Oman - March 10, 2008

So this weekend I finally got to escape the confines of Dubai.  This place is really neat, but after awhile the traffic and construction gets a little tedious.  Saturday I decided to go on an adventure and went hiking in Oman.  I drove two hours East out of Dubai through the neighboring Emirate of Sharjah to a town called Dibba on the Musandam Peninsula.  Part of Dibba is in the UAE and the other part is Oman.  Just outside Dubai I really started to feel like I was in a foreign country.  There were none of the dreaded KFC's or Hardies, just camels and donkeys and goats and more goats and carpet selling stalls lining the roads through the few towns I came across.  The highway was interesting...it was miles and miles of tightly packed lampposts but then nothing else as far as the eye could see except desert and then eventually rocky mountainsides. 

When I made it to Dibba, I went through the Omani border crossing which was really just one guy standing in the middle of the street with a huge Uzi machine gun over his shoulder.  He looked in the trunk and tried to ask me questions, but I couldn't understand him and finally he got really annoyed and said "just go...please". My first stop was the Adventure Center.  This British guy started Absolute Adventure Company about three years ago and leases a beautiful house on the beach.  It was the most serene complex I have ever been in. What a place to stay the night or get married or have a party! The owner has spent years cultivating a relationship with the local Omani's in the villages of Aqaba and Lima (where we trekked to) so they allow him to visit and he evens employs some of the locals as guides.  Other Westerners would not be welcome in the places we toured so that made it even more special, like an exclusive club. 

The trek started with a 45 minute speed boat ride to the little fishing village of Aqaba.  If you know me at all you know I love boats so already it was a great day.  Our boat Captain was the 1,000 year old Ali who was on the prowl for a third wife.  From Aqaba we scaled along the coastal rocks and started our ascent up the mountain.  It was the most intense, exhilarating, beautiful, majestic, exhausting, sweaty, fun and all around fantastic hike of my life.  The views were amazing and climbing over the rocks...sometimes clinging on for dear life...was super exciting.  Almost at the top was an abandoned village.  It would have been inhabited until as late as the 1960's.  These mountain people had a hard life...climbing down one side of the mountain for fish, climbing down the other side for dates, collecting rain for water, constantly repairing their houses and trying to avoid foxes and poisonous snakes. 

Speaking of mountain people...I must tell you about our guide Abdhur.  He was hard core.  No shoes, a traditional knife in his belt, carrying a big awkward box in a makeshift sling around one shoulder, in a long sleeve jacket with no food or water.  It had to be at least 90 degrees and we were scaling a pretty steep mountain and he didn't even break a sweat.  On the way down the mountain, I'm tripping, stumbling and often falling on my ass and sliding a few meters due to the ever present loose rocks.  Abdhur comes across a mama and baby goat and fearing the baby will be eaten by a fox, proceeds to pick it up to carry it to the bottom.  I must say he has become my new measure of studliness..."Honey, while I'm impressed at how far you can through that football and all the jars you can open for me...can you carry a baby goat and a big box down the side of a steep mountain covered in loose and falling rocks, in your bare feet without so much as one misstep?"...hahaha.

At the bottom of the mountain we ate lunch in a date palm plantation in the village of Lima.  I don't think it gets any better than lying on a mat in the shade of date palms with your feet dangling in a fresh water spring, listening to the sounds of parakeets overhead and baby goats in the pen next door.  It was paradise! Lima was amazing...tiny, isolated, full of roosters and goats...more goats than I've ever seen in my life!  It was really the first authentic cultural experience I've had since being here.  We then hoofed it to the coast and started our boat ride back to Dibba with the brilliant sun getting ready to set over the mountains.  When we hit the harbor the daily fish auction was going on.  It was crazy and smelly and loud and disgusting but good fun.  They had even caught a Zebra shark.  Back at the Adventure Center, I then took a motorized hang glider ride as the sun was setting.  It was magical!

All in all it was the perfect day!  Traveling and experiencing new cultures and challenging yourself is what life's all about! It's incredible how different my life is from the people in these villages. 

Ma'a as-salaama,

Jen