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Traveling from Oman to Oman

We awoke the next morning as the bright Omani sun began to heat up the interior of the car. It had been a hot night on that gravely beach, especially since we had decided to leave the windows closed for fear of being eaten by insects.

Despite the heat and some moderate sweating, I slept quite well, and as we stretched and took stock of our surroundings, we were already working on improvements to the Hotel Previa algorithm.

We began the day by taking a quick dip in the sea and drinking a few Red Bulls. The water was the same crystal clear blue that we had remembered, and as we swam, wearing the Dawn Patrols, I could look down and see the bottom, tens of feet below my kicking legs. Much refreshed by the dip, we loaded the bikes back into the Previa and set out in search of breakfast. We spotted a roadside Yemeni café, near a gas station and decided to check it out. It smelled good inside, so we sat down, ordering coffee, hummus, salads, and a large plate of fish.

The food was splendid, and the owners of the shop were quite entertained when, after paying the bill, we proceeded to unload four bicycles from our beloved Previa.

It was time to wheel this city, but for one reason or another, Jackson felt that parking a couple kilometers up, in the town proper, would be superior to parking here at the station. Fair enough, we thought. So Scott, Claudia, and I hopped on our Dahons and Jackson took the wheel of the Prev to meet us in town.

Having spent plenty of time in Indonesia, Hong Kong, and the UK, Jackson naturally pulled onto the left side of the road, where he proceeded to, as an unlicensed driver, take the rental car around a blind cliff-side turn directly into oncoming traffic. We screamed at him, but the windows were up.

We decided that either we were all in a world of trouble, or Jackson would figure it out and we would meet in town. Traffic was light here…maybe he would even make it all the way to town without seeing another car?

Regardless, there was only one choice at this point: wheeling.

And with that, we headed out onto the road. We met up with Jackson in central Khasab; he had come through the experience unscathed, and the four of us headed out to explore the city. The landscape was savagely gorgeous, with almost no plants, just rock, sand, and sea.

The buildings were mostly small, many of them crumbing, some of them lavishly expensive, and other than tea and hookah joints, all the businesses seemed to be import/export companies.

The city, of course, had many, many mosques, with a rather impressive central one in the middle of a great round-about.

We spotted a diving and sporting goods shop as we rode, and decided to buy snorkels. This shop also seemed to be focused more on import/export than retail, but they were happy to sell to us. The water had been so clear and beautiful that morning and the evening before, that we were sure that the underwater view would be to-die-for.  But once we saw how expensive masks and snorkels were at this shop, we decided to wheel on in search of a more affordable option. Sure enough, a few shops later we found it.

For about $6.00 a person, we were able to buy four complete mask and snorkel sets. Sure they were of terrible quality, but we needed them only for the next week or so. So we bought the suckers and strapped them onto the backs of our cycles.

From there we headed back to the beach for another dip. Unfortunately, due to some bizarre change in the currents, the water had become quite cloudy. So, throwing the snorkels into the back of the Previa next to the cycles, we headed out in search of more Oman. There would be more underwater opportunities in the future.

Unfortunately, in order to get more Oman, we actually had to drive back to the UAE. You see, dear reader, Musandam is disconnected from the rest of Oman, as a little autonomous chunk of what would logically be the UAE. Control of the Musandam Peninsula, however, gives Oman partial control over the Straits of Hormuz, which, it seems, is of some strategic interest to them.

So onward we went, back to the border we had crossed the day before, shelling out more cash and heading back into the UAE. We scrutinized the map, and it seemed there was a road that would allow us to move directly to the border, through the mountain range we had driven around the day before.  And so it was toward that mountain range that we drove.

A lack of signage made locating the exact road difficult, but we learned from a passing truck that athough no signs indicated it, we had indeed found the correct road.

We were somewhat surprised, however, when we asked the truck driver for his estimate of the time it would take to reach the second Omani border: four hours. This was more, even, than the time it had taken to drive all the way around the mountains the day before.

The reason for the estimate, however, became apparent as the road soon dissolved into a gravely mountain pass. Then it began to get steep. And soon we had exceeded the capabilities of our beloved Previa.

While the lifeless jagged landscape through which we drove was both beautiful, terrible, and strangely inviting, we decided that we needed to turn back, lest we end up stranded or worse, trapped in a snarl of twisted metal at the bottom of some savage lifeless valley.

We made sure, however, to take a few glam shots of the Previa, of course, in this dramatic landscape.

Back on honest bitumen, we tore on, around the mountains down the same roads on which we’d come, eventually turning toward the UAE.

We drove past a few giant oil-pumping and refining stations, some of which were emitting huge plumes of flame.

We stopped once again in Ras Al Khaima, this time for dinner. We wandered the streets for a while before selecting a Shawarma restaurant. The food was amazing, following our so far golden trend of truly succulent meals consisting always of hummus, salad and some meat dish, this time Shawarma.

We stopped again at a giant night market that sprang up out of the empty, pitch black desert. We wandered around looking for a  rest room, but instead found a sleeping encampment of nomads. I decided to pee elsewhere and we moved on.

Soon we found ourselves in the much larger city of Fujairah, capital of the Emerate of Fujairah, where it was time to eat some more. We spotted a giant LuLu’s hypermarket, and decided to indulge our fascination with foreign grocery stores.

Inside, we found some really fantastic products, which I would like to share with you now:

The selection was truly dizzying.

In the end we settled on a few of those sticky sweet Arabic pastries, the most well known (in America) of which is, of course, Baklava. Jackson also insisted on a certain Arabic ice cream he is quite fond of. It was all delightful.

I purchased a non-alcoholic beer (the only kind you can get in the UAE without some serious paperwork) . It was undrinkable.

And then we were at the border of Oman, once again. A very tall, dark, confident, and pleasantly exotic smelling man in a flowing white gown and intricate Omani hat stamped our passports, charged us another hearty fee, and together with the other three workers at the border warmly welcomed me to Oman, taking my hand and shaking it. So far the best border experience of the entire trip.

We drove on through the night, in search of a city known as Sohar, fabled to be the birthplace of none other than Sinbad the Sailor himself, a character I will not take the time to elaborate on in this post, but whose Wikipedia article is well worth a skim at least.

It took a few hours, and a wrong turn that lead us to a giant oil refinery was emitting multiple plumes of startlingly large flame, but we eventually arrived in Sohar. We immediately headed to the sketchiest outskirts to find a nice empty beach on which to set up the Hotel Previa. Instead we found a large public beach, next to a large public park. We were exhausted though and, trusting our luck, we just unloaded the bikes, locked them to a palm tree, and went to sleep.

This night, we let the engine run, with air conditioning on (albeit at the lowest setting). It was so humid on this beach that as we slept, the cool, air conditioned exterior of the windows began to collect condensation which ran in slow drops down the glass as we slept like babies.


Comments

  1. Mark/Dad | September 21st, 2010 | 10:35 am

    Glad nobody suffered from carbon monoxide poisioning (and that Jackson figured out in time what side of the road to drive on). The term “hypermarket” is a bit intimidating, but it is good it allows one to cook with confidence!

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