Roughing It In Oman

May 14, 2013 20 Comments »

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A rare tree leaves little shade while hiking in Oman

I laid out my new sleeping bag on the thick mat under the stars. It was muggy outside but I still got into the down sleeping bag else I felt too exposed. I turned off my head lamp and said goodnight to my fellow travelers going through the same ritual nearby. As I lay there, I was still wondering if my decision to sleep outside of the tent was a sound one, but I tried to calm my worries of scorpions and other creepy, crawly things by instead focusing on the stars above me. An almost unreal twinkle of stars in various galaxies was laid out in front of me in spectacular fashion. What Oman lacks in trees, it makes up for in stargazing.

A day ago, when I arrived in Oman in the wee morning hours I watched the sun come up and light up the capital city of Muscat, showing me my first glimpse of the color palette that would grace my vision for the next 9 days – white, tan, cream & brown. It was as if the other colors were forbidden from Oman – the color red was most certainly turned away at the border. Even the cars zipping around the modern capital city of Muscat followed the color pattern.

My first day in Oman was packed with new experiences – meeting my new travel partners and my Exodus group leaders Rob, Khalfan, and Zahir was only the beginning. Rob briefed us on the hiking itinerary and any cultural rules we needed to know as we toured around Muscat the first morning. After a few key tourist stops, we dove right into the rough stuff – we started hiking.  Rob led us on a short hike as Rob called it through a wadi (valley) in Muscat. It was challenging for my body and mind to adjust to the heat and the terrain. The wadi hike was short but challenging with lots of ups and downs and rock scramble type hiking. The sun beat down me and I looked around for shady shelter – there was none.  This was the beginning of my hiking holiday without trees.

This was my first trip with Exodus, a small group travel company based in the UK specializing in adventure holidays. And this was also my first trip to Oman – a country that I knew very little about when I arrived. Even though most people travel through Oman experiencing the luxurious side of travel in the Middle East, we were going to be roughing it for the next 9 days. Camping, hiking, and driving were the main things on our itinerary.

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Sleeping outdoors under the stars

As I lay there under the stars at our first campsite I finally drifted off to sleep, but was woken up at 3AM when it started to rain. The idea of sleeping outside under the stars all of a sudden seemed like a really bad idea. My outdoor sleeping mates and I groggily got up and started to put up our emergency tent that we originally thought there was a 1% chance of having to use it.

I can now add setting up a tent in the middle of the night with a headlamp in the rain to my list of “strange things I never thought I would do”.

Even though I was off to a rough start to the camping and hiking – like most things with travel, it’s just a matter of getting used to your new environment and getting your body and mind in a rhythm – the Oman rhythm. The next morning we were up early with the sun, ate our simple camp breakfast, tore down the campsite, and off we went towards the mountains. The camping and hiking rhythm had begun and my body soon adjusted to sleeping in a tent, doing it’s ‘business’ outside in nature, scrambling up rocks, being dirty for days, going to bed at 9PM and getting up at 6AM with the sun – all the simplicities and joys of a camping/hiking trip.

Hiking

Jebel Shams

Peering over a canyon during our Balcony Hike in Jebel Shams

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Making our way through wet wadi’s

Jebel Akhdar hiking

Trekking through the Jebel Akhdar

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Coastal hiking required a lot of scrambling up & down wadi’s

Hiking in Oman was the star of the show – the headliner – the diva; and it deserves all of the attention.  We did a hike every day for an average of 4 hrs a day of hiking – some days longer, some shorter. Even though the treeless, brown landscape felt like it lacked variety at times – there were definite differences among the mountain hiking and coastal hiking we did. The mountains kept us cool at higher altitudes and graced us with bottomless canyons, while the coast brought humidity, rugged coastline, intense sun, and sea air.

The hiking was definitely a medium to hard rating for me – it was challenging since most of the trails we went on were not marked. These unmarked trails can be fun as you are really blazing your own path, but they are not as maintained and it’s easy to get a bit lost if you lose sight of the group. This also meant that you were left doing some challenging scrambles up and down the wadis picking your own path.

Even though I did all of my hiking in trail shoes – I would have liked a bit more ankle and sole support – I would recommend proper hiking boots for a serious Oman hiking holiday like this one. Often we were scrambling over boulders and rocks – there was seldom even ground in Oman! Some of the wadi/canyon hikes took us through water up past our knees which was refreshing – but also a bit nerve-wracking if you aren’t used to that type of hiking. There were also a few narrow sections that challenged my fear of heights each day – however the canyon views were worth it!

Camping

Jebel Akhdar camping

Our campsite on Jebel Akhdar

Beach camping oman

Beach camping – perched on a sandbar with a view

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My beach campsite – close to the waves

We were provided with tents, a thick sleeping mat, and I had to bring my own sleeping bag. Even though I was melting in the sun most of the days while hiking, at night when the sun went down in the mountains so would the temperatures. They hovered around freezing most nights on Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar! My gloves and down coat definitely came in handy. There was no access to a shower for 5 days, so wet wipes were a lifesaver. This was really what I would call ‘wild camping’ – we were roughing it and there was nothing glamorous about it. But once I got in the groove of it – I really loved it. I think the best thing you can do for yourself and your vacation time is to simplify – and camping is simplicity at it’s best.

