Jabrin – a touch of style

| Posted in Bicycle Diaries

After a short ride with no definite plan of where to go, I ended up staying in the local hotel in small town Jabrin which turned out to be of the unusually posh sort – two days ago I did sleep at the roadside… Perhaps I was silently upgraded to a better room than I paid for, but I got a nice corner room with nice views, plenty of marble, massive and finely decorated persian furniture and the most lovely salmon coloured tapestry with touches of silver to add some sparkle. Throw in some sky blue rondelles in the ceiling and you get the picture. And it had wifi and friendly staff too!

Interior of my hotel in Jabrin.

Interior of my hotel in Jabrin.

You could go to Jabrin to stay at the hotel, but most go to see the castle. So did I. At the entrance I talked to a teacher to a class of architects students what made this castle special. He enthustically explained that its significance lay in the layout of rooms with various functions. In his opinion it was the jewel of the Omani fortresses and castles.

3 Omanis inspecting the finer details of Jabrin Castle.

3 Omanis inspecting the finer details of Jabrin Castle. Photo: Joel Schumann

Oman’s Green Mountains

| Posted in Bicycle Diaries

From Ibra I headed towards Nizwa. It is a distance of almost 200 km and I was rather put down by the realization that there would be no accomodation along the route. The road to Nizwa is flanked by mountains on both sides so it was not possible for me to find a good place to camp. I sto but pped for dinner in Samail and talked to lots of people who tried to find a place to sleep. The result: lots of talk of possible camp sites and even apartments I could crash but as usual it didn’t give any concrete offers. I get the impression they do want to help, but nothing ever comes up. So I began riding on.

Eventually, I decided there was no point in turning up in Nizwa in the middle of the night, so I pulled off the road and found a nice patch of cement where I could not be seen from the road, and tucked down in my sleeping bag for some hours sleep. Cars zipping past not 10 metres away. Another glorious moment in my career as bicycle tourer.

Typical scenery seen from the road from Ibra towards Bid Bid and Nizwa.

Typical scenery seen from the road from Ibra towards Bid Bid and Nizwa.

While the road from Ibra took me through some spectacular scenery it was hard to enjoy it: This photo belies the fact that it is basicly a very busy highway.

At dawn I rode the final 30 km or so and arrived in Nizwa. Nizwa is a town with a history of being conservative – and this is in a, dare I say, rather conservative country! Wilfred Thesiger, when exploring the country half a century ago, was advised to stay clear of it – his bedouin co-travellers was convinced he would not get away with his life in behold. Mind you, half a century ago Oman was pretty much living in the dark middle ages – it was a time where Oman was practically cut off from the rest of the world.

According to Lonely Planet this pearl of Islam is still a very conservative town, but I honestly did not experience it as such. If this is anything to go by people at least dresses more casual than other places I have been to – I saw more young people walking around in western clothing than elsewhere.

The dude with the impressive beard is Sultan Qaboos. He is the guy that reformed the country – after staging a coup against his own father. His power is absolute – he is quite popular but talking to the younger generation there is some desperation. the unemployment rate among the young generation is very high. Google him and an interesting result come up: most searchers are concerned if he is gay or not! Unmarried and no children is certainly unusual here.

The "hidden street" in the Nizwa souq. That is big brother sultan Qaboos looking down from the poster.

The "hidden street" in the Nizwa souq. That is big brother sultan Qaboos looking down from the poster. Photo: Joel Schumann

 

The fringe of Wahiba Sands

| Posted in Bicycle Diaries

I left the Al Raha camp slightly unhappy – staying in a cement hut was not much fun even if it was in the desert. Maybe the driver sensed this or perhaps he was just in a hurry because our speed averaged 100 km/h as we made our way back along the ”highway” cutting through the dunes.

I was not quite done with the desert so decided to ride around to see if I could find a place to camp or a road to take me a bit further into the sands. On the fringe of the desert is a number of small towns. They are little more than a handfull or two of houses and a patch of palm trees. Oasis anno 2012. I liked them because the huge sand dunes loomed right behind them as if just waiting for the right moment to cover them completely.

At one place I was invited in for tea. I left my loaded bike outside and we went into the patio. Before I sat down I wanted to get my camera from my bags on the bicycle and quickly understood that everybody than me knew we might have a situation. It turned out one of the older boys had found it ok to go on a spin on my bicycle. A lot of yelling from me and my new host family brought him back with a huge grin on his face. I honestly don’t know if he was slightly low on the IQ scale or just gave a very good impression to that effect.

I was treated to halwa (a local sweet), tea and daddles. I was sitting in company with the extended family who all seemed present: All seven kids of my host and his wife, his father. More kids! Grandmother was hiding the best she could behind various garments so only a eye would peek out at me and all I got to see of her face was a glimpse of her mostly toothless mouth. On the other hand, one of the larger boys took me by surprise by greeting me the local way; by touching my nose with his. I had seen this custom but was surprised to experience it first hand. I was encouraged to take pictures of the family, except grandmother or any of the older girls. A slight touch of drama occured when I showed a picture of one of the sons to the mother. I did not understand why she got quite upset as I found it a nice picture. Later, when I watched it on the computer I noticed why: the boys food is cripled. It is actually a nice picture if it wasn’t for the foot which is a rather disturbing element. I decided not to put it on the internet.

My host and the guy who stole my bicycle. On the fringe of Wahiba Sands, Oman.

