3 Centre Holiday in Oman: Umm As Sameem

Part three of our epic Oman adventure saw us heading in to the west of Oman, with plans to link up with the “Oman Empty Quarter” route in Mike Nott’s excellent book Off-road Adventure Routes Oman + UAE.I will start with a word of caution to any of you who wish to drive in this area.  It is very remote, much of it with no phone signal, no emergency water source and poorly maintained gatchtracks.  Consider the risks carefully before you set off  (here’s my own thoughts on risk management when recreational offroading). We drove from Masairah over to Al Ghabba Resthouse, along a good but not much used road, with some lovely dunes and escarpments just to our right – these need further investigation on a future overland I think!

I’d met a local lady on the ferry, who sadly spoke no english and my “shway arabi” was limiting our conversation somewhat.  I saw her waiting by the side of the road a few kms from the arrival port, she’d got a lift part of the way and now was looking for another one, so I picked her up.  I showed her the map but she couldn’t locate where she was going but it was my way for a bit of the journey and that was enough for her now.  

Her name was Sagbah Ali and once she was settled in my car out came the perfume oil which she liberally applied to the car A./C vents followed by me and my clothes!  I didn’t think my car or indeed I smelled that bad but there is no doubt we both wonderfully fragrant, like an Arabian Oud shop by the time I dropped Sagbah off at a bus stop a few kms on!

There are very basic hotels dotted all over the UAE and Oman, called Resthouses and indeed that is all they are.  Very plain room with clean beds and bedding, a bathroom which was reasonably clean for the sum of 20 OMR per night.  We couldn’t check in straight away as half the town was having a powercut and the receptionist didn’t know if they would get power that night.  Thankfully it was restored after an hour or so and we had a good night’s sleep.

I’ve got a newly installed extra large gas tank on the Patrol, now it takes 135 litres of petrol, which costs just over 15 OMR (£25) to fill in Oman; the petrol in the UAE is much more expensive and it sets me back 220aed (£36). (Guess who travels to Oman with an almost empty tank and comes home with a completely full one!)  However this wouldn’t be enough gas to ensure our survival so far from civilisation so we loaded up with an extra 160 litres.

The strange thing in Oman is that you can drive so near their oilfields and LNG pipes, I am sure we were being watched but nevertheless we were just a couple of hundred metres away as we drove past some installations.  

Even though we know that all the above companies have interests throughout the middle east it was still strange to see their names emblazoned on trucks, overalls and signs in the middle of nowhere!

We came to the end of the road after passing the Mabrook (congratulations) Oilfield, and found an interesting place to lunch.

Still trying to get towards one of the waypoints on the OE route in the book, we headed over a large very rough sabkah which was the edge of the Umm As Sameem (mother of all worries/poisons).  You could tell that this gatch was created by a “western” oil company as there were designated laybys and safety signage!

We hit some big dunes which were incredibly like the ones which can be found in the Liwa Crescent of the UAE, however as we only had two cars, and no phone signal, we limited ourselves to driving over established tracks to find a good campsite.

We settled down for the night, enjoying the total lack of light pollution as we gazed skywards and spotted the milky way, satellites, planes and shooting stars.  

Next morning we had a look round the camping area for evidence of visitors in the middle of the night.  Normally there are many tracks from creatures such as jerboa, mice, geckos, dung beetles and spiders, but today there was nothing at all.  We really were all on our own in the empty quarter except for a few mosquitos that had annoyed us at sunset the night before.  Just as we were leaving we saw a pair of dragonfly and also a pair of birds.  I daresay the dragonfly had a limited life expectancy!

We’d downloaded our garmin track into google earth the night before and knew exactly where we were so the next plan was to try to reach either waypoint OE17 or OE18.  We knew this would mean another crossing over the Umm As Sameem, but despite studying it on the computer the night before, when driving it we were amazed at the sheer scale of it.  Neil also searched for our nearest POI on the garmin, in case of emergency and the closest one which came up was 115kms away!  In reality we were “only” about 50kms from an oilfield.

We started following one gatch track but it was proving too rough so we found another smoother, or should I say less bumpy one, and changed our heading. This is a picture of Neil leading the way across the GOOD one!

You really did have to stay on the tracks as the terrain is relentless and unforgiving and it’s also surprisingly easy to get lost on the featureless sabkah, akin to being in a 50km wide ploughed field. Thank goodness for GPS! 

 Once clear of the UAS, we finally managed to hit the OE route path and followed it up to waypoint 11, where we branched off and headed to Ibri and stayed overnight in the very nice Ibri Oasis Hotel.  

So there you have it, part three of our nine day trip.  We’re hoping we can get in another three visits to Oman this year!

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