It’s not very likely to get proper holiday at the beginning of December, at least in my experience. When I lived in San Sebastian, we did get 6th December off due to the Spanish Constitution Day and then 8th December – Immaculate Conception, but still had to go back to work on 7th, as far as I remember. On the whole, whether at university or work, the beginning of December used to always seem busier to me rather than a holiday period due to end of term revisions, exams, etc. However, things work sightly differently here and so we ended up with 10 whole days off. First, it was the weekend, i.e. 1st (Friday) and 2nd (Saturday) December. Afer that, we got 3rd (Sunday) & 4th (Monday) December off due to 47th Oman National Day, which was in fact on 18th November, and then on 5th (Tuesday) December it was the Prophet’s Birthday, followed by 6th (Wednesday) and 7th (Thursday) which was considered a mid-term fall (autumn) holiday, followed again by the weekend, i.e. 8th (Friday) and 9th (Saturday) December. As a result of these, we did get a rather decent and certainly well-deserved break, particularly after a couple of months of uncertainty related to delayed salaries, which, to be fair, were paid 1-2 days before the holiday started.
I’m not entirely sure why we decided to go to such a far-off place as Salalah to begin with, particularly now, after the khareef (monsoon) season, which arbitrarily begins on 21st June and ends in September and during which Salalah is literally drenched in lush green – an enormous difference to barren mountains and beige surroundings ever present in Nizwa. I think that despite having been advised by my students not to go there now because the green wouldn’t be there anymore, I still hoped it would. It wasn’t, really. Well, traces of it, at most. The pictures below show Salalah during khareef, so they aren’t mine, but taken off the internet.
Also, I remember studying the map of Oman before coming here and not seeing too many bigger cities, with Salalah being the only one NOT in the north, which certainly awakened my interest. I also liked the sound of the name. Besides, in the weeks coming up to the holiday, I’d been so stressed out that I needed a serious get-away and a road trip like that seemed like a good idea. But it must have been one of my colleagues who suggested that we take a road trip to Salalah along the coast rather than going there directly from Nizwa, though there is a road/highway from Salalah to Muscat, which we took on the way back. Also, we were told by some other people that the coastal route was much more picturesque than the inland one and the roads were better, too, and as we had the chance to use both roads, the claims turned out to be true. In fact, the only thing that luckily was different from what we had been told was that the roads would be busy, because the whole of Oman had holiday on 3-5th December, but as we left on 3rd December, the people who might have wanted to take the same route, would have done so earlier, and we were coming back way after the official holiday ended, so basically 90% of the time and throughout the trip the roads were rather empty. For all these reasons, we decided to go for this route, and the idea was to obviously see as much sea as possible on the way there.
The plan was to spend two days on the road with an easy start on the first day, i.e. Nizwa do Duqm, and then cover the bigger chunk – Duqm to Salalah on day 2.
When planning the trip, I thought it would be good to actually cover more distance on day 1, which was going to be rather inland and for this reason – less interesting, and then take it easy and spend more time enjoying the coastal view on day 2, but we couldn’t find any accomodation on the internet between Duqm and Salalah and although we hadn’t booked anything in Duqm for that night either, because though we found two hotels on the internet (well, three, but one of them didn’t show rates per night), they charged a lot more than we were happy to pay for a night. Nevertheless, we were still confident that we would find a place to sleep as Duqm looked like a big enough town to have guest houses or little hotels which don’t necessarilly advertise on the internet.
With this in mind, we set off late-ish on 3rd December (Sunday). The trip to Duqm was rather uneventful and the roads were quite empty. We stopped a couple of times to fill up the tank, stretch our legs and have lunch. The landscape was not particularly different to what we are used to here, though at some point we saw something similar to sand dunes, but failed to take a decent picture or record a video. For the first time, however, I saw what a mirage was, because on numerous occassions I was convinced there was water in the distance only to discovered that, in fact, it wasn’t the case at all. The funny thing was that we happened to be listening to some Christmas songs, such as ‘Let it Snow’, also on the radio, while passing through the desert, barren mountains and sand dunes. This video kind of summarises the road to Duqm.
When we reached Duqm, it was about 5pm and the sun was still up, so we thought that we could carry on a little more. We had also considered a possibility of spending the night camping and for this reason had bought a tent and taken 40 litres of water with us along with a bowl to have a wash when camping. We also had enough food and drinking water, so we thought we would go to a place called Ras Madrakah and spend the night there, on the beach, for instance.
When we saw ‘Ras Madrakah beach 14km’, we turned left and continued on a nice road which, however, ended after a while and turned into an unpaved one. Still, it was good enough for the car so we ploughed on for a while, but soon realised, also with the help of Google maps, that it wasn’t taking us to the beach or nowhere, for that matter. The sun started to set and it was getting darker and darker, but no coast in sight, so we decided to go back and carry on from the main road. As I said earlier, we couldn’t find any information about accomodation between Duqm and Salalah, but we had also considered stopping at a fishing village called Lakbi, though we were, at that point, still around 180 km from there, but hoping to find some place to sleep either there or on the way.
Driving after dark is not my favourite activity, particularly in an unknown place. Also, it gets dark very quickly here and it feels like the middle of the night, which certainly didn’t help the situation. We were growing a little anxious, I mean, it’s one thing to sleep on the beach, but another to actually sleep on the side of the road surrounded by pitch darkness. We enquired about accomodation options at a few rare eateries on the way and a petrol station, which, by the way, had no petrol (but, in fact, we were okay for petrol then), and were told to carry on. We hoped to find something each time we approched a larger settlement, which we had seen from a distance in a form of lights, but were disappointed each time. Eventually, after a rather dramatic incident of my going over a speed bump without noticing it, we ran into a police patrol and asked them for help. They told us to carry on for another 100km or so until we reached Lakabi where we might find a room at a petrol station. It wasn’t ideal, but we did so. We were relieved to reach the fishing village which we had previously considered stopping at anyway, but were told at the petrol station that all the rooms were taken and there was no other accomodation option. We were getting desperate at that point. We even thought about sleeping in the car, but then were advised by a local, who must have seen our distress and asked us what was going on, to carry on a bit further to a place called Shalim just over 100 km away. I really didn’t want to do that because I was completely exhausted (we had done around 700 km by then), but didn’t see any other option, so decided to carry on after all, though reluctantly, until I saw that the road was taking us through a steep mountain at which point I refused to go any further.
To be continued