Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
April 4th, 2009. Evening.
This was the part of Oman that I was most anticipating about.
After leaving Wadi Bani Khalid, we drove for about 30 minutes to the town of Al-Mintirib, where we had an appointment to meet the driver who will bring us into the desert to the camp. Sukhairi had to hire the shuttle (4WD plus a driver) because his car is a 2WD, and we will just follow his 4WD. We only took what was necessary for an overnight stay, and stowed the rest of our luggage in Sukhairi's car which will be parked and left in Al-Mintirib.
After a quick toilet stop, we drove deeper into Al-Mintirib, which already sits at the edge of the desert, to enter the Wahiba Sands, a vast body of nothing but orange sand in the middle of Oman.
Driving to our camp was actually not as challenging as our previous desert driving in Qatar and Saudi. The sand was quite compacted, providing enough traction for the tyres, even for a 2WD. Perhaps it's because many vehicles have driven through this route before us. But at one point, we did have to climb over a huge dune , and that portion of the drive would necessitate a 4WD.
Along the way we passed a few bedouin tents, Al-Raha camp (another site that provides overnight accomodation, but in concrete rooms covered with palm leaves) and miles and miles of orange sand dunes.
After about 45minutes or so of driving through and up and down sand, we finally reached 1000 Nites Camp. At the really rustic reception (a concrete desk, a concrete bench, under fronds of date leaves), we were served with really strong arabic tea and halwa and dates. We were then brought to our accomodation for the night, a room fashioned out of a bedouin tent, but equipped with the very basic modern amneties (bed, bathroom, lights).
The tent is made out of thick wool, and ours was right under a tree.
Arriving that afternoon, I found it to be quite hot and stuffy, so we had to open up the 'window' (flaps that are secured by a metal hook), but I was sure it would be very nice when it gets colder that night. They had laid 2 extra mattresses for our kids.
The tent had one big main beam in the middle of it, supporting the roof (also wool) and several smaller and shorter beams at the edges of the tent, supporting the walls, which gives it its distinct shape. The edges of the roof and the walls are then secured together with big metal pins. The floor is laid with carpets which are quite comfortable. The tents are equipped with lights, but they only turn on the generator in the late afternoon and switches it off at around 3am.
Fortunately, the bathrooms were not bedouin bathrooms :). They have proper sit down toilets and sink and shower with complimentary toileteries. The pipes run hard water though, so it tasted a little salty (definitely not for drinking) and there is a little sign that says "We are in the desert, please conserve water" :)
The bathroom is open air and ours was partly covered by a tree, which provided somthing to look at while you... uhm... whatever. Taking a shower under the blue skies really reminded me of shower times in my late grandmother's open air bathroom.
After a quick solat, we headed for the dunes which was just in front of our tent, to watch the sunset.
As usual, the kids found little trouble in climbing up the dunes, but I found myself huffing and puffing not even a quarter of the way. Izani was a little frustrated coz he kept sliding back down, so we went up via an alternative and relatively easier route. Even then, it was still a challenge, and Izani kept saying "I cant do it.. help me" and I had to motivate him (and indirectly, motivate myself) to keep on going and Izani's triumphant "I did it!" when we finally reached the top is as much a boost for me as it was for him.
Izani and I decided to stop halfway to where the rest of our party were because the wind was too strong and being that high among that much sand, we had sand blown into our eyes. Taufik, who had gone ahead with the other kids, managed to take the picture shown above.
Coming back down the dunes was much easier :)
Anis lost her faux crocs, though.
We went back to our tents to wash up, change, solat and get ready for dinner.
Dinner was served buffet style in an open air (but roofed) majlees. The food was really good (or maybe we were just really hungry after dune climbing). They served briyani rice with lamb or chicken curry, an eggplant dish, the usual salad and yoghurt, arabic bread, and they also had grilled meats - lamb kebabs, chicken wing and lamb chops. For dessert there were fresh fruits, halwa and a really yummy custard dish. They put canned and bottled drinks in two huge freezers in the majlees and you can take whichever you prefer.