After setting up camp and our tents we would gather wood for a camp fire and then sit around the fire and relax a bit while Rob, Khalfan, and Zahir cooked up massive feasts for us to eat. I loved our campfire conversations and star gazing lessons from Rob. We even found marshmallows to toast around the campfire!  This campfire time was also the time that Rob would brief us for the next day’s itinerary.

Our campsites were remote and scenic – some better than others. In fact the only visitors we saw around our campsite in the mountains were goats – we never even saw another person.  On the days we did coastal hiking, all of our camping gear was delivered by boat “James Bond style”. The beach spots were lovely – there’s nothing better then having the waves lull you to sleep in your tent. Plus – it was a nice to have the option to take a dip in the water after sweaty day of treeless hiking.

Driving

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Driving through the mountain roads in Oman was an adventure

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Mountain roads in Oman

This 9 day itinerary was full of hiking, but it was also full of driving. We did spend a decent amount of time in the cars in order to get from place to place some days. A typical day would take us hiking in the morning and then driving in the afternoon to get to our next spot. This was a great way to see a wide variety of the country as well as the different hiking opportunities.  In addition, this meant that we never had to carry our camping gear – it was always transported by car.

Plus – many times the drives were absolutely stunning as we wound through the wadis and then would go on some intense hairpin climbs and descents up the mountains on little gravel pathways without any guard rails. A 4 wheel drive and nerves of steel was necessary everywhere we went!

Food

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Getting ready for our fish fry on the beach

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Enjoying breakfast at the campsite

Green mango

Green mango and chili pepper – a surprising and tasty combination

Since we really were camping 8 of the 9 days – the food was good, fresh, but simple. Typical camping food of stews, pastas, and rice were the norm. Fruit, coffee, and tea were always in big supply. I personally was thrilled to have cereal (the true American breakfast!) for one of our breakfast options, along with yogurt and bread. Our lunches were normally on the go – a simple spread of pita bread, tuna, hummus, corn, cucumbers, and salad. It was actually quite perfect to eat light during our hiking and then have a bigger camp dinner for energy for the next day.

We also made our share of gas station stops for snacks, soda, cookies and chocolate emergencies! The beauty of a hiking holiday is that you get to eat all the ‘good’ stuff! I was definitely sweating off the calories I took in.

The last night of camping we went out with a bang – we had a huge fish BBQ on the beach after our longest and hardest day of hiking. Khalfan, who was from a small fishing village, was responsible for preparing and cooking up the two huge fish we bought at the market. He stuffed the fish with veggies and spices, wrapped them tinfoil, and threw the packet over the hot coals for 30 minutes.   We had an Omani style feast eating with our hands all picking off the fish in the middle around the campfire on the beach.

People

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Zahir, Khalfan, and Rob – our Exodus guides

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Rob enjoying the view during our coastal hike

The guides are the main people you interact with and depend upon on a trip like this and we were lucky enough to have 3 of them at our disposal. Our Exodus guides were superb at guiding us and providing a helping hand. They allowed us all to go our own paces yet still were able to keep the group together. They offered to carry my day pack when I was struggling with some of the climbs and the water crossings. One of the most memorable moments is when we had finally finished our grueling 8 ½ hour coastal hike and ended up on the beach, the guides had arranged for cold cans of coca-cola to be delivered along with our camping gear by boat. Seriously – Coke never tasted so good! Of course there were a few times where I was frustrated with not have expectations properly set when it came to time/difficulty of the hikes – but I can appreciate the complexity of managing a group of 9 diverse people in physical situations. Overall the guys were thoughtful, helpful, strong, and they knew the territory well – they really made the trip for me.

My hiking mates were a lovely, diverse mix of people from the UK mainly. There was only 1 male out of the 9 of us and he quickly became the fire master – what is it about men and fire? We all varied in age and fitness, but our common thread was our love of hiking – and that’s all that mattered. Five of us were solo travelers and had come to Oman on our own. The group was super at all helping out. The campsites definitely required participation and everyone chipped in.

Since we were hiking most days we didn’t really come into contact with many locals – however our guides certainly provided answers to any cultural questions I had and helped us understand the history and culture of the country and the people.

Is Roughing it in Oman For You?

From my perspective this is a great trip for the right person – someone who really loves the outdoors, hiking, and doesn’t mind really roughing it. If you are going to go – avoid the hottest time of the year and head there any time from October to April.  The best part about this hiking trip in Oman was that it’s still a destination that is off the beaten path. The hiking and views were spectacular especially since we had the landscape to ourselves and no trees to get in the way of seeing for miles.

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Me hiking along the coast on our last day.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Exodus Travels on this Oman trekking holiday. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own.

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