Oman — Our Road Trip Adventure

“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.

We watched the green turtle head back to sea after laying its eggs.
We watched the green turtle head back to sea after laying its 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!

On the beach, we find many turtle tracks and sand pits, evidence of their activities during the night.
On the beach, we find many turtle tracks and sand pits, evidence of their activities during the night.

“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!”

The baby turtle often runs towards the direction of the light after hatching.
The baby turtle often runs towards the direction of the light after hatching.

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.

On the first night of our car road trip, we camped on the turtle beach all by ourselves.
On the first night of our car road trip, we camped on the turtle beach all by ourselves.

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.

The three children sat in the back of the car where they could do homework, play cards, sleep, and have fun!
The three children sat in the back of the car where they could do homework, play cards, sleep, and have fun!

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!

Step one in planning a car road trip is to buy all the food we need to tent along the way.
Step one in planning a car road trip is to buy all the food we need to tent along the way.

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 sink hole along the eastern coast was a snorkeling paradise.
The sink hole along the eastern coast was a snorkeling paradise.
The sink hole along the eastern coast was a snorkeling paradise.
The sink hole along the eastern coast was a snorkeling paradise.

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’!

To celebrate traveling for 5 months, we etched "5" on the sand dune of Oman.
To celebrate traveling for 5 months, we etched “5” on the sand dune of Oman.
The wadis of Oman are full of clear, cool, waterholes with great places for jumping and playing.
The wadis of Oman are full of clear, cool, waterholes with great places for jumping and playing.
At Wadi Bani, we explored an underground hot springs filled with bats!
At Wadi Bani, we explored an underground hot springs filled with bats!
For our second night, we camped along the clear water of Wadi Bani, again we had the whole place to ourselves.
For our second night, we camped along the clear water of Wadi Bani, again we had the whole place to ourselves.

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!

Near the highest mountain of Oman, we got a panoramic view of the valley below.
Near the highest mountain of Oman, we got a panoramic view of the valley below.
For the 3rd night, we camped for free at a 5 star public facility with toilet, shower, electricity, and great Omani hospitality.
For the 3rd night, we camped for free at a 5 star public facility with toilet, shower, electricity, and great Omani hospitality.

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!

The Niswa Fort housed a cool and well displayed museum about the Omani culture.
The Niswa Fort housed a cool and well displayed museum about the Omani culture.
We got to sample different Hawal dessert and dates with black coffee at the Souq in Niswa.
We got to sample different Hawal dessert and dates with black coffee at the Souq in Niswa.
Idrees, our couchsurfing host, took us to his family's dates plantation where we understood more about how important dates were to their everyday life.
Idrees, our couchsurfing host, took us to his family’s dates plantation where we understood more about how important dates were to their everyday life.

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.

“It was luxurious!” Olivia said with a big smile on her face. “I really like having our own car. It felt very American. You feel like you are in a house all day…but you are not. It was relaxing.Traveling in the car we felt both the greatness of traveling like American and the bad part about traveling like American, sitting and getting fat from all the junk food we eat.”
“To do it the American way!” Nathan said emphatically. “We had our own car. We can camp anywhere. And we can buy lots of food.”
“It was fun. I like road trip. We got to do homework, got to have music, play cards… I slept overnight in the car for the first time,” Joani added.
“It was interesting how local Omani drive to a tea shop but does not get out of the car. They had to be served tea in their car. When we got out, the tea shop owner didn’t know what to do and we had to get back into our car to have the tea! (Note: Oman is so hot in the summer that customers stay in their air-con car)” Nathan remembered with a smile.
Because the heat is so intense outside, Omani always have their coffee and tea served inside their vehicle.
Because the heat is so intense outside, Omani always have their coffee and tea served inside their vehicle.

“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.

“We travelled by car because we had no choice. But like what you said, you can go to some places we normally won’t go if we only travel by bus,” I shared as well. “There is that freedom but it comes at a cost. When I was sleepy, I still had to drive. That was really tough. I had to just stop sometimes and take naps. I am glad we took it easy and only drove 2-3 hours a day for each leg.”
“It’s okay dad. We will wake you up: ‘U…C…L…A…UCLA FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!!!” All three children roared, imitating the school pep rally at UCLA where I went for undergrad.
When Jonathan feels tired, he tried to nap in the car before continuing to drive.
When Jonathan feels tired, he tried to nap in the car before continuing to drive.

“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.

“We had a lot of oranges, 12 kg of them. And we had 23 small bags of chips! ” Olivia teased.
“That was so good. But we had an abundance of potato chips that they actually got annoying. That felt new. We had bags of potatoes chips everywhere,” Nathan complained surprisingly given his love for chips. “We ate in the car to save time and it was awful. It’s so rushed and felt so informal we were making sandwich in the car and dripping things everywhere.”
“Traveling by car means even smaller personal space. We had to figure out who sits in the middle,” Joani complained remembering the many fights they all had fighting for the window seat. “And you get fat.”
“It’s kind of like ‘hop on’, ‘hop off’, ‘hop on’, ‘hop off’. That’s both the good and bad parts at the same time. The bad part was that we can eat fast food anytime. And we do. Burger King! KFC! Let’s go!” Olivia laughed.
With our own car, we often stop for fast food in Oman, because it is delicious and one of the cheapest food here.
With our own car, we often stop for fast food in Oman, because it is delicious and one of the cheapest food here.

“If we travel by car, I would have a stomach around dad’s size,” Nathan teased.

“What!” I protested light-heartedly. “My stomach is so flat! All those crunches and reverse crunches I did with my family.”
“One thing I experienced through driving was how hospitable and nice are the people in Oman. It was my first time driving in Oman and I made many mistakes. But rarely did I get honked,” I shared still feeling impressed. “Once I drove in the wrong direction trying to merge into the highway. An incoming car stopped and rolled down his window. I was expecting some harsh scolding but instead the driver simply said, ‘Where would you like to go. Can I help you?’ That was amazing.”
I continued, “Because we drove, we got to meet Salmon at the public toilet facilities who treated us like family. That’s was great Omani hospitality.”
We were surprised to be welcomed to camp at the pubic toilet and picnic facility at Misfah and had coffee with the caretaker.
We were surprised to be welcomed to camp at the pubic toilet and picnic facility at Misfah and had coffee with the caretaker.

“So this was our first time travel by car, would you do it again?” I asked the children.

“Yes!” all three children replied at the same time.
Some countries are good to travel by car. Some are not. Based on our final votes, Oman clearly is number one!
The Grand Mosque of Oman was the most breathtaking mosque we had visited so far with its theme halls and chandelier lights.
The Grand Mosque of Oman was the most breathtaking mosque we had visited so far with its theme halls and chandelier lights.
The Royal Opera House in Muscat was constructed with 4 levels of seating.
The Royal Opera House in Muscat was constructed with 4 levels of seating.
Sometimes one can spot whales and dolphins at the ancient watch tower at the Old Muscat .
Sometimes one can spot whales and dolphins at the ancient watch tower at the Old Muscat .
Idrees, our couchsrufing host, took us to the most natural waterpark we had ever been, Wadi Shah.
Idrees, our couchsrufing host, took us to the most natural waterpark we had ever been, Wadi Shah.
The There is an underground waterfall at the Wadi Shah, one of the most breathtaking place we had been in Oman.
The There is an underground waterfall at the Wadi Shah, one of the most breathtaking place we had been in Oman.

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