Last Weekend in Oman

This past weekend was my last weekend in Oman– where has the time gone?

Thursday evening, my host family and I went to my host aunt’s house for dinner. A lot of our extended family from Bahla came for the dinner and it was a full house! The women all sat together in one room and the men sat together in the sitting room (majilis) and we hung out there for a while. Then we all went outside and sat on matts on the ground (the men on one matt and the women on another) and had a huge spread of chicken, humus, pita bread, olives, salad, etc. It was delicious! As I was leaving, one of my host cousin’s gave me a present that she bought for me in Saudi Arabia: dates with almonds in them and a book about common questions that non-Muslims ask Muslims. I am so excited to read the book!! My host grandparents from Bahla came back to our house to spend the night, so we hung out in our living room for a while before going to sleep.

Friday morning I hung out with my host family and helped my host mother make donuts. At around noon, we drove to an area called Barka to a farm owned by one of my host aunts. A lot of the extended family was there and we sat outside on matts (the men sat in a different area outside) and hung out and ate lunch (rice and chicken). We spent a few hours here and I walked around the farm with one of my host cousins. I said goodbye to a lot of my extended family here and it was weird to think that I might not see them again. Maybe one day I will visit Oman again and I will see some of them.

Saturday was pretty uneventful; in the morning I learned how to make chipati (I’ll post the recipe), we hung out at home, I caught up on some reading. In the evening, two of my Omani friends came and picked me up and we went to one of the girl’s houses. It was my first time going to an Omani girls house (that wasn’t my cousin) to hang out. We listened to music, danced, ate dinner, played with her new dog, and talked. It was a lot of fun and I’m hoping I will see them again in the future. Inshallah!

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Turtle Watching!!

This title is a little deceptive since there ended up not being turtles involved, but nonetheless, seeing turtles was our original intention.

This happened about a month ago and I’m super lazy and all, so I just got around to writing about this trip. But as always, better late than never! This trip was to the area near the city of Sur (in the Sharqiyah Region of Oman– ie: Northeastern Oman on the coast of the Gulf of Oman) to go see turtles (or as we found, a lack thereof).

We left Friday night after dinner because a) the turtle watching tours occur either late at night or at sunrise and b) we were too cheap to rent rooms in hotels, so we figured driving through the night would be the cheapest (and most fun) option.

The drive to the turtle watching reserve was an adventure in and of itself. We booked ourselves a tour (5 riales each) at a reserve called Ras al Jinz (located at the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula) and used google maps to for directions. The directions were pretty good until the end, when we were told to make a turn off the road and behind a Mosque. We then started driving through the sand (note, this is the middle of the night and it looked like a scene from a horror movie where the monster attacks the people in the middle of the wilderness). As I scrolled to the final destination listed on google maps on my phone, I realized that it stopped in the middle of the beach, ways away from the reserve. We decided to follow the signs on the road pointed to the reserve instead, a call we probably should have made at the beginning. Our next adventure occurred as we neared the reserve and pulled over next to a car with two Omani men to ask for directions to the reserve (just to make sure we were going the right way). They told us that we were close and that they would take us there, but that we had missed a turn and had to go back a little bit. We were about to follow them but then we looked up and saw a sign for the reserve a few feet away for the entrance to the reserve. So I’m not really sure where the Omani men were planning to take us…

Anyway, it was about 2 AM now and the tour started at 6 AM so we had some time to kill. We wanted to go hang out on the beach for a while, but could not go on the beach at the reserve (people pay to camp near the beach there) and they kindly offered to let us stay in the parking lot, but instead we drove back a little bit in the direction we came from and stopped on an empty beach. We spread out a blanket and hung out there for the next 4 hours (the sky was so clear and I saw my first shooting stars!). We also found a lot of crabs and had fun playing (errr chasing) them.

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Meet our new friend!

Right before 6, the sun started to rise and it was one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced: being on the eastern most part of the Arabian Peninsula (i.e. being one of the first people to watch the sunrise), on a gorgeous beach with our new crab friends (and human friends, so that’s always good), as the Adhan (call to prayer) played on the mosque behind us. I have no words to describe this moment besides “magical”.

We then went back to the reserve and joined the other large groups of tourists there to see the turtles. A bus took us down to a gorgeous beach and a guide informed us that he was on the lookout for turtles.

Unfortunately, we did not see any turtles (the man promised us that they were there the night before— though I suspect they might always say that). I do not, however, regret the trip, because the beach was gorgeous, I got to collect some shells for my collection, and our crab friends were also present on this beach. One of my friends and I climbed some rocks on the edge of the beach and sat on the top of them to get a fantastic view of the beach as the sun rose. It was absolutely stunning.

The ride back was tiring (considering the all-nighter we had just pulled) but the drive was lovely because it the road ran along the coast. Oman’s natural beauty is stunning and I am so glad that I got to experience more of it with this amazing turtle-less trip.

