This weekend I went on a fantastic trip with the rest of the NSLI-Y students and the YES Abroad students. We visited the Sharqiyah, or desert region of Oman, which is home to vast desert and dunes, a large Bedouin community and many, many camels.
We started the trip with a stop in Ibra, a village on the edge of the desert that is especially known for its old town that has existed since before the time of Prophet Muhammed. One of its noteworthy features is that there are two mosques – one facing towards Jerusalem and one facing towards Mecca. This is because before Muhammed’s arrival and the recognition of Mecca as a holy city, Jerusalem was seen as holy and that is where people directed their prayers. Another very exciting feature was the abundance of old doors. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet on the blog but I love Omani doors – there are so many different styles and designs and each one is so beautiful and unique. Ibra was almost overwhelming because of how many great doors there were and I didn’t have nearly enough time to photograph them all properly but I did my best.
Some of the ruins of Ibra
Me in front of an old door in Ibra.
Liz and I exploring one of the abandoned houses. We went up a staircase to discover there was no floor!
Close up of a door
Door close up, this one had beautiful decorations.
From Ibra we drove straight to Wahaiba Sands, a region that is named after the tribe that lives there, and reached our camp in the late afternoon. We had sometime to relax (aka climb the surrounding sand dunes just because they were there) before going “dune-bashing,” an excellent term that means driving over/through sand in a four-wheel drive car. Even the name sounds slightly precarious and my car did end up getting stuck in the sand a few times and we once had to be pulled out by another car. The tour guides also seemed to enjoy freaking us out by speeding and swerving through the sand, although I can’t say I blame them because I definitely would have done the same thing. We drove to the top of a dune just in time to watch the sun set below even more dunes that seemed to stretch on forever.
You can see the tracks left by the other cars
The full moon made it seem even more surreal
My host dad and I. He came on the trip as one of the tour guides!
A group photo of NSLI-Y including our Arabic teacher
A camel posing for us
There is something about the desert that always leaves me in awe; I think it is the sheer expanse of the landscape. It’s amazing to be able to look out at something and know that it goes on for what is, for all intents and purposes, forever.
We took advantage of the situation by trying to run up and down the dunes, which is much harder than it seems – particularly the running up part.
The next day we didn’t have to be ready until 8:00 am but we decided to get up to see the sunrise over the dunes. There’s just something about the sun – we can’t seem to stay away. So at 5:30 am we made our way back up the hill from where we had watched the sun go down just 12 hours prior, except this time we sat facing the opposite way and watched as everything went from dark to light instead of light to dark. Walking through the sand felt a little bit like being the first person to walk through fresh snow because you can see all of your tracks so clearly. I did find a lot of animal tracks though which was very cool because the second the sun starts to rise the animals disappear and you’ll never see them.
Sunrise over the dunes
Animal tracks at dawn
Before leaving the camp we took a brief break to ride some camels, which is always enjoyable. Leading the camels were two Bedouin boys who looked about 6 and 12 years old. I have to say it seems like a pretty great deal to live in the desert and hang out with your camels all day.
View from atop the camel
One of the Bedouin boys
Our next stop was at a Bedouin house where we met a Bedouin woman and her family. She taught us how to make traditional bracelets which was a lot of fun to learn and surprisingly easy. I think I might have to bring it to my summer camp – I think it could be a big trend!
The last stop of the trip was at Wadi Bani Khalid, which is one of the biggest and well-known wadis in Oman. It is for good reason because it is absolutely beautiful with emerald colored water and cliffs that are perfect for jumping from. There were a lot of tourists there and even a few girls wearing bikinis or other revealing bathing suits, which was obviously horrifying to our Omani minds. Being here I have realized though how hard it is to swim with a clothes on – I like to think of it as strength training because you have to work extra hard just to stay afloat. Before swimming a few of us hiked back into the wadi a bit where we found a few small waterfalls, fewer tourists and some amazing rock formations.
Wadi Bani Khalid
Kirby and I at Wadi Bani Khalid
Jumping into the wadi!
Jumping off the rocks was also a lot of fun and when I showed some initial reluctance to jump off the highest rock an Omani man passing by encouraged me with some words of wisdom. He said, “Don’t think, you will be afraid. Just go”. I couldn’t argue with that so I did exactly what he said and it worked out pretty well!
We arrived back in Muscat just in time for me to get home and finish the homework that I hadn’t yet done for class the next day. And so ends another great exploration of all the amazing things that Oman has to offer!