Back on main land Oman

Arriving back on the main land, we decided to go back to Muscat, to visit the Mercedes Benz dealer, to inspect the truck and do some necessary repairs. It was not planned and we didn’t really looked forward to it, but to have a piece of mind, it was better to do so.

It was a 6 hour – almost – non stop ride over the highway and we arrived an hour before closing time. We were welcomed in a very friendly way and the service manager made time for us right away and the truck got a first inspection. The general manager for the workshop (Micheal from Germany), also came to have a look and he was excited to see our truck (one of the nicest overland truck he had seen so far Oman). It turns out more overlander truck (also non Mercedes), visit this workshop for repair and maintenance. A plan was made for the next day and a part of the break drum was already removed to be repaired.

Micheal guided us at the end of the day to Muscat Beach, close were he lives, where we could spent the night with the truck on the beach. It was a beach where people from Muscat can drive their vehicle on the beach and relax or pick-nic. It was fun to park our big truck between the many sedans. Since we were back in Muscat we realized again how hot and humid this part of Oman is. Thats why many city people at the end of the day go to this beach where it is a bit cooler with a sea breeze. We also put our chairs out and enjoyed looking at all the families cooling of in the evening on the beach. And of course – as we experience almost everyday -people spontaneously come to have a chat or invite you for coffee or a snack. Micheal and his wife Andrea also passed by(since they lived close by), with some nice cold German beer, which after missing out on that for a couple of weeks, was a nice surprise.

Early morning we first filled up the watertank at Micheal’s house, the first time that we had to fill up in Oman. After that it was back to the Mercedes workshop. The mechanics had in the meantime fixed the cover plate for the breakdrum as good as they could and were able to re-install it. At the same time 2 mechanics took the outdoor kitchen out of the compartment so that the box could be straightened. (the outdoor kitchen could now not be used anymore, due to the damaged compartment). It also had some cracks, which they were able to re-inforce. A lot of dirt was still behind the wheels, which they were also able to remove. We were given a ride by Micheal to a big supermarket in the meantime, while the mechanics did their work. It took the guys at Mercedes a day, to do a perfect job on the truck. Since it was to late to make some distance back again, we spent another night on Muscat beach.

The great mechanics at Mercedes Benz Muscat

Next morning early, we drove back to where we cut our trip towards Salalah, another 6 hour drive. We stopped at some beautiful spots along the coast once we passed the turn of to Masirah island. We were greeted on the road by cars coming from the ferry to Masirah, people still remembered us. We stopped near the beautiful Sugar Dunes, where there are also large commercial salt-pans for the salt factory. On top of a small peninsula, overlooking a long and wide beach, we parked the truck for the nights camp. We made a long walk over the beach and took a swim. And when you think there is nobody and nobody will come, there is always that one guy with a Landcruiser Jeep racing over the beach at the moment you get out of the water! With no towels to cover up quickly, it felt like we were caught red handed. Luckily the driver was not interested in European nudity.

Many little coves along the coastal road, here with Flamingos
Parking on the peninsula

Since it was such a nice peaceful breezy spot, we decided the next day to hang around for a day. During the day, we relaxed and saw some little fishing boats coming back to the beach. And as is custom here in Oman, fishermen always pass by to offer a free fish. And yes, a big Sea Bass was offered, but I didnt feel cleaning a fish on my ”day off”. Marja as curious as always, went to the fisherman’s boat and was surprised with what see saw. I went over as well and I saw a boat full of blue sea crab, lobster and more fish. So we decided to buy some crab and lobster. Happy with the deal (we paid maybe to much) he gave as a full bucket of crab legs and………the big sea bass I first refused to take. So now, we had to go in overdrive and get all that food, cleaned and cooked. And yes, we had to Youtube to check what we actually had to do with all that crab, crablegs, lobster and fish. So, we started mobilizing all what we needed to do the job. I cleaned the fish, cooked (boiling in hot water, thats all!), and reduced the lobsters to just the eatable part so they could be stored in the freezer (since we had to much food for 2 now). Marja made some nice saus for the fish, prepared vegetables.

