Road Trip Oman: Nizwa and Final Thoughts


We arrived in Nizwa last night after a long day exploring Jebel Shams and the aged village of Misfat Al Abriyeen. Today is our last full day in Oman. We start early, meandering the narrow streets surrounding downtown Nizwa. Crumbling stone walls and newly constructed homes co-exist amidst an unlikely landscape of palm trees. As we’ve seen over the past 10 days, life in Oman is an illustration of extremes — the bounty of the ocean next to the vacancy of the desert; the stark mountains next to the lush palm groves of the wadis. There is hardly any middle ground. Even the middle of the day is a barren stretch of time deserted by everything but the sun.

We look for a place to get coffee — a comfort of home in a foreign town. But as we walk around Nizwa, we’re reminded again that Oman exists for itself and not for its visitors. Not that it’s unfriendly — we’ve been welcomed and treated well everywhere we’ve been. But it’s what we don’t find here in Nizwa — cafés full of tourists, menus in four languages, guides selling tours, vendors competing for attention — that shows Oman’s success at maintaining its authenticity. Even though a cappuccino would be really nice right now, it’s far nicer to find a place holding onto its identity, sharing itself but not giving itself away. No coffee, no problem. I think it’s my own expectation that’s misplaced here. In Oman, coffee is meant to be shared among people rather than bought for oneself.

We come to the entrance of Nizwa Fort, built in the middle of the 17th century and recently restored in the 1980s. Many centuries ago Nizwa was Oman’s capital, located at the crossroads of caravan routes. The fort was built to protect the city and house its leaders. Muscat has since become Oman’s center of government and trade but Nizwa remains significant for its character and history.

The fort is a surprising maze of staircases and rooms, including a tiny prison — a stuffy, windowless den. We eventually find our way to the central tower. Evidence of a brutal war tactic remains. Above each wooden door to the tower there’s a hole where boiling oil or date syrup could be poured over incoming enemies.

The tower itself measures 45 meters in diameter. We climb one of the side staircases to a panoramic view of Nizwa and the surrounding mountains.

The souk and streets around the fort hold the bounty of Nizwa — beautiful clay pots, brass tea pots, khanjars so emblematic of Oman and, of course, everything related to frankincense — from burners to resin. The Boswellia tree, native to Oman and a few countries nearby, emits sap when the bark is “striped”. This tree sap hardens into resin and carries a distinct aroma. The resin can be burned, distilled into oil and even eaten (with some interesting cancer- and depression-fighting capabilities of note). When I arrived in Oman I had never smelled frankincense but it has infused our time here like a trail through a forest. Whether it’s burning in a diffuser or wafting from the dishdasha of someone passing by, the scent is ever present and irresistible.



I’ve already bought some frankincense accessories to take home, but I buy another burner as we make one last walk through the souk. We pass men sitting together on the ground playing a board game, the fruit and vegetable market beats a slow pulse nearby, and life prepares to shut down for the afternoon.

We reluctantly make our way to the car knowing our time in Oman is coming to an end. We pass a road sign warning us of camel crossings as we begin the drive back to Muscat. Looking out the window as Oman’s exotic landscape passes me by, I am more intrigued now than when I arrived 10 days ago.

There is something enchanting about this country — a beauty revealed slowly and quietly over time. Take any part of Oman by itself — like the hot, empty desert — and it most certainly wouldn’t be so memorable. But the sum of its parts — that same desert with its warmth, sunset, rustic camp, dinner by candlelight, sweet dates, blissful bed, evening silence, morning fog, impossibly fine sand and genuine hospitality — creates an unforgettable sensory experience. This trip has been a series of sensory experiences. Travel at its best. The elusive feeling of discovery has returned.

Here’s a look back at my favorite memories of Oman. May my home forever smell of frankincense.

This is the final post in my series about Oman. The series begins here.

Miscellaneous Road Trip

Road Trip Oman: Peaks and Valleys Near Jebel Shams


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.


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

Miscellaneous Road Trip

Road Trip Oman: Secluded Luxury at Jabal Akhdar


After two nights of wild camping and one night in the desert of Wahiba Sands, we’re a little rough around the edges. The Pajero is covered in dust and so are we. I’m looking forward to getting to the Alila Jabal Akhdar where I can wash the sand off my feet, moisturize and retreat from the dryness of Oman’s environment.

