Sunday, January 22, 2012

"We've got a lot of shoes in our sand!"

I've made some amazing memories over the past few months. However, almost nothing could compare to the vivid memories I have of the past few days, which were spent in the Abyadh Desert in Al Batinah, Oman. I remember the stars at night, the loping camels meandering over sand dunes just meters from us, the sense of adventure that comes from being given a GPS and free range over a massive expanse of land. But what sticks with me most is the sense of comradeship that formed between me and the other 9 members of my Outward Bound Oman team.

Our team, christened The Survivors, was composed of three Americans and seven Omanis. We all had ties to US sponsored programs and Amideast: three YES Abroad students, three former YES students, three members of the English Access Microscholarship Program, and one staff member. And we were all absolutely confused as to what we were doing. 

You see, we (including our group leader) had all thought that we were going to Sharqiya, the region that is home to the biggest desert in Oman. However, we were all misled there: we were actually going in the totally opposite direction to a less accessible, smaller desert: Abyadh. 

True to typical Omani style, we left Amideast at 9:15, more than an hour after we were supposed to. We then drove for an hour and a half until we reached our destination. During the drive, we were given the directions to interview the person we were sitting by. After that, we spent the rest of the ride getting to know the people we would be spending the next 3 days with. Needless to say, I was given a good impression of everyone.

Upon arrival at our starting point (Wadi Abyadh), we stopped to set up our backpacks. This task involved a lot of precision to get everything fitted. What we had to carry was: a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, a "wizar" (our name for it, really it was a cotton liner for the sleeping bag... a wizar is really something that Omani men wear under their dishdasha or around the house), a fleece jacket, a windbreaker, our lunch for the day, two 1-liter water bottles, and any personal items we might need. After packing up, we played a few get-to-know-you games, were handed a GPS and walkie-talkie, and were off.
The road we started on.

We left the wadi to take a road, but eventually cut cross country. During this stretch, we saw our first CAMELS of the hike! Hooray! Admittedly, we were all wondering (to ourselves and verbally) "Where the hell is this desert?" when in the distance we saw it--an endless expanse of sand dunes. However, before we reached them, we reached our first GPS point. There we met our guides, and spread out a wadi mat for lunch. After a few hours of hiking lunch was very welcome!                                                                                                

Sand dunes in the distance!
We started off again after lunch and some team-building activities, and then was finally got to venture onto the sand dunes! Climbing them was one of the most strenuous parts of the day. The first one was probably a good 75 feet high, and that definitely called for a lot of hard work, especially what with the heavy backpacks we were carrying. Fortunately, once we reached the top we were just a few hundred meters from our first night's camping spot. Once we arrived, we set up tents.

Then our group split into two. One was to cook dinner that night, and the other was on dinner duty for the next day. I was in the second group, so we got to spend the first night relaxing around the fire. I would just like to point out how absolutely beautiful the stars are in the wilderness. If you thought the stars in rural Wisconsin were beautiful, try coming to the middle-of-nowhere desert! We were miles and miles from any people, so we could just see everything. It's quite peaceful just lying there in the desert watching the stars. Oh, and I have a personal achievement here too! I have looked for pretty much my entire life for a constellation...just any one... and in the desert I found my first one! One of the dippers!

After dinner and some socializing, it was time for bed. Now, in the desert at night, it gets COLD. COLD COLD COLD. And it's not like the cold we have where I'm from, because this cold has no moisture. It gets into your bones. In terms of degrees, it may not be so bad, but I have never felt cold like this because it just sucks everything out of you. The only way to stay warm was to basically just cocoon down into the sleeping bag.

See how close?
The next morning we awoke to find that it was still cold. Group 1 made breakfast, and we were all assigned tasks for the day's hike. My first assignment? Motivator. Basically, I had to cheer, sing, talk, anything to put people in a good mood. We hiked pretty much all morning, seeing some camels VERY up close and eventually leaving the dunes. We stopped for lunch near a farm. Civilization! However, we didn't go to meet the owners; instead we just sat under a tree near their property. One sign that we were near people is that there were not very many camels and instead there were a lot of goats. While we were eating lunch, one left the pack and wandered over to where we were sitting. He was a rather nosy little goat, but his endeavors paid off because our city-dwelling selves thought it was just adorable, and decided to feed him bread and other things. However, I guess this didn't make him popular with the other goats because he seemed to be quite an outcast. He went back to his herd of goats, but the others left him behind, so he had to lie by himself for a while. For this reason, we named him Waheed (lonely).

After lunch, we were back on the road. This time, my task was navigator. I was given a GPS with a point, and I had to point the group in the direction of the second night's campsite. Upon arrival, we settled down to wait for our guides. However, a half an hour passed with no sight of them. Our calls via walkie-talkie were fruitless. Eventually, we managed to reach them... it turns out that we were about a kilometer from where we were supposed to be! It wasn't my fault though... the coordinates had been entered incorrectly! Because it was almost dark, we decided to just camp where we were that night.

After setting up tents, it was time to cook! I was on cooking duty that night, and my particular job was cucumber-yogurt salad. After dinner, we essentially just hung out until it was time to sleep.

The next day we hiked back, unpacked everything, boarded a bus, and headed back to Amideast. All in all, a great trip!

Some things I learned on my trip (in no particular order other than the order that the popped into my brain):

  • Wet wipes are vital in a land without running water
  • There's nothing like a lack of network to get you to actually talk to people
  • Stars are absolutely the most beautiful things in the universe
  • The best way to get to know someone is to hike in the middle of nowhere with them
  • There is no fooling around when it comes to scorpions
  • It is apparently shocking that I can shuffle because I am a white girl
Here are some more pictures, courtesy of the Outward Bound Oman Facebook page!

Here's to a great group!


  1. This is so awesome, Outward Bound is a compulsory camp at my school in Australia, it's so worth it, good job!

    (Sorry for posting on something this old!)

  2. Good day! I would like to tell the fact that you definitely have organized a splendid domain. Also I want to know one thing. Do you run in some competitions that involve online blogs?