February 16, 2013

Crossing the desert of Oman

Get a guide who can read the stars and do a desert crossing in Oman. It’s just extraordinary!

I was going to title this post ‘peeing in the desert‘ but that would just be vulgar. Even though this post is indeed about deserts I have peed in and will also provide helpful tips on said activity should you find yourself with your pants down, so to speak, and no facilities to frequent.

I have eight days to travel about 2500km and see as much of this beautiful country as possible.

Oman road

One of the few roads in the desert

What I love most about Oman is its natural beauty. The culture and heritage is still very much alive today, yet they are ‘westernised’ enough to allow female tourists easy visiting with no head scarves except for when visiting holy places.

I would, however, advise women to wear loose fitting, modest clothing. You might be happy wandering about in a singlet top and shorts above your knees but these poor blokes have never seen anything like it. Their eyes will be very round and you will be stared at. But that’s ok if you want to be.

Oman sand dune

I love this pic so much it’s my screen saver. The perfect golden sand dune.

So we set out to cross the Empty Quarter (by 4WD not camel, thankfully) which is one of the largest sand deserts in the world.

The Empty Quarter is so huge it stretches into Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Oman covering 650,000 square kilometres (that’s nearly 3 times bigger than New Zealand!)

Roads are a reasonably new addition and in most parts still either being tarsealed or not there at all causing our driver to “use his head as a GPS”.

This is not the place to come without a very experienced guide and in some places you can only vaguely make out the tracks of vehicles from a few days earlier across the sand as the dunes change shape with every wind.

There is literally nothing and no one for miles and miles. Then suddenly there is someone. We converged at a fork in the road with another 4WD on tour, all dust and sand swirls, they gave right of way to us, and as quick as that they were in our rear view mirror and we were alone again.

I saw a mirage. An honest to goodness, it looks blue like water and is shimmering across the road like a river, mirage. We all saw it. It wasn’t just my eyes.

I didn’t stop (we might have been doing speeds in excess of 150kph in places) to take a pic, but did ask our driver whether it was the human eye that was decieved or whether a camera lens would also capture it. Human eye, apparently.

Oman

Trying to spell OMAN in the shadow – can you see it?

Here’s a tip: if you are planning on a desert crossing, do not use a nostril clipper for several days before hand. You will be grateful for your nasal hairs. I was alarmed too that my sunglasses kept “fogging” up with dust even though the air conditioning was on recycle. How much more of this stuff is in my lungs! I dare not think.

We drove across much of the desert yesterday to a patch of beach that our guides deemed suitable for erecting our tents. Tents! Yes. Me in a tent. Pup tents, I’ll have you know!!

We had one little one each and honestly, putting the bloody thing up was a test in human skill and perseverance. The wind got up and Louise’s lifted off like a hot air balloon as the boys ran to help pull it back to earth and secure it with a tent peg the size of a bobby pin.

Suffice to say, I don’t camp. And I certainly don’t camp where there are NO toilets, NO shower and indeed NO running water of any kind except the Arabian Sea.

Pup tents in Oman

Our campsite on the beach where our guide met a local fisherman, bought fish and barbecued it for dinner

Breakfast: I survived the night!

Breakfast: I survived the night!

However, I drank a large cup of Harden Up and had a great time.

Once I got my head into the space that squatting in the privacy of my tent shadow was as luxurious as it was going to get and wrapped my scarf over my face to ward off the blowing sand, I really did love the evening barbecue of fresh fish caught by a local fisherman and cooked by our great guides, and the sing-along that invariably comes with such camping shenanigans. (I know all the words to Dolly and Kenny’s Island in the Stream and am happy to sing it acapella if requested. It doesn’t happen often.)

The others climbed the amazing sand dune behind our tents and took sunset photos, but I could only manage a lie down in my own tent after collapsing in a heap inside once I’d got the thing set up.

I heard everyone squealing from about 10 metres above that they could see camels wandering in the distance like a Christmas card. Ahh well, I did manage to take about 173 camel photos regardless.

Camel in Oman

Heading south to Salalah and hello, another photo op!

Here’s another tip: stock up on Wet Wipes and tissues for your humble desert bathroom facilities. Of course you could use the sea, but when I tried I was fully clothed trying to avoid the waves of the incoming tide to pee was tricky.

The next morning we set off on more of our 671 km journey across the desert to the stunningly swank 5-star tented resort of Desert Nights Camp. Ahhhh.

This place seriously rocks! If you only have a few days in Oman (it’s a one hour flight from Dubai and Abu Dhabi) I suggest you boot it down here and stay for two of them. This is the spot of the most amazing sand dune photos I took and to have the luxury of running water and a cosy bed just made it heaven.

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If you liked this, you might also like my post 5 Great Things to do in Oman

About Megan Singleton

Megan Singleton

Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday and I write for a few newspapers and mags from time to time. I set off on this travel writing journey 19 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

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