Our arrival into Muscat isn’t early, so our morning begins like most previous sea days, with a relaxing breakfast. We watched from our balcony as the ship docked, and then began to move downstairs so we would be in position when the ship is cleared for debarkation. As we exited the ship, we walked through a terminal building, and lined up to get on a bus to transport us to the port gate (they don’t want a bunch of tourists wandering around a busy port with all the trucks, etc.)
At the gate, our driver from Memphis Tours, Mohammad, was waiting for us. We introduced ourselves as we walked to a 4-wheel drive Toyota SUV and loaded up. We discussed the day’s schedule as we drove. Our available time for the tour is 4 ½ hours. We had originally planned for a longer excursion, but we’ll adjust as we go. Wadi Shabb requires a long walk, some climbing, and then working our way through a cave, so we decide to drop that destination.
The drive out of town is interesting as we check out the city and villages. The road is a wide (6 lanes) interstate-type freeway. It climbs and weaves through big hills and mountains. After an hour, we arrive at a turn-off. A couple of hundred yards off the main road, our road turns to gravel/dirt, and narrows considerably. Eventually we’re weaving along a river and the road gets more and more narrow, with steep climbs and descents. There are scattered villages and farms as we go. This is a rough place to try and grow a crop, much less make a living farming. Four-wheel drive is a necessity in much of the way.
We arrive at Al Arbaeen 30 minutes later. The drive in was dramatic. It’s what I would call an oasis, with a small lake, wedged in between the rugged hills and mountains. There are areas where families and groups are camped or cooking. Several swimmers are enjoying the cool water (the sun is hot). Our driver tells us the water comes from the humidity in clouds on the surrounding mountains and finds it’s way downhill.
I never dreamed I would have the chance to go “off-road” in the mountains of Oman with an Omani guide. Unbelievable!
We depart, taking another road out of the area. This one seems to follow the riverbed, as it flows to the ocean. We’re in and out of water-crossings, as we go. Eventually, we make it to the coast, checking out the really long open beaches.
Our driver pulls into the Hawiyat Hajm (Sink Hole) Park. We walk in and, sure enough, find a huge sinkhole with water. There are stairs to the bottom, and swimmers. We even watched a few brave souls jump from the cliff above. I checked it out later with “Travel Advisor”. It said not to make it a destination, but stop if you’re close (and we were).
We began to head back to the city. We stopped at Quiriyat, a fishing village near the road, just checking out some of the local “color”. Back in Muscat, we had some time and toured around the city proper. I had asked to driver to take me by a Starbucks so I could get a souvenir mug. After my purchase, we made our way back to the ship, in plenty of time to catch our shuttle to the ship.
I’m constantly evaluating the quality of the tours we’re taking, comparing them to other options. Most of the guests on the ship we talked to were headed into town to shop at the Suok (old style market). Others were busing or taking taxis to the important sites, but as it turns out, because it’s Friday, not much is open. I felt like we had a really interesting trip to remote area not heavily travelled. I would recommend this trip to anyone looking for a “different” excursion in Muscat. It might have even been more interesting if we’d had enough time to get to Wadi Shabb.