Oman

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With closed-eyes and an open mind, my mind takes me back to a time where strength and hopefulness overwhelmed me.

The  silk-like sand tickled my toes beneath me, the faint sounds of the waves crashing into the rocks and the birds singing beautiful melodies echoed, creating the most soothing music to my ears. I inhaled the salty aroma of the sea calming my thoughts immediately.  The music and aroma of the sea urged me to open my eyes to witness the scene in front of me.

 

My eyelids shuttered open and although i have been on this beach hundreds of times it seemed like a completely different place at five in the morning. The sun met the sea in the horizon creating a sky that looked like a flower blooming with radiant shades of red, yellow and orange. It was a view I have never seen before and I just stood there taking it in. Memorizing every last detail.

 

Everything around me moved, but it seems like time stood still. The sea kissed the shoreline in a perpetual motion and the surf across the horizon meringued against the velvety black sea underneath. At that moment in time the sea of water appeared to be a sea of opportunities.

 

The whole scene in front of me was prodding me to be a part of it and not just a person watching from the sidelines. My fear of sea creatures was forgotten for a moment as my cousin called me over to her. Our feet touched the ice cold water and a scream cut through the sky. The loud scream interrupted melodic singing of the birds and waves. Quieting down, I slowly made my way deeper into the sea till my feet could no longer touch the silky sands below. At this stage, I would normally be panicking about all the kinds of fish swimming between my legs and the crabs that could be creeping in search of a scrumptious meal that would be the flesh of my feet in my imagination. However, all i felt floating above the water in that moment, was the strength I had within me. Not just physical strength, but also the emotional strength of conquering my personal fear of sea creatures.

 

I had started out that day annoyed and frustrated with my cousin for waking me up at five in the morning telling me that it was the perfect time for a jog by the beach. To me, five in the morning is a time where everyone is supposed to be soundly sleeping comfortably in their beds. Little did I know that the stress that had weighed on my shoulders all week would be washed away by the waves after a short swim in the endless sea.

 

That morning taught me more than just the strength of overcoming a fear. I learnt that all the beautiful scenes our earth provides are worth more than just a picture framed on our walls or posted in social media platforms. These scenes can move one’s emotions, build a whole new perspective and ignite sparks of newfound hope.   

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

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A wall of sand fills the windscreen, rising higher than my neck can crane and blurring into the heat-hazed horizon on either side. I swallow the grit sticking in my throat and give a pathetic cough. I don’t want to do this. I’ve said it several times but no one seems to be listening. My friend Marc is urging me on, filled with his own manic adrenaline rush. It’s okay for him. He didn’t roll the off-roader yesterday in training, and that was only on a 20-foot slope, into a soft ditch, with no one watching. Today, the golden wall stretches 320-feet up into a darkening sky. I’m second to the guide car on a sunset safari tour in Wahiba Sands, Oman, with eight Land Cruisers waiting impatiently behind me. Their camcorders are poised ready to post my tragic, if faintly stupid, death to the internet, and I’m terrified.

“You’re going to love this,” Marc says, bouncing in his seat like an excited child. I think I’m going to be sick and he’s not helping. “Remember, follow the guide’s tracks to the top. Keep the power on, high revs all the way, and for Christ’s sake don’t stop. You ready?”

I nod, fast and nervous, like a pecking chicken. Suspicious doubts flicker on his face as I put his Land Cruiser into first and then avoid his gaze. My heart is trying to thump through my ribs and sweat glistens on the steering wheel from my slippery palms. It’s now or forget it forever. “Perhaps we should…” Mark begins, but I jam my foot onto the accelerator and the sudden, high-pitched roar from engine drowns out his worries.

I’m hurtling at a sand dune taller than Big Ben, fighting against the giant car as it bounces through ruts trying to throw us off course. I’m sure we are going to slam into this over-sized beach and be swallowed alive by the desert. The revving becomes a painful wail and then we hit the slope and soar. A reckless, petrified mania takes over as we charge up the dune. My hands slip on the wheel and I’m sure the brute of a car is going to slide off the vertical line, dig its wheels in and flip over.

Marc is yelling instructions at me. “More speed! Come on. Everyone’s following you. Don’t touch the gearstick!” I stare wide-eyed at the fresh tyre ruts in front, desperate to follow the snaking line. “Straighten up. Watch it!” The wheel jerks in my wet hands, a violent lurch to the left as a tyre snags in a hole. I over-correct, slewing in drunken curves, wrestling to get back on course. My shirt is sticking to my back and sweat stings my eyes but I daren’t blink. Despite the mosquito-whine from the engine, we’re losing speed and I still can’t see the summit.  “Go! Go!” he shouts. “I’m trying!” I yell back. We both start bouncing inside the car, willing it up the last few metres. If I get stuck, so does everyone else, and then there is only one way to travel. Reversing down a 300-foot dune is guaranteed to end in a sandy coffin.

