I’ll be honest, before this journey I had no idea where Oman was. 6 months ago, when planning our route, Oman was simply a stepping stone to India. I was expecting desert and intense sun, that’s all. I did not expect such a gentle and beautiful people. I did not expect to find an oasis at every turn and I didn’t expect to feel so safe.
As we neared Oman we began to hear whispers from others of this hidden wonder. We heard whispers of how beautiful the women dress and how handsome the men are. The women’s clothing is a burst of colour looking more similar to the flowing sari of India than the bleak black gowns of the Emirates. The men are immaculately groomed, wear a traditional gown with the all-important headscarf tied the Omani way. We met one of these strapping young men along the road and he insisted we share a roadside chai with him. From his car he pulled out everything needed for a family picnic lunch. The Omanis are always prepared.
He prepared tea whilst we cooked our lunch. From his stove cooker wafted scents of cinnamon and frankincense (an Omani scented treasure, found in the stems of trees where the sap is baked hard from the dessert sun). Meanwhile, we dumped our last can of tuna on top of unsalted pasta. We shared tea and he insisted he try our ‘traditional Australian” food. I felt horrible he had to try it. He curiously poked and prodded, tasted, smiled and explained “this will be enough”.
You would think by now, after 6 months of wild camping we would be free of angst and hesitation when searching for a secret pitch. Wrong. As the day grows longer, we search raggedly and hopefully for a camp. Mentally exhausted after finding that perfect pitch, with the setting sun, the night begins to play its tricks. The night gives chance to all sorts of frightful possibilities’. We flinch and react to every sound as our tired minds play out thousands of scenarios of what could be. In Oman this tension and angst has all but melted away. We have never felt so safe pitching the tent. When we ask locals for a safe camping place, a look of confusion appears. They reply “Everywhere is safe, here, there, everywhere!”. In Oman you can literally pitch your tent roadside and sleep without a worry in the world.
Bike touring has developed a bold curiosity, bordering rudeness within us. A curiosity bold enough to approach a party and stare, awaiting an invite. This is precisely what happened as we rounded a bend to find a party of 30 men in the shade of date palms. We approached curiously, were then warmly invited and we waded across a knee-deep stream to their smiles. They kindly shared everything with us. We sat on plastic woven picnic rugs and dived hand first (right hand only) into spicy camel stew and freshly baked roti (Indian bread) dipped in honey. The men were all teachers of the nearby school and were celebrating the beginning of school holidays and Oman winning the Gulf soccer cup against the Emirates. Mid conversation a man (in center of picture below) burst into a Sudanese bongo rhythm song and his Omani friends filled the chorus. I had no idea Sudan’s official language was Arabic.
The frequency and beauty of the Oasis (called Wadis) that spot Oman must be seen to be believed. Crumbling rockfaces and sand dunes are separated by a burst of palm trees. From these fresh water springs blooms all life. Villages directly surround the spring and the never-ending supply of fresh water. So important are the ‘Wadis” that Inland Villages do not exist without a Wadi.
As you enter a Wadi, the temperature drops 5 degrees and locals jump from their homes to welcome you with dates. They say that every Omani starts the day by eating 7 dates. On one occasion we met a young man that invited us to his home and insisted we have our morning 7 dates. He was not shy in explaining the digestive benefit of dates. He explained that the dates kept you “very regular”. The trouble is that this was the third invite of the day and we were beginning to become “frequent”.
Satisfied that we had our dates, he led us through his garden of palm, banana and citrus trees. He was in a hurry as he was late for mid-day prayer and he quickly dashed off to the town mosque. He left us exploring their controlled jungle gardens with his playful sons and daughters. We returned with the children to their home where he wished me safe travels, gave me a packet of dates and reminded me of the importance of 7 dates a day.
In Oman we marked our 6 months milestone of being on the road. We celebrated here in Muscat roaming the old Souq (market). These 6 months have taken us through 12 countries, 7000 km and possibly past a million smiling faces. We are beginning to feel a level of experience and competence on the road bicycle touring. However, our next stop is India and I am sure no amount of bicycle touring could prepare us for this. We do our best to understand what awaits by reading stories of travelers and books. There is a constant theme from all writers:“to win in India, you first have to surrender”.
Please, wish us luck!
Matt and Jasi