Jebel Shams plus goodbye Oman

Jebel Shams coffee shop

I apologize in advance for the long post. I know its long but I just wanted to sum up the end of my trip to Oman in one more post. I am very glad I made the time to visit.


We start the morning with breakfast then a morning walk around the town of Nizwa. We learn the history of the town and we admire the architecture which is a mix of old abandoned buildings, some made of mud and such, and the nicely restored historic buildings.

We head to the souq and are given a tour of the different parts of the souq. We have free time to shop afterwards. I only buy a couple things but I do taste many different types of dates at the date souq. I eye the tahini making machine and a gentleman working the shop gives me a warm sample of the freshly made tahini. Being so very good I am tempted to buy a jar to take with me but I still have a couple weeks left for my travels so it is not a practical idea. I go into an air conditioned building with the upstairs “antique market”. I am disappointed because there are no antiques here, just junk I can get in the USA or other countries. I do enjoy a pistachio coffee from the shop upstairs though.

I ate camel

We stop at the home of a bee farmer where we are fed a nice home cooked meal. We actually get to try camel today. It is quite good, especially how it is seasoned with a beef like flavor. It’s funny how I will no longer ride animals like camels but I am still eating them. I keep saying one day I will break down and become a vegetarian – but today is not that day. We are also taught how to eat like an Omani – on the floor, with our right hand.

We are then served coffee, thyme tea with honey, more dates and fruit. I am very full after this meal. I try a date covered in tahini and sesame.

We head to town to visit his honey shop but only after having a nice nice nature walk.

Jebel Shams

We make our way to Jebel Shams where we are staying the night. This area is known for its Grand Canyon. Impressive on its own, it isn’t as big as the Grand Canyon in the USA, but still very nice to look at. We head from there to watch the sunset over some mountains. It is noticeably cooler here. In the evening a jacket is needed. I even stole the comforter to use off the other bed in my room to stay warm in the evening.

Lodging in Jebel Shams

After dinner most of us call it an early night.

The next morning we meet for a hike along the side of the canyon. We only go a small portion of the 7 km trail but it is nice and we see great views.

We then take a very rocky road down into a valley that tests the limits of our 4×4 automobiles. Amazing views appear around every corner. We eventually get to the bottom and visit another small town. We take a short walk around. This area is called Wadi Bani Awf.

We have bought another picnic lunch and head outside a nearby snake gorge to eat. We have a few minutes to explore the path before we leave. We don’t have too much time so we don’t go very far ahead. I have of course seen things like this before but it doesn’t make these canyons less fascinating to me. I wish we had more time here.

We head back to muscat where many of us say goodbye. Some of us have one last dinner. I make my final goodbyes and go back to prepare for my 2:00 AM pickup for the airport. I am off to another country. My last before returning to the USA soon.

I couldn’t resist a Zatar croissant at the airport

Nizwa, Oman

Bedouin family home

Today we are stopping along the way but our final destination is Nizwa, the former capital of Oman.

We check out of our desert camp and take a rough ride to visit a bedioun family. I know the rough ride is to make things more exciting but the jeep (no 3) I am riding in today almost gets stuck in the sand at one point. No fear though since our driver is an experienced driver. He backs up and attempts the challenging part with more power & speed and is successful in getting us over the hump.

We stop to visit a Bedouin family and learn about how life is in the desert while enjoying Omani coffee and dates. They live in the desert most of the year and enjoy the life only leaving in the very hot months of the summer to live in the towns. Kids in the desert attend schools at the local town and are driven by a Jeep for a partial day of lessons. It seems like a hard and hot life but I admit being under the thatched covering is much cooler than being exposed outside in the desert sun.

We watch a desert beetle make its tracks in the sand.

We stop to inflate our tires for regular roads again. Shortly after we pick up a picnic lunch at a nearby supermarket to share together in a shaded park. The lunch is all the great things about middle eastern food: hummus, babbaganoush, fresh watermelon, fresh salads, and feta cheese. The picnic saves us the hassle of finding a lunch restaurant along the way and couldn’t have been a better choice. I finally find the cardamom cookies I have been craving since my visit to Jordan. I buy a bunch to share with the group.

Falaj System

We stop at Birkat Ul Mauz to check out its falaj system (irrigation system) that brings the water from the mountains to the city. We learn how it all works to keep the locals hydrated and crops watered.

We drive by a couple of sand tornados or what we call in the USA dust devil. They randomly appear along side of the highway. I didn’t really get one on film but they are interesting to watch.