We set off down the highway toward Nizwa, but decide to pull over to check the map and make sure we’re heading in the right direction. J turns the car onto a side road and stops. As I look at the map I notice something moving in my peripheral vision. Two men are quickly approaching our car — a young guy and a very old guy walking with a cane. The young guy comes to the driver’s side and the old guy comes to the passenger door behind me. They open the doors of the Pajero just as we realize what’s happening.

Omanis love to carpool. It’s something we’ve seen everywhere we’ve been so far — people standing on the side of the road waiting for a driver or taxi going in the same direction to pull over and give them a ride. It’s pretty amazing to see carpooling so widely practiced, and embraced without fear of who is offering the ride. Even as tourists, we seem to be acceptable carpool candidates. The old guy eyes our mountain of camping gear occupying the entire back half of the car and understands we have no room for him so he shuts the door and walks off.

The younger guy, however, pushes as much as he can out of the way and climbs on top of the gear. This is all done with a smile and a universally understood point of his hand to drive forward. He speaks very little English so we have no idea where he wants to go, other than forward. We have no choice but to take some time and get this guy where he needs to go, so we laugh and start driving. A mile down the road he points to his house where he wants to be dropped off. We pull over as he silently invites us, putting his hand to his mouth, to come in and eat lunch. Were it not for our eagerness to get to the hotel, we might have taken him up on it.


Back on the highway, we make our way to the Saiq Plateau where the hotel is located. We know we’re in for a fun drive when we’re stopped at the bottom of the plateau to check in with the police and show them we have a four-wheel drive (it’s 75f degrees with zero chance of snow). We’re allowed through the check point and begin the extreme uphill climb to the hotel while  noticing the unique geology of the mountains around us. They jut up from the edge of the desert, revealing angled sedimentary layers deposited and thrust upward over millions of years. The westerly view is gorgeous, steep, rough, barren.


There is no signage along the road but, with some help from people in a local village, we finally arrive at the Alila Jabal Akhdar. True to our style, we pull into this five-star luxury oasis in our dusty hiking clothes with a car packed full of camping equipment. They smile and welcome us. This is part of the reason we camp! It makes luxury more affordable.

We enter the reception area and check in. The manager, Tariq, gives us a personal introduction to the hotel as we walk out to the terrace overlooking the canyon.

The breathtaking view extends across the pool and down into the canyon. We look west, awe-struck, as Tariq explains that the entire hotel was constructed with stone from the site. The architectural style shows characteristics of cubism, although it may be less a design influence and more a function of constructing the hotel’s many components in an efficient way. Regardless, the style fits the location and the rustic finishes unify the site into a spectacular retreat at the edge of the canyon.

The Alila’s interior — a neutral palette of dark woods, white walls, limestone and contemporary furnishings — feels elegantly Omani. Occasional hits of color and personality — like the rose-patterned ironwork behind the reception area — add another layer of texture to bring everything to life. The feeling is rich in its simplicity, made richer with frankincense burning at the front entrance, a bowl of dates, and Nasir serving Omani coffee upon arrival.

Our Ridge View Suite is the farthest cottage from the main building of the hotel, located on a point overlooking the canyon. Silence is the only thing we hear from our balcony. We unpack and decide immediately to extend our stay to two nights. This kind of secluded luxury doesn’t come along very often. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve wanted to write about a hotel on my blog but this place begs for discovery when exploring Oman. And this is one of the few places we’ve stayed where staff members truly enhance our stay with their genuine friendliness and impeccable service. Many of them are here from Bali to help throughout the opening of this property (May, 2014).

We spend the next 48 hours staring off into the canyon, alternating between hot and cold pools, and soaking up every last bit of incredible Omani hospitality, cuisine and style. And at the end of both days, the sun drops out of view and the horizon glows bright red with the hue of Wahiba Sands.


Jebel Shams… you’ll just have to wait until we’re done here.


No filter, no color correction, all natural.


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

Next up… Road Trip Oman: Jebel Shams

Miscellaneous Road Trip

Road Trip Oman: Foray Into the Desert

We wake up on the beach in Ras Al Hadd, having met a large yellow fin tuna and having enjoyed a peaceful night camping next to the ocean. The Omani sun burns bright white after closing out yesterday with a blaze of pink over the dark blue ocean. We make coffee and pack up the tent while noticing the paw prints and thievery of a small army of stray cats that came calling late in the night.

