Monday, May 7, 2012

Oman Trip: Wadi Bani Khalid, Day Six

It was another early start on Friday, and after enjoying the 1,001 Nights Camp's delicious buffet breakfast, we headed off to Wadi Bani Khalid. It took about 40 minutes to reach the end of the sands, and then perhaps another 40 minutes to reach the wadi itself -- and it's amazing how much the landscape changed in that short space of time, from desert to lush oasis (though I guess that's how it normally works, eh?).

When we got to the wadi, it was pretty empty of tourists, which was mostly due to Qais getting us out of the camp earlier than everyone else. The tourist services at the wadi are fairly developed, especially when compared to the others we saw (we had also stopped the day before for a quick look at Wadi Tiwi); we made our way through the parking lot, along the path to the “developed” area (there was a little snack bar and I would guess toilet facilities), and then clambered over rocks to get to the swimming area.

We spent about an hour there, and it was just divine. The water was totally clear and throwing up dancing reflections on the surrounding rocks, and the little pedicure fish were busy gnawing at our toes. There weren’t that many people there, either, just some Filipino workers who assumably had the day off and some local teenagers. When we left, however, it was clear that all of the other tourists were pouring in, and I imagine our hour there would not have seemed so idyllic – so, my best advice is, come early (and, maybe, during the middle of the week).

Besides a brief stop for lunch (more Indian food!), we spent the rest of our tour driving back to Muscat. At some point, Qais told us about Sultan Qaboos, which led into a discussion about his family. The Britain-educated sultan has been in power since 1970; his father had had him more or less locked up in the palace for six years until Qaboos managed to overthrow him in a coup. Wikipedia and other websites say that the sultan was married to and shortly divorced from his cousin, and that he has never re-married or had any children; if you Google him, it becomes clear very quickly that many people suspect he is gay. If this is true, then it’s not clear who will succeed him. But what’s interesting is that is not what Qais told us at all – he said that it’s unknown what the sultan’s marital status is or whether he has children, and that this information is kept from the public for his security, especially considering what happened between him and his father. In terms of his rule, many people seem to be divided – he is credited with modernizing Oman and keeping it free of the fundamentalist elements that have destabilized other countries in the region, but he’s also a despot, even if a kindly one. 

Somehow, this led us into a conversation about multiple wives. He told us that his father had had four wives, although it was one at a time until the last two. He said he himself only has one wife but said that it would be better to have two because then they would compete, which would result in him being treated like a king. I think my mouth just hung open at that – and I wanted to say, but restrained myself, what about them? Don’t they deserve to be treated like queens as well?

Anyway, we got back to the house around 3 p.m. In the previous post, I mentioned that we haddebated over taking a tour, wondering if the thin guidebook would be enough to get us around. Having now seen the roads, signs and sights, I think we could have done it ourselves, but it wouldn’t have been easy the first time, with what we had. The road between Quriyat and Wadi Arabayeen was a dirt track, though I suspect it was a shortcut. Although the path through the Wahiba Sands seemed quite clear -- it wasn’t a real road since it was all sand, but it was also pretty obvious what was to be driven on (and what wasn’t) – I heard that you can get quite lost if you’re driving all the way through and don’t know where you’re going.

Having said that, our friends gave us an amazing resource, Oman Off Road from Discover Publishing.  It lays out 26 road-trip routes in Oman using satellite images and GPS coordinates, and also features about a page per route describing what there is to see. Using this book, I think we probably could have found our way around pretty well.

Anyway, after we got back from the overnight tour, we spent the remainder of our last afternoon at the beach with our friends, playing Frisbee, enjoying the surf and examining the critters. Overall, it was a really lovely holiday, and I feel like we barely scratched the surface of Oman, so I hope we'll go back to some point to go diving in the very north and exploring in the south. 
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