Bits & Bytes

Arabia Wild Wonders of the Wahiba Sands

By Jamilah Samian

Photo courtesy of Erkan Pinar

A breakaway in an arid desert offers its own allure and charm, but perhaps not for the faint-hearted, says Jamilah Samian

The Al-Areesh Desert Camp claims to be the largest tourist camp in Oman. This is where the adventurous descend from all over the world to taste life in the Arabian desert.

Strategically located in the Sharqiyah region about two-and-a-half hours drive from Muscat, it promises the ‘ultimate in Bedu comfort’.

Imagine living in a commune consisting of tents made of date-palm fronds. Each tent is large enough for three single beds. Straw mats replace lush carpets. No television or telephone lines here.

The camp is almost devoid of modern amenities except for clean showers and flush toilets.

It took me three years to agree to this trip primarily because camping out in a vast ocean of sand isn’t my idea of a perfect vacation. After all, what can one do with nothingness all around?

I was about to find out that the desert is full of treasures and actually fun.

After a hearty lunch, the kids sandskied, scampered and romped their hearts out while I stretched out on a comfy bed with fresh linen.

The tent interior covered with tarpaulin was surprisingly cool and offered ample shelter against the sun.

The aroma of freshly ground coffee and dates served round the clock proved tempting.

Our first stop was a Bedu family. Bedus live a simple life but the lady who welcomed us was a gracious hostess, adorned with genuine gold jewelry although neither she nor her children wore any kind of footwear.

True to Arab hospitality, we were soon offered kahwa – piping hot Omani black coffee served in tiny cups.

After a camel ride that required skilful dismounting techniques unfamiliar to inexperienced riders, we went sand dune bashing.

There we clung to dear life as our driver criss-crossed the numerous rugged peaks and valleys of the Wahiba Sands. There were moments when I truly thought that my life hung precariously in the balance as we careened dangerously close to sheer drops of 70 feet.

However, the climax came soon after dusk.

Whilst fellow campers from South Africa and Switzerland revelled in the lively beat of Bedu music, we retreated onto unsheltered, raised platforms and the warmth of our sleeping bags.

When darkness fell the first star appeared, followed by thousands others and as the obscurity deepened so their brilliance intensified. We only retreated indoors when the temperature dropped and the dew began to descend.

As we prepared to leave the next day, it dawned upon me that the trip was one of the most hair-raising but enchanting experiences I ever had. And no, I didn’t miss my e-mails. Adieu, Wahiba Sands!

Published in Destinations (Shell global family magazine), 20 September 2001

About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 536 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

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