They say confession is good for the soul, so here goes: as green as we try to be, we really don’t know much about the outdoors. Much like armchair revolutionaries, we’re treehuggers in theory more so than practice. Growing up in New York City, my idea of a survival skill was having a talent ready for making a living on the streets. For this, my tap shoes were poised and ready. There is value in this type of urban survivalism but it is unlike going out into the woods, backpacking, camping, starting a fire and the like. Beyond finding the prayer direction without a compass and pitching mosquito net tents, we’re pretty clueless about surviving in nature. We’ve met plenty of outdoorsy folks here in Oman and we’re slowly trying to push our boundaries and expose Lil’ Z to life “in the wild”, unjaded by our city-kid phobias.
In November 2012, one of our outdoorsy friends had a birthday campfire in Wadi Muayideen. We attended early, hoping to leave by sunset because being in the middle of an unlit valley afterhours wasn’t exactly our idea of a good time. We swatted at flies and wasps, while munching on potato chips but just as the sun set, the camp fire was lit, the bugs disappeared, and there we all were chatting by the glimmer of the camp fire. The night ended with candle lanterns being sent upwards until their lights faded in the darkness of the clear night sky. It was serene and pleasant to sit on the plastic mat, laughing and enjoying the night outside. We could have easily pitched a tent (or not) and called it a night but we have to leave something to aspire to, right? 😉
In the same month, we had an unexpected three-day weekend for the Islamic New Year and visited Ras al Jinz, Oman’s popular nesting site for green sea turtles. We drove into Muscat and continued south towards Sur, ending at Ras al Hadd, just 20 minutes from Ras al Jinz. By far, the most appropriate accommodation is on site at the Ras al Jinz Visitor Center. Guests have priority access to both the early morning and night guided tours, both of which are included in the cost of your room. The next best option is to stay at the Turtle Beach Resorts in Ras al Hadd.
For 44 OMR, around $114 USD, we stayed in a quaint palm-leaf bungalow with shared restroom facilities. The price seems like a lot for a night in a glorified hut but the cost included buffet dinner and breakfast, and options in the area are scarce . We enjoyed spending the evening on the beach and were pleased to find both meals vegan-friendly.
Our first night “camping” was not nearly as uncomfortable as we anticipated. Everyone slept well except for me. I was too anxious to make the 4am morning turtle tour. Urbndervish was under the weather and I planned to leave Lil’ Z behind to rest with him but she heard my 3:30am alarm signal, asked to use the restroom, and was bright and chipper ready to go turtle hunting with me. It was a little absurd but I figured that we came so far to see turtles, so that’s what we better go do. Lil’ Z was tucked in the sling and after a long walk on the nature reserve, we finally encountered a mother turtle making the slow and steady return to sea. The night before our tour, the staff counted more than 80 hatched baby turtles. Our morning tour saw no such luck but just to humor us, the staff showed us a handful of the previous day’s hatchlings just before delivering them to sea.
The odds are statistically against our little finned friends. They have to face predators on both land and sea and survive the manmade traps of pollution and debris. For the chosen few who succeed, they return to the very same beach where they were born nearly three decades later to lay eggs once again. Subhan’Allah (Glory be to God), that’s pretty amazing! We also learned that male sea turtles never come to shore. Only the females do–to lay eggs. She tries for three days to find a suitable spot that appears safe, otherwise she releases her eggs at sea. After burrowing nearly a meter deep into the sand, she covers her eggs, and goes on to make another decoy nest, to thwart predators. The distance of the nest to the shore determines the temperature of the nest and thus the gender of the hatchlings. Female turtles emerge further inland while males are closer to the shore. The ladies have it rough, huh?
At the very end of November, our beloved aunt came to visit us all the way from Alabama. We were so glad to have her and were eager to rip and run all over Oman but had to limit our outings. One opportunity we absolutely did not want to miss during her stay was visiting Wahiba Sands. We drove down to Bidiya via Bidbid and met a driver who drove us nearly an hour to reach 1000 Nights Camp. Our driver was a true Bedouin, weaving through sand dunes and valleys as if there were signs and pathways. We were warmly received and escorted to our burlap tent with shared restroom facilities.
Urbndervish and I took the opportunity to climb a steep sand dune and watch the sun set while Lil’ Z and our aunt had a play date in the sandbox. We raced each other barefoot in the sand, revelled in the serenity, and prayed on the endless rolling sands.
After returning to ground level, we walked the lit paths to the dining hall where hot soup and a dinner buffet awaited us. After some night stargazing, we settled into our tents and rested in the cool, quiet night. Once the buzzing mopeds quieted in the distance, there was absolute silence and stillness. The only disturbance to the serenity was Lil’ Z chucking up her dinner. Poor thing had an upset tummy and would wake every few hours to call “Mama” and then hurl. The hurling continued through the night and until we returned home but that didn’t keep us from enjoying our buffet breakfast, riding a camel, and enjoying the playground before departure.
Though usually 45 OMR for double occupancy, we paid an additional 20 OMR for the extra accommodation. Our tent was comfortably fitted with three twin beds, the facilities were well-maintained, and the food was vegan-friendly for both meals. Our first night sleeping in the desert was a success! So, slowly we’re getting over our hang-ups and braving it in nature. Before you know it, we’ll be pitching tents, tending campfires, and roasting tofu under the moonlit sky.