We drove back along a piece of road along the coast, which we didn’t see yet. I was still curious if there was still a piece of old Salalah. We visited the medieval ruïnes of the previous city of Al Baleed already, but what about a more recent ”old town”? Indeed there was an old town, completely fenced off and abandoned. Partly collapsed buildings, which looked they were used not too long ago. Next to it, a large new commercial complex was being constructed and next to that was the Palace of the Sultan. Old (conserved) towns are hard to find in Oman. Some forts and castles have been restored or are in the process of being restored. It’s not like Europe with its picturesque old city centers. Truth is also to a lot of the old buildings are in a very poor shape, due to the way they have been constructed and the materials used. Besides that, tourism (on an economical scale) is only now starting to develop, hence the value of old buildings is now starting to become more appreciated.
Our first destination on our partial drive back, was the small town of Taqah (a satellite town of Salalah). Along the boulevard, we saw fishermen, pick up trucks and a lot of birds. We have seen that often during our drive along the coast, but we still decided to have a look. About 40 to 50 men were on the beach, partially in the sea, struggling with a huge fishing net. Then we saw the thousands and thousands of small fish in the net. It were Sardines and it was the season of Al Dhawaghi, the yearly event that fishermen bring large quantities of Sardines on the beach. Pick-ups were lined up with the back raised with ply-wood, like little dump trucks. Men filled bags with Saredines from the net and walked the heavy bags with fish towards the pick-ups and dumped the fish in the back. It was hard to see, who was the owner of the catch and how the distribution of the fish was worked out between all men who were helping to get the fish ashore. Once loaded the pick-ups drove off and it was hard to determine if any weighing was done or not. A lot of the Sardines are used as feed for the cows in the mountains above Salalah. Sardines are high in protein.
Going back to the mountains wHere we visited Wadi Darbat, we passed the wadi and were going to one of the largest and deepest sink holes in the world, Tawi Atair. A big Mercedes sedan just parked there and 2 men stepped out, taking a big carpet from the trunk, rolled it on the ground and started praying. In the corner of the parking lot, was a shed where a Pakistani man had his coffee/tea shop. It actually should have no name. It was not more than a chicken cage. Anyway, we bought 2 teas from the shop after we had a look over the edge into the deep 54 of the sinkhole. While I am writing, I am sitting under a big, very old Accia tree on the plains of the Dhofar mountains. The rain season is over, but its still reasonable green around me, hence the many camels surrounding, me, the tree and the truck. I start to love these animals. They are so gentle and curious at the same time.
For the last 2 days, Marja and I are not feeling well. Fever and coughing, don’t know if its just a flew or Covid. We are taking it a bit easy today and using anti-biotic to get better. Also when you travel you can get sick and luckily we have a well stocked pharmacy with us.
The day rest was good and we felt a lot better. Back on the road we drove in the direction to the Jabal Samhan the Nature Reserve. Now we find that names, signs, directions are not that accurate here in Oman, if its for foreigners. Names on signs change and often don’t correspond with the map or navigating system. Sometimes a name is used for different places or locations. Jabal Samhan is used for the park, an area and a huge escarpment of mountain. Not realizing the last one, before we reached the entrance of the reserve (which was only accessible with prior approval and arrangements from the Ministry in Muscat), we reached to outcrops of an immense drop off of over 1600 meter. It was such a dramatic view, something we haven’t seen before. A cool breeze came almost vertical from the cliffs upwards (4 steps away and the wind was gone). Unique vegetation was growing near the edge of the cliff. After we drove a kilometer further there was an ”official” view point with a paved parking and 2 snack sheds and…….about 12 big SUV’s of tour guides with their European clients. First time that we saw a large crowd of tourist like that in Oman. They found our truck as impressive as the view from their view point. Going on organized tours is a different experience than the self-drive/self catering tour as we do. But both are fun.
