Drive into Oman, have a look around, stay over for the night, and return the next morning.
How difficult can that be?
You will be surprised, just as we were…
The title for this blog could easily have been something like “How to visit the same foreign country twice in one day!”
But let me start at the beginning.
We’ve been wanting to see the northern part of Oman for a long time, so when Jaunine found a special deal at a seaside resort in Oman, we decided to make full use of it. The plan was to drive from Abu Dhabi, via the emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, and Ras al-Khaimah into Oman, entering the country at the border crossing at Ras al-Khaimah. This would put us close to the northern-most end of Oman which has the Arabian Gulf to the west, and the Gulf of Oman to the east. The total travel time was estimated at no more than 5 – 6 hours.
Our aim was to proceed from the border in a north-easterly direction, hugging the coastline, and then turn south at Khasab. From Khasab we would drive through mountains and eventually arrive at the overnight resort in the town of Dibba.
We duly arrived at the border crossing, and being middle of the day on a Saturday it did not take us long to dispense with the formalities to enter Oman. From there we proceeded north-easterly on a beautiful and quiet road.
Our interest in this part of Oman was sparked when we read about the fjords in this area which formed many small hamlets, ideal for fishing, pearl diving (in the old days), and apparently quite beautiful.
The drive round the coast was quite spectacular and not even the haziness of the day could spoil it. We stopped from time to time to take in the scenery, and marvelled at the quiet serenity of this area.
After a while we reached Khasab, and it was time to turn south and to start our ascent into the mountains.
At this point the scenery changed dramatically. Gone was the blue of the sea, and we faced huge mountains while driving south. As our map did not offer any indication of the road, we were somewhat disappointed when the tarmac suddenly ended and we were relegated to driving on a dirt road. The condition of the road was quite good, so we were not unduly perturbed – yet.
We came across many dry riverbeds, called a ‘wadi’. Although being a mountainous desert with not much rain, when it does rain it very quickly turns a normally dry wadi into a raging torrent.
As we ascended higher and deeper into the mountains, our decent dirt road turned into something much less smooth, and ended up being no more than a very bumpy and uneven dirt track. We were getting more and more nervous about this, despite our GPS assuring us we were on the right road. Progress slowed down to a slow bumpy crawl while our initial enthusiasm started dwindling at a matching rate. Arrival at our destination after sunset became a very real possibility.
We eventually reached Jebel al Harim, the point where we expected to start a descent into lower regions. However, this was where we came across a big red warning sign that boded bad news.
According to the sign we could not proceed further since we were not residents of Oman. This was somewhat perplexing since (according to our map and GPS) we were not about to cross any borders. While puzzling over this another vehicle approached from the front and we decided to stop it and ask for any possible clarification. It turned out that the area between us and our destination was a military area and off-limits to non-residents. This meant we could not proceed and had to turn around.
As if this realisation was not bad enough, it also meant that we faced either abandoning our trip and go home, or make a huge detour to reach our hotel. We opted for the latter, even though that meant we will only arrive quite late in the evening. To complicate things further, it also meant we need to exit Oman, and re-enter at a different border crossing since there was no other way of reaching our hotel other than via the UAE!
This was the point where our day turned very unusual.
While descending the mountain back towards Khasab, we suddenly came across an elderly Omani that appeared to be in distress as judged from his frantic waving with his cane. We stopped to see if we could help, and he promptly opened the rear door and got into the Jeep while mumbling in arabic! We were speechless and dumbfounded. Needless to say his proficiency in english matched our proficiency in arabic, which is to say zero. We concluded that he was hitching a ride with us, destination unknown. We assumed that he will make some sort of indication to stop when we get close to his destination, so we proceeded. While we were going our passenger maintained a steady stream of mumbling , completely meaningless to us. At this point Jaunine expressed the worrisome possibility that he might suffer from Alzheimers, and if that is the case he might not know where he is going, and neither do we!
How would we explain this to the border guards? They might just suspect us of abduction!
While worrying about the outcome of all this, we suddenly came across another Omani gentleman next to the dirt track, and decided to stop and ask him if he could act as translator between us and our strange passenger.
We hardly came to a stop when this gentleman promptly opened the other rear door and also got into the Jeep, also yapping away in arabic. Our day just got even more strange! Now what to do?
Our newest passenger was equally devoid of any skill in english, but at least there appeared to be clear understanding between him and passenger #1. Since no alarm was raised and both passenger #1 and passenger #2 appeared to be in high spirits our sense of impending trouble ahead started to subside a little, so we continued our slow, bumpy journey back to civilisation.
Eventually we arrived back at the tarmac road and a little while later passenger #2 indicated he wanted to get out. He expressed great appreciation for the ride and disappeared into a small village, leaving us once again alone with #1. After several more kilometres the mumblings of #1 changed both pitch and volume, and after (correctly) surmising that we reached his destination, he also got out. Further gesticulation and toothless smiles indicated that we were invited to dinner, and as much as we wanted to oblige we had to decline due to the lateness of the hour. Had to point to a wristwatch to communicate this! So we continued back to the border where we entered earlier in the day.
It was now getting really late and we had to make haste to prevent us from hopelessly running out of time, but I managed to grab some shots while Jaunine was driving.
We arrived at the border at sunset, and was greeted with a very long queue of people on their way to the UAE. It took us about 90 minutes to clear the border, only to waste another 30 minutes at customs when they discovered that I had an electronic cigarette with me, which they promptly seized as it was not allowed in the UAE 🙂
Once clear of the border we faced quite a long drive to Dibba, where we needed to cross into Oman once again.
However, our woes of the day was not quite over yet.
Arriving at Dibba late in the evening we had a hard time finding the border crossing, and much to our bewilderment eventually found out that there is in fact not a proper border crossing! What we did find was a military checkpoint between the UAE and Oman where normal entry and exit rules do not apply. We were told that we can enter Oman there, but only if someone from the hotel will come and clear us through the checkpoint! That meant a frantic phone call to the hotel to explain our problem. Fortunately the helpful gentleman at the other end was willing to hop in a car and he came to help with clearing us through the checkpoint.
It was almost 10pm when we finally reached our destination, very tired and quite hungry. We were just in time to catch the restaurant open and managed to have a delightful and quiet dinner before flopping into bed for much needed sleep 🙂
The next morning we went for an early walk on the beach, followed by breakfast, and then managed to go home without further interesting incidents!
Our short excursion into Oman was very different from any of our previous visits, but we were once again impressed by it.
Oman is really a lovely and friendly country and well worth visiting – with or without strange passengers!