Back to the mountains

After our last night in the Empty Quarter, we drove towards the provincial town of Adam. For hours we drove through endless gravel plains. These plains are all part of the oil exploration area. Driving the main 4 lane tar road, the traffic was getting more busy, mostly with commercial vehicles, servicing the oil fields. At the end of the day we reached Adam and a brown sign (the tourist site signs), told us there was an Adam castle. So we took the turn off and went looking for the castle. Often, you see one sign to “lure” you in and then you have to figure it out yourself. Besides that, a lot of historic buildings are completely surrounded by new construction, so they are not easy to locate and parking is often not arranged for visitors of these sites. After some up and down driving in narrow streets, we found a parking spot near where we expected to find the castle.

Oil and gas installations in the desert

What we found was -for us – stunning. Not just a castle, but a completely abandoned old town. A town built out of mud (the way homes were built for centuries in this area). Up till 30 years ago, many people were living in mud houses, clustered closely together, with narrow alleys separating them. The roofs were flat, made out of date palm trunks and date palm leaves and mud on top of it. The flat roofs were slending, and water was funneled off the roof via a hollow tree trunk. The biggest enemy of these houses is rain. The mud gets hard in the sun after construction of the house, but get soft when it rains. These houses needed permanent maintenance, especially in the rainy season.

The collapsing mudhouses of Adam
Shelves of built-in cabinets still visible

However, after hundreds of years, the old town of Adam was evacuated and the inhabitants moved to newly built, modern homes, just outside the old town. The old town is quite big and has a complex “street plan”. It’s built around fields of date palm trees, which are watered through an ingenious irrigation system (a system you find at a few other places in Oman as well), which is called Aflaj. Water is brought from mountain wells, via canals into town, watering the fields. Its like a manmade oasis, surrounded by a town. Little dykes through the fields connect the different sections of the town and the fields are divided in squares, which are individually owned.

The date palm groves watered through the centuries old Aflaj system

The fields are still in use, but mostly rented or owned by Pakistani and Bengalis, who harvest the dates, sugar cane and some bananas. The houses are all vacant and are starting to collapse. They are like melting candles, after each rain shower, layer after layer of mud drips to the ground. It is also why you don’t see so many monument buildings. Its hard to restore them and the upkeep is endless and costly.

Plasterwork falling off – due to rain – from restored sections of a renovated castle

Since we entered the Adam area, we left the emptiness of the desert and returned to populated areas. It also means that it became more difficult to find a private camp spot. So we drove out of town while it was getting dark. After about 20 minutes, we drove off the high way and entered a dirt road on an large area of flat land with trees. Found our spot for the night and realized is was quite a nice spot. Far away we saw the highway, but we didn’t hear the traffic, but so the many long trucks which looks like rolling Christmas trees with all the colorfull (side) lights they carry. We say the town of Adam glowing from afar. Actually a welcome change in evening scenery, after a couple of “black hole” nights.

After an hour, a pick-up came along and an Omani man, asked our situation (the usual question). He seemed a bit nervous about our presence. Later in the evening, we were visited 2 more times by guys with Toyota pick-ups, asking all the same questions. Well “asking”, none spoke English, so it was hard to comfort them. The last one came with a “translater”, who we finally could explain, why we were standing there and where we came from. After all that the usual question comes “do you need anything”? And of course I said yes, Camel Milk!!!

The translatter explained my answer to the other guy and a big smile came on his face. He suggested that he would pick us up in the early morning, to go to his camels, see and admire them and get some milk. Well, that was an offer, we couldn’t refuse!

