MSC Lirica glided into Salalah, Oman as the desert view gave way to giant cranes at the container port where the ship docked. The ship’s thrusters thundered, moving it slowly sideways as the ship neared the dock – aided as always when coming into port by a tug.
We came in on a Friday, which is the holy day in Islamic countries. Not much is likely to be open in town and we did not know about the possibility of local van tours so we booked an excursion through the ship called Wadi Off Road. We expected something that went through sandy expanses of nothingness to Bedouin type camps, but instead the tour took us mostly to developed places with pavement other than a trek through some desert roads that were made up of more rocks than sand. That bit did have some serious ups and downs over the hills, but nothing remote or exciting. We did not go anywhere that we needed 4-wheel drive to get to. You never know what sort of vehicle you will get for a 4×4 tour. We’ve had everything from jeeps to open-sided trucks to a jungle bus in the past. This time it was a fleet of nice new-looking 4×4 cars.
We first went to a seaside overlook near Taqah, with clifftop views of the town and the sea. There was a slight bit of off-roading to get to that one. Besides great views it had lots of giant dragonflies, but they were too fast to catch a photo of them. Not far from there our next stop brought us to a view across a bay to the walls around the ruins of an ancient castle said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba on the opposite cliff.
We could see people over there, but the viewpoint was the closest our tour got to it. We stood on a cliff high above the sea, the ruins equally high on the other side. In ancient times it was a bustling sea port. A sand bar now separates that bay from the open sea. Without access to the sea for ships it became a quiet place for birds to call home.
During the tour our guide talked about his country as well as the things we would see. He had high praise for Sultan Qaboos. Over his 5 decades of rule the sultan used his country’s oil wealth to transform Oman from an isolated poverty stricken country with just 6 miles of paved roads where slavery was still legal into a stable and prosperous nation. The sultan worked hard to improve the lives of his people and strived to maintain peace and neutrality with other nations. If our guide was any indication of general public opinion, the people loved him. We would pass by things like schools or hospitals and he would say Sultan Qaboos had built that for the people. (Sultan Qaboos has since died so they have a different sultan now.)
Like most countries, housing in Oman varied from areas that looked like slums to richer developments lined with mansions, and everything in between. The guide said the people living in the mansions often had multiple wives, but the lower income people could only afford one.
Our trek to the next stop at Wadi Darbat was on paved roads. Camels were everywhere. Some of them were friendly. At the bottom there was a small food shack with restrooms our guide described as 1-star, but they were really more like a negative 10, and that’s being generous. You know the restroom is disgusting when the Chinese style squat toilet is the best choice available – because you don’t need to touch anything with a squat toilet and the place was way too filthy to even consider using the hover over technique on the one with a seat. Bringing your own toilet paper is always a good plan when traveling in unknown places. This was not the first place we’ve been to that didn’t provide any – and in this particular place even if it had people would have been better off not touching it.
There were trails up to a very small cave in the rock, and more trails down to a river with camels all along the bank. They went about their business unbothered by the group of tourists in their midst. Our guide said all of the camels belonged to one family, and pointed out the house where they lived as we drove past it. There were camels of all ages and sizes. Some of the big female camels had netting or covers over their udders, presumably to keep their offspring away either because it was weaning time or to limit the time they are allowed to nurse so the mother could be milked.
On the way out of the wadi we stopped briefly to see a small waterfall. It was just a short hike down a steep small trail from where the car parked to the stream.
Next we went to a place called Ain Hamran with large trees, flowers, birds. While we were there a herd of goats came down one of the surrounding hills to go to the spring at the bottom for a drink. The water there ran through cement lined ducts into a cement pond. The guide said that area was a popular picnic spot for the locals, but it was fairly deserted other than our tour group while we were there. Between there and the next stop we went off-road through the desert. Well off the paved road anyway. It was a rough rocky desert road with lots of steep ups and downs. Far from a 4×4 only road though. The local van tours went through there just as easily as the 4-wheel drives.
Our last stop was at Ain Razat with a natural spring and a cave. The guide just said we were going to a cave. He stopped the car and everyone got out. There was a pond surrounded in trees at one end of the parking lot and a cave on a little hill above it. We went up to the little cave, which was just an unimpressive hole in a rock that maybe people are living in or maybe they were just picnicking there.
Back in the car as we left the parking lot and started down the road we saw a stairway going up a hill on the other side of the street – with a cave entrance at the top. We had apparently missed the main attraction, which could not be seen from the parking lot through the trees. Too bad the guide didn’t mention we needed to leave the area and go across the street because the cave we were there to see was not the cave we could see from there. I love caves, particularly the sort full of stalactites and stalagmites. I looked for photos online to see what we had missed and from them it appeared this cave was just a sort of room with a view, but I still would have liked to see it. Nobody from our car went up there, but a few of the other guides must have been more specific since some of the other people did find it. Not all of them though as there were enough people hanging around the parking lot area not to notice that others had left.
After that we went back to the ship. The cars must have been required to stay in line according to the number they were assigned because when our driver passed some of the other cars from our tour he got a phone call following which he slowed down until some of the others passed and we fell into our original place in line.
In spite of a 4×4 not actually being necessary and missing the cave, we did enjoy the tour. We got to see quite a lot of the area and learned interesting things from the guide.
Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021