Seeing Sea Turtles?

One of the coolest unknown facts about Oman is that it is one of the largest nesting grounds in the world for sea turtles, behind only Australia and Florida. Hundreds of thousands of loggerheads, leatherbacks and green turtles crawl onto the beaches east of Sur to lay their eggs each year and in the summer it is possible to see hundreds of turtles on the same beach! Ras al Jinz, the name of the area where the turtle reserve is located happens to be the eastern most part of Oman which also makes it the eastern most part of the entire Arabian Peninsula and technically the entire Middle East.

I visited when my American family was here in mid-April. It was quite a challenge finding the place since it really is as far out as you can go and thus in the complete middle of nowhere. In order to spot the turtles you can either go on a night tour just after sunset where you are more likely to see females laying eggs or in the morning right before sunrise where it is more common to see babies hatching and making their treacherous first journey to the ocean. The turtles are carefully protected, documented and studied so visitors to the beaches are limited and require a guide, or more accurately a chaperone since when we went he didn’t really tell us any information or speak much at all and I think he was just there to make sure no one tried to take a turtle home.

My family and I went on the pre-dawn session, which required us waking up at 4 am in order to drive from our hotel and arrive in time for the 5 am departure.  Our group consisted of about 20 people including an adorable French family that we continued to run into throughout the day. The reserve center runs tours every day of the year but the optimal time to see turtles is in the summer, on a night with no moon. We went on a night with a full moon and in the spring so not the best season but it was still a lot of fun.

We didn’t see any grown turtles but we did see a handful of babies hatching and then running towards the ocean. It was so cool to see them pop up from under the sand and waddle around confusedly for a while before figuring out which direction the water was.

We watched the turtles running on the beach as the sun rose on the East and the moon set on the West. And I could almost see India on the other side of the ocean!

Nizwa and Jebel Shems

Up until now I had only experienced life in Muscat but last weekend I got a chance to visit Nizwa, the old capitol of Oman and Jebel Shems, the tallest mountain in the country.

I went with AMIDEAST and the other exchange students, which was a lot of fun, they’re always entertaining and we’ve really grown into a close-knit group.

Nizwa is one of the oldest cities in Oman and is most famous for its fort, which dates back to the 1600s and is one of Oman’s most visited attractions. It stands today as a symbol of the influence ancient Oman held in the region and is also very impressive in its architecture, with numerous defense mechanisms such as trapdoors, fake floors and channels for pouring hot date oil on potential intruders. We took a tour of the fort and also visited the souq or marketplace where you can find traditional Omani handicrafts, silver work and jewelry, all for a pretty good price as long as you make sure to bargain.

View from the top of Nizwa fort

View from the top of Nizwa fort

Liz and I at Nizwa fort

Liz and I at Nizwa fort

The inside of the fort. The stairs lead up to a lookout point

The inside of the fort. The stairs lead up to a lookout point

We then drove to Jebel Shems (meaning “sun mountain”), which at 10,000 feet is the tallest mountain in Oman. We drove to the top and were able to walk right up to the edge of the cliff, something that definitely would not be allowed in the U.S.  We took advantage of the lack of regulation, walking along the edge to get better views and making our chaperones  nervous.

The overlook at Jebel Shems

The overlook at Jebel Shems

We spent the night at a campsite nearby and before dinner a few of us hiked up a nearby hill where we saw an amazing sunset. It was surprisingly cold at the top of the mountain, and relative to Oman’s usual temperature it was absolutely freezing. In the evening it also started raining which was a bit of a shock. I had never been so excited to see 40 degrees and raining!

The next day we visited a wadi which is the Arabic word for a valley or riverbed with a small amount of water, or one that only has water during heavy rains. It was a bit scary at first because we drove off the road and straight into an unmarked canyon but after about 10 minutes of bumping over the rocks we pulled up to a clearing with a pool of clear water. We spent a lot of time exploring the wadi; it was really beautiful with tons of greenery and we even spotted a water snake. We were slightly unprepared for wildlife adventuring and I think our Omani guides were amused to see 14 American teenage girls struggling through the water in maxi skirts and long sleeves.

The wadi

The wadi

Rachel, Kirby and I at a lookout point on our way to the wadi

Rachel, Kirby and I at a lookout point on our way to the wadi

On our way to the wadi

On our way to the wadi

From the wadi we headed back to Muscat and it was back to school and the routine of city life.

I really enjoyed getting to see a different side of Oman over the weekedn. Muscat is a great place but it isn’t always a great representation of what the rest of the country looks like. I loved seeing the mountains and small villages during our drive and it gave me a better understanding of the country as a whole.