Getting into Hammed’s Toyota Pick Up

So next morning we were up early, all dressed up and ready to go. A pick-up came and passed (they all drive the same pick-ups with the same colors). The second and third one also, so we already gave up on our camel milk tour. Then the fourth came, and yes!, he stopped. It was Hammed. We both joined him in his single cab Toyota pick-up, Arabic music blasting out of the speakers and with some speed we drove of to his camels. We reached an area, where all the other pick-ups were already and we saw a number of enclosures with camels. These guys were private camel owners, who kept camels as a hobby, for milk and for racing. They now all wanted to show their camels to us. And they were beautiful. It was a nice bunch of guys, they even had their own “club-house”. We got a tour at their club-house as well and – of course – where treated with coffee, tea and dates. When it was time to leave, Hammed, brought us to a separate enclosure where a large male camel was held. The camel was very excited as he could see, hear and/or smell the female camels we had seen. Hammed told us to wait a little, to see something interesting. A female camel was brought near the male camel because it was mating time!. Never seen camels “doing it”, but it was definitely not to most romantic action I have seen.

Proud showing of his camel
The mating camels

After Hammed brought us back, he gave us a bottle of freshly milked camel milk, still warm. He was such a nice and fun guy, unfortunately he couldn’t speak English so our conversation was limited to sounds and signals, but we still had a good laugh. We said goodbye and took our breakfast with……camel milk. After all this we understood why the night before, they all came to us, asking what we were doing there (so near their camels). Mind you, camel theft is hundreds of years old in Oman and suspicion is in the Omani blood, if it concerns their camels.

Since we were of the opinion that our visit to the old town of Adam was too brief, we headed back. First dropped off the laundry at the “Pakistani” and then drove to the old town. We discovered that the old town was even much bigger then we thought and that some people were still living in the old town, even in the derelict mud houses. A few houses have been replaced with new construction. The small date palm fields in the inner circle of the old town are worked on by Pakistani and Bengalis. It’s amazing to see how these fields are still in use after hundreds of years. Walking along and through these old mud houses, it’s so hard to imagine how people could live here, especially when it rains. The floor and walls are all made of mud. To personalize the house, the palm tree trunk rafters of the ceiling were painted in a color with some symbols. But what often sticks out with these houses are the doors. The shape, color, decoration, hinges and door handle of the front door, showed a certain wealth and status. Some doors are hundreds of years old and are from extremely hard wood from desert trees. These doors even have been collectors items for a long time. The castle/fort (part of the old town), is in the process of being restored, which was a hopeful sign that this historic place could be saved for future generations. During our second tour through the old town, we again did not see any tourists, which made us wonder why? A fun things to do – since these ruines give you such a nice background – is a photo shoot. So Marja was dressed up and – first time since a long time – did the make up thing. Never too old to do girls things.

Decorating the beam rafters to at least make the interior more coloful and personal
Nice place for photo shoots
……..and with the old doors

We picked up the laundry (amazing the speed and accuracy of these little laundries in Oman, washed, dried and ironed in a few hours), and stopped at a fruit and vegetable store, where we were surprised by the quality and quantity of what was in stock. Even we are not Omani’s, the moment we parked the truck, a Pakistani came running out of the store, asking what we needed! (We prefer to have a look in the store ourselves). After the shopping the Pakistani brings all the bags to the truck, what a service!

Nearby Adam is the biggest camel race track of Oman, only used once a year for racing and once for the beauty contest of camels. Camel racing is a big thing in the Middle East. The track was really Omani style, big, luxurious and a lot of grandeur. Based on the available parking and camping grounds, I tried to imagine the thousands of people and hundreds of camels being here when the events take place.

At the Al Bashayer camel race track near Adam
The luxurious palace style construction of the camel race stadium

We left Adam and surrounding area behind us and followed the highway towards the city of Nizwa. On the map, we noticed that between Adam and Nizwa, there was another old irrigation system for date palms. Yeah, it was on the map, but no signs for that along the road. We looked for it till sunset and stopped for making camp. Also here after half an hour, a pick-up stopped with 3 Omani ladies with their faces not covered. They passed and most probably called the home front on what to do with these “campers”. We got the same questions and after we answered them to their satisfaction, it was all ok. Also here it turned out we where close to their camels. It surprises me how fast they noticed all the time, somebody is near their camels, for sure they don’t have security cameras!