Wahiba Sands!

This past weekend was our last AMIDEAST overnight trip and it was AMAZING! I don’t even think “amazing” can describe the trip well. Maybe “perfect” or “magical” are better adjectives. Our destination: Wahiba Sands, aka the endless yellow sandy deserts that I only imagined I would get to see.

Friday

We left Friday morning (we rented 4 special cars that can drive over sand and had 4 tour guides/drivers) and our first stop was in a city called Ibri. In Ibri, we stopped at a souk (not an indoor souk, but narrow streets filled with small stores selling fabric, clothing, and meat) and walked around for a short time. Kirby and I each bought an Omani dress (finally, I’ve been wanting one for a long time!) and got to bargain with the shopkeeper in Arabic.

Our next stop was an old village that now is mostly ruins. Some people still live there, but the area is mostly old, crumbling houses. Apparently, it used to be a bustling area, though now, it is very quiet, and besides our group and another couple on a tour, we did not see anyone. It was interesting to see the mix of new houses and old houses next-door to each other, and we got a chance to walk inside some of the old ruins.

We then stopped for lunch at a house used for tours, where we sat outside for some Indian food and then went inside and sat on the floor for some coffee and dates. Then, after this dessert, it was to the desert (see what I did there?)!

It is so cool how the landscape changes so quickly from rocky terrain to the typical sand that one would imagine of a desert (since Muscat is a desert, technically I have been in a desert this whole time, but it is a rocky-type of desert so I was pretty excited to be in a sandy desert). Our cars sped through the sand and it was so fun to be able to drive straight up through the hills in the sand (though there were makeshift paths created from people traveling over the same area many times). Soon, we could not see any buildings and were surrounded by miles and miles of sand.

We finally got to our camping ground, or as we liked to call it, “glamping”, as we were staying in an enclosed area that had tents with carpeted floors, lighting, and beds. There were also bathrooms and tents with tables and chairs in them for dining purposes. It was simple but nice.

Kirby and I were beyond excited, so we embarked on an hour and a half trek through the desert. The sand was so soft, the weather was perfect, and it was gorgeous to see sand stretching out for as far as I could see. I was surprised to see so many shrubs in the desert– I had expected it to be just sand and was pleasantly surprised to see lots of greenery. I was also surprised at how hard it was to walk and climb through the sand. We definitely got a good workout. Of course, our first reaction to the sand was to roll through it and try to sled down the hills…

We then went dune bashing, which is basically off-roading through the sand. Our driver was awesome and since he knew we enjoyed this activity, he drove very fast, made quick turns, and drove up and down as many hills as possible. Just as the sun was about to set, we stopped at the top of one of the hills to get out and watch a gorgeous sunset.

The rest of the evening was spent in the campsite; we all hung out together in tents, ate dinner, and got to see the stars… the sky is so clear in the desert and the moon was almost full (there was a telescope in our campsite, so we got a chance to look at the moon through it).

Saturday

We woke up at 5:20 so we could watch the sunrise. It took us a while to climb through the sand, so we wanted to be ready by about 6 when the sun rose. Maybe not as beautiful as the sunrise in Jebel Shams, but still so gorgeous. We even had time to get some morning yoga in!

After breakfast and packing up all our stuff (and avoiding the huge ants everywhere in the desert), we were told that we could ride camels if we wanted! It was about a 5-minute ride (though advertised as 10 minutes) and we went two at a time, so Kirby and I went together. The camels were led by two little boys (they were Bedouin) and Kirby and I tried to talk to them in Arabic. They told us they were 9 and 14 years old.

Our next stop was to a Bedouin woman’s house. She lived in the middle of the desert without very many neighbors (apart from some camels of course). We only saw two rooms in her house and they were similar to each other: walls and roof made out of date tree materials, carpeted ground, cushions lining the walls, and small decorations on the walls (pictures of her family and Omani trinkets). To get to the different rooms, one walked outside on the sand. We first went to one of the rooms and sat on the floor with her to eat dates and drink coffee. She was wearing the Bedouin niqab and a long colorful dress. She also had a tattoo on each of her hands that she said was used for medicinal purposes, but the rest was lost in translation. We then went to the other room and she showed us how to make a weaved-type of bracelet. Now I have a great souvenir that I made!

We then drove to Wadi Beni Khalid (the wadi I previously went to with my host family when we visited the farm). We first had lunch on a large rock in the middle of the wadi (there is a restaurant there and a bridge that connects this rock to the mainland). Then we changed into leggings and big t-shirts and went swimming! We first explored the rock area (one of the tour guides showed us the way) and then we jumped into the water to go swimming (literally, we jumped… off of the rocks. Another item I finally got to check off of my bucket list!).

After an hour of swimming, we unfortunately had to dry off for our ride home. I went to bed so early last night; I was so exhausted, but it was definitely a great trip, if not one of my favorite trips ever. It isn’t every day you get to explore the desert with your best friends!