The road from Nizwa to the Indian Ocean is paved with surprises, but mostly, the hundreds of kilometers that roll by are lined with a whole lot of very little. The mountains of the Omani Interior are like blurry photographs — up close, towering piles of dirt and rubble, but from afar, sharp and rugged like camels’ toenails.
Off the straight, flat highway stems variety, where a 10 minute drive can take you up into the mountains and back down to a valley river, or into the desert, red sand dunes appearing out of the blue. We did both, teaching Omani children how to skip rocks (they were naturals), and seeing if our Altima could manage a road made of sand (it couldn’t). The pavement snakes into the 5,000 square miles of the Wahiba Sands, until, all at once, it just stops. And there at the end of the road, we were called in for coffee.
I had turned down a young Omani’s offer to go dune bashing and he had responded by offering me into his home — the very last stop in town — cooled by a thick straw roof and a floor of sand.
We left and raced for the Gulf, hoping to catch the sunset before we made the final stretch for the coast. We kept pushing, motivated to stay above the speed limit of almost 90 mph, flying through the tiny towns with everything in our control except… except that the Gulf of Oman faces north. And the Arabian Sea coast faces east. And the sun sets in the west, doesn’t it.
The roundabout, in all its imperfection, is the great tool of the noncommittal. As none of us had learned our lesson from Pin the Tail on the Donkey, we spun in circles until we could find our way, with the aid of confusing road signs and directions in foreign accents.
Take a right. To the right there was a building. Oh well. Tiny sedan-width side streets often provide an alternative to the impossible, letting you navigate through a cartographer’s solid objects. But then there we were, on a bridge that didn’t exist, heading some direction toward or away from all the things we were trying to find. Sur is hard to navigate in the dark.
And then we were there. The Ras al-Jinz Turtle Reserve sits behind a beach long considered the Cabo San Lucas of pregnant green sea turtles. At night, we saw mothers’ slow and steady process as they washed up, started digging, plopped in tens or hundreds of eggs, covered up the baby-hole, and washed back out to sea. They left craters in the sand (a comfy place to nap, I found) that would last long past the next morning, when sunrise would point the way to the last of the night’s litter, hatched from eggs laid two-months earlier. And at 4 AM, we set out to find them.
Minutes after hatching, a baby turtle fights for its life, a lone ranger hurrying toward the cover of the sea. And there we are to ambush it. Camera flashes in its face, the infant reptile is caught at its most vulnerable, like Suri Cruise or one of those Jolie-Pitt kids. Even Lindsay Lohan is like a sea turtle.
Still, the beauty of the moment is undeniable — the day begins with a new life (and a 0.1% chance of survival) and the local fisherman put in for the morning catch.
Guarded by empty tollbooths not yet in commission, the highway back to Muscat runs high along the coast, almost too modern for the kind of entertainment found at each exit. At one turn off, signs point to “Hawiyat Najm Park” a giant sinkhole in the middle of a quiet local garden. And what better way to show respect than to jump screaming into it.
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