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A Land of Contrasts - Oman

Keen photographer and Specialist Travel Consultant Andy Jackson travelled on our Oman Arabian Sands trip where he enjoyed a technology detox in the desert.

"I’ve always loved the desert, almost as much as a tropical beach. The desert, and the Middle East in general, rustles up romantic thoughts of Lawrence of Arabia and a culture and land oh so different to our own, which is what I pictured Oman to be like. I was wrong and right at the same time.

Driving to the first night’s hotel in the early evening allowed me to see the city in its illuminated glory. It seemed more like a scaled down Dubai rather than a mysterious, ancient Arabian city. Oman’s wealth has soared in the past few decades because of a mix of natural resource wealth and forward thinking leadership under the (much loved) Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Omani’s say that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the present, and Oman is going to be the future.

Muscat is a relaxed, modern city that makes you feel at home instantly. It is a very multi-cultural place, with almost half of Oman’s population being from India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka it has an 'arms open' feel to it.

Joining the tour we spend a day visiting the major sights of the city including the relaxing Mutrah Harbour area. This more historical part of the city is home to museums, mosques and markets. We spend a few hours walking the labyrinth of small spice, gold and of course, tourist souvenir stalls haggling as we work our way round.

Although Muscat is nice, the group where excited to get out of the city, into our 4X4’s and into the wilderness of the Wahiba Sands. This huge area of desert covers an area of 12,500 sq miles and is the most famous wilderness in Oman. We drive out of Muscat into the surrounding desert for a few hours stopping to load the trucks up with supplies (one whole car is assigned for carrying water!) and after a short walk at Wadi Shab, we arrive at Finns Beach - our first night’s camping spot.

The expert crew had arrived before us to set the camp up for our arrival so all we had to do was jump into the warm Arabian Sea! The local crew who stayed with us from our first afternoon in the desert until we arrived in Nizwa where the real superstars of the trip. They drove on ahead everyday to set camp for our arrival, managed to cook the best food we ate on the whole trip in the desert with no power and broke camp every morning.

The following day we drove further south to the town of Sur to visit a traditional Dhow shipyard and to try some local sweet tea. After lunch we followed the road far into the desert. It was at this stage we all realised just how isolated we were going to be over the next 2 nights camping. We drove for 2 hours with nothing but tiny villages and sand dunes for miles. The excitement grew when we stopped at a Bedouin village to let the air out of the tires (needed for driving on sand) then we turned off the road and had our first ‘dune bashing’ experience! Our expert drivers managed to get us over some huge sand dunes to the next camping spot, amazingly perched at the top of a fantastic cliff, where the desert dunes meet the Arabian Sea.

The next day we had some time to explore the dunes, walk down to the beach for a swim or in my case, watch dolphins feed from the top of the cliff. We proceed to cut inland from the coast, cutting deep into the heart of the sands on our way to Nizwa. The wilderness stretches for miles in all directions. We are almost alone in hundreds of miles of sand only punctuated every hours with a tiny Bedouin camp or lone camel ranch. We arrive at the edge of what looks like a huge crater surrounded on all sides by sand dunes for our last nights camp. After watching the sunset from the top of the 70m high dune (quite the climb!) that towers over our camp, the group sit down to stare at the incredible night sky that is possible with so little light pollution in the sands.

We drove out of the sands an on to the historic and beautiful Nizwa. We spend the late afternoon at the ancient castle that has stunning views over the surprisingly green city. The next morning we leave early so we can visit during the livestock sale, a bustling, loud and fun experience! Local farmers bring their prized cattle, goat and sheep to be sold to the highest bidder as they are paraded around the central ring. This was the ‘classic’ Oman I set out to see - definitely a highlight of the trip.

We depart the next morning for a daring off-road drive through the mountains down to Muscat for our final night. Once settled with a drink in the hotel bar, the group discuss the experiences in the desert. We all agree that being ‘cut-off’ for a few days was healthy. We had no wi-fi and barely any power for the 3 nights/4 days we spent out in the desert. We called it a ‘detox’ , a detox from modern life with time to appreciate the desert, the night sky and the ocean. We saw both sides to Oman. We saw the modern Oman, that has dreams of being the next Dubai or Abu Dhabi, a country that is open for business, a country of glass and neon, a country of huge shopping centres. We also saw its larger, classic side. Small desert villages populated by only a handful of tribespeople, we saw local farmers selling cattle in crowds of hundreds of buyers and we saw ancient forts and ancient ruined villages. Oman is indeed a land of contrasts, of old and new and of no Wi-Fi in the desert…thankfully."