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After two blissful nights on top of Jabal Akhdar we depart the hotel feeling completely relaxed, with the distinct scent of Frankincense wafting from our backpacks. We load into the Pajero, reluctantly wave goodbye and pick up a carpooler on our way down the road. He’s an employee from the hotel who is about one kilometer into a five kilometer walk to the nearest Omani coffee shop. We drop him off and descend the road — a steep and winding drive with “Escape Lanes” veering off from the main road in case our brakes go out on the way down.

Within an hour we’re back on the main highway cruising along the informal border between the mountains and the desert. We watch for camels and goats crossing the road among the sleepy towns that have closed up for the afternoon. Goat hair rugs are displayed along the roadside. We pick up a quick souvenir before starting the undulating ride up to Jebel Shams, the highest peak in Oman.

The view ahead of us is split into a barren brown landscape and a clear blue sky punctuated with the geological “exotics” of the region. Jebel Misht is like a shark’s fin — suddenly menacing and mysterious in the general flatness surrounding it. No wonder Oman is called a geologist’s paradise with anomalies like this to explore. Adventurous rock climbers can’t be too far behind.

Our trusty 4WD drags us to the top of the plateau. We park at the tiny village of Al Khateem where we’re welcomed by a couple of curious goats and some kids selling bracelets. We walk toward the canyon edge where a solitary juniper tree offers the only shred of shade from the blasting sunshine. The “grand canyon of Oman”, also known as Wadi Nakhr, drops away in front of us.

It is a massive canyon, and yet I do see the bottom — a teeny, tiny strip of dry, gray riverbed flanked by a couple of date palms (see fourth photo in the gallery). The entire landscape is tilted up 30 degrees exposing layer after layer of compressed sediment. We’re looking at (and standing on) a region that’s known as the Semail Ophiolite. This is one of only a few dozen places in the world where the crust of the earth that was previously underwater has obducted over and onto the continental crust, revealing both the crust and the mantle underneath it. There are not many places where you can find marine fossils at nearly 3,000 meters/10,000 feet, but this is one of them. And all of this obduction happened between 66 and 100 million years ago, before the extinction of the dinosaurs.

We stand on the Balcony Walk — the trail along the rim of the canyon — and take it all in. It’s kind of mind blowing to see so many millions of years illustrated right before our little human eyes that have only existed for a nanosecond in the scheme of things.

We consider taking the Balcony Walk, which looks stunning and terrifying — an express route past all those amazing sedimentary layers if just one step on the trail goes awry. We’re nearing the end of our trip — just two days left — so we pass on the hike and head back toward to Nizwa. Remnants of old villages dot the hillsides along the way.

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Before getting to Nizwa we make a last-minute decision to pull off and explore Misfat al Abriyeen, an old village that can only be explored by foot. A crumbling labyrinth of paths leads to old doorways and cottages, and terraced gardens cascade down the hill under the shade of date palms. Misfat is an oasis made possible by a falaj — an irrigation system that distributes water downhill throughout the village. We climb down, we hike up, we get lost among the staircases and finally emerge as the sun sets and shadows overtake the valley.

We move onto Nizwa, arriving after dark with the unfortunate task of finding a place to stay. It’s too late to camp — finding a good site in the dark of a very foreign country never quite feels like the best choice to make. Instead, we peruse our guidebook and zero in on a funky little motel called the Falaj Daris.

Along the road outside of Nizwa we find the motel — a single story building with the style of a Howard Johnson’s from the early 1970s that’s been reinterpreted for the Middle East. I hop out of the car and run inside to see if they have a room. With one step through the door I’m transported from date palms to Palm Desert — the lobby has a Christmas tree, blinking holiday lights are wrapped around the trunks of the trees next to the pool and the servers at the restaurant are dressed in tuxedos. This is not what I expected.

A smiling man behind the reception counter welcomes me with sweet enthusiasm. Yes, he has a room (and a nice one at that).