When we continued our road, we suddenly saw a groove of date palm trees and some ruines on a small hill. We found the old little town of Shafa with the Aflaj irrigation system. Also like Adam, a forgotten and neglected historic site of ruines of old mud buildings, where you find garbage thrown around and nothing in place to keep the site from further deterioration. The date palm grove with the old irrigation system is still operational, but kept alive by Pakistani and Bengalis who grow and harvest the dates, sugarcane and grass for their animals. It’s not that it is maintained by the government for historic and cultural reasons. However, this makes it look more real. It’s in use as it has been in use for hundreds of years. We had a nice chat with some of the guys there. They are friendly and you see they work hard, work to maintain their lives.

A man from Bengladesh working “his” field
The deteriorating ruïnes of the small town of Shafa
A part of the (restored) irrigation system in the date palm groves near the the ruines of Shafa

Approaching Nizwa on the highway, we passed an enormous modern looking building. A sign along the road told us, that it was the Oman Across Ages Museum. A brand new national museum, dedicated to the history and culture of Oman. Unfortunately is was still under construction and not open for the public as yet. There was another huge complex next to the museum building. Marja asked the security guard of the museum, what that was and if we could get a cup of coffee there. He smiled and said that was a palace of the Sultan (the second largest in Oman), so no coffee there, unfortunately…..

The enormous new constructed Oman Across Ages Museum

Nizwa is one of the larger cities of Oman, a tourist hotspot and hub to see the surrounding area. The biggest attraction is Nizwa castle and souq. A beautiful restored castle/fort complex with the restored souq around it. Now for the first time we saw a “professionalized” set up of shops, stalls, taxis and tours. The city is also a place were Pakistani, Indian and Bengalis cannot have shops to protect the local (Omani) business community. It was weird to be with so many western tourist after so many weeks. We toured through the castle and the souq, got a new road map and a book to learn to speak Arabic (not that easy). We met the first overlanders during our trip. A nice young couple with their dog Hank, touring through Oman in their Toyota Landcruiser (70 series). We left Nizwa town to look for a camp spot and found a nice spot in the mountains. In the early morning, a very old and handsome Omani gentleman, with a long white beard, colorful rob and headscraf (like he came straight from a filmset), called us from outside. He was a goat shepherd, who just came by to give us a big bag of dates, how kind was that!

Reaching the gates of the city of Nizwa
Nizwa Castle

Nearby our camp spot was Hoota Cave, which we wanted to visit. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rain a few months ago, there was some damage inside the cave and it was too dangerous to enter. So better safe than sorry.

The mountain area near Nizwa is one of the most visited areas – for tourists – it has many beautiful small old mountain villages, beautiful mountains and valleys. So we decided to go that way and turned into a road which would bring us deep and heigh in the mountains. A nice paved road passed some small villages and guesthouses (and rental caravans on fixed spots). At a sudden moment, high in the mountains, there was a viewing point and the paved road stopped. The village we intended to go (we followed a road sign for that), was not there anymore, or not yet. After the viewing point, there was an unpaved road which would let us to the village of Hat. Well, road….. it was actually a one lane (very narrow) badly graded path. More like an oversized goat path. It had steep inclines and declines, enormous deep ravines right next to the path on one side and high cliffs on the other side. It was a road where you wish not to encounter upcoming traffic, simply, because there was no room to pass each other (especially not with a big truck).Once you are on this path and did some corners and bends (especially the hairpin bends), you can’t go back, since again, no space to turn. The path was at times so steep, that the alarm for low cooling fluid went of, making the ride even more scary. Keeping the truck in 4×4 and going with a snails pace (the loose rocks on the path would not give the tires a good grip if we would have to use the breaks suddenly). The view, the scenery was stunning! Such beautiful areas are hard to find! I have seen these roads with trucks on it on tv or Youtube, never could imagine that one day I would drive these dangerous roads myself. Now we understood why not many car drivers would even think about going here!

