Oman Adventures: Wadi Shab, Al Hamra, and Misfat al Abriyeen

“Beauty has a destination” is the the new tourism slogan in Oman and it really is appropriate.  I’ve met well-off Omanis who have not traveled further than the Gulf and don’t have any desire to.  They are so satisfied with the simple, yet varied beauty of their homeland that they don’t see a need to veer any further.  Coupled with Oman’s political and social stability, even the expats are hesitant to leave her shores.

While living in Yemen and Algeria, we were so focused on study and work respectively, that we had few opportunities to explore both countries.  We vowed that whenever we’re settled in a place, we will be brave and venture out.  Since coming to Oman, we’ve had overnight trips in Salalah, Dimi wa at-Taiyyin, and Suwayq but there’s still so much more to see, so we vowed this year get a move on it!

First Stop:  Wadi Shab

Firstly, a wadi is a valley.  Sounds simple but what really makes the wadi experience is what takes place in the wadi.  Some are dry, with hardly any water, just dry desert stones, rocks, and empty space.  Some are filled with waterfalls, lush greenery, and date palms.  The experience also varies depending on the time of year and incidence of rainfall.

Wadi Shab is considered the most beautiful wadi in Oman.  It’s located in a fishing town, Sur.  We were hesitant to make such a long journey for a day trip but it was an opportunity not to be missed!  After the vast and imposing entrance to Wadi Shab, you can continue to discover oases, diving points, cliffs, waterfalls and caves.

The highlight of Wadi Shab is swimming through three ponds of water, squeezing between a narrow crevice, and reaching the innermost cave to behold a waterfall inside the cave!  Definitely a “subhaan’Allah (Glory be to God) moment”!  The journey was challenging but breathtaking.

General Note:  Wear water shoes, stay hydrated, and use sunscreen.  Even though we walked into the wadi, we had to take a boat to exit because of the rising tide.  Be prepared to pay the kind men who will deliver you safely to the shores of the parking lot.  🙂

Note for non-swimmers:  Travel with people who really know how to swim, learn how to float on your back, and/or wear a lifevest.  I floated my way through the ponds with an occasional tug from a concerned swimming companion.  🙂

Note for those traveling with babies/toddlers:  Definitely requires at least two able adults to do some occasional baby carrying and passing.  Some of the precupices were too steep to manage without passing a young child to another.  Also, be mindful of the time of day and intensity of heat.

Next Stop:  Al Hamra

The following weekend, we were invited to visit a student in Al Hamra, just outside of Nizwa.  While our host’s home was comfy and cozy, with all modern amenities, he took us to the old village of Al Hamra where traditional homes fashioned from clay still stand.  The old village is now largely abandoned due to the inability to install any electricity, water, and sewage infrastructure.  However, our host, a middle-aged man, was born in this village and can remember counting the cars in their town as a young boy.  His vivid memories were made alive through a tour of his birthhome.  He was literally born in his birthhome and showed us that the cattle and goats were stored in a room just across the hall.

A view from the roof shows one lone resident drying laundry on the roof.

To get a glimpse of the humble life that once inhabited this community, we visited Bait al Safah.  A tiny “museum” of sorts housed artifacts of the traditional, village life.

The lovely woman pictured above is roasting coffee beans.  She also showed us a stone mill and how to make traditional sandalwood paste (which she smeared on Lil’ Z and myself) and other body products made from local plants and seeds.

This is how traditional Omani bread is made.  It’s a light, flaky bread that can be immediately folded but crumbles in your hands once it dries.  Lil’ Z is a big fan and happily munched it all the way home, asking for “hubaz!   (Baby tr:  khubz!  English tr:  bread!).  My elder neighbor recently told me that Omanis used to make huge stacks of this bread and carry it for their journey to Hajj because it can be eaten for nearly a month!  Containing no dairy, it remains dry, like a super-thin cracker and can be stored a lengthy time.

Last Stop:  Misfat al Abriyeen

Walking through the winding roads of this village led us to a beautiful falaaj (water course) and through fruit plantations.

The plantations are completely hand-harvested with the assistance of an occasional donkey.  No tractor can make its way through the narrowing and steep passages of this village.

The gushing falaaj courses through channels through the plantation but that doesn’t keep youths from sneaking a cool swim on a hot day!  😉  We are blessed to be in such a beautiful country and hoping to soak it up for as long as we’re here.

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