The road after the ”official” view point was not tarred anymore, but poorly graded. The top of the cliff is covered with rocks and the dirt roads are just rock roads, which by grading and the passings of cars and trucks, became ”drivable”. We could only maintain a speed of about 10/15km/h, otherwise we would kill the truck. We even lowered the tire pressure to make the ride a bit more comfortable and to reduce the wear and tear on the tires. We only saw ”karavanserais” (enclosures for cattle and camels), some old ones built of rocks at the bottom and old tree branches on top. There were no houses. After an hour drive, we reached the entrance to the gate, but as said, no passing possible. We drove the bumpy road back and followed the road through the mountains, which actually surround the Salalah plains and passes around Salalah.
A nice hilltop overlooking a large canyon with a dry riverbed was our location of choice for the night camp. However, after we parked for about 15 minutes a little truck drove up the hill as well, and a small Omani man came out of the truck. Now we were already warned by other Omanis that the people in the mountains are of a different tribe and consider themselves owners of the lands in the mountains. People camping out on ”their” land are not always appreciated and its better to ask permission before hand. (But thats not easy, how the heck do you find out who owns what?). Here the language barrier caused the confusion whether the man was welcoming us, or trying to send us away. It was clear from his arm and hand language that he was the owner of the land. Then there was this tiny tree in the middle of the hill top, surrounded by a big fence and next to the tree a big water tank. He again (as I understond), planted this tree and he was giving it water from the tank every day. It was a tree that would give him shade when it was big. (Knowing a little about trees, I thought, this guy will never enjoy the shade of the tree when big. Trees don’t grow that fast. Hopefully for his next generations). Then he started to put rocks in his month and made a gesture as if he was writing something in his hand. Did he want money from us to stay on his land? With no money he can only eat rocks? He was nice, and he tried hard, but in this case, if I am not sure (and giving money could be an insult here as well), I decided to leave and thank him for explaining everything and the time we could enjoy the view from his hilltop. The moment we drove off, he drove right behind us. At least no harm no insult.
Just below ”his” hill, we found a nice piece of flat land and a bit more out of sight. The view was juist over a cliff into a gorge with a dried up riverbed. A paved road creeped down the flanks of the gorge and stopped at a small complex. (Only in the morning we found out, that we had a view on a graveyard). The grave yards are hard to identify here. The graves are marked with a collection of stapled (local) rocks, no expensive tombstone, no flowers or plants (the later are of no use in this harsh climate anyway). Moslims, don’t cremate their death. They wash the deceased body, then wrap the body in a cloth (mostly no coffin is used) and burry the body as soon as possible. A very different way of how christians, burry or cremate their death.
Early morning we heard a car coming our way. It was a pick-up and we thought that another land owner came to ”claim his land”. However, this was a surprise. A young camel shepherd , jumped out of the pick-up and came with 2 full used water bottles of fresh camel milk! No, we have not drunk camel milk before, so yeah, what to do with it? First I thanked the guy (also he was limited with his English vocabulary). Within a minute he was gone. Where he came from, how he found us, I still don’t know. But driving all the way to us (total strangers), to bring 2 bottles of fresh camel milk, was very friendly. Maybe, he was sent by the guy from the day before.
Just after the rain season (The Khareef), many Omani’s go the the green hills in the Dhofar mountains. It’s green, its cool and the thousands of cows and camels are driven up higher in the mountains and vacate the huge grass lands just behind the high mountain tops. The Omani people come in weekends and holidays to camp out in their thousands, near the small town of Jibjat. Like in the old days, when the shepherds followed their herds, they set up camps like little compounds. Family from all over come to this compounds and meet each other. Miles and miles of gentle slope grass lands are coverd with little compounds. It reminds me of the big festival camp grounds in Europe or the Burning Man in the USA. We were driving long ways on top of ridges, looking down on green valleys and gorges and we noticed we were bordering the fast Empty Quarter (Rub-al-Khali). Its like a big force drew a line in this country. Here the green mountains stop and the desert begins. And this desert is vast, very vast.
We drove all the way back to Salalah (where on entree we had to pass again a military check-point) as we decided to do one more top up of supplies, since after this, their won’t be in any big town for the next week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, we don’t know. This time we visited another big supermarket (ok, not very interesting, writing about a supermarket). We were surprised how huge and unbelievable well stocked this supermarket was. If only for the fruits and vegetables (and from countries from all over the world). Oman is rich, well connected and developed, that’s for sure.