We drive from Sur toward Wadi Bani Khalid and Wahiba Sands. The coastal landscape changes to a bleak but mountainous panorama of blues and grays — practically a moonscape with minimal vegetation and only an occasional goat or camel. The road climbs up and finally transitions into canyonland with a lush border of date palms along each side.

We park the Pajero and venture by foot into Wadi Bani Khalid, one of Oman’s most popular wadis. We could be in Utah or Arizona — the colors and the canyon are reminiscent of Zion and Havasupai — were it not for the young boy hiking with us in his kuma, leading the way to Moqal Cave. We reach the entrance and peek inside, but the prospect of crawling around in the dark is overshadowed by our attraction to the numerous swimming holes dotting the canyon. We hike back to the water and stop for a swim in Bani Khalid’s crystal clear water.

We’re once again racing against the Omani afternoon, knowing we need to get to our next destination before sundown. We pack up and hike out of the canyon, and get on the road to Safari Desert Camp in Wahiba Sands. It’s 2:00 p.m. so we know the camp’s main office in Bidiyah is closed for the afternoon. Luckily, I’ve got a map — printed from the camp’s website and beautiful in its simplicity. Looks like a few left and right turns, and then 20 kilometers farther into the desert and… we’re there! Right?


We make those left and right turns and come to the literal end of the road. As we stop, gobsmacked at the adventure we’re about to embark on with 20 kilometers to go, I vaguely recall the brief but important words of the camp’s booking agent: “Requires a four wheel drive. Hope you have!”

Yes, we do have, but something tells me we might need a little more than just a four wheel drive. So, this is the road? For 20 kilometers? Shake it off. This is OMAN. I guess if we need help we can ask a Bedouin for a camel ride to the nearest outpost.

We push the gas and drive forward into the frontier of Wahiba Sands. The Pajero, as skittish as we are, reacts with squirrely tires and a slight tendency to steer left. But after a kilometer, we settle into the routine and begin to enjoy the wilderness of the desert — a new experience for us.

And then, like a video game, the terrain becomes more difficult. Small hills appear, with deep sand tracks indicating the struggle and success of people who have come before us. We start to understand the importance of speed — going as fast as we can bear, into ruts of shifting earth, tail end sliding left and right, with a hope and a prayer that we’ll make it to the next crest.

And then… the Mount Everest of dunes appears before us novice drivers of the desert. We stop — mouths agape — look at each other and laugh at the audacity of what lies ahead. Not only is this the hill of all hills, but the tracks lead left AND right, leaving us with no idea which way to go. It’s nearly 4:00 p.m. so turning around won’t do us much good. J revs the gas and we decide to give it a go, slightly aghast and slightly exhilarated by what we’re dealing with.

We make it halfway up before the tires on the left side sink in and force us to stop. We hop out and hike up the hill, deciding we’ll try again and follow the tracks to the right. J backs down the hill and guns it a second time while I take photos of our dilemma. No go — stuck again.

Divine intervention -- help from a couple of locals

Divine intervention — help from a couple of locals

J backs down the hill again, this time continuing halfway up the next hill so he can get a good run at it. He’s just about to hit the gas when a truck comes barreling over the crest of the hill and down toward where he’s parked. At this point I realize the potential of the situation we’re in. I’m on the hillside, he’s in the car alone a fair distance away from me, and all I can do is hope the people who have stopped have good intentions because there is nowhere to run and nothing we can do.

The passenger of the vehicle gets out of the car and crouches down next to the front tire of our Pajero. Exhale. Divine intervention has arrived — these people are here to help us. Yay! They deflate our tires and then show us how it’s done, powering straight up the hill in a sandy blaze of glory. As luck would have it, one of these men is Ali Salem, owner of Safari Desert Camp. He asks if we have ventured toward the camp without an escort from the office. When we say yes, his reply is simple: “Brave.”

Full petrol

Full petrol

J bravely tries the hill a third time and gets stuck again, and the men reiterate the need for full gas — pedal to the metal — to get to the top. A fourth time gets the Pajero nearly there, and with one last right-turn push from just below the crest, J finally conquers the mountain as I watch and take pictures. Good job, honey! No pressure!

