Seven Degrees Southward – the journey from Al Ain to Salalah

When my husband first came out to the UAE in 2007 he bought the Oman Offroad book by Explorer, and on my first scan through it, l noticed “Salalah and Dhofar” and thought it looked like an interesting sort of place.

Fast forward a few months and on our first visit to Sohar in Oman, I saw a sign saying “Salalah 1215km” – how COOL would it be to drive there; after all the longest road in Scotland is only 439kms and no two places in the UK are 1215km (750 miles) apart!

We had considered going home to Scotland  for a break this this summer, but for one reason or another we decided to forgo the rain and  12C temps, and decided to head to Dhofar for to experience fog, rain and drizzle and much more comfortable temps of 28C. 

The key to any successful expedition is research and preparation.  We read a few books with routes in Salalah, trawled the internet for pictures and info, and downloaded the road route from Paolo Rossetti’s fantastic site – weekenduae.

From his route description we learned that there are long stretches of remote road with no amenities, so we packed up the car as we would for a summer trip in the desert – 24 hours water and food, basha for shelter (as well as all our camping gear and a second spare tyre) – to help us survive the worst case scenario of a breakdown in the middle of nowhere and no a/c.

During the monsoon season last year, Salalah had 328,000 visitors, of which only 1393 were Europeans, and over 295,000 from the GCC.  It certainly felt that for every 3000 locals/GCC citizens, there was about 1 western expat, but we were treated kindly everywhere we went.  Many signs are in Arabic, but English is widely spoken but less so than in the UAE; you will get the most out of your visit here if you can speak/read a few words in Arabic.

The figures above may explain that despite many google searches, it was difficult to find tourist advice, from a Western perspective, for those visiting during the Kareef.  I hope my blogs about Salalah inspire you to go and help you plan an itinary.  To me it definitely should be on any expat’s Middle East “bucket list”!

We had our car checked at customs for the first time, possibly as we were flagged up as being of the wrong ethnicity for having our car loaded down like this!  We crossed the border with just a little gas in the tank so we could fill up with cheaper Oman fuel – only 1.2aed per litre, as opposed to 1.72aed per litre in the UAE.

Our first night was spent at the Jibreen Hotel in Bahla, a budget hotel with lovely clean rooms, comfortable beds and at 25 OMR (40GBP) per night, great value for money.  Tip: if you love Tesco Onion Bajis then order some extra onion pakora at dinner and take with you as a picnic for the second leg of the journey.

Now if only the elevator had been situated to the right of the reception desk….

Our first full day in Oman saw us head south to join up with road 31, which runs the length of Oman, and very soon we ran out of scenic mountains and started the next part of the journey. 

Thankfully, the road has been much improved since Paolo did the trip in Oct 10, in fact all but 150kms has been to rehab!  Now others have said, and it is mentioned on the weekenduae website that the road is boring.

It seemed boring at this point

And then it truly was boring.  We saw a “beware camels” sign and speculated that the only way you would see camels on the road there was if the truck carrying them had broken down!

For a short time it had the potential to be exciting – a truck carrying explosives, complete with police escort, driving at 100kph on a bumpy road

Soon it was back to boring, which morphed into monononous

Finally, after 750 mind-numbing kilometres, we arrived in Thumrait, where the temperature dived to about 35C from the 42C it had been most of the way from Bahla.  As we drove towards the coast it dropped another 7C down to 28C  which is a very nice temperature for a holiday – we can see why so many GCC citizens come here for a month or more during the summer to beat the relentless heat of the desert.

Having left Bahla at 7.30am, and arrived at 5pm, stopping only for fuel and snacks,  we were extremely happy to see the green hills of Dhofar.  I would like to tell you that in our euphoria we danced around like a scene out of the sound of music but in truth we were too knackered!

Next challenge was to find a campsite and I had reckoned that three hours would be plenty of time to locate one.  How wrong I was!  We took a road up to some springs, thinking there would be potential there, but in just a few kms we were on the inside of a cloud!  And not only that, hundreds and hundreds of people were there having their picnics in the rain; even if we could have seen where we were going it was unlikely we would find a tranquil spot as a base for the next four days.

Desperation and tiredness kicked in so a quick check of booking dot com found us a bed for the night at the Samharam Tourist Village – we entered the co-ords in the GPS, and headed  back to the coastal area of the city of Salalah.  Unfortunately the co-ordinates on the website were incorrect and we found ourselves outside some lavish villas on the seafront – possibly governmental VIPs?  We were just in the process of working out where we really should have been, when a young man in Omani national dress with a rifle slung over his shoulder tapped at the car window.  He smiled, listened to our problem, and between miming and smiling he showed us the way to the hotel, warning us where the speed cameras were hidden.

After a restful night in a surprisingly comfortable bed, we considered abandoning the camping plans and staying at the Sumharam for another 3 nights, but they were full after that night, so there was nothing for it but to go searching for a camp.  Oman and the UAE are essentially Bedouin societies, so you can camp anywhere so long as it isn’t cultivated.  Our first stop was the beach, where there are some great pavilions (complete with bbq pits) that you can stay in, but we thought these might be a bit busy if we were there overnight.    The Indian Ocean was a bit noisy too!

We then found a lovely spot, just 2kms up a track from the road, not green yet as the heavy monsoon rains hadn’t reached that area, but lovely and peaceful, with a view of the sea in the distance, and the sound of the breaking waves crashing on the beach.

There is so much to tell you about this wonderful area and I would like to describe the routes we took and the places we found, so this is the first in a series of blogs – click on the links below. Some of these have downloadable routes and waypoints which you can transfer to your gps.

Routes and Information

Photo Blogs

 

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I am hoping to journey to Salalah in August 2016 – the kareef will still be in full swing and the area will be lush and green.  If you would be interested in accompanying me, please fill out the contact form below – trip is subject to minimum numbers and a small charge will be made to cover my expenses.

 

[contact-form to=’desertdiva36@gmail.com; fullemptyquarter@gmail.com’ subject=’Salalah August Trip Enquiry’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Phone number’ type=’text’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Further info’ type=’textarea’/][contact-field label=’Dates – if potentially interested in a longer trip or available more than one week then add this info to comment box’ type=’select’ required=’1′ options=’Depart 30 July return 5th August (5 nights),Depart 21st August return 27th August (6 nights)’/][contact-field label=’Accommodation preference’ type=’select’ required=’1′ options=’Camping all nights,Camping/hotel mix,Hotel all nights’/][contact-field label=’Type of trip’ type=’select’ required=’1′ options=’Sightseeing – onroad,Sightseeing with light offroad driving (4×4 or AWD or 4WD required),Sightseeing with heavy duty offroading (high clearance 4×4 required)’/][/contact-form]

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