Oman: The Subcontinent in the desert?

…continued from previous Oman posts.

In Oman the scenery didn’t look like anything I’ve seen in India, but culturally it felt like we were riding through the Indian Subcontinent, not the Arabian Peninsula.  It seems like foreigners do all the work in the country, and the majority come from Indian, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  In Muscat we stayed with Stuart and Aslı, from England and Turkey, and their live-in housekeeper, Mary from Goa.

Our first tasks leaving Muscat at the start of our bicycle tour were to buy groceries, fuel for the stove, and a SIM card.  I didn’t see Omanis working at any of these places.  It was all Bangladeshis at the gas station, and Indians from Kerala got me set up with an Omani phone card.   In my notes from the first day biking in the country, I wrote, “Aren’t there any Omanis?”

The Sri Lankan mosque manager in Fanja:

Jack and the Sri Lankan imam who gave us a tour of the mosque by bryandkeith on flickr

The Omanis we did see at shops were customers, not workers.  Omanis drive to the shops in their fancy cars (or Toyota Hilux pickups if the roads aren’t so good), honk the horn, and are served without ever leaving the car.  They sit in their air-conditioned bubbles while an Indian braves the heat to serve them tea, chips, and samosas.  Coming from the US, it seems incredibly rude.  Jack even saw this sort of drive-up service at a hardware store.
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Escaping the Omani traffic: Wadi Shab and the Salma Plateau

Once Jack and I arrived at the coast at Al-Ashkharah, we reevaluated our plans for Oman, after not enjoying the route we had taken so far.  We knew of good snorkeling in Oman and had brought snorkel gear with us so we decided to move slowly along the coast seeing if we could find underwater magic.  In a time when everything is easily accessible on the internet, it seems to me it’s still very difficult to learn where there is good, beach-accessible snorkeling.  It’s even hard, for example, to find snorkeling information for Sulawesi even though that’s considered one of the best places in the world for diving.

One photo of the small harbor at Al-Ashkharah before we leave:

DSC07238 by bryandkeith on flickr

In Oman we first tried snorkeling here:
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Muscat to Al-Ashkharah, an inland route

You can read on the internet lots of blogs from bicycle tourers who love the touring in Oman.  This isn’t going to be one of them 🙁  The weather is certainly perfect for riding in the winter, but the traffic is heavy.  Perhaps Jack and I started with unreasonably high expectations after reading the glowing accounts from fellow cyclists.  We found lots of new construction of buildings and highways and the associated noise, dust, and ugliness that comes along with it.  Sadly the sprawling, auto-centric development will not make the country a nicer place to live or visit even when the construction disturbances are over.

Another reason that Jack and I might have arrived in Oman with unreasonably high expectations for our tour is because the previous tour we did together — five years ago in southern Mexico — was one of the best five-week bicycle tours I’ve done.  I highly recommend the touring in southern Mexico.  Oman, however, well…

Jack and I met in Muscat at the house of a warmshowers host, Stuart, who does “ultra” bicycle racing, sort of like brevet but timed as a race.  It sounds crazy.  As I write this, he’s racing in the first ever of this type of event in the Middle East, a 1000-km five-day event in Oman.  Stuart will cover more distance this week than Jack and I did during our entire month in Oman!

Jack and Stuart, our warmshowers host in Azaiba, Muscat by bryandkeith on flickr

One of the tourist highlights in Oman is to visit the Wahiba Sands (aka Ash-Sharqiyah), a huge area (70km x 150km!!!) of sand dunes 150km SSE of Muscat.  Oman’s the size of Germany with a population of less than 3 million so I (wrongly) wasn’t worried about traffic anywhere in the country when planning our route.  Jack and I started in Muscat and took the main inland route towards Wahiba Sands.  Once we finally got away from the nasty traffic (~200 km south of Muscat?), it was wind that drained our energy and spirits for the next week.  The wind got so bad that we holed up in a hotel in Al-Ashkharah for a couple nights.  I think we needed a rest — both mental and physical — by that time anyway.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad, and I’ll focus on the positive, starting with spending the night in the Wahiba Sands for my birthday.  As biking in soft sand is nearly impossible, we hired Ali and his 4×4 to drop us off in the dunes and come back in the morning to retrieve us.  He said he knew a good spot, and indeed he did.  In spite of a bit of wind (and blowing sand), we were very happy with this excursion.
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Tavuk mangal at Etli Döner

The first time I climbed the trad routes at Hurma (Hurma Kayaları), I was surprised to find bolts on Etli Döner.  There are over 1000 bolted routes nearby at Geyikbayırı.  Why would anyone want/need to bolt some of the few trad routes in Antalya?  I asked the trad climbing guidebook author, Yılmaz, about this after seeing the bolts.  I was certainly surprised that he knew nothing about the bolting there.  He was shocked and said bolting definitely wasn’t allowed in that area.  He immediately sent someone up to cut the bolts (the two-bolt anchor halfway up the route was left in place for ease of descent).  Of course, it’s important to do this sooner rather than later to send a message to the bolter that this won’t be tolerated.  As far as I’ve heard, no one knows who did the bolting.

Ferda and I went up there again and climbed a couple routes on the same face with Fahri and Kevser.  It’s a fun place to spend the day.  Here’s Ferda making her way up to the first belay station:

DSCN0971 by bryandkeith on flickr

Look, you really can use trad gear in Antalya:
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Likya Yolu segment: Kaleüçağız to İnişdibi

My favorite place to backpack in Turkey is the Kaçkar Mountains.  I’ve backpacked there three times, and there are many other routes I’d like to do.   I’ve also backpacked in Aladağlar a couple times, and in Sarıkamış, Yenice (Karabük), and Köroğlu Dağları in Bolu.  Küre Dağları in Kastamonu are high on my list.  I crossed them by bicycle once but haven’t backpacked there yet.  However, the most popular place to backpack in Turkey is probably the Likya Yolu right here in Antalya.

The Likya Yolu (Lycian Way) is a marked 500km trail from Antalya to Fethiye.  Because there are lots of road access points, it’s possible to do most (all?) of the route as day trips if you’re willing to organize a lot of transportation.  The Antalya hiking groups often do just that.  They hire a dolmuş with a driver so getting the vehicle from the start to the finish point is no problem.  I did one of these hikes when I was first in Antalya in April 2012 from Adrasan to Karaöz.

This short stretch from Kaleüçağız to İnişdibi is, somewhat amazingly, only the second section of the Likya Yolu that I’ve walked.  It’s a good section, taking in the archaeological sites of Theimiussa and Simena.  I had been to Kaleüçağız once before with Ferda when we did a little seakayaking so I knew what a beautiful spot it is.

The original plan for this day had been to walk from Kapaklı to Kaleüçağız, but it was raining hard in Kapaklı so we decided to drive on and see if the weather was any better in Kaleüçağız.  It wasn’t.  We waited for about an hour for the rain to let up and ended up having pretty good weather the rest of the day.  However, because of the late start, we cut the hike a bit short by coming out at İnişdibi instead of Kapaklı.  That sort of flexibility is quite easy to arrange when you have a driver and ubiquitous cell phone coverage.

Mediterranean views, Likya tombs, easy walking — a good outing.

DSCN7980_1 by bryandkeith on flickr
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