The owner and his passenger tell us to follow them, and leave us in a trail of dust because we’re in Oman and that’s how they do it here.


Arrival at Safari Desert Camp

We finally arrive at Safari Desert Camp as the sun gives everything a warm glow, shifting the sand from taupe to rust. We’re greeted with Omani coffee and dates, and decide a sunset camel ride is the perfect way to decompress after our foray into the desert.

The camp is perfectly sparse, with a variety of small huts sprinkled around a large dining hall. We’re staying in a yurt/hut with a huge open-air bathroom. We’re elated to learn that just seven people will be staying here tonight. We chose this camp hoping it wouldn’t be a manufactured desert experience over-run with tourists. It is nothing of the sort. Ali Salem has created an authentic experience — quiet and basic, just as the desert should be, with no electricity except for a generator used for cooking.

Dinner at dusk

Dinner at dusk

The dining hall glows with candlelight and dinner is a beautiful buffet of covered dishes — grilled meats, fresh baked breads and homemade desserts. We are far away from anything familiar, and completely enthralled by the magic of a starry night in the desert. After dinner, we climb into the netted bed — one of the most comfortable of our entire trip — and sink into the eerie sensory deprivation of desert silence and darkness.

Morning reveals a chalky landscape with a drape of fog extending along the dunes. It is surprisingly cold until the sun gets high enough to warm the desert floor around the camp. We visit the camels nearby and drag the sleds up a dune for a few slides down the hill. We spend an hour getting to know Mohammed, the reception manager, who comes from India but much prefers the isolation of the desert in Oman.

We say goodbye and drive confidently back toward civilization, knowing there’s no dune we can’t conquer now. We arrive back at the edge of the pavement — a visceral boundary between one lifestyle and another. J stops the car and in his typical, lovable, selfless way, pulls out the ring Frisbee he’s been carrying in his backpack. Kids instantly appear from nowhere — beautiful, curious, shy, competitive — and pretty soon they’re all chasing after the latest greatest toy to appear in Bidiyah, as we get back in the Pajero and drive on to the Saiq Plateau.


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

Next up… Road Trip Oman: Secluded Luxury at Jabal Akhdar

Road Trip

Road Trip Oman: Wild and Wadi Camping

Wadi Tiwi

Wadi Tiwi

After relaxing into Oman at a resort on the coast, it’s finally time for us to leave the comfort of Muscat and set out on our road trip. Oman’s geography makes road tripping an enticing way to see the country, with many of its notable features reachable only by four wheel drive. In addition, Oman offers up all of its terrain for “wild camping” – we are welcome to pitch our tent anywhere we like, so long as we’re not on anyone’s private property. I presume this liberal and welcoming attitude is a product of the Bedouin lifestyle that has existed in Oman for centuries. Land here isn’t fenced and defined – rather it’s open for wandering and camping, to whomever or whatever passes through or stops to rest.

This principle is illustrated immediately upon driving out of Muscat. Countless goats, and even a few camels and donkeys, roam freely over the landscape – even along the edge of the highway. We realize keeping our eyes on the road is especially important in Oman. Regardless of our caution, cars rocket past us on the highway. Smooth roads and insanely cheap petrol have made driving fast de rigueur.

We cruise along in the slow lane, heading south toward Sur. We’ve heard good things about Wadi Shab and Wadi Tiwi so we intend to find a place to camp for the night and hike into one of the wadis tomorrow. A wadi is a watercourse — sometimes dry, sometimes holding water, and never a good place to be when rain falls. Luck is with us today and December skies are clear.

We arrive at Tiwi in the afternoon. This sleepy seaside village is practically in a coma since everything in Oman shuts down between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. Within 20 minutes we’ve seen the town and move toward the shore to survey our wild camping options. Unfortunately, the beach runs adjacent to the highway with enough noise and exposure to make us doubt we’ll enjoy camping here for our first night. We decide to drive into Wadi Tiwi and explore other options.

Tiwi greets us with a dirt road and a deep canyon and we’re immediately intrigued. We pass a series of small villages and the road narrows to a skinny lane. Date palms fill the canyon, full and green against the sheer, weathered walls. We shift into four wheel drive and climb the road to a small plateau above the villages – camping paradise found.

