Our traditional family morning involved taking both cars out to the dunes and opening our presents there, then home, or to a hotel to lunch. But this was the first Christmas we had been without kids for 25 years; we had never spent the day without our families around us.
My regular readers may have noticed that we love Oman and have spent quite a bit of time there over the last year, so we started looking at accommodation options. My good friend and fellow adventurer Sheena stepped in and offered us the chance to stay in her apartment which was going to be empty over Christmas.
Our new passports came in plenty of time – did you know that British expats have to send their passports to Dusseldorf for processing – and we set off via Sohar to Muscat.
The drive from Sohar to Muscat was horrible, there are lots of roadworks and potential accidents lurk everywhere; this route is shorter than the one via Nizwa but give me the road through the interior anyday!
After a restful night we dressed up and headed up to the Crowne Plaza for lunch which did not disappoint, it was the most extensive and impressive buffet we had ever seen.A barefoot walk on the beach was called for – I don’t believe in replicating our UK life over here so always aim to do somethig we couldn’t do at home. Much as I love the place, I certainly wouldn’t recommend a Christmas Day barefoot walk along New Aberdour beach!
After our day of rest, we were up early on Boxing Day: Destination Sur. The object of the exercise was to have another day at the seaside, exploring the small towns and anything else that caught our eye. I had also hoped to see Flamingo in the Sur basin – since I saw them when we were last there in 2008, surely they would still be there?
Our first (unscheduled) stop off point was the Dayqah Dam (N23 05.651, E58 51.038), completed at the start of 2012.
Some information on the project can be found here.
On site there’s not much in the way of signposting, so we meandered our way through the site first of all enjoying the awesome sight and sound of the tailrace.
Then following the sign to the “adminstration department” we came across a viewing platform and a big family park. As in many Gulf tourism sites, there is a lack of information boards, I would love to have the facts and figures for the dam.
This attraction has free entry, there are restrooms near the park and an (as yet) unopened restaurant. It’s a paradise for photographers on a clear day and would be a grand place for a picnic.
Our next stop was Quriyat, where we paused to photograph the mangroves (not that spectacular compared to Khor Kalba),
some local livestock resting in the shade, a fort, some fishermen and a handful of seabirds, before moving on to our main destination for the day, Sur.
Priority number one: photo of a flamingo (or 7). There is a road running all the way round the creek with lots of places you can pull off the road while you get a photo.
One of my favourite parts of the day was a visit to a tradtional Dhow building yard; you can find it at N22 33.702, E59 32.180. Entry is free, and there was lots to see including a small showroom – will make a separate blog about this soon.
There’s a great viewpoint on the westernmost road round the Khor, you could get up here carefully with a sedan but our FJ made light work of the bumpy road. (N22 33 156, E59 31.892). This picture would have been better with the tide in – we were about 30m above sea level here.
Our next stop was the old village of Qalhat N22 41.836, E59 22.286
The archaeological site has a “closed” sign at the bottom of the hill, but that didn’t deter us from going up for a look. If you have a sedan leave it at the foot of the climb and walk up as the car park is extremely rocky/bumpy. This site is worth a blog of its own; ancient history doesn’t normally interest me very much but with the sun low in the sky and the sea calm I could easily imagine this once important town as a bustling settlement.
Our last touristy stop of the day was at the Bahmah sinkhole – not the easiest place to find as the signs are inconsistent! Tip is to follow all the tour cars up the blacktop road, don’t take the rough track next to the brown sign. Entry point is N23 02.480, E59 04.386. You can swim here, have a picnic, or just take photos; there are concrete steps with a guardrail down to the water’s edge.
We headed back to Muscat after sunset, following a different path than our outward journey. We had to climb, then descend a moutain pass via a series of switchbacks; good roads, dual carriageway both ways and the most amazing view of the city lights. It wasn’t possible to stop to get a good photo, but you get the idea from the google earth snapshot I have taken here.
The last full day of our Christmas holiday saw us on the beach. After slowly driving past the “no cars on beach sign”, we followed the many tyre tracks and found a reasonably quiet spot. Aziba beach (N23 36.297, E58 20.786) is mainly frequented by locals, and as such visitors will feel most comfortable dressing modestly; it’s definitely not the place to wear a bikini or budgie smugglers! We warmed up some non-alcoholic mulled wine by leaving the bottle on the car dashboard while we sorted out a shelter to have our picnic.
It was 25/26C and in the UAE we would have been cold, but with the humidity in Muscat it was a very comfortable temperature.
We relaxed in the shallows, marvelled at a baby cuttlefish’s speed and ability to camouflage itself, found a live starfish, and tried to race some seasnails. The seasnail competition wasn’t a great success, once we had them lined up they all proceeded to bury themselves in the wet sand!
And the water never stopped – late in the afternoon the clouds that had been boiling up over the distant mountains all day made it to Muscat and there was a huge downpour. I wish I had stopped to take a picture of the sea as we left the next morning, the gentle waves had been replaced by rolling breakers and the beach was deserted!
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