“Kids, get down and hide! Turn off the flashlight!” I shouted softly to the children as soon as I saw a bright green laser beam pointing towards us from the mosque by the shore of the ocean.
All five of us quickly fell to our knees trying to hide below the horizon of the beach sand next to the roaring waves around us. It was 11PM on a new moon evening and our rental car was parked right on the beach. We were combing a beach in Oman in the dark for turtles. It was hard to see where we were walking but we didn’t want to use the flashlight. One reason was that we weren’t sure if we were allow to be at this beach at night. The main reason, however, was that we didn’t want to scare off the green turtles from landing on the beach to lay eggs.
“I think the laser light is gone,” I announced after we hid for few minutes. “Let’s just use the light from the screen of the iPhone so that it will not be so obvious.”
“Look at the turtle track!” Olivia shouted softly. “Dad, give me some light. Let’s follow it.”
We gathered and followed together the turtle track as it goes up and down various sand pits dug previously by other turtles who had laid eggs previous nights. The track went left and then right and then led us out into the roaring waves. The turtle had either left the beach already or it was a track from previous nights. No luck again!
“This is harder than I thought,” Annie lamented after we had searched the beach for more than 45 minutes. “At the Turtle Eco-tour an hour ago, it seemed like there were turtles every where. We saw them lay eggs, bury them, and going back into the sea. Here, only sand pits and tracks, but no turtles.”
“Let’s head back to our car,” I concluded. “We can wake up early in the morning to look again…”
“…Wait! I see something black moving!” Joani shouted before I can finish my sentence. “Look!”
I quickly took out my iPhone again and used the screen light to shine on the beach sand. Yes, we all saw something small moving quickly on the sand. It was a baby turtle! Immediately all our energy came back and we followed quickly after the tiny turtle that must have been no longer than 5 cm.
Baby turtles have the tendency to head towards light, and unfortunately, the light from the mosque is leading the turtle in the opposite direction from the ocean. If continuing this direction, the turtle would either be eaten by the storks that lined the beach or be dehydrated by the scorching sun in the morning. As much as we didn’t want to intervene with nature, we just had to make sure this baby turtle that we stumbled upon would at least have a chance to reach the ocean.
We tried using light to lead the turtle. We tried using our feet to block its path. We tried picking it up and turn it around. We even placed the turtle into the coming wave. But the wave just washed the turtle back on the shore. For 20 minutes we tried and tried. Then Annie picked up the turtle again as a large wave washed on shore and placed the turtle onto the path of the wave. The wave tumbled and roar burying the turtle into its white foams. When it finally receded, we tried to look for a black shape.
“I think it is gone…” Nathan said tentatively.
“Everyone, look carefully again to make sure it is really gone,” I reminded still not believing that the baby turtle made it in the sea this time.
After few more minutes of searching, we didn’t see any black object. It was really gone! We celebrated. At the same time, we also felt a sense of loss as if a dear friend had left us.
That night we took out the tent from the car and camped right on the turtle beach. Annie, Olivia, and I slept in the tent while Nathan and Joani slept inside the car.
It was only the first day of our car trip in Oman but already so unforgettable.
Traveling by rental car is one of the most popular way to tour Oman for many reasons: the highways are well established, there are little or no public transportation, it is unbearably hot to walk on the streets, and most important of all, gasoline is cheaper than water!
For more than four months we had traveled by all sorts of common and uncommon transportations, such as plane, train, bus, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, motorbike, bicycle, horse, camel, boat, jeep, and of course walking. But we had not traveled by renting a car! We weren’t sure how we will eat, sleep, spend time, and do homework while riding traveling by a rental car. However, we decided to give it a try.
It turned out to be the best decision we made in Oman!
First step, of course, was to take the car to the biggest supermarket in town, Carrefour, to stock up food for the trip. As usually, we looked for bargains. We bought 12 kilogram of oranges because it was on sale and we felt our vitamin was on deficit. We bought 6 cans of tuna flakes, 3 cans of corn beef, 3 packages of cream cheese, 12 large bottles of water, 23 small bags of chips and Cheetos, 10 instant noodles, local pita bread, and precious packages of Chinese snacks and seasonings given by our Chinese friend in Dubai.