Jabrin Castle

We visit Jabrin Castle, the castle built in the 1600’s by Imam Bil-Arab Bin Sultan. An Imam back then is not someone who calls prayers, it is what was the equivalent of the modern day sultan. We have a private tour where we learn how each room is used. We also learn about security tricks like holes where men stay hidden for protection or how hot date syrup came to be because it was first created to pour on invaders through metal grates.

I finished my sightseeing of the castle quickly and decided it is a good time for a bathroom break. As soon as I walk in the bathroom I feel a sharp pain on my left hand. An angry wasp has stung me upon entering the bathroom. My hand stings for a while. I borrow a companions antihistamine cream and hope for it to heal without any more intervention (it takes many days before my hand is back to normal).

Antihistamine cream is newly added to my packing list now

We arrive in the old town of Nizwa and check into a heritage hotel. The town of Nizwa is under transition: many of the old buildings are in bad condition while many are being restored into nice houses and heritage hotels for tourists like the one I am staying at. I skip all the evening activities since I am too tired and we plan to visit the town tomorrow. I enjoy my rooftop dinner at the nearby restaurant and go to bed. There is a nice display of the moon in the distance from the rooftop. We also get a nice view of the town.

Wahiba Sands

Wahiba Sands

Our first stop this morning is to see how dhow (wooden boats) are made. At this dhow facility we visit they have been making dhow for many generations. None of the boat plans are written down and they are just passed down orally from generation to generation. This is so no secrets are leaked to possible competitors. As a result that one man is really busy here guiding all the simultaneous construction efforts. Each boat is commissioned and can take anywhere from 3 months to 3 years depending on the size. We are able to climb into a pretty large boat still under construction.

Today is also a special holiday for kids and they have the day off from school. We see kids go door to door, or person to person, and collect money or treats or whatever a person wants to give. The child will wear traditional dress or sometimes even pajamas (they make it fun). The closet thing I can relate it to in the USA is our Halloween.

Some kids celebrating at the souq (faces blurred for privacy)

We visit another souq where our guide tells us about traditional clothing and how it differs by region.

We stop at an oasis of sorts where we can walk to a cave (I didn’t) and swim (I did). I had to wear shorts below my knees and a t-shirt over my suit for modesty even though many western tourists ignored this rule that is clearly posted in many places. One person in our tour group saw a man’s bare behind while he was changing in public instead of the provided rest rooms. What really irritates me beyond disrespecting the local culture is that in the past my conservative bathing suit would have been perfectly acceptable for swimming here but due to guests abusing the rules with their barely there bikinis they have ruined it for us all. Some people are really crappy visitors. No one is asking you to convert to any religion, just have an ounce of respect for the culture of the country you are visiting.

After a quick stop to lower tire pressure our SUVs travel out into the desert for a bumpy ride; Our tour guide forcing some thrills by driving along the hillsides. We arrive at our desert camp which is actually pretty much a hotel. Our rooms have a tent like top but that is where similarities end. We have AC and we have a shower. We don’t have WiFi or cell service in our rooms but that is about all of the inconveniences (cell service available in lobby of hotel).

We drive off to watch the sunset and have a strenuous walk up a sand dune to get a better view. We watch the sun set and all the magic orange colors appear. As soon as the sun sets a sand wind develops and re-adjusts the landscape again. Soon our footprints will disappear and there will be no proof that we were actually here.

We eat dinner under the stars while we talk about everything from politics to travel. There is again no alcohol at this hotel (alcohol is rare in Oman in most parts) but it would be nice to sip on a fruit cocktail while we sit around the fire pit later and watch one of our fellow tour goers try to learn how to dance from a local. I call it an early night because I am still sleep deprived from the turtles. Some have an early morning because they plan a camel ride, I just plan a long night’s sleep.

Ras al Jinz

Ras al Jinz hotel view at sunset

We leave the city of Muscat Oman today in three comfortable Toyota SUVs along the coast of Oman. Our final destination is Ras al Jinz, famous for its Green Sea Turtle nests but we have some stops along the way.

First stop is at a sinkhole – Bimmah Sinkhole. I have many sinkholes back home so I am familiar with the concept but I guess they are rare here and this one is close to the ocean. It is formed from a depression or collapse of the limestone. A lake of sorts has formed and the sea water mixes with fresh water. The water level changes with the tides. It is a refreshing place to dip your feet in the water, or swim as we saw others do. Just a warning that your toes might be fish food. I had many little fish nibbling on my toes as I walked in.

