One of the biggest challenges of the weekend was clearing the Oman border; the UAE had its act together and departures were processed quickly (even although the ticket machine was not working). Everyone in our party had got up very early to be there about 4.45am; one car took 30 minutes to clear both border posts, I had a leaky valve on one of my tyres so needed to pump it up in between posts, taking just 10 minutes yet adding much more queuing time in Oman so I took 65 minutes, however the other cars arrived just 10 minutes later than us and took 160 minutes to get through! The Oman border post was utter mayhem even at silly o clock in the morning but I believe in the afternoon waits of 3-4 hours were not uncommon; I certainly will not be going to Oman in Eid again!
Since we had four days to fill with ofroading adventures, the first part of the plan was to complete the Backside Border route within a 1km wide corridor. The sand was really soft and our four long wheelbase cars had more stucks than we usually would have, however we were making reasonable progress until Ian had a particularly bad stuck which gave us a chance to try out our recovery skills!
We had a quick stop for lunch then Nic took over the lead and things went well until the next problem – Lionel’s clutch overheated, so you could say his car chose our campspot; we then spent some time recceing an easy route out to the nearest sabkah. Next morning we had to haul him over 1.8kms of dunes before hitting a large sabkah but unfortunately when we were pulling Lionel over the last rise when his towrope snapped, *groan* which took out his radiator!
Once back on the road, Nic hauled Lionel back to the border while the rest of us headed south to Umm As Sameem – after such a problem filled sand dune drive there is no way we were going straight back into the dunes! We followed the signs to the Rob’a Al Kali (Empty Quarter), and for the first time ever I found one which announced you were actually there. This sign appears on the new Oman-Saudi road which I thought was open but as you will see by picture 3, there is still some work left to do – but it did not matter, I could not drive in Saudi anyway!
I have crossed the Umm As Sameem three times before; in 2012 with no satphone (really bad idea, in case of emergency, you would likely die before anyone found you), once being escorted by the Omani Army, and again last year when we took the offroad route for our Christmas break in Salalah. This time we chose the most westerly approach to the quicksands before heading south across tracks until we located a great camping spot. In the morning I was
surprised shocked to see a camel spider, albeit a small one, but pleasantly surprised to see a swift circling round our camp as we prepared breakfast. So much for the Quarter being Empty!
After packing up we crossed to the east of the sabkah to revisit the Christmas Tree and explore the rocky plateaus above. Once clear of there we confirmed there was still a track exit to Ghaba before backtracking to check out the easy dune track I had completed in 2012 – which was still doable with a multitude of great camping spots.
We checked out another track exit to the Ghaba road, declared all objectives met and set off back to the UAE – where the border processing was very fast!