Campsite with caravan for rent we found along the paved road the way up.
Little mountain villages in the valleys with date palm groves
Narrow gravel roads connecting the small villages

After going up and down for a couple of kilometers (we had to drive close to 35km like this), there was a spot I could stop and park the truck next to the path, just checking the cooling fluid. It was ok, and indeed the sensor was confused with the level because of the steep declines. The moment we stopped, 4 Landcruisers passed us with guides and their clients. Also 2 cars went up. What a timing to have this little break! The guides were so impressed with us, that we had taken this road, they have never seen a truck taken this road. They said we were the bravest drivers they ever met! Hard to say what to think of this…… After our short break we continued the road and it was not getting easier. At some bends we were really on the edge, a slightly longer truck would not have made it, that’s for sure! We reached the village, but the turn off towards it from our direction was not manageable, so we passed it and continued. 2 local cars drove towards us and I really had to squeeze the truck in corners to make room to pass each other. A small settlement with rock wall houses, garden terraces with date palms, some goats and donkeys sprung up in a small valley where the path went through. Hidden behind this settlement, was a small canyon with a little lake. Water was flowing from the lake through same small channels, which the inhabitants of the settlement used to water their small fields. Many Arabian toads were jumping up and down the rocks in the lake. According to Google map, there should be a coffee shop and a food delivery service here……well with biggest imagination, you will will not find it here.

Finally a spot to take a break and where cars could pass
The small canyon with a lake.

We drove a little further and passed a miniature mosque (just for these 2 houses). The road was now actually in the wadi (the dry riverbed, however, here and there we did find some water puddles, with toads). We saw a small opening leading to a small gorge or canyon, reason for us to stop, park the truck and investigate. Indeed we found this beautiful little canyon which even had painted marks as if it was an official hiking trail. At the end of the canyon was a whole village (Balad Sayt). A village which was beautifully located between the high mountains and surrounded by date palm groves and terraces. An elderly lady spontaneously gave us a bag with dates, little boys started to speak with us in English and we noticed small groups of tourists roaming around the village. They had arrived through the other side, a real road….. A small restored fort was at the centre of the village, overlooking the surrounding area. Even being so remote, people in the past were vigilante for intruders.

The tiny little mosque near the settlement (it even had a mini minarete)
The narrow canyon between the small settlement and the village of Balad Sayt
The village of Balad Sayt
The small fort of Balad Sayt

We walked back through the canyon and found the kadaver of wild cat of civet cat. Either it drowned during the rain season, when the canyon got flooded or it was killed by the villagers. These animals like to kill and steal their chickens. After we returned to the truck, we called it a day. It was an extremely heavy ride, and this was a nice spot for the evening. A boy from the settlement, just came down the hills with his 2 donkeys and we had a little chat with him. It’s nice to meet people from the different areas and regions in Oman. The Omani people consist of several different tribes who have lived for centuries in the certain areas. The mountain people and the desert Bedouin people are the most known to foreigners, maybe. Many live the life as there ancestors did for hundreds of years. In the mountains, modern development came much later, due to the geography. But also here, now, the government is investing heavily in roads, water and electricity, schools and medical facilities.

Our camp for the night near the little mosque. Observe the low hanging waterline, which many more (and lower) we encountered during our mountain trip

Little animals hiding during the day, come out at night to drink water from the little puddles. They are confused to see the big truck being parked in or near their watering place. An exhausted German tourist with his Toyota Landcruiser stops, asking how far the road will continue and if it gets worse or if the worst is over. He could not believe that we drove the same road, called us heros! I tried to comfort him by saying the worst was over and after 3km a paved road will follow. (Not even knowing myself, and it proved to be totally not true….. however, he left us in a much better mood).

