Oh Man, Oman
While we stopped over in Abu Dhabi we learned that off-roading is a favorite hobby of Emiratis and Ex-pats. Our hosts decided no visit to Abu Dhabi would be complete without a trip into the desert. We set our sights on a climbing area called Wonderwall just a few hours outside the city, packed up and headed out.
Immediately out of the city we started to get a sense for the natural landscape. Red rolling dunes and sparse juniper trees dotted the country side. We drive through Al Ain, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s second largest city which has a large Emirati population. It was certainly an interesting sight. Arabian Beverly Hills is all I could think of as we passed huge mansion complexes in the middle of the desert.
It turned out that the climbing area would be a little hard to reach because you have to cross the border of Oman. Oman requires a $60 visa fee for non-resident foreigners and the UAE requires a $20 exit fee (which is covered by your airline if you are flying out). Paying $160 total was a bit of a steep price for one night’s camping, but our hosts assured us this wouldn’t be a problem.
The place we were camping was right over the border before the Omani entrance point and just weeks before they had taken friends who had avoided the fee without incident. Unfortunately, when we got to the border some things had changed.
They would not let us exit the UAE without paying the exit fee and said that we needed to drive all the way to the Omani checkpoint (an extra hour’s drive) to enter and exit Oman or we would not be let back into Abu Dhabi. We did our best to convince them we should be allowed through but they weren’t having it. So much for climbing, we had to figure out a new plan.
Our hosts made a few calls and connected with some friends who were camping in a new place with some great hiking. This new place was also in Oman but it was apparently easier to get to. There was only a security checkpoint instead of a full on border crossing. So we turned back into the UAE and drove along the Omani border.
As we approached the security checkpoint we could see they were just waiving cars through. We were on a main highway between Dubai and the Gulf so it crosses a few countries. When we got there they checked our passports and sent us on our way.
We pulled off the road after a few kilometers and saw some hilarious campers. This is the desert after all and it seems that just about anything goes. Our first sight was a truck pulling an entire dead tree over to use for fire wood.
A little while later we saw a few kids hanging onto the sides of an SUV cruising over the rock laden desert. There were big groups camping all over the place and people cooking over campfires. We were a little disappointed that it was so crowded, but we found a nice secluded spot right at the trail head.
We made camp and started cooking dinner over the open fire. I don’t think I have ever seen wood burn as well as it did in the desert. With around 5 days of rain a year the wood is exceptionally dry. After dinner we admired the stars, crawled into the tent and slept.
When we got up we had a quick breakfast and got to hiking so we could avoid some of the heat of the sun. We were camped next to a 684m tall ridge that was our goal for the morning. There was no particularly defined trail so we just hiked up the dry river bed. It was kind of a scramble over rocks and boulders but not a particularly difficult hike.
We made it to the top and were greeted with a stunning view of the desert. From the precipice on top of the ridge you could see the most amazing barren rock formations.
If you click on the picture below (or here) you can see a full size panorama.
After the hike down we cooked some brunch and packed up to head back into the city. Waking up in the Omani desert it was hard to imagine that we had a plane to catch to South Africa that evening. We spent a few more hours exploring the city and then it was off to the airport.
In true Abu Dhabi style the day was one of complete extremes. Our flight was way overbooked and we checked in a little late. They were about to bump us and reroute us on a flight through Qatar when I overheard them exclaim “two seats just opened up in first class!” Armed with her best smile, Briana darted to the counter to ask if we could have those seats, politely informing the agent that we were very quick runners and could be at the gate within minutes.
Jackpot. We ran through security and as we boarded the plane we were shown to our fully reclining seats in the business section. We got settled and took full advantage of the massage chairs and complimentary champagne. Wow, I never knew airplane food could be so good. I put my seat into the full bed position, donned my complimentary eye mask and ear plugs and drifted off to sleep on my way to South Africa ready to start the next leg of our journey.