Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Giant Mountain, Nizwa, Turtles

10 km out of town I noticed that they had given me a car with no gas. So I had to turn around and get some.

By noon I was inland on the coastal highway south. By 12:30 I was driving up a LP recommended wadi towards the ocean. It and the ocean I got to weren't that interesting, and then I had to drive back.

Up until about a year ago most of the coast route was unpaved. Now most of it is a four lane highway and the rest will be finished in a couple of months. It goes through boring interior rocky areas for a while and then along boring seacoast. I almost missed the LP highly recommended 'can't miss' wadi.

It's supposed to be THE beauty spot of Oman, but apparently no one told the highway crews finishing up the giant freeway bridge overpass at its mouth. Still, when you walked in a ways, what with the date palms and the rock walls and the pools of water, it was pretty nice.

Then back to the highway and on another 120 km to Sur, the big town around those parts. There wasn't that much to it, though, so as the sun sank I kept driving another 50 km towards Turtle Beach. The brand new LP says that a 4WD is no longer necessary, and that's probably because the whole thing is now paved.

It was long past dark at 7:45 when I finally groped my way to the Turtle Reserve. There they said to wait in the parking area until 9:30 when the guided tour started. I drove over there and waited.

And started getting a giant headache because I basically hadn't eaten all day. There just aren't that many options in the middle of nowhere. So I frantically ate every last potato chip in my possession. And waited.

At 9:30 Ali, the guide, showed up with about another dozen tourists, including the travel writer from the Sydney Herald, who seemed to be the kind of guy who really hated traveling. The spotter duly reported three turtles over at that other beach, so we all walked through soft sand to get there.

In broken English Ali gave a talk on turtles, their life cycle, and breeding habits. Then he led us over to where one, then another, had just finished laying their eggs. Although officially medium-sized, they looked pretty big to me. And pretty tired. Gentle beings, they let you pat them on their heads.

The third turtle was just finishing preparing the sand for egg laying, and Ali had us come over one a time to quietly watch. Then 15 minutes later he had us all come over and watch the perfectly round, perfectly white eggs pop out one by one.

By now it was 11:30, and we started back. But all of a sudden Ali dropped to his knees and started digging about a foot deep and pulling the sand over. Suddenly there were a half dozen perfectly formed four inch long baby turtles, flippers flipping, newly hatched from eggs deposited two months ago.

In June or July they can have 200 or 300 turtles in a night. But I was sufficiently impressed with the ones that I saw.

Now all I needed was a place to sleep. And fortunately I didn't get lost as I looked for the Turtle Bay Resort. Although, as usual in the rest of the world, 'resort' never ends up as glamorous as you imagine.

The next morning I put my thermometer out in the sun and it went up to 135. That seemed a tad high, but it was still too hot to lie on the beach, so I headed on back to Sur, where I grabbed an Indian working mab's lunch. Then I started out on what I thought would be an easy drive to Nizwa.

About 100 km or so into it I took a detour to Wadi Ben Khalid, which was a scenic mountain drive that ended up with pools and date palms and reddish brown rocks. Quiet and peaceful.

It was past 4:30 when I got back to the main highway, and about 80 km after that I passed the Wahiba Sands, which is a very large area of very high dunes, on the left. The LP said I needed a 4WD to get to one of the resort camps; it later turned out that they will come and get you. Oh well, who wants to ride a dune buggy up a 750 foot sand dune anyway?

Nizwa was getting further and further away. I finally got to the turnoff past 7, and it was still over 100 km away. As the kilometers kept ticking away and the sky got blacker and blacker, so did my mood.

I got there about 8:30 and it turned out that the only 'cheapo' place, at $40, was a total dump, with vile rooms and vile staff who didn't speak a word of English. It also turned out that after paying for my food at a bad Turkish restaurant I only had #35 in Omani rials. Which meant that I had to drive 12 km until I finally found an ATM that worked.

I finally gritted my teeth and got a room there at close to 11 pm. Okay, how bad could it be? At 11:45 they started up a giant, old generator right next to my room. I went out and yelled at the guy. He yelled back at me. I yelled even louder. After ten or fifteen minutes of this he went and turned the generator off.

The next morning I drove to all the cultural reasons to go to Nizwa: Nizwa Fort, Bahla Fort (closed in the 108 degree heat), and Jabrin Fort. Jabrin made about the 27th fort I'd seen, and since they're all pretty much the same, light brown adobe, with round towers, some old cannons, and date palms growing nearby, it was getting kind of repetetive.

So I decided to head up to Jebel Shams, the highest point in Oman.

The road, though ridiculously steep in places, was paved for all but the last 13 km, and they're in the process of finishing those. Slow going then, but easily doable in a car. When I got to a turnout at the end of the road, I walked about 20 M and came to one of the deepest gorges on the face of the Earth.

About six miles away was the other side and some more vertical mountain above it. In between it dropped straightaway at least 5,000 feet. And I guess I'm getting old, but as I sat there 3 feet from the edge I got this overwhelming sense of vertigo. So I scooted a foot back.

No good. The lohnger I sat there the more the chasm was silently calling out for me to come join it in oblivion. Unnerved, I gave up and retreated to the car.

Strangely, about a km away there was another spot right on the edge. But they had a flimsy 4 foot fence there, and because of that it wasn't scary at all.

Anyway, I headed back down the mountain and into Nizwa, where the next cheapest hotel was $65. But here you got a clean, modern staff and a clean modern room, complete with minibar and a pool outside. Not to mention the only internet in town downstairs and about the only Pizza Hut in Oman a few doors down. I relaxed my weary bones for the evening.

The next morning was Wednesday, and my trip was winding down. So I wound slowly down the mountains in my rentacar back towards Muscat. I got there around 2, checked into my corniche balcony room, and at 5 drove around the shore for one last time and actually found my way back to the car agency. Then a walk to my fancy Indian restaurant, a taxi back to Mutrah, one last walk along the corniche (temperature down to 102 by 8 pm), and my journey was about over


At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, something funny must have happened on the way home???


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