Second step was to pack everything we needed for the trip. We packed our tent, sleeping bags, stoves, and pots because we planned to camp out in the wild for all three nights. Unlike when we trekked in Nepal, we brought a lot of food and clothing with us because we know that with a car, we don’t have to carry them on our backs! For navigation, I used maps.me app on the iPhone which has GPS and offline routing without which I wouldn’t have any idea of what road to take.
The first day we drove down the eastern coast and swam for more than 4 hours at the crystal clear water of the sink hole. It was like scuba diving for free with corals and fish and nice places for jumping and shady areas out of the scorching sun for picnics. Then we drove into the Wadi Tiwi. The cliffs were a beautiful red but due to the narrow and steep road, our two wheel drive vehicle couldn’t tackle it for too long. Then we continued south to the Turtle Conservation where we went “turtle safari”, chasing turtles as they laid eggs, bury them, and trod off to the ocean in the dark night. Our hearts skipped a beat when we saw the baby turtle scrambling in the sand towards the ocean. That night, we had a beach all to ourselves for our own turtle safari and camped there for free.
The second day, we drove further south towards the famous Wahiba Sand Dune. After playing on the sand, we arrived at the Wadi Bani Khalid. We had so much fun crawling into the dark cave full of bats and underground hot spring and diving into the warm hot spring water of the granite canyons, we decided change our schedule and camp at the wadi overnight to swim more the next day. We can stay an extra morning because we had our own car. We took out all our camping stuff from the car and hiked into the wadi for a bit to tent. Because Omani’s lifestyle used to be nomadic and given the vast desert and long coastline, Omani are used to camping wherever they go. So when we asked the local villagers whether we can camp inside such a popular tourist destination, they were surprised that we even asked! Camping in the wild was part of their ingrained culture. That night we felt like royalties as we had the entire wadi to ourselves next to the flowing oasis and under the bright starry sky. Again, all these for free! Compared to Oman’s attractions, everything in Dubai now seemed so “artificial”. Initially, we thought Oman will be all dry. We were so surprised that of all the countries, we had the most water activities in Oman. Oman can truly be called ‘streams in the desert’!
The third day, we had the whole wadi to ourselves for the first few hours since we camped there. Then after enjoying our own packed lunch on the river bank, we headed towards the historical town of Niswa. After camping first night on the beach, second night by the river, we wanted to camp the third night on the mountain. So we drove up to the scenic viewpoint of Misfa overlooking the valley. We just caught the sunset but didn’t see a place to camp. We did spot a public toilet area with a large parking lot, covered picnic benches, and several buildings and decided to ask the caretaker there whether we can camp. To our surprise, the caretaker, Salmon, said yes. Furthermore, he said we can use the shower place and the kitchen and to come over for Omani coffee and dates.
We got to know so much about Oman cultural through Salmon. That day was also the tragic day where more than 120 persons were massacred in Paris by terrorists. Seeing Salmon’s angry reaction to the killing helped us to realize that Muslims react in the same disgusted way as us at these senseless killings. It took away my previous erroneous unconcious fear towards Muslims. That night we had a 5-star camping and cultural experience all for free — only in Oman!
The fourth day, we walked around the scenic village of Misfa and droved down to visit the largest fort tower of Oman, the Niswa Fort. At the souq next to the fort, we sampled different types of dates and Hawal (a popular Omani sweet) with bitter coffee for free. After lunch, we met our couchsurfing host Idrees at his family date planation where he showed us how date trees were cultivated and harvested. We were surprised that some of those delicious sweet dates were fed to animals! That night, we celebrated our 1200 kilometers road trip with two-for-one meals at Burger King!
Oman was the first country where we traveled in a rented car instead of taking public transportation. We each came out of that experience with different perspectives.
“By car, you have a lot more freedom. You can go anywhere as long as dad don’t fall asleep. You see a nice spot in the ocean. Sure guys, let’s camp there! We can change our plan any time. And it was like ‘Yeah, let’s go a few more kilometers to see if the it is good or not’,” Olivia shared.
“You can put so many things in the car. You don’t have to worry about ‘Okay, this is all I have in the backpack. This is it for the day’.” Annie said happily.
“If we travel by car, I would have a stomach around dad’s size,” Nathan teased.
“So this was our first time travel by car, would you do it again?” I asked the children.