My host and the guy who stole my bicycle. On the fringe of Wahiba Sands, Oman. Photo: Joel Schumann

After half an hour my bicycle was being moved outside: A not so subtle hint that it was time for me to leave. For the night, I put up camp in the dunes near the village.

Early morning light from my campspot in a dune in Wahiba Sands.

Early morning light from my campspot in a dune in Wahiba Sands. Joel Schumann

 

 

As Sifaa

| Posted in Bicycle Diaries

One of the Omani’s favorite pastimes is to go camping. For the first time, on this trip I also bring a tent with me and plan to pitch it around on the beaches and in the desert. So, I guess I should tell you of my debut camping.

I left Muscat heading for As Sifaa, a small town with a beach that draws a number of Omanis from Muscat that drives there, make a fire and cooks some food and either go back or stay for the night on the beach. The road took me into some very nice coastal scenery, past a few fishing villages and up and down a lot of short but steep hills. Even on the coast it is an arid desert landscape based on a very basic colour palette of a brownish orange, blue sky and white houses.

The computer showed 45 km when I arrived in As Sifaa – after having done a small detour to Yiti, another popular beach and camping spot. I took some time to have a look at the town before I settled for a camping spot. It has one restaurant and a small coffee shop with a very limited assortment of food stuff. I got entangled in a wedding procession and talked to some of the guests. As ever, people were very friendly. Then I finally went to look for a camping spot. Sadly to discover that my tent pegs are in Denmark! I managed to pitch my tent by using the bike bags to hold everything in place.

You have to take my word for it: It can get surprisingly cold during the night in Oman! I had to put on plenty of clothes but still did not get much sleep.

Beach of As Sifaa. Us campers go to a more secluded spot! Photo: Joel Schumann.

Beach of As Sifaa. Us campers go to a more secluded spot! Photo: Joel Schumann.

People dressed up! Wedding procession in the small Omani town As Sifaa. Photo: Joel Schumann

People dressed up! Wedding procession in the small Omani town As Sifaa. Photo: Joel Schumann

I then returned to Muscat as there is no road further from As Sifaa. A visit to the super market made me the owner of a sleeping bag and some bamboo sticks to replace my lost tent pegs. Next day I headed for Quraayat, where my camping proficiency should stand its second test. This time a storm was brewing so sand was flying everywhere. Rather than on sand, I decided to park in a small park which had nice grass to supplement my mattress. Alas, it was to be another no sleep-night. By now, the wind was blowing so hard that I was worried that my tent – or rather my ad hoc bamboo pegs – would not be up to the job. Once more, not much sleep for this camper…

My camping spot in Quarrayat, Oman.

My camping spot in Quarrayat, Oman.

Touring Oman on a bicycle

| Posted in Bicycle Diaries

I guess it is about time for a recap of my first week of this trip and a quick teaser of what may come in the next weeks. So here is the situation: I presently find myself in Muscat, the capital of the sultanate of Oman (doesn’t ring a bell? I’ll give a hint or two, Oman is south of Dubai and next to Saudi Arabia.) The next few weeks I will be touring around Oman on my bike, expecting to encounter quite a bit of sand as I pedal along and spotting the odd camel or two from the roadside. With a bit of luck, I might even meet some of the proper nomads roaming in this part of the world. I do have a feeling that any nomad I might find, get around in a huge air conditioned 4WD rather than on the back of a camel.

First I had to get here! Every new bicycle adventure far from home begins with battling the road system to and from the airport. And I hate it! I am happy to have my base in Copenhagen, which has an airport where you can ride your bicycle right to the ladder to the plane or bring it on the train. But generally arriving with a bicycle anywhere in the world means you have to brave riding on a highway or see if you can locate some means of transport that will bring you to your destination.

Arriving in the middle of the night in Muscat, I did not waste much time but put the bike together, loaded the bags onto the racks and went straight onto the highway expecting there would be little traffic at this unholy hour. Without a map anywhere in sight, imagine how much fun I had finding my hotel with only the moon to guide me! There was next to no traffic and a wide shoulder. Still, I tried to find alternative routes but every time I asked for direction, I was told to go on the highway. I have now learned my lesson and my informers were right: Trying to avoid the highways will not get you anywhere in this city. It is a sad state of the human race that you need a car to get around even if the distances are a few km. To sum it up: I have spent hours trawling through the city looking for a bookshop and have not found any. On the other hand, I have seen hundreds of car dealers (including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Jaguar), not to mention the shops selling accessories to cars. We are talking priorities here!

I cannot say, I am particularly impressed by Muscat. The sights are few and getting around is a pain. The main attractions are the old part of town with its harbor and souq (a covered market). I suspect most tourists coming here, are arriving on a cruise ship and see little but this.

Enough! Todays rant is over. I will be kind to it now and show Muscat from its prettiest side.

Postcard pretty view of the old town of Muscat in the Sultanete of Oman. Photo: Joel Schumann 2012

Postcard pretty view of the old town of Muscat in the Sultanete of Oman. Photo: Joel Schumann 2012

Souq, Muscat in Oman

The Souq in Muscat, Oman. Photo: Joel Schumann

 

With the calls of the muezzins prayer from the nearby mosque coming through my window while the sun sets, I will end this first post. As I said, it is time for me to move on and tomorrow I start the touring part for real. New to me, I bring a tent this time and plan to camp on a few of those deserted stretches of beautiful beaches the brochures in the lobby are telling me about. I hope this will offer a glimpse of hope for those of my readers that are still struggling with sub zero temperatures and sleet and snow back in Europe ha ha.

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