What Travel Writers Say
Souqs, Sandscapes, Oases & Endangered Turtles of Oman© by Irene Butler
Land Cruiser into the minuscule parking area, we are in for a long walk atop a narrow concrete wall (which is really one side of a channel to divert the swirling floodwaters after an hour's rain). We emerge into a lush oasis with a gigantic pool of shimmering turquoise water. Young boys approach us offering donkey rides for a few rial. Families spread out picnic lunches. Athletic types dive off of sun-baked rocks. We join the less daring locals wading in the tepid water. This natural Shangri-la could never be replicated, even with the expenditure of millions of dollars.
Our next pursuit is the Wahiba Sands. Bedouin men riding camels appear as mirages in the sun's quivering rays. Their goat-hair tents dot the landscape. We hold our breath as Maroof aims our 4x4 towards a gigantic sand hill, and expertly zigzags to the top. Rick and I gleefully struggle on foot to the crest of another mega-dune and are rewarded for our efforts with a spectacular view of golden waves undulating below in all directions. With everything from our hair to our shoes full of sand, we climb back into the vehicle for a roller-coaster ride down.
Another 175 kilometres brings us to the shores of the Ras al-Jinz Turtle Reserve for the 9-pm guided tour to (hopefully) see a few of the endangered giant green turtles (Chelonia mydas) that come here to lay their eggs. During the peak season of June to September, hundreds of turtles come ashore each night; the annual count is 30,000. It being into October, the reserve's guide Mohammad says, "Inshallah" (God willing) you will still see a few stragglers come ashore, and you may also witness babies just hatched after their two-month incubation period."
Following Mohammad into the night under a waning moon and spray of stars, we anxiously await a report from the "turtle scout", who has gone ahead. Yes! A female has already deposited her batch of approximately 100 eggs. We watch her use her flippers to level the sand over the one metre deep pit. Another female is sluggishly moving towards the sea; her laborious mission completed. Mohammad relates, "The breeding age of females is between 37 and 59 years. These moms are medium in size, measuring under a metre and weighing about 105 kilos. Some measure over two metres in length and weigh up to 200 kilos."
We could wish for no more... newly-hatched babies race past us on their mini-flippers towards their water-world home. They are at risk of becoming a snack for crabs, foxes, and birds; and if they make it to the sea, there are hungry fish. Only 1 in 1000 hatchlings live to see adulthood. We are elated at having been privy to this wondrous circle of life.
After a night's stay in a traditional palm-leaf hut, it was back to soaking up the flavour of Muscat for a few more days. Our warm memories of Omani hospitality and the dazzling beauty of this small country in the Arab Peninsula are forever.
Irene Butler writes for Canadian and US newspapers and magazines, and is author of "Trekking the Globe with Mostly Gentle Footsteps". She has trekked thru 76 countries with a focus on culture, history and off-the-beaten path travel. www.globaltrekkers.ca
If you go
Oman Ministry of Tourism: http://www.omantourism.gov.om/wps/portal/mot
Ras al-Jinz Turtle Reserve: http://rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscat,_Oman ;
Places of worship: http://www.sagoman.net/oman/churches.html ;
Fiction: http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&keywords=Oman&rh=n%3A4465%2Ck%3AOman&page=1 ;
Suggestions for hotel bookings: http://www.tripadvisor.com/SmartDeals-g294007-Governorate_of_Muscat-Hotel-Deals.html ;