Wednesday, March 31, 2004

It seemed like a good idea at the time…

You never actually think you’ll become one of those people who does something really dumb like head off on an outdoors adventure totally unprepared…it just sort of happens…..

Futaisi Island. We read the pamphlet and it sounded wonderful, a tropical island, 50 sq km, just off Abu Dhabi, owned by one of the Sheiks who lets the public visit. It has a resort, pool, beach, bicycles and horseback riding, mangrove swamps, and unique wildlife. Rather than sign up for the lunch at the resort (definitely for the unadventurous) Bob and I thought it sounded much better to bring a picnic, rent some bikes and head off to find a beautiful part of the island to do some snorkeling and relaxing.
We were a bit suspicious upon hearing varying estimates for how long it takes to get there, but no problem, had a lovely boat ride and 15 minutes later were on the island. Then off for a bike ride. Well, not so fast…
Beware the Bikes
We quickly agreed to call them ‘so called bicycles’. I think I got the best of the dozen or so leaning up against the rental place. It had 1 ½ pedals, but other than that and a bit of rust, seemed like fine transportation. Off we went on a sandy road along the shore to find beaches and circumnavigate this island. Two hours later, hot, dusty, & dehydrated, with no signs of people or vehicles…just lots and lots of desert on one side and water on the other….we started the useless discussion of ‘do we turn back or continue on…are we half way around this island…why do we do stupid things like this…and who’s job was it to bring water anyway? ’
The backpacks felt like they were made out of cement. The flippers were a pain to carry and useless … the water was so shallow and clear so who needed to snorkel anyway. It really was pretty and scenic and I wanted to enjoy it and take it all in except…..my rear end was sooooo sore. I actually got off at one point to see if the bike seat indicated where it was made. I was sure it would read HELL, with a flame logo beside it. The heat of the desert makes you think strange things. The only way I could continue was to fold up my beach towel and ride on it on top of the bike seat.
Beautiful Beach
Things did look up though…we found a lovely beach to stop for lunch. There was a huge osprey nest (complete with osprey until we arrived) on a rock at ‘people’ level, I guess because other people aren’t dumb enough to venture to that part of the island.
It wasn’t to last however…getting back onto my hellish transportation I discovered my front tire was almost flat….oh, and of course a strong headwind had developed while we were basking on the beach. We wobbled our way back towards where we thought the resort was but we weren’t totally sure. You really do see illusions in the desert (or was that the beer with lunch).
To pass the time I started drafting an Ally McBeal episode in which someone sues the manufacturer of a bike seat …. the heat of the desert makes you think strange things.
Happy Ending
We finally arrived back at the resort and staggered to the poolside where all the unadventurous types appeared to have spent a relaxing day in a lovely setting….poor suckers.
Before we caught the return boat to Abu Dhabi we felt compelled to follow a sign that pointed to “lovely birds”. We limped down the path way and discovered the “lovely birds” were ducks, geese, chickens, and some rabbits that are neighborhood sights at home…ahh, but they were lovely….stagger back to get the boat…and the boat ride that was 15 minutes in the morning became a one hour return trip…(that’s another story…just think 2 boats, overcrowded, confusion, boy scout troop returning from camping on the island, lots of supplies, confusion, moving passengers from one boat to another, confusion…) It is really a neat island, and next time I think I’ll stay by the pool at the resort….or maybe horseback riding (but only with a map this time)

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Travels in Oman
We had a week off at the start of February and decided to head to Oman to camp for a few days. It only takes a couple of hours to reach the border. Quite an interesting country, here are random experiences…

Wadi Bashing – We crossed the border into Oman in the afternoon and headed to Sohar on the coast then south towards Muscat. As the sun started going down we got a bit anxious about finding a campsite. We found out later you can camp anywhere that isn’t private property. One travel book mentioned good camping spots in Wadi Bani Auf, near Rustaq so we headed there. A Wadi, by the way, is a dry riverbed, often with trees and hills or mountains on either side. Wadi Bashing is the term for getting in your 4-wheel drive and exploring in the wadis….the ‘roads’ can be narrow and rather rough.
We just managed to get our tents and Eric’s hammock up before dark…the days don’t seem very long, and it suddenly goes from day to ‘pitch black night’. Incredibly quiet, there was no one else in sight, although we’d passed a couple of rustic villages. With no cities or lights of any kind nearby the stars that night were amazing. We woke to the sounds of kids and looked out of the tent to see a group of about 8 kids a short distance away playing and calling out “hello, hi” to us, and setting little fires. Yes, I know the “fires” bit sounds odd, but they were apparently just playing house, making mud pies, and staring at us. As we packed up kids would occasionally wander closer but mostly they were just curious to watch us from a distance as they ran up and down the dirt road playing tag and whatever.

Turtles – Ras al Junayz….The drive along the coast south of Muscat includes sections of narrow, unpaved roads through scenic little villages such as Tiwi and Shab, where people are friendly and wave and call out ‘hello, hi’as we’d drive through the narrow main street of the village. At one point when I remarked how friendly everyone was Eric and Emily asked whether I’d also noticed the kids were throwing firecrackers at us and pretending to shoot us with guns. Hmmm….now that you mention it….
We camped at the beach at Ras al Junayz where large green sea turtles come in at night to lay their eggs. The beach is covered with large holes, the result of turtles digging to lay their eggs. The beach is off limits after 5 p.m. except if you go with a guide. The guide had a flashlight and led us to one of the turtles to watch her lay her eggs. We also saw some babies hatching and heading to the water. In the morning we went back to the beach on our own and although the adult turtles were gone we still saw some of the little ones scurrying off to the water. An interesting place…also, I glanced up at the campsite to see a couple of camels wandering through, rummaging through the garbage cans…ho, hum, just another camel sighting….there are signs on the highways by the way with an image of a camel and warning you to slow down…just like our deer signs at home.

Bahla – heading north we arrived at Bahla where there is a huge fort listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. A friendly local latched onto us and we thought he was going to give us a tour of the fort but no, he led us off in the opposite direction and toured us through his village. He spoke little English but was quite a character and it was one of those moments to just ‘go with the flow’ and follow him up and down the streets of his village. He shouted at me once because apparently I didn’t move fast enough to leap over a puddle of animal blood and guts…it was no big deal though, we’d seen lots of blood and guts that day along the roadside…after all it was a holiday and time to do a bit of sacrificing and put the guts by the roadside… We never did see the fort except from a distance.

Tanuf – After we escaped from Bahla we camped in another scenic wadi behind the ruins of a village called Tanuf. Beautiful mountains, goats on the hillsides, no people in sight, although we saw where the road ended and apparently you can get to the village on foot from there…we didn’t attempt it, perhaps it was too soon after our forced Bahla village tour… anyway, interesting country to visit if you’re ever in this part of the world.

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