We unpack, pour some wine, put on our warm clothes and toast to our first night of wild camping in Oman. Not bad for not having much of a plan! But that’s the fun of this vacation — we can make it up as we go along.

We wake up in the morning to sunlight hitting the canyon walls, thankful for an uneventful night. But I take a walk with my morning coffee and begin to suspect we’ve camped in the village cemetery. Oblong circles of stones, about the length of a person and marked with one prominent stone standing upright, cover the ground next to our tent. Hmmmm.

We pack up our camp and drive further into the canyon until we’re too scared to push the Pajero any farther uphill. We set out on foot and discover another small village built into the hillside. The trail skirts the canyon wall offering spectacular views of the nearly-dry riverbed.

We descend to the river, noticing the well-constructed irrigation channel serving the village, and encounter several workers who are reinforcing the hiking trail. One of them asks where we’re from. I reply that we’re from the U.S. and then ask where he’s from.

He is thrilled that I know where he’s from.

The man directing the trail work asks if we’d like some coffee. A group of Omani men lounges nearby, filling their cups and talking in Arabic. We feel so foreign – especially me, as a woman, dressed in western hiking gear without anything covering my head, amidst men who are clearly my elders. We hesitate to answer, realizing in the moment that it’s so much easier to say no than it is to say yes. But we say yes, not wanting to refuse this gesture of goodwill. We kick off our shoes, take a seat and are offered Omani coffee, a dish filled with dates (and swarming with flies) and, from what little we can understand, talk of Pakistan.

After finishing our coffee and thanking our hosts, we hike back to the Pajero, stopping along the way for a quick swim in the clear water of the riverbed. It’s midday and we need to move on to Sur and find our next campsite.

The Gulf of Oman glows sapphire blue next to the chalky landscape of the coast. We arrive in Sur at 2:00 p.m., once again greeted by the silence of an Omani afternoon. We briefly explore the area, but our need to find camping before dusk pushes us on to Ras Al Jinz. We hope to see nesting turtles here, but an employee of the reserve tells us the season is just about over and there is no camping allowed.

We drive farther toward the coast and arrive at Ras Al Hadd. The wild camping options are looking favorable with two beaches to choose from – somewhat busy and deserted. We choose the latter, just the two of us setting up camp as a dhow cruises by and the sun drops toward the western mountains.

The view from our first beach campsite

The view from our first beach campsite

With the tent up and a drink almost in my hand, I look to my right. I see a white SUV driving onto the beach, coming full speed directly at us. In the fifteen seconds it takes to reach us, I think about all the possibilities of this situation. We can only hope, as we would in any country, that whoever is coming at us with such urgency has a good reason, as well as good intentions.

The male driver turns the car to his right, bringing us face to face with him, leaning out the driver’s side window.

“Hello. I am a guide.”
“I just came to tell you this beach is closed. You cannot camp here.”
J and I exchange glances.
“If you pack up your camping gear I will show you where you can camp. You can follow me.”
Inhale. More exchanged glances and thoughts, reading each other’s mind. Follow him? Is that a good idea? Should we trust what he’s telling us? Shit! This is such a perfect campsite!
“Okay. Thank you. We’ll pack up and follow you,” I reply.

We say this knowing there’s only one other potential beach camping option and that we can stop following him if we want to. We cram the Pajero with our gear and try to leave the beach and get stuck in the sand in the process.

“Please. Will you allow me to help you?” he asks.
We exchange glances again.
“Sure, thank you.”

He gets in the Pajero, confidently turns the wheel, pushes the gas with the finesse of a race car driver and takes the Pajero right out of the deep sand. Omanis make it look so easy.

We drive five minutes down the road and he brings us to the busier beach where locals are enjoying a beautiful Thursday afternoon.

“You can camp here. It’s a good place. Just don’t go closer to the water. There may be turtles nesting.”

Exhale. Breathe. Please pardon us for expecting the worst, and thank you very much for helping us find a good place to sleep tonight.

We set up camp for the second time and talk about these chance encounters that happen every time we travel, near and far from home. We’re grateful this man came to help us with good intentions, and we’re happy we enjoyed the genuine hospitality of the men we encountered in Wadi Tiwi.

We start to relax and think about what to make for dinner when a pick-up truck comes driving across the sand, straight at our campsite. Again?!

The driver stops and shouts through the passenger window.

