After much anticipation I was able to finally get to Musandam in the top corner of Oman. The Musandam Peninsula is spectacular by any means and has been referred to as the New Zealand of the Middle East. I find it difficult to compare a lush, green, high rain fall and snow capped mountains to the dry, arid, hot and barren climate in the Musandam peninsula. Having said that though, the landscape marked by fjords is similar to those in New Zealand and the beauty is just as stunning.
The cliff tops were once the ocean floor
After crossing the Diara border, the small town of
is about an hour drive. It is really very small, but it is a quiant township with all the conveniences needed. It is very conservative and traditional, but there is one high end hotel if you desire a cold alcoholic beverage to relax and unwind. As much as the area is renowned for the sights surrounding it, I thoroughly enjoyed meandering through town and exploring the back alley ways and streets.
Goats were everywhere in the towns
Just chillin' out
As always, I found the people of Oman to be friendly and out going. On a number of occasions I was called into shops to talk and relax. The majority of the population can speak broken English and most people, once they found out I was from Australia, were keen to discuss international cricket or to ask what it is like there. In a comical way, I am always mistaken for being of middle eastern dissent. The dark skin, dark eyes and manicured beard mean that generally I am spoken to in fast paced Arabic.When I inform them with the life saving term "maffi arabia" (No Arabic), a look of disbelief appears on their face and then the conversation of where are you from soon ensues.
Fisherman at the harbor (unfortunately ray fishing) thought I looked Syrian
My "no Arabic" phrase brought laughter to these school boys
A traditional and very enjoyable way of experiencing the true wonders of Musandam is via a dhow cruise. The traditional fishing/cargo boats are geared to tourists and are equipped with a toilet, traditional majlis pillows and cold drinks to be served with the typical fish/chicken with rice lunch. It's a relaxed and slow paced way to travel and is truly representative of the Omani culture.
People getting ready to snorkel
Lots of room to relax and enjoy the view
On our slow cruise up the channel my inner nerd came out and I soon spotted colonies of Socotra Cormorants. As I am currently researching these birds in the UAE, I was excited to see them up here (the possibility of them being a sub-species is being investigated). They colonize sheer cliff faces as opposed to the open sand islands in the UAE. I was impressed by their ability to stand on these cliff faces as they are a large bird.
It was a real joy to see the cormorants in Oman
Nestled high on the cliffs
One of the main draw cards of the dhow cruise is the viewing of dolphins, Indian Humpback dolphins (
) to be exact. On this particular day, we were fortunate enough to see them swimming by the boat for about 10 minutes. The swam just in front of the bow wave and switched from side to side of the dhow. It was my first real experience with dolphins and it was exciting to see how gracefully they swam. Seeing a mother and calf together was also a real bonus.
Mother and juvenile dolphin
Getting some air time
Enjoying the bow wave created by the dhow
The dhow stopped at a number of spots to allow snorkeling. Honestly, it was not the greatest snorkeling with over fishing allowing the sea urchin population to explode therefore destroying large swathes of coral. Swimming around in water that was sitting at around 26C was a novelty in itself for me. It was also lunch time, which our wonderful and very friendly dhow captain served up to us hot.
View from the boat
Our wonderful Dhow captain
The trip back allowed me to enjoy the geology of the place and I must admit I really appreciated its history and formation. Yes, it was barren and did not tick the cliche "green hills and snow capped" mountain box, but it was amazing in its own right.
The view ahead
Cliffs towering over a dhow
Camping Musandam style
The mountain tower over you at all sides. Truly wonderful
All in all, I enjoyed my short trip to Musandam. Unfortunately, the time allocation was limited. I look forward to spending some serious time here, but as the current temperature creeps into the high 40's, my return trip will have to be postponed until the end of summer. I am hesitant to say I've really seen Musandam as I feel there is more much more to discover there. I am glad to have seen a snapshot though and look forward to returning.