The Desert and the Coast

The next big excursion was to the Eastern coastline of Oman.  Our first destination was a Bedouin camp in the desert of Sharqiya Sands where we would spend the night.  This small look at Omani Bedouin culture was interesting, because while they were certainly less conservative than your average Omani (a fellow student claimed to stumble on one smoking hash while wandering up a sand dune), they tended to maintain the Omani attire of dishdasha, mussar, and kumma.  It was a very different experience than meeting the Palestinian Bedouin later in the trip.  These Bedouin were definitely decently well off from being able to monetize their lifestyle for the benefit of tourists, in contrast to the Palestinian Bedouin of Khan al-Ahmar who were reliant on aid.

We split into groups of four and each of us had a Bedouin driver in a 4×4 SUV of one kind or another.  We took a detour to go offroading on the sand dunes on the way and ride surfboard and snowboards down the dunes.  The Bedouins seems to legitimately enjoy themselves careening around the desert as much as we enjoyed being passengers in the experience.

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The night in the camp was pleasant enough with one of the Bedouins bringing out an oud and singing as we sat around the central pavilion.  A couple people found scorpions in their sleeping quarters, and I found a camel spider, so we got an upclose look at some of the desert wildlife that night, but it was easy to sleep after the long car ride.  In the morning we took a camel ride before returning to our vehicles to make our to Sur.

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Because of Oman’s nautical traditions (as I mentioned before, it wasn’t uncommon to see antique navigational equipment in Suqs) and maritime colonial empire, there is still a decent shipbuilding industry in Oman.  Granted, I think its probably more targeted at rich customers who can afford ornate dhow-style yachts they were building.  We visited one of the shipyards and were able to crawl around the innards of a pretty massive wooden ship.  Another completed one was moored near us in the water.

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We also visited a maritime museum with one of the more interesting people we met that trip.  The guide at the museum was older man of African descent who spoke a thick dialect and had a penchant for jokes that most of us had difficulty understanding.  He’d speak at length in Arabic about the history of the Omani nautical tradition and then suddenly home in on whichever student looked most intimidated with a barrage of questions or a riddle or joke in Arabic.  This ended with students shuffling around trying not to be the one called out in front of the others.  What I could understand of it was pretty informative, and the museum itself was interesting.

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Later that night we left for a turtle sanctuary at Ra’s al-Jinz.  A bus carried us out to the beach where we were met by a biologist who guided tours at the sanctuary.  Even though he was walking the sandy beaches at night, he was also dressed in the Omani national attire.  I think one of the most fascinating things about Oman was the homogeneity of dress.  The dishdasha is mandatory uniform for government employees, so you see it in all kinds of places you might not expect.  Even amongst Omanis in the private sector its pretty ubiquitous.

We were there at the right time of year to view turtles giving birth .  Unfortunately, we couldn’t really take any pictures because the flash would disturb the birthing mothers, but it was a pretty interesting experience to watch the mother turtles in various states of digging holes to lay their eggs, in the process of laying their eggs, or working on burying them.  I knew intellectually how massive they were, but it was another thing to see it up close.  And their movement was slow, but measured and deliberate, and maybe a little desperate.  They had dragged themselves far enough from the ocean to lay their eggs away from the reach of the tides while in labor, and were now forcing flippers which really weren’t designed for digging to dig these massive maybe five foot deep holes.

 

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