Blue crab and……….

We had such a great diner that evening on the amazing spot, we ate the crabs, some crablegs and the fish. More fresh then this you couldn’t get. This was clamping Omani style!

Cooking the crabs and crab legs

Next morning we woke up early and did another long beach walk, but now on the other side of the peninsula. Despite the beautiful sea and the beaches, we were disturbed again by the amount of plastic garbage on the beach, and actually the majority is water bottles. But it is not surprising in a country were the main beverage is bottled water. What we also find constantly on the beaches between the garbage, are carcasses of small Puffer Fish. These are little fish, who can blow themselves up like a ballon and when they do they have spikes around their body, pointing away from their body. Besides being sharp, these spikes are highly poisonous. This fish are often caught in fishing nets, but not wanted by fishermen. Dead or killed, they are thrown back in sea and wash up ashore, where the beach crabs (who probably know how to avoid the poison), eat them.

Carcasses of small Puffer fish can be found along the entire coast of Oman where fishermen are active

Later that day we drove of to continue the coastal road. For the third time we found a dead camel along the road, which was hit by a vehicle. The free roaming camels are the greatest hazard when driving Omani roads. They can just suddenly decide to cross the road, so you either drive slow when they are near the road or make a lot of noise to scare them (but it seems they are used to honking cars and trucks). Hitting a camel with a high speed, could be a total for a regular car (and the dead of the driver). Our truck will most probably survive a direct hit, but you don’t want an angry Omani owner chasing you for compensation or worse digging out pieces of camel from your radiator.

Dead camel, traffic victim

We stopped at more small hidden beaches, often in use by the fishermen to launch their boats. We found many more dead turtles (caught in fishing nets and drowned). At some places we found the original old wooden fishing boats, covered with desert sand. Nowadays, all fishermen use a polyester boat (they have one type, which is in use all along the Omani coast) with a single Yamaha 2-stroke outboard.(No VHF, no flares, no life vests, our Sint Maarten coastguard would be very busy here).

Dead sea turtles. Drowned in fishing nets
Disgarded old trraditionl wooden fishing boat

Our plan was to reach Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve, known for its breeding program of the Arabian Oryx, which in the wild is almost extinct. It was a bit hard to find info on how to get there, but of course we found the long, long, gravel road leading to the entrance of the reserve. When we arrived it became dark quickly and the gate was closed. We parked the truck near the entrance and decided to camp here for the night. While having a sundowner on the roof, we saw vehicle lights coming from in the park driving towards the closed gate. The first car arrived and we thought it were tourist who where now locked inside the park. Then 30 minutes later a backoe arrived (they probably heard from Masirah and sent already a backoe to dig us out in case we get stuck in the park). It turned out all the men were working for the park and they informed us that the park would open again the next day at 7.

At the entrance of the Al Wusta Wildlife Reserve

Next day indeed we woke up early and waited for the gate to be opened. Now cars from outside the park arrived and they opened the gate. One car was the veterinary of the park. A nice guy from Sudan, who spoke good English and who guided us to the parks main compound. The park consists of huge flat plains, the home ground for the Arabian Oryx. The long dusty gravel road ended at the compound were we were guided in a large office container. Tea, coffee and dates we free to take and we waited inside for what next to come. One of the men we spoke to the previous day at the closed gate, came in and he (Mutasim) was the men who was going to show us around. More men came in and from the comfortable couch, I was instructed to sit on the carpet with the other men and drink chai and eat Halwa (its the Omani national desert and sweet like it cant be sweeter).