While we eat, we were entertained by two men playing the traditional middle eastern guitar (gambus) and singing traditional songs. One of the songs sounded so much like zapin, a type of traditional music popular in the southern states of peninsular Malaysia, that we almost got up and dance :)
After dinner, we hung around the majlees just chatting about the plan for the next day. The two families exchanged riddles but my kids keep coming up with toilet ones, so then we played the 'shopping list' game. Someone starts with saying "I went to the market and bought ..." (the first item), then everyone else take turns to say "I went to the market and bought ..." (the list of items said before) and add their own item to the end list making the list longer and longer and more difficult to remember.
The night breeze started to get stronger and colder as the night progressed, so we decided to end the games and walked back to our tents and retire for the night.
We were lulled to sleep by the sound of wind and crickets.
Izani fell off the bed a few times. tee hee.
Early the next morning, the first thing Ilham and Ihsan did after brushing their teeth was ask if they could go on the dunes on the pretext of searching for Anis's shoes.
After doing my morning routine and getting dressed, I went out to find them tirelessly climbing up and running down the dunes, only stopping at intervals to have a drink of water at the bottom. They said they couldnt find Anis's shoes. I wasn't suprised, because the wind blew pretty hard yesterday, and it would've been buried under tonnes of sand by now. Plus, they werent really looking anyway.
I walked around taking pictures of dead bushes, sand dunes and insect trails on the sand (pics on my flickr).
At around 7, I called Ilham and Ihsan back to tent for their shower and woke up the rest of the clan for breakfast. Ilham and Ihsan snuck in a game of 'Who could toss a stick the farthest' while waiting for everyone else to get ready.
Anis had to walk to the majlees barefoot, as she did the night before for dinner.
On offer at the buffet breakfast was cereal, bread with assortment of jams and butter, arabic bread with foul, sausages, and eggs cooked any way you want.
There was a bedouin woman selling souviner items and trinkets while we were having breakfast. Items were quite expensive but I understand why, because they were all handmade by her. Even a small square of wall hanging must have taken her months to complete.
She was very smitten with Izani because he kept coming to her and ask "What you doin?". Before she left (because it was starting to drizzle), she gave Izani a string bracelet (2 for OR1). I offered to pay, but she said it was a 'hadiah' (gift). Izani was so happy, and he wore the bracelet every where he went. (I dont know where it is now though, I'm sure it's somewhere around the house).
We left 1000 Nites Camp at around 9 because dark coulds were beginning to gather and there was a light drizzle and we didnt want to be caught in the desert in the middle of the rain. We need not have worried though, because as we were driving out, the drizzle stopped and the sun started to come out.
The drive out was more exciting that the drive in, because we had to go (more like, slide) down a really steep dune before going on the compacted sand route again.
We got back to Al-Mintirib by 10am, retrieved our luggage from Sukhairi's car, refilled our tyres and gas tank and headed towards Nizwa.
Thus ended our unforgettable adventure in the Wahiba Sands of Oman.
A friend of ours had spent a night at 1000 Nites Camp in the deserts of Wahiba Sands when he came to Oman in December and looking at his pictures, we were inspired to do the same. Initial research and inquiries led me to a package tour that would cost us OR120 per person. The package would include transport from Muscat, a visit to Wadi Bani Khalid, a bedouin camp, a night in the desert at Al-Raha Camp, then the next morning a drive along Sur-Muscat highway. At first it seemed reasonable, especially for a once in a lifetime experience, but after considering that we will be coming from Nizwa, not Muscat, and that we have our own cars to think about, and that we would have to pay for 8 persons ... erks... we sought other (cheaper) alternatives.
My googling led me to emptyquartertours.com, which allowed me to book a tent for each of the families, and a 4WD for Sukhairi's family, for less.
1000 Nites Camp
Double tent OR67/night, OR7/extra person/night (Child under 5 free)
Price includes dinner and breakfast, freeflow of water/juice/soft drinks.
4WD shuttle to/from camp is OR45/car
They also have a car escort service (In case you want to drive on your own, but dont know the way) OR20/car.