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Saturday, December 3, 2016

11/7: Sur to Muscat via Wadi Shab & Bimmah Sinkhole

Our hotel in Sur was the only hotel we have been in where we noticed signs on the ceiling indicating what direction Muslims should be facing when praying toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

We got off to a late start today after our long night at the Turtle Reserve in Ras Al Jinz and then the long drive back to our hotel in Sur. This was our last day in Oman as we were flying out in the morning from Muscat to begin our tour of Ethiopia. We had a couple of places we wanted to stop at on the way back to the capital. Heading north along the Coastal Highway, we had the beautiful Gulf of Oman on our right en route to Wadi Shab, a narrow, palm-fringed ravine hemmed in by spectacular cliffs. 
After parking, we got a short boat ride to the other side of the river about 11.

Two highly decorated concrete pilons supporting the overhead highway were located next to the river.

The return trip across the river was a nominal couple of bucks per person and only took five minutes. The best thing was he left as soon as anybody arrived!

Once on the other side, there were absolutely no signs or markings to indicate where the ‘trail’ went but we knew we just had to forge ahead as there was only one way to go. 
This was the view behind us.

The wadi was so narrow that it remained in shadow until noon. 
The spectacular view in front of us with our destination somewhere up ahead but we had no idea how far nor how to get there!
We clambered over untold numbers of boulders, tried to get a grip on the often slippery rocks and waded through shallow pools. 

The cliff was pretty high here and must have tempted a lot of people to jump into the gorgeous green waters below.

Some of the rocks we had to traverse:

Thank God for river shoes, even if mine have been falling apart for the last six weeks. Steven had bought some Keen river shoes to take on the trip; I definitely need to treat myself to a pair before our next trip.

Finally, one of the few arrows pointing the way through the rocks.

I had difficulty maintaining my balance on the occasional six inch wide falaj or Arab water channels we needed to use - a tight rope walker I will never be!
It was about an 80 minute hike to the wadi but wow, was it ever worth it as the views were so spectacular and dazzling every step of the way. We were both dripping with sweat and regretted having left our swimsuits back in the car. 
However, Steven’s underwear qualified as the Speedo look and I felt I looked decent enough in my T shirt and dark panties so I joined Steven in the water. I could only think I looked like one of way-older female contestants on the TV show Survivor! How refreshing being in the cool water after a fairly strenuous hike. 
We heard people talk about a cave at the other end of the pool but we didn’t have water shoes on then and didn’t feel comfortable leaving car keys, the camera and other valuables unattended on the rocks for an hour or so while we went off exploring. Another factor was time, something it seemed we were always running out of throughout our stay in Oman. We said how much we would love to return someday to Oman so we could explore more of the country without feeling so rushed.

With regret, we left Wadi Shab for the long hike back to the car after 1:30. On the way, we saw one very adventurous young woman jump off one of the cliffs into the deep water below. Of course she did it right by the sign admonishing people not to do just that! You can see from the photo how very careful we had to be while hiking to and from the wadi. 
We drove next to Bimmah Sinkhole, about 75 miles from Muscat and one of numerous sinkholes in Oman. It was 330 feet in circumference and about 66 feet deep. Neither of us had ever encountered anything like it before. 

There are various stories behind the formation of Bimmah Sinkhole aka Hawiyat Najm. Local inhabitants have a legendary story whereby a meteorite fell on this site. The Arabic name Hawiyat Najm means 'falling star' in English. Scientific research conducted by geologists confirmed the crater formed as a natural consequence of the interaction of dissolving limestone located here. The limestone contained calcium carbonate which mixed with water and resluted in the collapse of the earth's upper crust layer.
Steven again went swimming but I didn’t feel comfortable removing my capris here to swim as I didn’t want to shock the four Omani men in their robes!

I think both of us felt we had wished we had stayed longer at Wadi Shab rather than coming here to the sinkhole.
Enormous satellite dishes just outside of Muscat:
After driving in Oman for the last five days, Steven and I joked that the tagline for Oman should read ‘the land of speed bumps, white cars, roundabouts and walled houses’ as we had never seen so many of each of those anywhere else! We commented on the minimal police presence throughout the country. 

I read that Oman’s brief version of its own Arab Spring lasted just four months from January until May of 2011, when most of the demonstrations took place in one city among the student population. Young Omanis mainly saw it as an opportunity to make demands for better salaries and working conditions, demands that were met in full by an obliging government keen to quell the unrest. The work week was also reduced from six to five days. How horrific to know what occurred in other parts of the Arab world as they dealt with their own 'Arab Spring.'

Posted from Cape Town, South Africa on December 3rd, 2016.

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