As we were getting into our sleeping bags last night Philippa popped out to er, powder her nose, and there followed a strange hoarse grunting noise followed by a series of shrieks. Very shortly after that Philippa re-entered the tent like an Olympic diver entering a pool. She'd been startled by some sort of mammal outside and resolved that nose-powdering was perhaps a daylight activity. We haven't yet worked out what the animal was but the options are: fox, honey badger or were-rabbit. The rest of the night was grunt-free and we were lulled to sleep by the sound of breaking waves.
Our stretch of coast was still all ours this morning and P and I were up shortly after sunrise. It's still cool at that time and it was nice to get the stove going and make some tea. I love this little stove. It fires up immediately and a cup of wood chips is enough to boil water for tea in ten minutes, then make porridge and after that, heat more water for washing up. It leaves almost no ash, folds up to the size of a couple of tins of tuna and cost about a tenner. I may become a distributer...
As we were having breakfast something happened which says a lot about Oman. We'd seen a small green truck go by on the track. It turned and came back towards us. This is the point where you brace for someone to say "you can't camp here" or "you have to pay" or decide they will make their breakfast right next to you. But they were checking to see if we had any rubbish they could remove, and when we didn't they gave us a cheery wave and left.
Tom was up shortly after us and straight into the sea. He is basically a labrador, and was in the water minutes after our arrival last night. P and I joined him in the warm rolling waves this morning. The current can be a bit fierce along this coast but there was just enough of a bay and a shallow dropoff to keep it safe. Our own private beach.
As it began to get hot, we reluctantly took down the tent and packed everything away, ready for our last day in northern Oman. The road back to Muscat is a smooth, fast highway, but there is a stretch of smaller coast road too, and we took that through villages which the guide book spells one way and the Omanis another. That's a fairly common occurrence and makes loading destinations into the satnav a bit of a challenge. In Bimmah (Bamma) we bought a couple of tomatoes from "Sale of Vegetables and Fruit" to bolster our picnic supplies. Every shop sign in Oman has a very literal English translation underneath, so we've passed many "Cleaning of Clothes" locations, along with "Tailoring for Gentlemen" shops and signs offering the "Sale of Spices and Nuts".
Next stop the Bamma/Bimmah sinkhole set in carefully watered and manicured gardens. It's a natural hole in the rock about the length of a full-sized swimming pool and at the bottom, down 80 or so steps, a turquoise pool with little fish. On the way out a largish bird with a beak like a kingfisher and electric blue markings shot past us. That's one thing that we haven't seen too much of in Oman; birds and animals are in fairly short supply in this arid landscape. We've past a couple of oryx roadsigns but I get the impression that is wishful thinking.
It's been a busy few days so we decided to get to our hotel in Muscat in good time to relax a bit and repack for tomorrow's flight to Salalah. But the guide book promised a spectacular road through the mountains to the village of Umq with all manner of livestock to see on the way. It sounded like a lunch plan so up we went on a single graded track that started steep and soon got steeper. Soon we were high in treeless rock looking down across jagged canyons at the sweep of the coast. At one point I took a wrong turn and we were going up a track so steep and narrow that we had little option but to keep going. It was taking us away from Umq though so eventually I managed a thirty-nine point turn and we found the route again.
Umq turned out to be a scattering of ancient houses around a huge wadi. Dry now, but the forest of palms and the massive boulders strewn across it suggested that it gets a lot of water every now and then. A woman was feeding some goats outside her house but apart from that all was quiet so we backtracked a little to find a lunch spot under a tree. Tom and I hopped over the mighty boulders to check out the huge cliff wall that had been carved and curved by the water. It would be great to see the wadi in full flood. Oman must look like quite a different place when it rains.
Back down to the Muscat road and we settled in for an easy drive through low rocky hills. P snoozed, T did screen-based things and all was quiet. Muscat is really a vast metropolitan area and we reached the outskirts with thirty kilometres still to go before we got to our hotel. This side of the city is glossy with marble and bright with neon. But everything is relatively low-rise, and it hasn't sold its soul to glass and steel.
Our hotel was handyish for the airport and at the edge of Muscat's development. The entrance was almost impossible to find and involved going over a stretch of unmade track.. Inside though the two Indian managers were simply desperate for us to like the place. So helpful and friendly, shaking hands with us all and asking about our trip. Had we enjoyed it? Were the people friendly? You look a little tired sir, you must relax now! We did.
Our friend David was here on business and staying on the other side of the airport so we met at a hotel after a frenetic drive through seething rush hour traffic. He and three of his colleagues were waiting for us at O'Malley's pub, where we were promptly kicked out because Tom was under age. We haven't really noticed the lack of alcohol but having a beer in the hotel's gardens was rather nice. We moved on to a terrific Turkish restaurant and ordered fish and calamari and big flat breads with sesame seeds. It was a jolly evening and interesting to find out about some of the other places they'd worked like Yemen and Somaliland. The Yemenis are apparently every bit as friendly as the Omanis, though less well-dressed. It's sad how much more difficult it has become to see such places now. I've always wanted to go to Yemen and who knows when it will be safe enough to travel to again.
We said our goodbyes and dropped David's colleague Max off at the airport on our way back. We was still nursing a hangover from his birthday celebrations the evening before. His night flight must have been fun...
We did the last bit of packing, ready for our 9am flight, and sank into bed.