The office of the Wildlife reserve
The Arabian Oryx in their enclosure

After this morning ritual, we stepped in the SUV of Mutasim and he drove us to the large encirclements where the Arabian Oryx was kept. On the brink of total extension, under the direct leadership of the Royal Court of the Sultan, the herds at the reserve now count more then 1200 individuals, which is magnificent achievement. These animals are a symbol of Omani pride but besides that, they are beautiful animals. The only downside of the program and the park, is that the park has been reduced with 90% of its size, due to (more) oil finds. The Arabian Oryx bred at the reserve are kept in a relatively small confinement and not released into the park or wild, which makes you wonder, what is next for these beautiful animals. (The park used to be an UNESCO site)

Other species like the Arabian gazelle and Nubian Ibex are also found near the compound, but they are not in an enclose, since they stay close to the camp, because of easy food and water.

Arabian Gazelle

When the tour was over, we were treated by Mutasim with a small breakfast with pancakes and coffee, all in Omani style. A further tour to the far corners of the park was not possible, since the roads were not suitable for our truck. But, if we would end up at oil rigs, it would not be what we wanted to see anyway. So we drove back over the long dusty gravel road and drove towards Ad Duqm, which is Oman’s city of the future. Huge investments are made in developing a big new city with good city planning. We stopped at one of the new hotels in the ”tourist zone” and had lunch the European way, French fries, cold beer and fajitas. That was nice for a change.

Getting closer to the mountain areas the next day, we took a side road, where on top of cliffs we found this beautiful million dollar view. Below an enormous beach with the familiar little fishing boats. The perfect lunch spot to eat our remaining crab legs. With pliers from the toolbox, we spent a good 2 hours finishing all the crab legs and admiring the view. A curious big belly fisherman with 2 teeth pasted by to greet us and had a lot to tell in Arabic.

High on the cliffs
Eating the remaining crab legs with the pliers

At the end of the day we ended up at Madrakah, another “pointy” part of Oman, sticking out into the Arabic Sea. Again we found a high cliff area, with a beautiful view and an amazing sunset, so yes, good camping spot. A group of Omani men came just after us on the cliff and invited us for coffee and diner. We said thank you, but would come for coffee al little later. It was a nice group of young and older (retired) men, who were on a boys week out camping along the coast of Oman. They spoke generally good English and one of them had worked for the Sultans Royal Cavalry. He even went a few times to The Netherlands. We learned a lot more about Oman and were offered any help or assistance whenever we needed.

Another happy hour spot high on a cliff, near Madrakah

The beach below the cliff where we were parked, was full of turtle nests. We saw many empty turtle shells, but also footprints of cats. These could be wild cats or cervals. They dig up turtle nests and eat the eggs. So we were not sure if that was the case, or that the eggs had already hedged and the cats just dig and found empty shells. The nests were small and based on the number of nests, it were nest of the small green turtle who lay their eggs in large groups. They are more commonly found then the Loggerhead or the Leatherback turtle.

Digged out turtle nests with empty egg shells. You can see the footprints of a cat or catlike animal

Small and big Wadi’s become more common now on our route. Wadi’s are either valley or riverbeds (which contain water below the surface or have small bodies of surface water or become rivers with water during rain season.) Sometimes they look like little oasis’s with groups of vegetation (often scrubs and dade palms). Some look like little paradises and have crystal clear water, you can swim in. Seeing so many nice beautiful places, one after the other, taking side road after side road, we actually only crawled towards Salalah and we are fighting against time everyday, since we live our lifes in the now mode. Sometimes you just have to hit he breaks and say thats it for today. We had a moment like that and we made a sharp turn of the main road and rode into the desert without following a trail or path. Just about 2 kilometers of the road, between little hills in the desert we parked the truck. No beach or sea view today, no sound of waves, just the serene quietness of the desert. We even lost internet connection. It was a little taste of what will come in the near future when we go into the ”real” desert. The next day we followed the road along the coast from Madrakah to ………..It was one of these so called “washboard” roads. A dirt road which because of the elements and the driving of cars gets those nasty little bumps like “washboards”. It shakes you and the vehicle like you are are going to fall apart. The road past the protected archeological sites, were the early humans 10000 years ago, lived. Small piles of rocks were graves and circles of stones used to be their ”homes”. They lived near the sea and fresh water. They were the first ”over-landers” moving from place to place, collecting, fishing and hunting along the way. And looking around these places, not much must have been changed during the passing of time.