That night we spent a last time at our favorite spot on the cliff near Salalah (Eftalqoot). In the morning we did a good work out and hike (and since nobody comes there in the early morning, Marja dared to dress herself in her gym outfit. During our hike we passed many beautiful flowering desert roses.
The road from Salalah towards the border with Yemen, is unbelievably beautiful and stunning. We already passed amazing mountain roads towards Salalah, but this section of our road trip was a level higher (and judging on the smell of burning break pads, the truck could agree on that). A total of 3 military check-points you will encounter before you reach the Yemeni border. But despite their show of military hardware (jeeps under camouflage, with manned machine guns on top), the military and the Royal Oman Police, are all very friendly and professional. We made a nice stop at the cliffs of Shaat. Again we were impressed by a dramatic drop off, this time directly into the sea. How much more beautiful views could we handle, store, remember? It seems like everyday, the sceneries are getting more beautiful, dramatic and impressive. The many past landslides, huge bolders on the road, road diversions, make the experience driving this road even more spectacular.
The Government once created a tourist area here, with a parking, public toilet (almost all public toilets in Oman, doesn’t matter how remote, are manned by a male – Pakistani/Bengali – cleaner. And they are all very clean, these toilets), and some nicely designed covered picknick areas . Unfortunately, the areas as a whole are often not well maintained. Due to the way people picknick here, you find often too much garbage and campfire remanants on the parking or in the covered areas. A cool thing is, that throughout Oman you find thousands of very little coffee shops, snacks, little food trucks and tiny restaurants, often little businesses operated by Pakistani. Also on this parking there were a few of these ”establishments”. One was very nice and cute. It’s nice to see how the Pakistani business community knows how to accommodate the Omani people’s needs. Level of service is high and the quality of food and drinks is very good.
We drove on towards our next planned stop, the small coastal town of Rakhyut. On the map where 2 roads leading to this town. We took the first one, which was tarred until about 2 kilometers off leaving the main road. Another 12 kilometers of dirt road looked possible. We lowered the tire pressure and since there would be some steep roads down ahead, I engaged 4×4. We past one of the greenest valleys we had seen so far. It looked liked a hidden, oasis. Untouched by humans. After 3 kilometers, there was an open gate. Before continuing driving, I checked out behind the gate. The road was going down with a very steep angle, I would not like to risk, especially, since it also had a 90 degrees bend in it. The road was concrete and had a lot of loose stones on it. With 15tons, the risk would be high, that I would slide down, losing grip. So, we decided to go back to the main road and take the second road to Rakhyut.
The second road to Rakhyut, was nevertheless spectacular as well. Driving up and down between green valleys, some small villages and doing the final roller coaster ride, as we had to go in second gear (sometimes even in first gear), doing hairpin after hairpin, going down the hill. We reached the town by the end of the day. The town was nicely decorated and a lot of stalls were placed for food, drinks and local products. Its was because of Rakhyut’s first festival. A festival to showcase Rakhyut’s/Oman cultural heritage. During the month of October every weekend, there are 3 nights of festivities in town. We came one day too early, so we parked the truck near the beach, just to spend the night.
Next morning we left town and climbed up the steep hill again and drove towards the next little coastal town. The town of Dalkout. We thought the road towards Rakhyut was amazing, there seems to be always a better one. Dalkout is a bit bigger and has a beautifully constructed fishing port. It’s also home to one of the very, very few Baobab trees in Oman. It’s actually the only one we found so far. A tree maybe thousand years old, just standing there all by itself. It was also here, near this tree, we had a long coffee break and admired the green area. We now saw how many different colorful birds live in this green part of Oman.