Waking up with full energy, we continued the mountain path. And boy, we came across some very difficult tight pieces of road and even more tidy bends. We even passed one of highest soccer fields in the world, which was quite random, but a great feature for the kids living in the mountains (since most flat land is used for agriculture). Near a very remote guesthouse we passed a group of mountain bikers who we treated on a nice cloud of dust. A big loader (excavator) was clearing the road from a landslide and after a little wait we could continue. That’s something I realized later, but landslides do occur easily here or just falling rocks (if only because of the vibration caused by our truck).

The mysterious Mountain Football field at Balad Sayt

We drove through a wadi again and ended up at a village, where we encountered our first “real” obstacle. Low hanging waterlines. Driving in the mountains and passing the villages, you see many exposed waterlines. Water comes from wells and is pumped through a mirage of plastic waterlines. They are not underground but on top of the ground, hanging in trees and carried over the small roads and wadis, from house to house. Luckily, electricity cables are often placed about 4 meters above the ground!. Anyway, the good thing of our Zetros, is that it is easy to climb up to the roof. So Marja had to climb up and lift up the waterline carefully, so that it will glide over the truck unit without damaging the waterline and the solar panels. So, the first line was an experience, since we also had to maneuver close to a house and a big tree. People came out of their houses to see – and take pictures – what was happening. An European woman in a long dress climbing a truck holding up a waterline (and in this village it was repeated another 7 times), was not a daily happening. Most probably a large expedition vehicle never had taken this route before.

The low hanging waterlines

Just after the village, we found a nice flat mount near the road with a steep road going up, which was used before as a camp ground. A great spot to stop and getting our bicycles out, which we had not used since the start of our trip in Oman. The last few kilometers, the road was a graded section through a wadi with pebble stones and was flat. Near the village with all the waterlines, was the entree to the Snake Canyon, a highlight in the area. So a nice destination for a bicycle trip. The bicycles did get a bit of a beating while being in the storage compartment on the back of the truck. We took so many rough roads, that despite being well secured, that had shifted a lot. So some extra scratches and a broken brake cable were the result.

Getting the bikes ready for the first bicycle ride in Oman

It was a very nice ride though, through the wadi, along the palm groves and the village. Marja wearing her gym outfit (shorts and sleeveless shirt) was an eye catcher for the women and girls in the village (its actually not done for a woman to dress like that), however, we had seen more female (foreign) bikers recently in the mountains, so most probably, its a little bit accepted, when foreign women and girls are dressed like that, while do sport. Maybe, some Omani women and girls get inspired to do sport, cycling and wear western style sports clothing. It must be understandable that sporting in long dresses like the hijab, is very uncomfortable.

Marja on the way

We reached the entrance of the canyon where we parked the bicycles. The canyon was not so wide and was covered with huge bolders, through which a small stream of water flows. Large green trees where growing on the sides and small birds were flying around. The stream passed through small puddles with little fish. After about 45 minutes we reached a large puddles of water, like a big bath tube, deep enough to get submerged. The water was crystal clear and full of little fish. A tiny waterfall kept the little “bathtub” being refreshed. Large bolders and some trees surrounded “our little private pool”. With nobody around us, we spent a good time in the cold, fresh mountain water. Away from well visited tourist areas, just by yourself in an undisturbed canyon “pool”, isn’t that something we all want to experience?

Our private little rock pool in the Snake Canyon

Refreshed and satisfied, we walked back to our bicycles and still had a nice return trip ahead of us to the truck. More people were now on the road, since the evening was setting in. You could really see that the people in this village, were not used to visitors (like us). They were genuinely friendly, curious and surprised. How long will it take before the tourist hordes will reach this quite area in Oman?