One of the wadi’s with its untrimmed old Dade palms
The remnants of 10.000 year old graves of the first inhabitants of Oman
Away from ther beach, sea, road and people. We drove into the desert

We were now close to the Dhofar Mountains, the mountain range a lot of people here are talking about. From the enormous hight of the escarpment, we could see the mountains. A little side road brought us to the edge of the escarpment, were – again – we had an amazing view of multiple wadis starting at the foot of the escarpment, finding their way to the beach and the sea. It was like a huge hand had lifted an enormous piece of the earth crust into the air. A road was cut out to go down to the sea. We past the little town of Al Juwayrah from were a long and wide beach started. Here we started to see that recently heavy rainfall had caused a lot of damage to roads, so we drove carefully over pieces of washed away dirt roads. At the end of the beach a large abandoned resort project (which only had a model house and a sales office container on the property), lay to waste near the border of the Jabal Samhal Reserve.

The abandond restort project with the ”Smurf or Star Wars” like houses

Driving became different, no desert, no large plains, but steep hills and scary descents. Cut deep through the mountains, which contain mostly soft sandstone, the road passes huge canyons, climbing back to stretches of long flat plains, wadis with islands of green, but also visible were previous big landslides. Due to its soft structure, when rain fails, the sides of the high cut outs, the sandstone slopes besides the roads, collapse and huge landslides occur. Its a work in progress done by many excavators and bulldozers. During our lunch break, we reached the highest point of the road and we parked away from the road and saw that we were far above the clouds. Clouds from the sea ”get stuck” against the mountains and stay there until the sun ”melt” them away. We stayed there to enjoy this amazing place. The next morning the clouds were even further out in the ocean and much thicker. Driving down was like landing with a plane going through the clouds, were above the sun is shinning and under she is gone. We saw a lot more previous landslides and were wondering how safe it was to drive here, since a heavy truck like ours, makes enough vibration to have rocks small and big come rolling down the slopes.

The road cut through the mountains
Above the clouds

Near the road a wadi showed up, which was easy accessible for the truck. A lot of dade palms were along the shore line of the wadi. We parked the truck and walked for about 45 minutes over the rocks, lining the wadi, towards the beach and the sea. This was really a secluded place visited by few, since you really needed to put some effort in, to reach this end of the wadi, to reach a beach which was within a secluded cove. The wadi itself was fresh water and was full of different types of little fish, which were part of a tiny eco-system. Being an undisturbed beach were no cars could drive, the beach was covered with little ”towers” of sand, made by the ghost crabes, which they pile up, when making their holes. And since we were so private, we couldn’t resist, to take of our clothing and jump in that fresh crystal clear water of the wadi. A priceless experience!

Getting to the wadi
The cristal clear water and vegetation of the wadi

Still in the Jabal Samhal Reserve, we drove in the direction of the small town of Hasik. Just before reaching the town, we encountered our first military checkpoint. We were a little surprised. First of all we were still far away from the Yemeni border, so why a check point here? Also the location of such a checkpoint in the middle of the reserver, was unusual. But, the police and army personal were very friendly and after checking our passports, we could continue. We were now in the Dhofar region, a different region, different people and a different history. In the 70’s, there was a brutal insurgency in this region, and possibly, the government, wants to avoid any new problems. At least it gave us an extra feeling of security.

