For the last 10 days we’ve been cycling along the southeast coast of Oman. There are miles and miles of beaches with only a few villages and cities along the way. The largest city in this part of Oman is Sur where we spent one night in a hotel before continuing.
Our destination was Ras al-Jinz to see some turtles. This part of the coast of Oman is a place where large sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. This is not the season but there are still turtles to be seen.
Access to these areas is controlled and you have to be taken in by a guide at either 9.30 pm or 4 am. We found accommodation at a camp nearby. We made a deal with the owner for two huts, including dinner and breakfast, for 80 OMR ($240) for the five of us. I think we caught him at a vulnerable moment (a bit too much to drink) and he agreed immediately to the price when I suggested it. I later learned from one of the workers this is half price.
As we got settled in our huts the owner offered to drive Holger to the Turtle Research Centre to make our reservation for the night excursion to see turtles. Given the owner’s vulnerable state, Holger suggested he drive the car instead, and the man wisely agreed. He even offered the use of his car for us to drive down early the next morning to the Turtle Centre.
Unfortunately, we showed up at the Turtle Centre at 4 am but one of the guides did not. The guide who was there refused to take us so we berated him and left, disappointed and a little cranky for having gotten up at such an early hour to have nothing to show for it.
We carried on south along the coast for one more day as we wanted to camp on the beach. We had an amazing tail wind that blew us down the coast in no time. We stocked up on some water and supplies in Asilah and rode out of town a couple of kilometres to find a spot on the beach with some shelter from the wind. But before anything else, we went for a swim to get the road dust off our bodies. The water is wonderfully warm.
There was not much shelter to be found except a small abandoned building near where some fishing boats were sitting on the beach. Being familiar with camping in abandoned buildings, this was a natural location for us to pitch the tents. The building turned out to be an old mosque, long since abandoned and falling apart. Graffiti covered the inside walls and the windows had long ago been knocked out, but it was a good place for us to spend a night in our Little Mosque on the Beach.
In the morning, the wind had let up a little but was still blasting from the north. We were treated to a gorgeous sunrise and watched a fisherman get his boat ready and into the water to earn his living.
We rode back to Asilah to pick up water and spent the next few days cycling west to the Wahiba Sands, a desert with large dunes south of the town of Al Wahiyah.
While sitting in a tea shop in Al Wahiyah, Holger was trying to make a deal with a camp representative to take us into the dunes. The price per person was quite high. While he was negotiating I went to sit outside to see if I could get a few photos when a guy pulled up in a truck and introduced himself as Rashid. He was chatty and friendly and amazed by our bike trip.
A few minutes later a friend of his walked by and he was introduced as Obeid. Turns out, Obeid has a camp in the Wahiba Sands and has extensive experience guiding in the desert. He supported an expedition walking across the empty quarter a couple of years ago. He offered all food, accommodation and transportation for 20 OMR ($60) per person, per night, half of what the other camps were charging. We signed up for two nights. (His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rashid offered to store our bicycles in a store he owns and gave us the key while Obeid went shopping for food. Half an hour later, our gear was stowed in the two vehicles driven by Obeid and his wife, and we were on our way into the dunes. We arrived just before sunset to a busy camp full of Omanis out for a night on the weekend.
We had been cycling for more than a week and to spend a day off in the desert was just what we needed. The night was a little rowdy with so many people in camp but the following morning everybody left leaving just us, Obeid and his cook, Abbas.
We spent most of the day relaxing in the Bedouin tents but did manage to do some laundry. Abbas fed us great meals of grilled lamb and chicken with rice and salad. There was always tea and dates and coffee around. The coffee was Omani coffee which is spiced with saffron and cardamom. It’s a light coffee and tasty but being a strong espresso kind of guy, this brew just wasn’t my cup of coffee.
We also played dress-up as Obeid dressed us in Omani clothing and taught us how to dance, as well as teaching us about the Bedouin culture.
At the end of the day, Obeid took us into the dunes to show off his driving skills in the sand and watch the sunset.
After our day off in the dunes, we got back on the bikes and headed further west towards Nizwa, the former capital. The weather has continued to be spectacular: temperatures in the mid-to-high twenties and the nights quite warm so we have barely needed sleeping bags.
We mostly camp just off the road and out of sight after stocking up on food and water in a nearby village. Food in restaurants is quite cheap and the portions very generous so we have tended to eat either lunch or dinner in restaurants. The five of us can eat a big lunch or dinner with meat, rice, salad and delicious mango juice for about 10 OMR ($30).
All in all, Oman is proving to be a great cycling destination. The food – fuel for our bodies and bicycles – is quite cheap and you can camp anywhere for free. Hotels tend to be expensive and basic but the ones we’ve stayed in have had pretty good facilities. The people, as always, make this place what it is. They are friendly and helpful. There are many people from India and Bangladesh working here and as a result there is a great food culture mixing Omani and South Asian cuisines, as well as Turkish and Middle Eastern. In short: it’s a great place to explore.