Jebel Shams, was our next destination. While we thought that we would be on the main (paved) road pretty fast, it turned out not the case. A long journey through valleys, canyons and wadis followed. We also had to cross a mountain range on (again) a very steep narrow path, with difficult to take turns. Especially the last few hundred meters were challenging, since the truck started to slip and slide, due to the steepness and the loss rock. When we reached the top, I had to take a little break. It was a bit too much, even for me and the truck. We continued and stumbled upon a lone loader excavator, clearing a recent landslide. During the way up, we could see that the loader had cleaned more recent landslides. A lot of loose rocks were still clearly visible on the slope, ready to roll down any moment. I later realized that we had driven on one of the most dangerous roads so far…..

More narrow and steep roads ahead of us
A loader clearing the road from recent landslides.

A kilometer after we passed the loader, we entered a freshly paved road. Finally, I could disengage the 4×4 and we finally after 4 days, could drive without being shaken up and down in the truck cabin. We were low on water, fresh food and fuel (one of the tanks started to leak from the extraction point). So we now focused on the town of Rustaq . On the way I stopped at a water filling station, where I drove up and woke up the guard. It was hard to explain the guard what I wanted. He showed me first the toilet, then the shower and then a big jerrycan. This was not gonna work, so I thanked him a drove off. We tried another filling station, however, here the guard was able to explain me that I needed a special pass for getting water (which I of course did not have). All the little and big blue water trucks I see driving around, have those passes (in the urban area, water distribution is strictly regulated). In the rural areas that is not or less so the case.

Nearing the town of Rustaq I saw a small water truck was in the process of entering the main road. I was able to stop him and asked him if he had water in his tank. He had not but told me to follow him. We followed him and ended up at the third water filling station. We entered the area behind him. 2 guards came out of their office and were surprised to see us. So now, he started filling his tank and after a few minutes drove backwards to our truck. Got it!!! He pushed a big hose through our living room window and I was able to get it in the watertank (so, I by-passed our regulator filling up system, which went way faster). The driver of the watertruck brought his little son as a helper, and he switched on the pump on the watertruck and the water started flowing. Within a few minutes the tank was full. The driver was happy to help us. He and the guards took a fast tour in our camper and off we went again.

Filling the water tank via a watertruck

We past the nicely restored castle/fort of Al Awabi. The parking was empty and we were the only visitors. The local guide, gave us a private tour through the entire fortress. It was a nicely constructed fort and well restored. Unfortunately (based on the guest book), very few visitors visit this monument. So little, that when we entered one of the towers, many bat’s woke up and flew low over our heads in all directions (like in a scary movie). The guide could not give us much explanation, since he only spoke Arabic. He tried to make up for that, by given us some English brochures of the castle. (Funny enough they were from a different castle).

Or Al Awabi Fort

We reached Rustaq around midday and found a local supermarket where we got our fresh produce. The actual distance between where we were and Jebel Shams was not that far, however, we would have to crawl over a very high steep mountain again. So we had to make a 5 to 6 hour detour. On the map we noticed a short cut, which could take off about 2 hours, but was a dirt road through a lower section of the mountain. Since it was already late in the day, I wanted to try it so that we would still arrive on top of the mountain with some daylight. The road was not so bad in the beginning, but then we took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of the village in which the road ended. We almost got stuck between trees and only by breaking the branches of we got back up and get out. Lots of children came out to see our “show”, they even directed us to the point where we went wrong.

From that point the road got very bad that we could drive only 15 to 20km (so we lost the expected gain in time). It even went dark since the sun set and I had to use our bigger roof beamers to see where to drive. At moments the big dust cloud behind us even overtook us and with the beaming lights illuminating the dust cloud became like heavy fog. After a long and tiring ride, we reached the paved road towards the top of Jebel Shams. We still had a long drive ahead of us and even though the road was paved, it had a very steep incline, often I had to use the first gear. After a while the paved road changed into an unpaved road and was even smaller due to cable trench digging next to it. Luckily, it was dark and there was no traffic on the road.

