(223km - 11days)
11/02/ - 21/02/2015
11 February - Al Ain, UAE – Sobar, Oman - 110 km
Some days were more challenging to get going than others, and this day was one of them. After waking up late, packing up and having coffee, it was after 10h00 before I got on the road. The Omani border crossing was only about 10 kilometres away and a leisurely ride through the town of Al Ain.
Once on the Omani side, the first stop was at an ATM, then a quick breakfast before picking up a new SIM card. With the result, it was after 12h00 before heading into Oman and over the Hajar Mountains in the direction of Muscat. Once out of the city, the desert stretched as far as the eye could see. Besides barren mountains and a few camels, there was nothing of interest. The odd thing was the Omani border was another 50 kilometres down the road, making for a rather sizeable no-man’s land. After getting an entry stamp, it was already late, and I’d hardly done any mileage at all. I, therefore, filled up with water and headed for the hills. Like the previous day, it was windy but somehow it didn’t bother me, and there was a strange peacefulness about the desert. Sunset was around 6 – 6.30, and it soon became dark. Fortunately, the entire way was fitted with streetlights; how cool is that!
I didn’t expect Sobar to be quite as big. On reaching the outskirts of the city, it was all somewhat chaotic, and the traffic hectic. At that point, it was already dark, and the roadworks and detours scared me off the road. A taxi driver pointed me to a nameless hotel which suited me just fine. Once in a room, I cooked pasta, but being a terrible cook, the pasta was awful, and I should have settled for shawarma instead.
12 February - Sobar – The Millennium Resort - 113 km
It was a long day on the road as my friend, Lois, had arranged to meet at the very upmarket Millennium Hotel and Resort for a drink. With a cold beer in mind, I grinded into the wind until finally reaching the resort shortly after 6h00. Lois was already there, and to my delight, found she had organised us a room for the night. It's good to have friends. There was a lot of babbling over a drink as we’d years of catching up to do. The jabbering continued over supper and until late in the night. A good few beers were consumed before retreating to our luxury room with a beautiful view of the Gulf.
13 February - The Millennium Resort – Seeb
It was a slow start to the day, followed by a massive breakfast while overlooking the Gulf of Oman. It was midday before eventually heading out. Lois persuaded me to load the bicycle in the car and join her for a sightseeing ride back to Muscat. Our first stop was at Al Sawadi, a beautiful beach from where boats left for the nearby island for a day of leisure. Back on the road, it was a slow drive to Barka where we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous "bull-butting". Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening until much later. Lunch was in true local style and then it was on to Seeb, where Lois lived.
14-20 February - Muscat and surrounds
There was no rest for the wicked, and Lois hauled me out of bed and announced we're driving up the mountain. It was a spectacular drive with hazy views far in the distance, and I was grateful to be in a car and not on a bicycle. A long and steep walk down the mountain brought us to an old, abandoned village where well-preserved mud-brick houses still clung desperately to the mountainside. Then it was a hot and sweaty walk back to the car.
Afterwards, refreshments were had at an upmarket hotel with spectacular views of the mountains and the small villages far below. One could just about make out the tiny, but luminous green terraces used for farming.
Then it was back down the steep mountain road to Nizwa, with its very imposing fort and fascinating Souq. The Souq was large and sold everything, from vegetables to livestock and just about anything in-between. From beautiful pottery products to antique-looking jewellery, and even guns.
The days came and went, and were mostly spent sampling all of Oman's exotic dishes. Through Lois, it was a pleasure to meet the kindest and most fascinating expats living in Oman.
The following day was spent taking the "Big Bus" city tour around Muscat. It was money well spent as it was a hop-on-hop-off bus and one got to see all the famous sights in a matter of a day. In the process, I met another cyclist cycling around Oman, mainly to follow the Oman Cycle Tour which was on in the city at the time.
Soon, the 19th arrived, Lois took the day off, packed the car and we headed south along the coast. The scenery was typical desert-like with unexpected little gems. The Bimmah Sinkhole, also known as Hawiyat Najm or “The Falling Star”, was our first stop. According to legend, the crater was a result of a meteor. The experts, however, have a less romantic story; claiming natural causes of dissolving limestone formed the hole.
Our next stop was in Sur with its famous dhow building yard. The area was an old and traditional one where no one referred to a sketch or blueprint. It was surprising to find that in this modern age of technology, dhows were still handmade; a process which appeared a slow and a labour-intensive one.
Then it was on to the turtle reserve at Ras al-Jinz, where the night was spent at a conveniently located hotel only a short walk to the famous turtle breeding ground. I don't know what I’d expected, but it wasn’t seeing that giant, pre-historic looking turtles slowly making their way out the water. In fascination, we watched as they proceeded to dig a metre-deep hole with their short fins. Then, very slowly, they placed themselves over the hole and laid about 100 perfectly round golf-ball-sized eggs. Once done, they meticulously closed everything up, but still, it wasn’t the end of their duties for the night. She then proceeded in digging a fake hole next to the real one to mislead predators. Only once all done, did she drag her weary body back to the ocean — poor thing.
The following morning at 5h00, it was back to the beach to see if there were more turtles to be seen. We only saw one heading back to the water after her busy night on the beach, but spotted newly hatched ones appearing from their sandy nest scurrying to the water's edge. The whole process was fascinating - what a fantastic experience it was. Thank you, Lois.
After breakfast, Lois and I headed inland, stopping at a wadi high up in the mountains for lunch. Then it was off to our desert camp and what a beautiful place it was: A rustic, reeded camp in the desert, surrounded by the most magnificent dunes.
21 February - Muscat
Too soon, it all came to an end, and it was time to head back to Muscat. Once in Muscat, it was time to pack my belongings, and Lois drove me to the airport for my flight to Sri Lanka, my next destination. En route to the airport, there was time for one more memorable meal consisting of a camel-meat burger, a first for me.
There was no way I could ever thank Lois enough for all she did for me. I’d a most enjoyable time and saw more than I would ever have seen on my own. Not only that, but she also paid for everything. I will forever be indebted to her.