Wednesday, January 14, 2009

the Wahiba Sands

If you don't like sand or sunsets, I'd advise you to click somewhere else for today. 'Cause that's all you're going to get.

We love sand and sunsets so we found ourselves having a very special day into evening last week.

The desert floor with the Wahiba Sands/Dunes rising in the distance. This stretch of sandy sea measures 200km by 100km. Not a place you want to be stuck in during the summer when it's 50C (I forgot to convert to F - around 120 - 125 I think). Here we are driving up to the Sands after the village pit-stop to let air out of the tires. Everyone driving into the dunes stops along this road at the entry point and has the tire pressure decreased in order to drive in the thick sand. Makes sense. Little did we know yet how much 'driving' we'd be doing.

To remind - we are being driven around by our Omani guide, Salah, in a Toyota 4wd Land Cruiser. DO NOT go into the desert without these essential items: Salah and the Land Cruiser! Update: Water is also essential - definitely a good idea :).

Camels and a Bedouin in his truck. The girls kept saying "look a camel!" "look - another camel" "camel!" OK, enough! - it's like pointing out cows in Switzerland or corn in Iowa - YES, there are camels in the Desert of Oman. Mind you - expensive camels - do not hit one or it's Bedouin owner will expect repayment which can be as high as $120k USD.

Salah told us the best cars for the Bedouin are Toyota's. We read that a Bedouin will choose his truck based on whether his camel can sit in it. I kid you not - we saw a camel sitting down (and strapped for safety) in the back of a Toyota Forerunner on the highway! We were on the road and thus, no picture - too bad. And re: Toyota - they pretty much have a monopoly on the auto market there.

If you aren't familiar, the Bedouin people are those who essentially live in the desert/dunes, raise camels, live in tents/date palm shelters - they have for 1,000's of years. I would liken them to a type of desert gypsy but gypsy doesn't quite fit - very self sufficient, known for their hospitality and helpfulness, move around with the seasons (no one can live in the desert during mid summer) and they drive like bats out of hell on those desert roads.

Here's Salah showing us what the car can do. Especially after getting up in the dunes - oh, were my palms sweating. Of course, the girls were in the back seat doing their impression of King Julian (the naughty lemur) from Madagascar 2 "Put your hands in the air, it's much more fun!" I wasn't so sure when we were sliding sideways. They call it "dune bashing" - it's a lot different from the 4-wheeling I grew up with. This is much softer.
A look back at where we had come from so far. The tent camp we stayed at that night is over 50km into the Sands. We had just climbed "up" into the Dunes from the valley below.

I messed with this picture below so you could get a better idea (depth perception via photo) of what we had to get up into. See the high tire tread on the hill to the right? Those are probably Salah's. And yes, we were in the car. I decided Salah was a maverick. If he saw a set of treads in the dunes, he had to go higher - like Captain Kirk - Go, where no man has gone before. Palms were sweaty. Children having a great time.
To get up the hill pictured above, they essentially floor the gas pedal going toward the dune aka wall of sand and once they hit it, they work the wheel back and forth til the top- the car essentially scrambles up the sand. If you drive into it straight, you're toast! Stuck! Turns out - Salah is known among the tour guides for being quite the driver - he trains the other guides in desert driving. They call him "Crazy Desert." And he rarely gets stuck.
I have to admit it was a blast! Excuse my 80's exclamations - can't help my generational time period. I could add 'awesome dude' and 'radical' but am getting a little old for that. Rachel said "awesome dude" a gazillion times for me.

Here we are at dinner - toasting to a great day. I took a fantastic, cold shower in the open-air/ceiling bathroom attached to our tent. No hot water in the desert unless you catch it mid-day - warms up in pipes in the sand. That said, the facilities and food were fantastic! "Thousand Nights Camp" - we would have stayed another night if we had known how great it would be. They even had a nice pool for an afternoon swim. As it was around 87 - 90F, afternoon swims are good in the Desert during early January. You can ask Bart how his shower was - he opted for morning - Ahhhem.

Here's a shot of the Camp. All the tents are wood-pole framed with heavy, wool blankets for 'tenting.' If you look closely, you can see small cemented attachments at the back of each tent - with turret style tops. These are the attached bathrooms - a small sink, a shower nozzle, a toilet and open ceiling to the stars. Beds were comfortable and we all ended up snuggling as it did get cold at night. Will have to post that specific story later with more pic's - we always have a funny family story to share.
Here is Salah (seated right) with his friend, another guide. By this time in the trip, we had decided Salah was a pretty "cool" Omani. He was always very coordinated in clothing - it's not all about throwing on whatever clean dishdasha you have. He likes wearing a Bedouin style turban - tied just so - instead of the embroidered cap that many men wear. He said the cap was for when you are in a hurry and don't want to "take time" with yourself in the morning. We saw him once without the dishdasha - jeans and a striped polo: very preppy.
I also don't have many shots of people this trip. In spite of how interesting the people are.
They do not like having random photos taken without their permission. There was an incident with some French tourists years ago which soured the general population on having their pictures used for purposes out of their control. So - I did take some general scenery pictures with people or shots from behind - my overall standby. Salah encouraged me to ask people and I think he appreciated that I did not just "shoot away." They are willing to have the pic's taken - just want to be respected.
Salah sliding around while we watched the sun set.
Sunset with the goats headed for home.
More sand.....
I'll leave you with the girls enjoying the sunset. The sand was so soft and warm - and deep (you just sink in). Until the sun went down. Amazing how quickly it cools off. R & K love playing in sand and loved running up and down the dunes - practically sliding down in some places. They had a lot of fun. We all did.


Judy said...

What a neat vacation and cool experience for your girls.

Anonymous said...

looks like it was an amazing trip.. i think of that Get Smart episode in the desert and they're buried up to their necks. great pics.. -jnknj