Some days are just a lot more fun than other days. Today was one of them.
Joseph took the day off work (I think it will increase his current workload by doing so – which lately, has been mounting – but it was great to have a whole day together) and we all went dune bashing.
Carrie had gone online and hired a six passenger van with an English speaking driver to take us to the desert. Ahmed arrived with a brand new Land Cruiser at 8 am. The two seats in the back had no seat belts so he said we would not be able to go dune bashing. This was a bit of a downer as that was the main point of the excursion, but we took it in stride as we would have an all day adventure to the dunes. Trish and John, who were riding on fold down seats in the back, said they were willing to hold on tight if we could ride the dunes. Trish even offered to sign a waiver.
It was a three hour drive to the Sharqiyyah Dunes near Bidiyyah. For 24 km of the ride we drove through the Hajar mountains. The government is currently working on a new four lane road through the mountains that will cut this distance to 10 km. The peaks are desolate rocks covered with loose rocks and an occasional scrub brush. The mountains are home to foxes, some antelope and a few other small critters.
Our driver Ahmed was a great guy and had a wonderful sense of humour. He spoke excellent English and knew much about the areas we were passing through. He owns his own tour company and rental car company and freelances as a guide for other tours. He received many phone calls on our drive (hands free Bluetooth thank goodness as we were now riding with one of the crazy Omani drivers) and switched easily between Arabic and English depending on the caller. He previously owned a sport bike but his mother said he rode too fast so he swapped to a Honda Goldwing. He also has a two-seater quad and drives a Porsche sports car (obviously he traded the two-wheel speeding for the four-wheel variety). Needless to say Ahmed and Trish got along famously. By the end of the day they had a dinner date for the evening to go to his riders club. That’s my girl.
Just before we arrived at Bidiyyah he asked us if we wanted to do mild or extreme dune bashing. (Apparently he was teasing us about the seat belt issue.) After hearing a chorus of “Extreme” from the back seats he pulled into an auto shop and had air taken out of the tires so the vehicle could more easily navigate the dunes.
A short distance from Biddiyyah a golden-red wall of dunes rose up in front of us. Ahmid shifted down and hit the gas. We flew over the top of a dune and then slid sideways down a steep slope. This was our introduction to Omani dune bashing. What a blast! We spent over an hour riding around in the desert, then stopped on the peak of a dune for a photo stop. Below us at the base of the 45 degree dune was a Bedouin camp. This was our destination. I Photoshopped a ‘pencil’ line to give you a little bit better idea of the angles we were traversing. (I hope)
You can see the path we took across this dune – most of which was done by sliding sideways while going forward. We stopped at the peak of a dune for an overlook of the desert. You could see a moderate-size community off in the distance and set up below us was a small Bedouin camp that, after our photo taking was finished, we went down to visit Inside the large stick and palm-frond ‘house’ the sand was covered with various sizes and colors of rugs, there were cushions and hangings around the perimeter and our hostess had set up coffee and dates for us. Ahmed instructed us on the proper etiquette for having coffee in a Bedouin house. (Wash your fingers before eating the dates, then wash them again before consuming no more than three small cups half full of cardamon coffee. It is bad manners to drink more than three cups.) After our dates and coffee we checked out some of the craft items and cloths available for purchase. Ahmed had told us that there was a lady who would do henna tattoos if anyone wanted one. This was something on Trish’s to-do-list so the lady was asked to come over and Ahmed gifted Trish with a Henna tattoo. First, however, she had to be draped like an Arabian lady.We piled back into the van and made our way to Wadi Bani Khalid, a popular local and tourist oasis. There is water here all the time; even in the heat of the summer months. It was easy to see why people came here, it is a beautiful and tranquil spot. After we ate a delicious buffet lunch Trish and Carrie took a swim. In the water there are fish ranging from an inch or so to about 5 inches long that like to nibble the dead skin off your feet. It is a very ticklish, and somewhat freaky sensation. The ride back to Muscat took about three hours (the light of the setting sun on the mountains produced a lovely pinkish hue) and we arrived at the villa at just after 6 pm, two hours later than a ‘normal’ tour schedule. Ahmed was in no rush and neither were we. We gave him a good tip and he came back at 8 to pick up Trish for their date. Joseph, Carrie, John and I played a game of Agricola and then we went to bed. Considering we were sitting in a vehicle the majority of the day we were all exhausted.