We spent just over three weeks with Tom, Sebastian and Holger. It’s always sad to say farewell to good friends as we live far apart in Canada, Egypt, Germany and Mongolia, and who knows when we’ll see each other again. But it was a great time and we miss them. We will ride together again.
Jan and I cycled along the coast to Barka and then headed inland again where we decided to pamper ourselves a bit at Al Nahda Resort, a few kilometres south of Barka. It is a huge place with all the resort stuff you would expect: spa, pool, restaurants and a bar. Yes, a bar. With real alcoholic drinks, which have been so hard to find in Oman. Nothing tops a day of cycling in the heat like a cold beer but you can’t just go to the store and buy one here. It was a treat to have a couple of cold beers delivered to our room to enjoy them on our balcony. We followed that with a nice dinner and a good night’s sleep in a fabulous king-size bed.
In the morning, after a long, leisurely breakfast buffet to fuel up for the day, we continued south back toward the mountains we had crossed a few days earlier to find a road we hoped to take through Wadi al Abyad.
Wadi al Abyad usually has water in it all year, making it a good place to be. There is a small village at the north side of the wadi where we entered, riding past date plantations where the asphalt ended. From then on it was pushing the bikes. The gravel in the wadi was just too soft to ride. Large 4x4s, however, did not have much trouble with it and there were many of them. At one point, a group of about 15-20 Toyota Land Cruisers came tearing out of the wadi. Some sticking to the track but quite a few of them behaving badly, spinning out and stunting. We were very happy to see the back of them.
We ended up hiking with bikes for about four and a half kilometres that afternoon in the searing heat. Just before sundown we called it quits, exhausted, and made our camp in the shade of some palm trees beside the water running through the wadi. It was a gorgeous spot which we had all to ourselves once the last of the 4×4 cowboys left. We made dinner in the dark of the approaching night and ate under the stars.
Tired from a long day, it was an early night with a rude awakening when a truck roared by our camp going further up the wadi. A crazy thing to do in the dark. We got back to sleep, though, and were not disturbed again.
In the morning, after breakfast, we went on a reconnaissance walk to see what the track was like further up the wadi. After an hour of walking and climbing a hill to get a distant view, we decided it was not worth the risk pushing on as we had no solid information about if, and how, we would end up on the paved road we hoped would be at the end. The GPS showed it was there but without seeing it, we did not want to take the chance and possibly have to push the bikes back even further.
Hiking with bikes is about the least favourite thing to do on a cycling trip but this was a beautiful spot and we had no regrets, only a couple of small blisters and humbled, yet again, by the rugged landscape. Once back in the village of al Abyad, we stopped to have a tea and buy some water. Almost as soon as we arrived, a man struck up a conversation with us. It turns out he loves cycling and it is his dream to do a tour. Maybe not a long one like we are doing, but a tour of a few weeks or a month.
Zaharn had rented a small farm in al Abyad with his extended family for a weekend outing. We drank our tea and chatted for about 45 minutes when he invited us to come to meet his family and have lunch. We could not turn him down, so off we went, pushing our bikes again as Zaharn tried to find his way back to the farmhouse. We spent several hours there and talked about life in Oman and life on the road. It was an absolute joy to talk with him and get some insights into Omani culture first-hand. Zaharn is a well-travelled, educated man with a pragmatic and liberal view of life, yet, he is also a man who values the traditions of his culture. Those two views don’t necessarily always go hand in hand but I think he has found a way that works.
As the sun was creeping toward the horizon, we said goodbye to Zaharn and his family, thanking them for their generosity and willingness to open their lives to us, a couple of bicycle nomads. So, what had begun as a day of disappointment for having to hike back out of Wadi al Abyad turned into a chance meeting with many rewards. Life is amazing.
We cycled partly back the way we had come and turned south to Nakhal in search of reputed hot springs near there. Nakhal also has a large fort that dominates the skyline of the town and a few kilometres further on, cycling through lovely date farms, we found the hot springs. Alas, our hope to camp there was quickly dashed as it was busy with what looked like most of the town’s people having their bath. And with no way to hike up the wadi to leave the crowds behind, we rode out to the edge of town and found a place to camp just as darkness fell.
Our time in Oman was coming to an end. We spent a couple more days cycling back to Muscat through the beautiful landscape of Jabal Nakhal and then through industrial areas along busy highways as we approached the city. It was good to get back into the city to spend a couple of days there switching gears as we wound down our month in Oman. We spent a lot of time in and around Muttrah and the souq, or market. It’s a great place to observe people going about their daily lives and feeling the rhythm of this city as it ebbs and flows through the day with the shops open first thing in the morning, only to close again between noon and 4, and reopening for the evening. All of it punctuated five times every day with the calls to prayer from every mosque.
We cleaned and packed our bicycles and we did something we were not able to accomplish in Istanbul: buy some carpets. Carpet buying in these places is a process. It is not one I usually enjoy as there is often pressure to buy something. We visited a few shops but found the pressure here to be less than in Istanbul or India. The sales pitches here are much softer, especially at Al Habib Carpets on the water front in Muttrah near the souq. The owner, Jalal Zamani was friendly, funny and gregarious. We found some pieces in his shop Jan and I both liked very much and were able to make a deal with him which is how our time in Oman came to a close.
In all we cycled 1,330 kilometres in Oman. We enjoyed the beauty of the land and its people whose hospitality always made us feel welcome. We always received great reactions to the news we are from Canada, a country that is still very much respected. I will never forget the comment by one very observant man who said: “Canada is a great country, but it lives in the shadow of the United States.” I answered him with a phrase I had heard many years ago: “America is the elephant but Canada is the mouse.” He laughed and went on his way and we on ours.