Monday, 22 April 2013

Back to Oman and the Desert beckons

Must be almost a month since the last post - another two weeks in Australia and now about three weeks home.  An awful lot has happened in that time, both work wise and personally.
Nothing but sand as far as the eye can see......
I spent the second half of my time in Australia hanging around Canberra like a bad smell.  Being a tourist in my home town and just being there if Katrina needed me. Not too taxing!  I did get to see Government House and did a Parliament House tour as well as Tidbinbilla and the Canberra Zoo, all with a dash of National Arboretum.  As a tourist town Canberra is not too shabby.

(The Arboretum has hundreds of clumps of trees spread over many acres - or hectares to you young uns! - fabulous views and when fully grown will be something quite spectacular. Its one of those vision things, and thankfully once every generation or two you get a politician with a sense of vision.)

My Australian sojourn finished with a trip through Sydney to the closing day at the Rowany Festival.  I was there for the Fighter Auction Tourney and had the opportunity to catch up with many people. That was really rather pleasant. Then the following day I farewelled Katrina and set off for Oman and work again.

When I got back home after unpacking and sleeping, it seemed the first thing to do was collect Rufus and Georgie from the airport. The snow in Canada had melted enough for them to be released from their lakeside isolation. First thing they did was jump a plane to Muscat.  So in less than a month I got to see most of my family and also most of Katrina's as her parents were also on the visiting agenda.
Ray and Isobel (Katrina's parents) relaxing at the beach.
I guess the big thing on the agenda was the weekend just gone when Rufus, Georgie, Katrina and I joined a small "adventure tour" into the desert at Wahiba sands.  An 8 am start on the first day of the weekend after a work week that included two consecutive post midnight finishes - hmmm could have planned that better!!
First duty in the sand is to get bogged! the only bogging of the trip though.
I had found the tour through an online group called Internations. Seems we aren't the only expats to have been here for a while without making it into the Desert. So ten of us (7, plus two drivers and one organiser) piled into two well packed 4wd's and set off for desert.

Nothing much to say for a few hours then we hit the desert. After a few hours of seriously abusing dunes in 4wd's we stopped for the night and set up camp. Along the way we saw some stunning scenery and learnt a lot about how far you can push a 4wd on sand and how close to horizontal they get without thinking of rolling.
The dune was that high

And then of course as dusk approached the wind sprang up and well with the wind came migratory sand. It got into everything.  Even the bags that were zipped up.  Sitting on a chair watching the sun go down while being sandblasted was an interesting experience.  Not keen to repeat the sandblasting  bit of the trip. And then after all that wind the ridges of the sand dunes are left as sharp as an ironed crease.
Rufus and Katrina in for some sandblasting.
After the day of traipsing around we settled into an evening of esky emptying!. By this time the whole group had gelled and the evening was spent in a session of rather loud hilarity. And as it was too hot to sleep most of us stayed up well beyond our bedtimes. I am told that when bed eventually won out Katrina and my snoring was a sound to behold!
Most of the group...well half anyway.

The morning brought a new and bleary day, but also a lot of surprises. As I walked around the camp in the early morning light there was spectacular scenery to behold. But the truly amazing thing was the sheer quantity and variety of tracks in the sand. Around and through our camp were dung beetle, Gerbil and Lizard tracks. Not too far away were snake, fox and sand fish. All mixed up with assorted bird tracks as well.
Signs of Desert death - and life ....
For such an inhospitable and forbidding place the variety and volume of life is impressive. We did of course also see Camels and goats - the two immutables of the Omani animal world. As we drove the 50+ kilometres out of the desert we also saw lizards and sand fish to go with the beetles and flies.

Georgie and our hostess
At deserts' edge we stopped at a Bedou (that's Bedouin to you) house, which now operates as a tourist stop off point. It's operated by an elderly woman who lived there when all the desert dwellers lived in such houses. The buildings were entirely made from palm tree wood and fronds. The floors were covered by carpets directly onto the sand and one side of the Majlis (meeting room) we sat in was open. Despite the open wall it was significantly cooler in the Majlis than outside. We bought various home made trinkets, drank coffee and ate dates.

Our final stop on the trip was Wadi Bani Khalid on the way back to Muscat. This wadi has a permanent watercourse and wonderful swimming holes fed by underground springs from the mountains.  Ahh glory, nice cool water and all (well a big proportion) of that sand washed away. Glorious surroundings and crystal clear water. So good in-fact that it unclogged two of the press buttons on my watch - they'd been clogged up for well over a year.
Wadi Bani Khalid
Swimming was fun, the unexpected was that when you sat still in the water little fish magically appeared and started to nibble the dead skin off your feet. Gave me a bit of a surprise when they started nibbling, but it wasn't too bad. The longer you sat the more fish gathered on your feet. Ahh exfoliation, apparently people pay for this treatment.

But then it was back to Muscat and work for me,
      Muscat then Tanzania for Rufus and Georgie and
            Muscat and the post thesis brain search for Katrina. Sadly the brain search has really only been a partial success (a small part at that) so far.
Katrina's foot meets fish

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