We had a couple of kilometers to go and then we would be at the border with Yemen. So after our break, we did our last part of our coastal road trip, before heading to the desert. Despite the fact there is a war going on in Yemen, until the last meters towards the border, life in Oman is normal, and nothing reminds you of the war in the neighboring country. There is even a functioning border post, however, the fact there is a level of lawlessness in Yemen, we did not consider to continue into Yemen (this time). Instead we drove back and decided to join the party in Rakhyut. We parked the car near the beach (where there was an temporary open air, beach cinema). Dressed ourself accordingly (meaning like covering up) and walked towards the festivities. What a difference with Dutch city or village parties. First of all, nearly all women are wearing the black dresses ( Abaya) and have only their eyes not covered. You see hardly any women or men walking together. You see women or girls walking in groups or men or boys walking in groups. Even at a stage where performances are done, men sit on one side and women on the other side, which puts us in an awkward position. We decided not to split up and watch the performances. We past a single stall were an old Bedouin guy was sitting as an re enactor of the old camel shepherd. He had the intrest of a large group of older guys, listening to his stories. Even though we couldn’t understand a word, we stopped to listen. When the public saw us nearing, they all went aside, like they made a honor row. Now, we were in the front and became the center of attention. The old Bedouin guy asked where we came from and if we liked Oman, liked Rakhyut. We had some funny conversations and the crowed joined in. He then offered Marja a little tin container which contained a herbal substance, which smelled amazingly good. A slim well dressed and sympathetic gentleman then come forward and asked us, if we were interested in a tour over the fesrtival grounds and get an explanation about all what was happening and about the cultural heritage of the region. Not knowing if this was a guide who wanted to make some money or not, we still followed him. We passed police officers, passed crowds and even entered the stage where performances were done. This gentleman was not just somebody. He was the organizer of this event. He was Ahmed, a retired professor of the Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. A very interesting man, with a lot of knowledge about the old life style of the Dhofar region. He explained us about the old ways of living, cooking, herding camels etc. We drunk (again) Camel milk, but now the way the Bedouin did for centuries. Hot stones are thrown in a big pot with Camel milk, heat up the milk and kill the germs and bacteria.
Ahmed introduced us to a nice young Omani lady, who was in charge of the Tourism department in town (although it’s a very little town, they really actively do tourism promotion here). In the beautiful Rakhyut Castle (almost in center of the town), an exhibition Is present, showcasing the trades of local women. The tourism lady, lead us around and by every stop, Marja received presents form locally made products. More items related to smell and facial enhancement were offered. Feeling like the Dutch king and Queen on Kingsday, people made way and more gifts were presented. Being the only foreign (or at least only western) tourists in town, we got that ”explorer” feeling of entering unknown territories.
We said goodbye to our host lady and agreed to meet again for the next day. We walked home along the beautiful colorful lighted streets. When we came near the truck, the outdoor beach cinema was still on. We were encouraged to come, sit down on one of the many bean bags, take a coffee or tea and watch the movie. Believe it or not it was an English movie (with Arabic sub-title), the movie was about a Danish polar expedition (can you imagine and that in a desert country). Bu looking at all that ice, makes you feel a little cooler. Since the cinema would only close at 1.30 and we were parked almost next to the speakers, we drove out after the polar movie and went to the other side of town (same spot where we spent the night before). All in all we had a great evening.
Next morning we woke up with a nice sun rise and after breakfast we first tried to find a laundry shop in the little town. Each little settlement has at least one little laundry shop (often not bigger then a few square meters). Due to the fact that it was festival time in town, the laundry guy was extremely busy with the black and the white wash. Especially all the guys from out of town, had to bring their long white dresses after a night partying. So this time no rapid laundry for us. Since we would stay another day in town anyway, that was not an issue.
We parked the truck near the cinema again on the boulevard and set up camp. It was nice, since it was Friday (which is the first day of the weekend here), and that is the busiest day for the festival. All people from out of town visiting the festival, were first passing the boulevard, so we had entertainment and chats the whole day. At night – after picking up the laundry – we visited the festival again, and yes it was super crowded. Thousands and thousands of people came from near and far, driving down the steep road, to join the party. Again it was funny to see, how separated the men and women were again. But, it seems like everybody is ok with it . There was a group of guys dancing local folklore, which was musically supported by a Omani with a bagpipe. He learned playing the instrument in England. We enjoyed some local food, coffee, tea and ice cream and we called it a day. We camped at the same spot, far away from the festival. Tomorrow would be our turning point, driving away the coast, saying good bye to the Arabic Sea and going into the desert.