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Even Oman Has Scoundrels

We awoke on the beach in Al Sawadi that morning, once again to find that what had been rather deserted in the night had become somewhat of a gathering place now that the sun was up. We turned off the engine, noting that running the thing all night long had required less than an 8th of a tank (nice one Toyota), and climbed out of the car.

It was an interesting place in which we found ourselves. The beach we were on was flanked by a number of small structures selling snacks and drinks, a line of palm trees, and then the long beach on which we’d parked.

We looked out into the shimmering blue-green water and could see a number of interesting looking islands hovering perhaps a kilometer or a little less offshore.

The sun was shining and we had nowhere to be just then, so we began toying with the idea of snorkeling out to those islands. While discussing the notion, we cracked a few Red Bulls and opened up a couple of Core Defender bars, most generously donated by our AsiaWheeling nutritionist, Corey Rennell. Soon enough, with blood sugar on the rise, we decided it would be a good idea. So we left the bicycles locked to the palm tree where we had left them overnight,  grabbed our new snorkels, locked up the Previa, and headed into the water.

At first, the going was very tough. The snorkels and masks were by far the worst I had ever used in my life. However, a quick sprint back to the car provided a temporary work around. Jackson had brought with him a small tin of petroleum jelly. We used this to lubricate the seals of the masks and any leaky parts of the snorkels themselves. Then, with the tin  in my back pocket, for easy re-sealing in the field, we set out.

The view underwater was very strange. There seemed to be a thermocline just a couple feet below the surface, and as we swam the barrier between the two temperatures caused a sometimes nauseating and sometimes psychedelic pattern as it distorted the sea floor. Apart from the strange thermocline the view was quite good, and the concentration of lifeforms on the sea floor increased as we swam on toward the island.

When we finally reached the place, we found it to be quite hospitable. It was a low-lying rocky place, pockmarked with small caves, most of which showed signs of being recently occupied human nests. The water around the island was mostly coral reef, and offered a great opportunity to see the odd school of bright red fish, and a number of interestingly shaped bottom feeders. It was no Borneo, of course, but it was a delightful swim. Even given the generally leaky nature of the masks, I felt like I had gotten my six dollars worth on this one island.

After exploring the water, Claudia and I climbed one last time onto the rocky surface of the island. From there, we could see the tiny white form of the Previa, looking as pretty as ever, and even a cluster of dark shapes at the base of an adjacent palm tree. This was, of course, our beloved Speed TRs. They seemed to have, in typical fashion, attracted a small crowd of children we imagined right now to be ringing the bells and generally enjoying the majesty of the folding cycles.

We climbed back into the water, after re-lubing the masks, and began to swim toward the mainland. It seemed that since we had headed out here, somewhat of a current had manifested itself, so the swim was a bit longer and more diagonally oriented than that we had anticipated. One of the results of this was that we were all quite hungry by the time we arrived back at the Previa, having swam a few miles now on nothing more than half a raw food bar and a few cans of Red Bull each.

All hunger was, however, forgotten when we headed over to inspect the cycles. It seemed that the aforementioned crowd of children had in fact been pilfering crooks. All our lights and bells had been stripped, and all three of our locks showed signs of attempted cutting.

The  knaves! The rascals!

Those stinking urchins had taken not just the removable bells, but our beloved dynamo hub-powered front light stoo. I immediately began to pace and swear.

Claudia, being of cooler mind, headed out in search of the rapscallions. She began asking some of the families that were lounging and picnicking on the beach about the group of kids and where they had gone. She returned back with little info other than a dose of sage wisdom from an Omani grandmother. Claudia had been hesitant to call the cops to help us search for the kids, but an old woman had assured her:  little boys who steal turn into older boys who steal turn into men that steal. Fair enough, lady. But we had no time to be filing reports with the police of Oman as tall and confident as they may be. We had to keep wheeling.

So finally circling around in disbelief and despair, we climbed back into the Previa and pulled onto the road, weeping into our Red Bulls.

We hadn’t really eaten much that day, and feeling empty in more than a few ways, we wandered into a random Omani roadside café, which turned out to be a Turkish joint.  Before the food came, we sat devastated, pondering our loss. We were scattered and inarticulate, so the owners of the place just decided to order for us, trusting that we could afford it, and soon out came a truly savage feast.

It was exactly what we needed, and it turned out they were right on all counts.

We climbed back into the Previa and drove into the desert. The sun began to set, and the glorious orange and gold sunset reflected off the rocks and sand, doing its best to cheer us up.

As if to rub it in, our next waypoint was to be a night wheel. We pulled into the desert oasis town of Al Hamra. We parked the Previa in an open gravelly lot, and began to unfold the cycles as the last of the sun was slipping from the sky.  The city was greener than any we’d seen in all of the Gulf, with tree-lined streets, and little streams of diverted water running alongside each thoroughfare. We climbed onto the cycles and decided to wheel deeper.

As was the norm in Oman, the roads were smooth as silk, and traffic was slow and friendly. We wheeling further in, through the glow of street lights, which were spaced far enough apart that for a moment we would be riding blind, until our eyes adjusted to the darkness. Soon we made our way into the central part of town, where we called a waypoint to purchase water at the local general store.

From there we followed the sound of trickling water toward the central oasis. Soon we found ourselves at a large poorly lit bit of river. We hoisted our Dahons up onto a gravelly section of flat ground above the walkway on which we were wheeling, and headed in on foot. Not far down the oasis-side walkway, we discovered a group of old Omani men bathing in the night, and decided to give them privacy, turning around and heading back to a relatively unpopulated part of the oasis, to sit for a moment and listen to the water. With our oasis fix… fixed, we climbed back on the cycles, to wheel back to the Previa. We rode by the large central mosque, which was very dramatically lit from the ground. Onward from there, we stumbled upon a giant crowd of people, which was rather startling in what had seemed an otherwise largely deserted town.  The folks were all men, and had gathered around a small television set, watching cricket.

We wheeled slowly through, giving our best regards to a few who came up to greet us. As we wheeled through the crowd, we attracted quite a few strange looks, and even some hostile shouts, but none felt physically threatening, and soon we were once again on the silent back roads of this place, with only the sound of trickling water to accompany us.

We headed back to the main road and took it until the turn-off for the ancient Omani capital of Nizwa. It was rather late by the time we arrived, and it being an inland city, we headed for the outskirts, scanning the roadside for a place to set up Hotel Previa. Soon enough we were able to make it to the site of an under-construction suburban desert housing project that appeared to be deserted enough for our purposes. So we pulled over and unloaded the cycles, locking them to the rim of the car, and climbing into the Previa for another quick round of PodQuiz, then sweet slumber.


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