Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Georgia: We woke up and climbed up a nearby dune to behold a most magnificent sunrise (actually probably no more magnificent than usual, à la “same sunrise we do every morning, Pinky”) over the whole valley, and once again were mesmerized at the speed with which our footprints were blown to oblivion and the chilling emptiness of the whole place, which seemed to extend to the end of the world. It was as though, unbeknownst to us, Planet Earth had actually been unpopulated all along and we had simply been delusional. After a leisurely (and existentially grounding) breakfast of boiled eggs, bread, cheese, fruit and chai tea, we headed in the general cardinal direction of Not Desert.
Ashley: Georgia is forgetting a key part of our morning, when Mohammed taught us an Omani card game with a seriously dubious points system. Despite her best efforts, Miss G was the ultimate loser, and, let the record show, still owes me a lap around a sand dune.
Georgia: Unfortunately (?) at this juncture my beloved cousin determined that she wanted to try her hand at dune driving. After some (literal) ups and downs, we found ourselves stuck in the sand on the edge of a 20 ft dune precipice. As any sane person would have done, I dismounted immediately from the car and expressed my ardent dissatisfaction with the situation.
Ashley: First of all, when in Oman, if you don’t get stuck in the sand, what is the point?? Second of all, it was maaaaybe a 5 foot “precipice.” Just sayin’.
Georgia: Our guide took the calm and practical approach of releasing some air from the tires (this gives the wheels more surface area and thus more traction) and managed in a stroke of sandy serendipity to reverse us out of the bind by wiggling the steering wheel. Obviously I was distressed, but contributed constructively–
Georgia: –by reciting “The Second Coming,” “Kubla Khan,” and “Ozymandias,” – the only vaguely desert-themed poems (prayers?) that came immediately to mind. We soon were able to extricate ourselves from the perilous predicament, and undoubtedly my implorations contributed *critically* to that success.
Ashley: Georgia does a great job here of capturing how we got stuck and unstuck in the desert, so I will instead reflect on the experience of being stuck in the desert with a Travers. It’s actually an area that I am quite well versed in, as this is now the second time I have been stuck in sand with a Travers cousin. The first was the infamous Arches National Park Incident of 2011, when Nicholas and I made an ill-fated decision exit the park via an access road. For those who haven’t been to the Utah desert, just imagine what the lunar surface looks like, imagine driving over that in my non-4WD Jetta, and then imagine how completely alone you feel when your car gets stuck in sand at 9 pm. (Gotta make a shout out here to Kale of Nation’s Towing, who remains a larger than life hero for his late night tow/rescue.) The Empty Quarter Incident of 2014 was far less traumatic (we were unstuck in less than 10 minutes thanks to having our very own ‘Sand Man’ Mohammad with us). It also paled in comparison to the Wadi Shuwamiyah Incident of 2014, when we got stuck in a gravel-sand mixture about 15 kilometers deep in the wadi… but more on that later. So, what have these experiences taught me? One, I need to learn to drive in sand. And two, the Travers’ ability to remember and recite the perfect piece of poetry in any and all situations is as legendary as you’ve heard… though it may not be as constructive as Georgia remembers it…
Georgia: After that little soupçon of terror (adrenalin?), our guide decided this would be a good time to go joy riding, so we drove DIRECTLY UP the steepest dune near us (obviously our car began sliding, horizontally, down the mountain) and I proceeded to have a complete panic attack (“flip out”) because this was the Actually Most Terrifying Activity Ever.
Ashley: (This was the most fun thing I’ve ever done. Seriously. You need to get yourself to Oman IMMEDIATELY so you too can do figure 8’s on the side of a sand dune at 30 mph.)
Georgia: Our guide thought my fear was joking or sarcastic. I have no idea why he could not imagine it was genuine–
Ashley: I have a video, which I’m happy to share with all, of the tears/screaming–
Georgia: …but there you go. We narrowly escaped certain doom after I begged him to descend decisively after mounting the peak twice and taking increasing volumes of sand into our vehicle —
Ashley: (most of it ended up in Georgia’s purse/pants/turban/mouth [this is all too true, eww] /etc thanks to her open window).
Georgia: At which point we calmly drove the few hours back to Salalah from the Empty Quarter, listening to Yemeni music and making innocent tourist faces at the kalashnikov toting gents at each military checkpoint.
Ashley: Following our ascent of the dune by vehicle, which for me was a real highlight of the trip, we made a final stop to put some of the air back in the tires. Georgia and I killed the time doing cartwheels and discovering Oman’s version of the moon rock—hollow rocks growing white crystals on the inside. However, our increasing panic about the sun (if there is a major benefit to be found in traveling with family, our shared love of the shade, SPF 50+, and large hats can’t be underestimated) drove us back into the car to wait out the rest of the tire re-fill. I made a last dash to get one of my favorite pictures of the trip, a selfie with a local camel who obligingly cooperated and smiled for the camera. [Unreal!!!]
Georgia: Back in Salalah, we were bequeathed our very own 4WD car, sleeping bags, camping crockery, and Dhofar Province map, and sent on our merry way 50km west, towards the Yemeni border in search of a picturesque beach. Unfortunately, I was very focused on securing a bag of ice for our assumed evening cocktails (I had smuggled (?…questionable legality here…) a small Aquafina bottle of Bacardi and another of Malibu in my bag on the plane, so that we could make piña coladas and/or Mai Tais. Ashley was carting around her own irreplaceable Duty Free baby (a Cloudy Bay NZ Sauvignon Blanc, in her case, obviously). We stopped at a random hole-in-the-wall Yemeni restaurant and got chicken mandi to go, finally found a large Lulu grocery store and bought ice, and very belatedly (it was already past sunset) began the drive towards our hypothetical campsite.
Suffice it to say, after listening to Beyoncé’s new album and winding our way through obscenely steep mountain roads in the dark, we soon determined we were lost and quite near Yemen. So, we wisely elected to turn around, and drove back to a different (very strange) beach with lots of strange shaped (but empty) hut/tents for rent and an extremely unsettling/creepy abandoned carnival setup (complete with eerie ferris wheel and clown faces!!!) across the road. Here we made camp, drank our ice-laden (I love ice.) beverages and slept in relative peace, except of course for the perturbing incurrence of aggressive jumbo-ants into our sleeping bags throughout the night.
Ashley: The thing about this little nighttime jaunt through “almost Yemen” (actually… the quotes aren’t necessary… we actually were in almost Yemen…) is that Georgia and I had previously agreed “we are only driving East in the rental car.” But then our trusty Sand Man suggested that we should really camp on this beach…to the west… and we just couldn’t resist. Key take aways? Don’t trust Belgian women who swear “you can’t miss the LuLu.” [LOLS] Don’t underestimate how dark the Dhofar region is at night. And, duh, don’t accidentally drive to Yemen in the dark. Especially, as I now know, you don’t go to Yemen without BYOG. Points to us for making the call to turn around.