“Hello! Where are you from? I want to show you something. Come over to my vehicle!”
“You want us to get in your vehicle?” We are, again, a little bit freaked out.
“No, just come look!”

He jumps out of the truck and motions us to look inside the bed. We walk over to the truck and cautiously peek into the bed, having no idea what to expect.

Here lies a massive yellow-fin tuna.

“I just caught it! I’m going to sell it at the market!”



This is the second post about touring Oman. You can read the first post here.

Next up… Road Trip Oman: Foray Into the Desert

Miscellaneous Road Trip

Road Trip Oman: Arrival in Muscat


My interest in traveling to Oman started with a bicycling race and some mountains — common features of a lot of my travels. It was 2010, winter in Lake Tahoe, and J and I were watching the first Tour of Oman on television. The peloton snaked along the route with its usual gracefulness, but the backdrop of the race featured unusually stark mountains, a pristine coastline and a series of towns and villages painted in infinite shades of white. I looked up Oman in Geographica’s World Reference (an excellent source which still holds an important place on our antiquated bookshelf), noted Oman’s location on the Arabian Peninsula, and set Oman to simmer in the back of my mind.

Fast-forward five years and here we are in Muscat. Since moving abroad, Oman’s proximity has enabled us to get here sooner than we expected – it’s just eight hours from Singapore, through Colombo or Dubai. But beyond its proximity, everything we’ve read and heard over the years has consistently portrayed the country as a welcoming, peaceful and fascinating place to visit, with a concerted interest in preserving both its cultural heritage and its environment.

First impressions confirm all of the above to be true. Before setting out on our road trip, we spend the first two nights in deep relaxation at a resort along the coast outside of Muscat. The view over afternoon coffees at the Al Bustan Palace (the next bay over) foreshadows what we’ll be seeing throughout our trip — barren but dramatically formed mountains that quash our limited knowledge of geology. I soon find myself researching the Semail Ophiolite (more on that later) and struggling to comprehend 800 million years of tectonic and volcanic events.


At dusk, we venture into Old Muscat for a few hours to explore the souk with its narrow alleys selling gold jewelry, frankincense and kumas. I admire the men’s dishdashas – simple white robes worn every day, often smelling of frankincense and always projecting an indelible air of elegance. What marvelous garments for hot weather.

Omani manscaping

J stops for a shave at one of the many barbers around the souk and we’re soon introduced to the meticulous rituals of Omani manscaping. This is Next Level Grooming, as proven by the guy next to J who is having his mustache threaded. Within 10 minutes, J’s beard transforms from a western mess to a sculpted garden reminiscent of the Sultan of Oman himself (go ahead, you know you want to Google image him — he’s beautiful and perfectly groomed at age 74). The Omanis have turned a simple shave into an art form.

The next morning we visit the fish market, a bustle of activity and a potent glimpse at daily life in Oman. We follow this with a walk through the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and I am as awed by its beauty as I am by St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The Grand Mosque is home to the world’s second largest handmade carpet, as well as a 14-meter, 8.5-ton chandelier in the prayer hall made of 600,000 Swarovski crystals. I can say with honesty that the chandelier is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

Our trip to Oman has started splendidly and in the past two days we’ve settled in and gotten a sense of what to expect in the coming week. People have been friendly, but what’s absent is the profuse, sometimes insincere, pandering to tourists that’s often found (and expected by some) in overly-traveled destinations. And I don’t miss it. People here acknowledge our presence and welcome us, but they are clearly not dependent on us being here. Life goes on in Oman, with or without us tourists, and it’s refreshing to find it this way.

On our third afternoon in Muscat, we take a taxi to pick up our rental car. Thankfully, our taxi driver helps us sort out some considerable confusion about where it’s located and we finally arrive at a house in a quaint residential neighborhood. An Omani man is waiting with the car and a Filipino woman is waiting with our rented camping gear – tent, sleeping bags, stove, chairs, cooler and all. Within an hour we’re on the highway back to the hotel, this time in the driver’s seat, excited to begin our road trip the next morning in our awesome, nearly-new Mitsubishi Pajero. Good thing it’s a four-wheel drive.


Next up… Road Trip Oman: Wild and Wadi Camping

P.S. for cycling fans… the winner of the 2010 Tour of Oman was the charismatic Fabian Cancellara.

Miscellaneous Road Trip