we went to Wadi Shab. There, we were greeted by the beautiful turquoise water and lush vegetation. After passing by boat to the other side we went into the wadi, where at the end of the hike as the reward had to wait caves full of soothing water. We were crossing another kilometers and the landscape was more and more amazing. Ginger color of high cliffs and on the bottom of lush green, turquoise waters of creek, which shaped the canyon past last thousands of years.

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Once we had to jump from boulder to boulder, another time we were passing slicked to the walls of the narrow passages just over the precipice. And again: sweat, harsh sunlight, fatigue, but also a joy! That nature regards us with such delights for the eyes, no groups of tourists and all of that in the elite circle of closest friends!

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At the end of the path we were awarded with natural pools where we could cool our tired bodies. There was no end of sense of relief and relaxation. However, after a short rest, together with Piotrek, we decided to explore nearby caves, pools and grottoes, of course swimming.

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The whole trip was documented not only by the cameras but also by GoPro camera, which was operated mainly by Piotrek. So we also explored the cave with the camara by swimming a d holding it in one hand at the same time. We swum through the gap in cave where was literally just a place for a head. This gap leads us to a place where we saw a beautiful cave, which was lit by a few rays of sun coming in through the little holes in the ceiling, and in the central point was a waterfall!

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Intoxicated by the views we experienced and the fact of the discovery of such a place, we thought “scenes we just recorded by GoPro will be perfect as the culmination of this trip.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The battery was alredy exhausted and nothing was recorded! However, tireless, we returned to the top of pools where Kamil waited with Ania. Still amazed after what we saw we reported them everything! That we explored caves, that it was full of beautiful colors, that there was a waterfall, that the camera fell and we need Ania’s phone in plastic bag and that we’ll swim there again and we’ll film it. Saying this, full of emotions and the fatigue, we couldn’t catch breath, but our lovebirds did not appear to be absorbed in our revelations so much as we expected. Waiting for a pause in the stream of our words, Kamil threw that… he proposed to Ania! Although we knew that he’s planning to do so, astonishment and joy with happiness this great matching pair, it immediately overshadowed the importance of recording the cave. Started warmest congratulations, applause and hugs. And all this at the bottom of the canyon, on a small rock surrounded by turquoise water, the burning yet beautiful sun. Of course eventually we filmed what we wanted, but this event fulfilled perfectly this amazing trip.

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All the best young couple and more trip in the elite group with Flying Polack! :)

One thought on “Oman – beautiful land without tourists

  1. Jose Garcia March 26, 2015 / 3:43 pm

    Oh it looks amazing! I must admit that now it looks quite tempting. And I see you did a small Grand Canyon Comparison there! :-P Maybe you need to re-visit to remember how nice it was! haha…

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