We passed through little town Hasik, where we looked at the abandoned and derelict police station (the only historical building of the small town, which was of importance in the early ages), and continue driving along the steep rock mountains, were the road passes close to the sea. Getting closer to Salalah and its satellite towns, the road became busier (since it was also weekend, lots of Omanis were either picnicking or fishing along the coastal road). The first bigger town we past, was Mirbat, known for its beautiful restored Mirbat Castle and the Battle of Mirbat (a mayor event during the Dhofar rebellion). We stopped here to drop off our laundry and do another truck wash (since we camped so often close to the sea, there was a lot of salt spray on and under the truck).

The old abandoned police station of Hasik

When we left the truckwash, I hit an overhanging concrete roof, damaging the unit. Big deep scratch, exterior light and a camera were pulled off. This was another failure in my driving. It could have been worse, but I realize I have to continuously keep my eyes on everything while moving the truck.

To forget about it, we stopped first at a small fort, which was the target of rebels during the Dhofar rebellion. A small garrison of Omani, Pakistani and Britisch soldiers held out for a long time against a large force of rebels, until the Omani Airforce bombed the rebels back into the mountains. Therre is even a movie made about this battle. Shame is it, that this prominently located fort at the entrance of Mirbat is left as ruïne, with garbage and stray dogs. Nearby is the Mirbat Castle, which has been completely restored and houses an interesting exhibition over the region and Omani culture. Its here where we saw the first western tourists. We were now entering the tourist season and the tourist area (Dhofar region has a lot to offer to tourist). Mirbat has a good natural harbor and for centuries was used by merchants and seafarers to do business. Unfortunately the old town of Mirbat is in rubbles and no sign that this historic place will soon be restored to protect and show Omans cultural heritage.

The neglected fort in Mirbat
Well restored and preserved castle of Mirbat
The old town of Mirbat

We picked up our laundry (and these Pakistani laundry shops are amazing. Fast and well done. All items packed in foil plastic like you just bought new clothing in a store) and now we really were reaching Salalah (we thought).

Taking the highway, we saw a sign directing to a wadi and we saw a waterfall in the distance. In a country of deserts, waterfalls are not a common thing, so yes, we took the turn off. A steep narrow road brought us on top of a mountain, were near a big parking, there was a cafe. It looks for cozy so we gave it a try. It was closed, but the terrace was what it was all about. A view beautiful from above on wadi Darbat was really a big surprise. Never seen such blue water in our lives. The wadi was in a very green valley reaching deep in the mountains and had a drop off, creating the waterfall we saw from a far. Returning to the truck we experienced another unique moment. Camel herders were just moving thousands of camels over the road we just passed. The entire road and park were full of camels. They come the graze in the lush green hills of the Dhofar mountains for a couple of weeks/months, before going down the mountains again and go to different directions with their owners. In Oman the system of pastoral land use is still very much alive. We spent a great deal of the morning near the truck on our chairs, just watching the camels. It was very entertaining to see the mothers with their young, the old bulls with the front legs tied with a rope so they could not make a run for it. The herders are constantly chasing their camels (its amazing to see how they can recognize their own animals), in certain directions. I was even almost overrun by a few camels while they were being chased! The highlight of their presence was when they went down the hills and crossed the wadi. Like the Wildebeest and zebra migration in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, it was an amazing sight to see all these camels passing though this beautiful water in a long line. (I tried to imagine how those long camel caravans must have looked liked in the old days. Its was great to be here at the right time to see an century old tradition of camel migration).

Camels at the parking of Darbat Cafe
The camel migration through Wadi Darbat
The lower section of Wadi Sarbat from above the waterfall

It was to late again to go into Salalah and it was weekend also. So we camped high on a cliff, near a shed (Omanis have their private shed near beach or waterfront, were they hang out in the weekends or evenings). There was nobody there, so we thought it would not be a problem. Within an hour a big white SUV showed up and a family of 9 stepped out. I am always surprised how many people they can fit in cars here, also if they take provision with them for a picnic. It turned out it was the family owning the shed. However, they were most friendly and had no problem us staying near their shed. They even came offering us food and coffee (which is becoming a returning ritual with almost every Omani we meet. We appreciate this a lot and shows how welcome we are and how friendly the Omani’s are).