We had no exact idea of where to be, only knew that there was a huge canyon which you could see from a top of certain areas. So we kept climbing up, looking for signs, we even passed the sign of Jebel Shams Resort. We reached an open gate, with wired fences and an empty guard house. We drove through the gate a kept climbing, until we reached to highest point of the roads. There was another gate and fences and lights. Turned out to be an army radar base. The guard on duty told us that we are on top of Jebel Shams, but more he couldn’t tell. Since it was dark, we decided to make camp near the army base for the night.

In the early morning a goat shepherd passed by and with arms and legs, he described that we could drive around the top of Jebel Shams, we also were now aware, that the real viewing point was near the Jebel Shams Resort. So we followed the advice of the shepherd and continue our drive around the mountain top. We passed a village, which based on the reactions of the villagers was not often visited by tourists, let alone expedition trucks (logical, since most visitors don’t go so far after the main attraction of the canyon). Again multiple low hanging water and phone lines and a difficult road to climb even higher. There was even an hairpin that I had to go back and forth a few times before I could pass it.

The goat shepherd giving us directions

The highest hotel on the mountain was the Sunrise Hotel, which we reached as the farest point of this loop. The loop itself is highly recommendable to drive. There are some amazing view points along the way, which gives you a different look on or of Jebel Shams. At the closing point of the loop, we saw many SUV’s with guides and their guests or rentals with tourists coming or going the the canyon view points. A different situation from the nigh before. We reached the viewing points area. We drove to the end, where a parking was crowded with SUV’s and tourists. From there the so called “Balcony” walk starts into the canyon. An one and a half walk into the canyon along the edges of rocky layers of lifted plateaus. It’s here that we noticed the effect of growing tourism numbers at a popular tourist location. Local mountain tribe people, have made market stalls where they sell “tourist stuff”, but unfortunately in a bit of an aggressive way. We did the walk, which was absolutely worth it! The walk ends at an abandoned small village, built between the rocks, together with terraces for agriculture. It are these places which you do realize that humans can find a place to live anywhere on the planet. After the walk, we found a great spot to park the truck near the edge of the canyon. The view from edge into the largest and deepest canyon of Oman is stunning. We have seen the Grand Canyon in the US which is larger and also very impressive. But the beauty of the rock formation is not comparable.

The SunRise hotel, the highest hotel on Jebel Shams
Our camp at the edge of the canyon of Jebel Shams
The balcony walk, ends at the abandoned village deep in the canyon
The beautiful deep canyon

It was full moon the evening we set camp at the edge of the canyon and that was the perfect setting for a “moon riser” (instead of the sun downer). With still a good bottle of Moet Chandon Ice in the fridge, we made it a special night, even though it was cold and windy, so high in the mountains.

Having our bottle of champagne during the full moon rise at the edge of the canyon

Being at such a nice place, we decided the stay the next day. I still had to work on my blog and Marja wanted to give our “house” a good cleaning job. Being at or near a viewing point, brought us many curious visitors. We had some nice chats with total strangers, but nice to hear their stories. It surprised me to see how many tourists are driving around with a guide. It’s a different way of experiencing a country like Oman, and yes not everybody wants or dares to drive around with a big truck on “death roads” like we do. During the day we also had the luck of seeing 2 couples of Egyptian Vultures flying high above the canyon. These large majestic birds are endangered bird species which are very rare to see. A group of long hair mountain goats was hanging around the truck the whole day, begging for something to eat. They were probably used to people camping out in the area, since they were not afraid of people and even tried to get up our entrance ladder. But they were entertaining during the day.

