After our day of rest in Nizwa we set off for Jabal Shams, Oman’s highest point at 3005 metres. Jabal Shams is in the Jabal al Akhdar range of mountains which form part of the spectacular backbone of Oman running northwest to southeast. We had gone around the mountains from Musquat to Sur and inland to the Wahiba Sands. Now it was time to go through them and test our legs for some serious climbing.
We cycled along Highway 21 from Nizwa to Jabrin where we visited Jabrin Palace, a beautifully restored fortified structure that is now a museum.
Jabrin is just south of Bahla where we went next to do some shopping. Jan and Sebastian had a quick look at the fort, the largest in Oman, while Holger, Tom and I went to a nearby restaurant for some tea. At dusk we cycled out of town and found a nice place to camp off the road at the end of a track in between the hills.
The next day, the climbing really began. We cycled up to Al Hamra and on to the lower slopes of Jebel Shams. The climb up took us the rest of the day and was slow, steep and difficult.
With about 10 KM to go a man in a small pick-up truck pulled over and said he was from Jabal Shams Heights Resort and would take us and our bikes up the rest of the way. Instead, we compromised and gave him most of our panniers so we could cycle the remaining distance without our heavy loads.
We arrived at the resort at sunset and opted for two small cabins instead of camping. It had been a spectacular ride up the mountain. Difficult and steep but with beautiful views of the surrounding peaks. At 2,000 metres, it was too cold to be lounging around outside so we had dinner and went to sleep early, tired from the day’s efforts.
We spent the next morning leisurely hanging around the resort, doing some bike maintenance and enjoying the warm sunshine. In the afternoon, we got on the bikes and rode further up the mountain to the small village of Sab on the rim of the Grand Canyon of Jabal Shams.
It is the largest canyon in the Arabian Peninsula and quite an impressive sight at 1,000 metres in depth. There is a hike down into the bottom of the canyon but we were not up for that, only going down part-way.
We had another early night in anticipation of cycling part-way back down the mountain and into another area of the range on our way to Rustaq.
The morning dawned cloudy and rain was in the air. We managed to avoid the rain for a while but it caught up to us just before the village of Minthar where a dirt road turned into the mountains to the west, a route we had planned on taking as a short cut.
While standing on the corner debating whether or not to go, a man pulled over and invited us to his house for coffee. Since the weather was not the best for going up a steep dirt road, we accepted his offer. We spent an hour sipping coffee and eating dates while he showed us photos of other visitors he had hosted just like he was hosting us.
The rain had let up a bit and we decided to take our chances on the steep track over the Black Mountain, as our host called it. It was a hard ride and walk up what had become a muddy road. Luckily, the sun came out not long after we had begun, making our trudge up to the pass a little easier.
The descent was not much faster than the climb as the road was rough and still slippery in places from the rain that had fallen in the morning. We made it through without incident but with mud-splattered bicycles.
We got back on asphalt and headed north toward the village of Barut where we bought some food and water, filled up the water bags and headed into the wadi outside town to find a place to camp.
It was a lovely spot with beautiful views of the mountains around, especially Jabal Misht, a steep and craggy wedge of a mountain that glowed orange as the sun set.
The next morning we stopped at the nearby village of Al Ayn which is known for its beehive tombs. We could see the tombs from several kilometres away as they stand atop a small hill behind the town with Jabal Misht as a backdrop.
Some of the tombs have collapsed or are partially caved in, but others still seem largely intact. Each tomb is about 3 metres in diameter and up to 4 metres high with rocks stacked, row upon row, growing slightly smaller in diameter near the top, creating a kind of cone-shaped structure.
After lots of picture taking, we continued on our way north to Al Hjir, hoping to find a road through the mountains to Rustaq instead of going the long way ‘round on the paved road. The map had only a partial track indicated to the town of Rumaylah but the GPS showed the track continuing through the mountains, following a wadi and coming out on the highway west of Rustaq.
This route promised to be difficult and perhaps not save much in time but save us a lot of kilometres on the road, but most importantly, it held the promise of beautiful scenery with a few small villages along the way.
The road to Rumaylah was a piece of cake. A new road is under construction and we were able to cycle mostly on the new road which was perfectly smooth substrate, ready for paving. Easy cycling.
We found a gorgeous little oasis to camp in at the end of the day and felt pretty good about the choice we had made, knowing full well that the tough part still lay ahead. The map clearly showed we would be going through two passes. Not very high ones, but given what we had already seen, they were sure to be steep.
They turned out to be the steepest bits of road we would cycle, or attempted to cycle. Slopes up to 22 per cent made cycling all but impossible. There was a fair bit of hiking with bikes up those steep roads.
After two days of slogging through those passes we were back on asphalt and on the way to Rustaq where we checked into the one and only hotel. It was a definitive 1-star hotel but the five of us were able to rent a two-bedroom suite that even had a washing machine that sort of worked. We headed north back to the coast for one last camp together on the beach before the German Guys and Jan and I would go our separate ways.
We camped for free on the beach adjacent to a resort that charged the exorbitant price of 90 OMR (($270) for a double. There was a small coffee shop that served burgers and chicken and beef on a stick so all our needs were met.
On the way to the beach, Sebastian, in an inattentive moment, left his wallet sitting on the back of his bike after buying some drinks at a store in a nearby town. The wallet probably fell off as soon as we cycled away and was not discovered missing until half and hour later when we arrived at the beach. It only contained cash, but a fair bit, so Sebastian and Holger cycled back to the store to see if they could find it.
In the store, Sebastian was told the wallet had been found and within minutes, the man who found it showed up and presented it to Sebastian, complete with all the cash. A lucky stroke, but one indicative of many of the people we have met here.
The following morning, Holger, Sebastian and Tom cycled south to the highway to catch a bus into Muscat for their flights back to their respective homes in Cairo, Ulan Baator and Tübingen, while Jan and I cycled west to Barka.
Thank you Holle, Seb and Tom for a great tour in Oman. It was great to ride together again.