We finally arrived in Salalah the next day. Since we already did the laundry and carwash, we went straight to the biggest mall, were there was a good supermarket to stock up again. We also needed to extent our Omantel phone card and get some stuff to repair the damage I caused when hitting that concrete roof. In the evening, when we were parked on a nearby beach, I received a message via Instagram from one of our followers, that he had seen our truck at the mall and asked us if we needed anything or help. So super of social media! (Which was the original intention of social media, to bring people in contact with each other). Indeed we could use some extra things and agreed to pass by at his place the next day. We met Alex the next day and one of his sons. Alex came across us on Instagram since he is also interested in overlanding and campers. As a matter of fact, he is transforming an used schoolbus into an overland camper. The plan is to drive from Oman to the UK next year with his family. Really a great adventure. We love people who are so determined and dare to do what they dream off.

We left and did some additional shopping in the industrial area of Salalah. Like what we already saw in the town on Masirah, industrial area’s can be very entertaining in Oman (probably in more countries other then the western countries). Hundreds of little workshops (fixing car tires, metal shops, carpentry, plumbing ect) owned and operated mostly by Pakistani and Bengali people.It’s very lively and looks chaotic. Its looks like a market and often you have to negotiate for the right prize. Driving around with a big new Mercedes truck doesn’t help to bring the prize down, so we often park the truck out of sight. After doing the final things on our to do list, we drove out of town to camp on a high cliff near Eftalquot Beach. About 150 meters above the beach and sea, the temperature was cool and there was a nice breeze. That night we had the rising of the full moon over the left side of the cliff. A more romantic dinner was hard to imagine.

Full moon diner on the cliff

Alex was so helpful to us, that we contacted him again and wanted to invite him for diner. Since he has 2 little boys and his wife was in Muscat, preparing to deliver a twin, we decided to come over and prepare a nice meal at his place. When we arrived, we also met his neigbors (2 couple, also Britisch). We had a little welcome drink on the parking and it was nice to meet expats in a different country. It was a lovely evening and we slept in the truck will being parked within the gated community.

Next day we said goodbye and drove back into Salalah center to see and learn more about the city. It is historically a very interesting city on an unique location. The city located against the high Dhofar mountains on the Salalah coastal plains. A strip of land, 64 km long and max 10km wide. Its the only place on the Omani coast which is green from vegetation. Its the largest part of green in the whole of Oman. Its the most vertile area of Oman. It was one of the first if not the first large human settlement of the Arabian Peninsula. Its the worlds largest supplier Frankincense, of which the trade goes back many centruries. Merchants from as far as China came to Salalah to do trade. The old town of Salalah Is built on or near the ruïnes of the medieval town of Zafar. The ruines are part of the Al Baleed Archeological park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From here boats and camel caravans brought the much sought after Frankincense to place far away.

The beautiful roads of Salalah

Along the coast of the city a long boulevard stretches along the beach, with thousands of coconut palms. Fields of coconut trees, papaya trees and banana trees are growing in cultivated areas. Some parts of the boulevard have nice restaurants, which have a real western look. The huge palace complex of the Sultan (until 1970, Salalah was the capital of Oman), is also situated on the beach, near the ruïnes of the old town. Along the road, farmers are selling their produce from their yards. We bought, mango’s, bananas, papayas and other fresh food. It would be the only place and time, we had such an opportunity, since after Salalah, it would only be desert!.

Fancy boulevard of Salalah
Fresh fruits and vegetables from Salalah
The coconut palm groves of Salalah

We went back to our cliff place to spent 2 nights there and relax a little bit (and to catch up with my blog). Still all by ourselves, we went down the 150 meter cliff and walked the long and beautiful beach. And yes, we jumped in that nice cool water again, knowing we had to climb that steep cliff again. But it was certainly worth it.

Our last day on the beach near Salalah

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