The guides with their many tourists
One of the goats joining us during our stay on the edge of the canyon

Like the night before, it was the first time that we had switched on the water heater to have a nice hot shower and were wearing our jackets in the evening. What a difference from 2 months ago, when we arrived in Muscat and the temperature was at 45 degrees! In the morning we woke up early again to see the sun rise from the other side of the canyon. Putting our chairs on the edge again in the fresh breeze, the sun was starting to warm us up, while we had a nice cup of tea. After a while a group of 4 Indian guys showed up (they live and work in Oman). They were very enthusiastic about our endeavor and the truck. They made a lot of photos and posted them on their Instagram. It was also Sint Maartens Day, so we had our Sint Maarten flag up during the “photo-shoot”. After saying goodbye to our new friends and the goats, we started our descent from Jebel Shams. We reached the foot of the mountain where we found the entrance into the canyon, which leads to the village of Al Nakhr.

Sint Maartens Day at Jebel Shams

The road through the wadi (the floor of the canyon in this case), was recommended not to be used by cars. So we parked the truck near a village and opposite a date grove. We started a 7km walk into the wadi towards the village. Several times we were overtaken by SUV’s with tourists we did drive the wadi road still, which was thick loose gravel and often with a lot of water. Sometimes it became very narrow, would have been too narrow for the truck. We were surprised by the number of cars we encountered in such a narrow area. We reached the old village of Al Nakhr, of which only 1 or 2 houses were inhabited. There was also a hostel made from a number of abandoned houses, but seemed to be closed. The expected a bar or cafe for a cold drink was not there (and we didn’t carry water or drinks with us). A few hundred meters before we reached the village, we were invited by 2 Omani guys to have a drink, so we decided to accept that invitation when we started our walk back.

The little almost empty village of Al Nakhr
The 7km walk through the narrow canyon towards Al Nakhr

We were received with open arms by the 2 young Omani guys and were given their chairs to sit. Though thirsty for water, we were given a glass of whisky with ice and water. Whisky drinking in a canyon with Omanis is not a very usual event. Alcohol is difficult to get, since Islam is not allowing that. However, alcohol is available in hotels, at special shops for license holders and at the armed forces mess (for officiers only), but it has to be consumed at home and not in public. So what we encountered was unusual. We had a nice chat with the guys and stayed longer than planed, so long that it became too dark to walk back. The guys offered us to take us back to our truck in their car, which we eventually did. However, it was not the newest car and we had to go through different big water puddles. So it happened that the car broke down, not once, but 3 times and all that while the driver was playing loud European music on the radio. We had fun with these guys, who had a little bit too much to drink maybe. After the last brake down, the driver said that that was it. From here we had to walk back the remaining part, which was about an hour. So walked back accompanied by the drunk driver (he was afraid we would get lost in the dark). When we reached the truck, he turned back to his friends and we got back in the truck. To late to cook a real meal, we had pancakes!!

In the night they passed by again with a friend they had contacted to pick them up. The car was a problem for later, now they still had to out to the nightclub!! The die hards!

We had to leave our ride behind after the 3rd breakdown

We woke up early to do one more visit to a recommended place, before going to Muscat. The famous village of Misfah near Nizwa, where the majority of the tourists go, to see an “original” mountain village. The road towards the village is steep and sometimes narrow, but paved. However, due to its popularity, there was a lot of traffic. The popularity is bigger than the available parking space on the dead end road, so when we reached, we could hardly park and to get out we had to back up for about 2km. But we are used to worse driving conditions. When entering the village you are bombarded with signs on what to eat and drink and where, and what you are allowed an not allowed. Especially the last, is probably needed, since not all “mass” tourist, are respectful towards the local habits and culture.

Misfah village with the hotel transformed castle
The beautiful terraces and gardens of Misfah
Misfah village

It is indeed a nice village – especially the center – with the in a hotel/restaurant/coffeeshop transferred castle. But even more the valley below the village with its many terraces, walkways and gardens.

The idea was to make a last camp before we would enter Muscat, so after leaving Misfah, we made one more stop in a wadi. A bit early, but we did some cleaning and organising of the truck cabine as well. We now left the mountain area, back to Muscat (third time). From there we would make plans for the continuation of the trip.;

Our last campspot before heading back to Muscat

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