Next stop is to the village of Wadi Tiwi (We kept hearing it pronounced Waditouille like the movie with the cooking rat). Our guide and one of our other drivers is from this area. Even though we are close to the coast it is desert-like. Wadi Tiwi is very green since it is in the valley between the mountains. We are in a very charming village with lots of fruit trees; in fact the big crop here is dates. We visit a date farm and talk with the farmer about his farming practices. Our guide shows us how they sometimes have to manually pollinate the dates because there are not enough pollinators. They talk about how all of the date tree is used. Some of the mesh like material is used to make rope; we are given a demonstration. The branches and palm leaves themselves are used to build shelter to hide from the harsh sun. Afterward they give us some Omani tea and some thin samosas for a snack; I especially enjoy the cheese ones. We take a long walk down hill to see the town at a slower pace. As we walk many SUV loads of children passed us by. They are coming home from school. Instead of school buses, they travel in style by SUV.

We eventually get to our destination for the evening. If you remember I wasn’t too happy with our last hotel. Apparently neither was any of my travel companions. In fact, of my not so great room it appears I had the best of the rooms. We are all very curious about our next hotel choice. We are pleasantly surprised when we end up at a seaside resort. It is nice and clean. We are on the beach and there is a nice pool to take a dip. The rooms are designed like shacks but inside are decorated like comfortable tents. We are all very pleased with this hotel choice.

We get a break and some of us sneak off to take a dip in the ocean. There are loads of dead puffer fish on the beach and floating in the water; no other fish but the puffer fish. We all blow it off and get in the water anyway. It seems to be fine.

We meet for a nice dinner buffet at the hotel and then we are off to see nesting sea turtles. It is not always guaranteed a turtle will be nesting but we try our luck anyway. It is a popular night and there is a large crowd waiting already. They only let a few observe at a time when the female is laying eggs so we have a very long wait ahead of us. Finally around 10:00 PM our group is called and we head out what seems about 1km toward the sea (hard to tell the distance for sure since I am very tired at this point). I almost regret coming because the wait is so long. When I finally see the large turtle I am glad I came.

She has already laid all her eggs for the evening and now is covering up the holes and creating the diversion holes. More people can observe her now since the tricky part is done. She seems tired. It seems like a good amount of work to bury those eggs.

After we see a newly hatched turtle. It follows the guides light into the ocean. They tell us that only 2-3 baby turtles of 1000 eggs actually make it. There are so many predators and some get confused and cannot find their way to the ocean.

I am so incredibly tired by the time we finally make the walk back to the visitor center. I felt almost like I am sleep walking back. The moon is full so our path is well lit. It seems like the center never gets closer until it finally does. When I arrive I realize that half our group was split up into another group that is still out observing. I am sad we still need to wait around for them.

I can already tell tomorrow is going to be tough because I am not getting a full night sleep tonight. I hope I don’t regret this turtle outing.

Muscat day tour

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

In 2020 the Sultan Qaboos bin Said passed away. He had ruled from 1970 and oversaw the country in a great transformation. He made sure the people were well taken care of, built infrastructure and most importantly brought peace and safety to the region. In 2001 he dedicated a great mosque to the country, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It is a large and very nice mosque that we were able to visit. This is the only place in Oman where I really felt the need to cover up – Cover body and hair completely.

Opera house

We next stop at the Opera house but we don’t pay to go inside. I am not sure why, perhaps because of time. It is a very nice building.

Fish market

Fisheries are very important to the Oman economy. We visit the local fish market in Muscat. We see where fish salesmen sell their daily catch. It surprisingly doesn’t smell too bad in the market. The people who run the market do a very good job at cleaning. A cat or two wanders around waiting for pieces of fish guts to drop on the ground. They might have better luck at another market.

Back to souq

We return back to the Mutrah Souq. A few of us visited yesterday but the rest of the group did not. I am not in the mood to shop so I spend the time reading and walking around the market and surrounding areas.

Palace and forts and old town

We drive by some old forts and stop in front of the palace for a short stroll. This palace is the palace that is used for official visits. It is not a place of residence for the Sultan.

Meal with Sidab women’s group

Part of what makes Intrepid tours so great is that they carve out portions of the trip where you are able to meet with locals. Today we have lunch with a women’s group that helps support other woman and uses sewing and other skills to sell things to make money. One of their efforts is to sew interesting shopping bags to replace the disposable plastic bags used in the country. It is an uphill battle because people love their plastic bags.

We also learn about frankincense. Oman is said to have the best frankincense in the world. Now I know what those small rocks at the souq were.

Many stop at the museum but I head back to the hotel to rest for afternoon because still jet lagged. Some are meeting for dinner again at a nearby restaurant but I am still full from lunch so I skip the evening dinner.

Tomorrow we head down the coast to Ras Al Jinz.