By: Melissa Moubarak
As the weather in the GCC softens, Melissa explores a popular trek only two hours from Muscat. Wadi Shab, Oman offers all the rewards of an exotic trek, even for beginners.
‘This life is not for me!’ Kirstin huffed and puffed once again, “could we not go Glamping instead?” Her face reddened in the afternoon heat as she negotiated climbing up a slippery smooth rock. Certainly not the adventurous type, she had only agreed to join us on this expedition to please me, as it was my first time in Oman, where she has lived for the past couple of years.
Our trek had started off with a five star picnic that our Omani friend Alia had prepared. True to her people’s sense of hospitality, she treated us to succulent multi seed sandwiches filled to the brim with grilled Halloumi on a black olive tapenade. A hummus dip complemented the turkey and cheese paninis. For me though, the winner of the picnic was a refreshing fruit salad of locally grown produce including clementines and pears. Pomegranate seeds from Jabal Akhdar (Oman’s highest mountain range) burst in my mouth with an explosion of zesty tang that balanced out the juicy sweetness of the fruits; walnuts, also locally grown, supplied the kick and crunch combo.
Spoiled by Alia’s fancy spread, Kirstin was expecting the expedition to be a walk in the park, especially after a small speedboat shuttled us across a narrow river to the wider side of the gorge. While there were no steep ascents, the wadi’s rocky terrain, smoothed by water floods requires some scrambling to cross boulders and slippery cliff ledges. But while Kirstin was no Indiana Jones, she was soon flushed with adrenaline. A few date biscuits – Oman’s specialty – provided an extra sugar rush to keep her going.
Finally getting up to pace with the trek, Kristin now couldn’t stop marveling at the vertiginous sandstone walls of the surrounding mountains. As the afternoon sun angled its warm rays, the mountains moved from gradients of rusty terracotta to rich shades of amber and volcanic browns. At the neck of the mountains, a verdant ribbon of palm groves ran across a network of ‘aflaj’. This irrigation system of canals is unique to Omani culture. Shallow, and only six inches wide, it facilitates rapid water flow and makes efficient use of a relatively scarce resource. The mountain completed its accessories with shimmering shawls of turquoise pools, wrapping themselves around it; and like a siren song, beckoning our bodies to surrender from the heat.
Entranced, we obliged. Like reverse evolution, we went back to basics, following the fresh water’s flow. We splashed around and dodged bullets of young boys, shooting down like arrows from cliffs framing the aquamarine waters. Narrow and deep, it was no wonder these ponds were the site of the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving Competition. Hanging ropes and undulating ridges offered platforms for scaredy-cats and daredevils alike to take the plunge. But our quest was not yet over, as we were in search of the famed waterfall cave. Nestled within the mountain, the mouth of the cave was submerged underwater, offering itself up to us only as we navigated an enclosure wide enough for one head to pass. Feeling like the mountain has engulfed you in its entrails only heighted the sense of awe when debouching into a small cave where the thundering sounds of a waterfall were amplified by the echoes of the arched walls.
We had chased the waterfall and swam under its curtain to reach a world that would typically be reserved for far-away, exotic locales. But such is the beauty of Oman; transporting you to a tropical paradise and back, a couple of hours from the Muscat airport, just in time for me to catch my flight back to Dubai.