For a brief moment, it crossed my mind to actually drive down to Salalah. With petrol being so cheap in Oman, it would be quite a road trip of 1000km from Muscat, travelling the length of the country. And I probably would have made the 10-hour drive, if I didn’t have to drive back! A one-way road trip would have been fun, but a 1½-hour flight spiked my attention a little bit more.
Salalah, the final frontier for me to explore during my time in Oman. I arrived in Oman just after the khareef in 2012 when the cooler air brings the rains and southern Oman looks astonishingly similar to a rainforest. Having missed it last time, we planned on visiting Dhofar in the driest season, but our final chance!
A friend had said Salalah was the land of camels, and she wasn’t wrong – they roam as freely and frequently as they please. Photo challenge was to get as many as possible into one photo – achieved 18, but missed the opportunity to snap around 30 at once whilst we were driving!
We started our trip along the coast east of Salalah, visiting the Travertine Curtain, which is a wall or rock 150m high across the length of Wadi Darbat. It was as dry as a bone, but during the khareef, I’m assured that it is Oman’s answer to Niagara Falls. You wouldn’t see Niagara drying out like this. On top of the curtain were date palm plantations and masses of camels grazing on the few patches of grass hidden in the shaded groves.
After a wander up Wadi Darbat, where camels ruled the lands, we went back to sea level and to Khawr Ruri, an inlet where flamingos grazed, turtles surfaced, and stingray jumped out of the waters. Could have stayed all day watching the calm seas from the top of the cliff. This was probably the most varied wildlife we’ve seen in Oman since arriving! The Khawr is also home to the 2000-year-old ancient settlement of Sumurham, once the home to the Queen of Sheba, apparently.
With the temperature climbing, we set off in the fridge-like car once again towards Mirbat and the Mausoleum of Bin Ali with an extensive graveyard of intricately carved Arabic tombstones. Soon after, we had a slow puncture, so spent half and hour at a friendly tyre garage near Mirbat drinking very sweet tea, whilst he jacked the car up and fixed the wheel. We sat in our fridge. Mirbat itself is a very small town of old mudbrick buildings and beautiful coastline snaking away to the north, but not much more.
Back into the mountains, the winding road climbing the cliff face tested the car, but with a 4.0l engine, I don’t think we were in trouble. Over the top of the ridge lies a huge plateau with thousands of small wadis and canyons. A couple of the most impressive are Tayq Cave and Wadi Uyun. Tayq Cave is a gorge – don’t be fooled by the name; it’s an amazing sight in the late afternoon light where we did little more than admire it's scale. Nearby is the sinkhole at Tawi Atayr, known locally as the Well of Birds. It’s one of the largest sinkholes in the world and has birds nesting all around the rim. The birds create an incredible audible chirrup across the hole that echoes throughout. A great way to end the day.
We were pretty proud of our tour on the first day, had covered a lot of ground and now we had one more day to finish up around Salalah. This meant heading up and over to Frankincense land, further over the ridge and plateau rising high above Salalah, before backtracking to the coast and heading west towards Yemen. So, we weren’t quite going all the way the Yemen, just 25km or so from Salalah to Al Mughsayl where beaches stretch across the coastline.
Just after Al Mughsayl are some blowholes in the rock where waves have eroded caverns under the rock and shoots of water rush up into the air. Not today. The sea was calm and a light breeze whipped the top of the waves, but nothing more. To really get these blowholes going, the waves need to be crashing against the coast. We could still hear the smaller waves underneath through the holes and the odd cloud of spray came up like a whale breathing on the surface of the sea. Still, an amazing part of the coastline stretched for miles towards Yemen, unlike any other in Oman.
After a quick dip in the crystal clear sea, I can happily say that the Dhofar region of Oman was well worth waiting for!