DAY 4: Wahiba Sands to Jebel Shams
Hotel (day 4 and 5) Jebel Shams Resort $39
I woke up fairly early and got up on the dunes again to take some sunrise photos. .Unfortunately, once I got up there, I took about 2 pictures and my phone/camera died….one of the Italians was there and got a lot of shots it looked like. .Breakfast was a wannabe English breakfast of boiled eggs, baked beans, toast, oranges, yogurt, and cereal w/milk. .There was coffee however, which made it all better. The German woman came in and we talked well past when the French throng left. .Eventually her husband joined us and we really just had a nice day relaxing. .We had wanted to ride camels the night before- they had told us it would happen 8am that morning, but then the Bedouin women who were the contacts showed up and we weren’t able to get something happening until that evening, after I left. .Hopefully the Germans got their ride in!
At some point the Pakistani head guy came in and said they were closed for the day, but the Germans bartered for a day just staying self-catered. I was really tempted to stay also, but decided to let them have some privacy and head on towards the next place. .In retrospect I would definitely stay at this camp again, but use my tent (I didn’t realize until I saw the Italians doing it you could bring your own) and self-cater breakfast. .Still, it was nice to see the “Bedouin” thing, and my tent was really spacious with nice decor and actual furniture (3 twin beds and a queen!)
I finally left around noon for Jebel Shams, which is also where the Italian bikers were headed (though they wouldn’t get there quite so fast, obviously). .I had read the end of the drive was up a steep mountain so I didn’t want to start too late. .It looked REASONABLY straight forward on the map, and with the directions I had, but that is where I forgot the golden rule of directions in Oman: there are only TWO directions: Salalah and Muscat. .So a road that is supposed to point towards Nizwa (city I needed to go through) will say Muscat, or Salalah, if at some point many hours later you can get there via that road. .
There is another rule about directions in Oman, by the way: if it’s not Salalah or Muscat, it’s probably not worth labeling. .Even streets (ie, a major highway called the N1 or something) often won’t have any name. .In this way I managed to miss my left turn about an hour or so in, and that is with paying attention to # of km and time that’s passed. .Probably a GPS would have been better than my google maps, but that’s not how I roll as a budget traveller (I’m also technologically challenged and have no idea how to use one of those things).
My back-up plan of driving north until I hit this REALLY REALLY major highway (of course, saying Muscat at first) proved to be the best course of action, even though I sort of had to backtrack southwest a bit. .After an hour or so I passed through the turnoffs for Nizwa and headed towards the end of the road, which hooked up the local road for Bahla, the site of a UNESCO fort structure, which is on the way to the Jebel, or mountain.
The fort seemed rather massive from the side of the road, but it wasn’t exactly clear where the entrance was. .I walked towards the back where apparently the edge of a settlement was, and an Omani boy was .half-nude bathing. .Ooops, turn around and jet before he sees me. .I head to the front of the fort where an Indian family is taking photos on top of a big pile of boulders and see a sign stating that the fort is only open regretfully on Friday and Saturday mornings from 8-11 am. .That has to be one of the worst opening times ever for a UNESCO site, I’m frankly quite surprised. .Well, I snap a couple photos and am off towards Jebel Shams.
I manage to guess the correct roundabout turnoffs a couple times and find myself on a road going through a valley through increasingly imposing rock sides. .There are one or two villages along the way, but not really that much. .At one point school lets out and I see many boys in traditional dress wearing backpacks. .I don’t see any girls or women there. .I finally see another sign confirming I’m on the right track and how many km are left. .The road starts to go up, and up, winding and winding up the sides of mountains. .I am getting slightly nervous and think maybe I should have filled up just in case, in Bahla (I have a little under half a tank). .Then, the scary thing happens- after a couple encouraging signs saying how many km are left, the road turns into a dirt road. .Well, not really a dirt road, but a dirt-and-rock-and-pothole-filled road. .On the edge of a mountain. .I get to drive through this in my rental car that has 5k km on it, which is a whole potential for disaster.
Luckily for me, however, I spent last August in the last glory days of El Guapo, my mystery green ’98 Mercury Sable, purchased with R side body damage to the tune of $300, driving through the high desert of Oregon looking for some hot springs in the middle of nowhere. .At one point it involved me driving on a very similar road (okay, maybe not as rocky, and definitely not on the side of a mountain), but instead of it being 5km, it was more like 40 miles. .And I never found that particular hot spring. .So I knew I could do this, I just had to go slow. .I want to say it took about 45-60 minutes, gut-wrenching minutes to get through it, I didn’t know exactly how long the road would last, just about how many km SHOULD be left. .This was combined with Omani guys driving at relatively breakneck speed around me in SUV’s. .Inexplicably, 2.5 km from the end, the road became immaculately paved, and I found myself at the resort where I set up my tent in a rather nice “sun shade” area with Bedouin cushions. .I got there in time to take some lovely sunset photos of the mountains and had dinner 2 hrs later, which I didn’t find quite as good as at Al Areesh. .The other tourists I couldn’t say were friendly at all and I just was by myself. .I was getting really cold, with the temperature outside going down more rapidly than I expected, so I decided to just put on all of the clothes I had, crawl in my sleeping bag, and hibernate.