A few days ago, looking at the weather app on my iPhone, I noticed it was showing swirly lines for Thursday and Friday. “Windy,” the little legend read. Thursday and Friday were the days we planned to travel to the part of Oman that occupies the tip of the Musandam Peninsula. “Shouldn’t be a problem,” I thought. “What harm could wind do?”
I learned the answer to that question a little earlier this morning, after we arrived in Khasab (the Omani city that sits on the end of the peninsular tip). I had arranged for us to be driven to Khasab from the emirate of Sharjah, where we spent Wednesday afternoon and evening. Our Pakistani driver was adept, the road was smooth, and we arrived around 10 Thursday morning to find smoggy looking skies. It was dust, whipped up by the wind, not smog that clouded the air.
We were greeted by the manager of the guesthouse where we would be staying. Eldo, a native of the Indian city of Kerala, seemed tightly wound but conscientious and meticulous. I asked him when we needed to buy our tickets on the car ferry that sails between Khasab and Muscat. The boat only makes that trip once a week (every Saturday) and in fact I had pretty much planned our itinerary in order to be able to take it. The Lonely Planet Oman guidebook writers had rhapsodized about the experience of sailing into the Omani capital near sunset, and I’m not the sort to resist that kind of buildup.
Eldo agreed with what I had read about the ferry tickets — that you could buy them on the morning of one’s departure. But he said they would cost 20% more on Saturday, so we might as well secure them first thing. He drove us to the ticket office, and at the counter, the head-scarved lady agent announced that the wind had caused the ferry to be cancelled.
Eldo’s reaction when he heard this news was that it was a good thing we had learned this now. There was a once-daily flight from Khasab to Muscat. But many passengers (who already had bought their tickets) wouldn’t learn about the ferry cancellation until they showed up at the dock that morning. Then it would be impossible to make alternative plans.
He seemed quite jaunty until, in two different travel agencies, we discovered that the single flight on Saturday was already sold out. Long discussions of various alternatives ensued (all conducted in some Indian language spoken by Eldo and the travel agents). What we have settled on is to hire a local guy to drive us Saturday to Muscat, a journey that they say should take about 7 hours. This will cost more than first-class tickets on the ferry but less than it would to schlep back to Dubai and fly to Muscat from there at this late hour. Plus we’ll also get to see a lot more of the Omani countryside than we would have from the water.
With that beginning to our travels in Oman, I was a little worried that the wind might somehow sabotage our plans for the afternoon: a drive into the rugged mountains that tumble down to the sea here. But it didn’t. First our driver climbed a winding dirt road up to a viewpoint overlooking one of the breathtaking local fjords.
We descended that hair-raising byway then churned our way deep into rugged, sun-blasted warrens where almost nothing grew. Our destination was Jebel Harim, the mountain where local women once hid from marauding Persians while their men were off on trading missions. We climbed and climbed, marveling at the mangled, blasted landscape. Halfway up, we passed a surprising valley, filled with green fields fed by the mountain streams.
We’ve also been assured that the wind should not jeopardize our plan for tomorrow — a day-long sail through one of the fjords. I will report on that, but I may not be able to post what I write until we reach Muscat. Our phones have no access to the Internet here, and even wi-fi is scarce. But to put that in perspective, Steve read me this afternoon that as recently as 1970, in all of Oman, you could find only six miles of paved road, only two elementary schools, and not a single high school. So I can hardly complain about the lack of touristic amenities; it feels pretty marvelous to be here at all.