We check in, enjoy a great dinner by the pool and savor the diverse discoveries of another day in Oman.

***

This is the fifth post about touring Oman. You can read from the beginning starting here.

Next up… Road Trip Oman: Final Thoughts from Nizwa

26 comments

  1. Falaj Daris is also where we stayed, after our first experience with off-road driving (from Muscat, through spectacular Wadi Bani Awf). It was funky indeed, but I preferred the Shangri-La in Muscat … 😉
    They were putting up the Xmas tree while we were there!

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    1. Aw, thanks Alison! One more stop to go! Kind of sad to be wrapping up the Oman posts. It’s gotten under my skin… quite unexpectedly. Wanting to go back already. Hope you’re enjoying your day! 🙂

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  2. This part of Oman is one of the reasons why I really want to go there. Such a dramatic rugged landscape! And Jebel Misht looks mysteriously enchating — it reminds me of a place in a story book described as a hideout for warriors and their dragons. Something like that. 🙂 Amazing shots, Kelly!

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    1. YES, I’m pretty sure if you went to Jebel Misht you would find some warriors and dragons!! 🙂 Oman is kind of haunting in that way — so mysterious and deserted and historic and ancient. Can’t stop thinking about it. Always love hearing from you! Thanks! P.S. How many days until you leave?!?!!?

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  3. Lovely photographs, great to be tagging along on the ride. I am currently in the UAE. I was in Nizwa and Jebel Shams maybe 10 years ago, and I think I stayed in that same hotel, Falaj Daris. You have made me want to return to Oman, I love it there. Will you get to Salalah…supposed to be green there. Where to after Oman?

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    1. Thanks! Wow, funny that you also stayed at the Falaj Daris so long ago. It probably hasn’t changed much! One more post to go on Oman — Nizwa, and some final thoughts. I didn’t get to Salalah, unfortunately. Would love to go back and just camp around for a few months. Oman really got under my skin in a slow and subtle way. When my final Oman post is done, I’ll be posting about a trip I did in February to Myoko, Japan. Not too much to share (snowy photos) but I did see the snow monkeys outside Nagano. So monkey photos are coming up soon! 🙂 How do you like the UAE?

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      1. I googled Falaj Daris just to see if it was the same…and yes, I stayed there when it was brand new. On Trip Adviser, people are saying it was a disappointment, poor service and poor attitudes. Maybe it changed because when I was there, it was great all around. Yeah, Oman has a way of getting to you. Everything is subtle, but cool. I inadvertently picked up a hermit crab in Oman. We discovered him when he chewed his way out of the plastic bag full of shells. So we let him spend the night in the bidet.

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      2. I was amongst the ones who wasn’t very positive about this hotel (I’m Amboseli on TA). Oh well, we were there right after we spent 3 nights at the Shangri-La. No wonder it was a disappointment …

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      3. I’m sure it’s probably hit or miss, and agree it would have been hard to follow the Shangri-La. We had expected to camp that night, so we were arriving at Falaj Daris from the other end of the expectation spectrum. Just happy to have a real bed!

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      4. Apparently, everything really is relative. I had just come from a week of camping on top of Jebel Shams. So running water, a soft bed, and well…the bidet all seemed rather nice at the time.

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  4. The photos send shivers up my spine, knowing I’m seeing such antiquity. Beautiful! And the motel, Falaj Daris, sounds intriguing, if not campy; it really sounds like a scene out of a campy old time film…maybe having Bette Davis slink by in a long silk gown. I have to go click on the link now.

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  5. Oh, I just went to the link to see the hotel. I’m disappointed. I had envisioned an older looking hotel a la 1920’s, a little less sparkly and clean. But I’m glad you had a good night’s dinner and rest 🙂

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  6. rereading to refresh my mind and explored the images all over again. I love the Terrace Gardes and the stonework cobbled streets…just as great second time round.

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