I glimpse the indigo sky through clouds of dust. “Come on, come on!” I scream. Just as I’m giving up hope, we breach the top of the dune and sand billows across the car. Buckets of grit screech beneath the windscreen wipers, hiding the stunning views over eastern Oman.

I follow our guide over the top of the dunes, slewing left and right through deepening trails in the golden sand. Day turns into dusty twilight. “Watch the edge! Watch the edge!” Marc squeals, peering out of the window at our wheels spinning in space.

The endless desert blurs with a vast sky somewhere on the horizon and our convoy stops high on a ridge. Nestled at the foot of the dune, I can just make out the ramshackle tents of the Bedouin encampment we’ll be staying at tonight. As the sun dips towards distant hills, the cars empty and passengers watch for the dying sun’s green flash but my eyes are elsewhere.

Shadows cut into the tracks behind us; black lines in the vast sea of sand. It is desolate and beautiful, a constantly shifting painting and I can’t quite believe I made it here to see it.

About the Author:

I won New Travel Writer of the Year – 2013 from the British Guild of Travel Writers. I also won several short story competitions hosted by The Telegraph, Daggerville, and Creative Ink and was runner-up in several other competitions.

 I worked for the Ministry of Defence in research and development, travelled and worked across the world as head of IT projects for an oil company, and then left to concentrate on writing.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

There is something about being on the open road that connotes freedom for me. It’s the same liberating feeling that I get when I go bike riding along the shore- that indescribable sensation of sailing through the air effortlessly, that feeling of having the weight of the world lifted off my back, that feeling of being untarnished by time or place. So when opportunities within my travels, beckon me to head out on the road or out to the sea, I heed the call to explore unfamiliar terrain.

An ideal way to experience the UAE’s “border countries”, Oman and Saudi Arabia, is to venture out on the open road. Approximately 3 1/2 hours (192 miles) outside of Abu Dhabi City, lie the Northern tip of Oman, the Musandam Peninsula, a region of Oman known for its picturesque and unspoiled beauty, attracting many sea-faring tourists and bohemians such as myself.

Although I am not an accomplished swimmer (honestly, I would officially be categorized as a non-swimmer and yes, I did scour out the life jacket situation to assess that there was a reserve of jackets on board), I booked a ½ day excursion with Al Mariah Travel (www.almariahtravel.com) for a languid day on the sea (Please note that if you choose not to drive directly to the Rahal Musandam Port in Oman, Al Mariah Travel will gladly do pick ups and drop offs to and from Dubai or Abu Dhabi for an additional surcharge). For just 100 dirhams ($27) I hopped aboard a modern dhow boat, inspired by ancient Arab sailing vessels, and was whisked away in time through majestic mountains and fjords. The only essentials needed were sunscreen, spritzer, bathing suit, and journal, of course, to record my musings.

The first stop on this sea adventure brought us to Telegraph Island, where those looking for extreme fun could be careened through the waters on an inflatable banana boat. If you chose to opt out of the selected water sport activities, you could lounge on the upper deck with a classic cocktail (Cuba Libre) in hand and consume the view–the rugged Hajar mountains hugging the pristine coastline. The second stop on this journey landed us at Seebi Island, an area where those who desired to snorkel and/or swim could bathe themselves in the azure seas of the Gulf of Oman. As this would be the area where the boat would linger for the larger portion of the day, this “pit stop” provided ample opportunities for individuals to decompress and cool off, before a hearty lunch buffet would be served. Traditional Arabic appetizers -hummus , tabouleh, kufta (ground meat patties), and grilled mixed meats were served. Lamb biryani which I believe is the Middle East’s reputed answer to Arroz con Pollo, cumin-scented chicken stewed with carrots and potatoes, mix vegetables salona (vegetable stew with chickpeas), grilled hammour (local fish) with cardamom, were there for the taking. If you didn’t manage to gorge yourself on the main dishes, then you could feast on the spread of Arabic sweets- maakroun (fried dough usually served with date syrup), haresa semolina cake (cake made from wheat flour, sugar, butter, and yogurt), stuffed dates, and fresh fruit.

The last stop on this 5-hour excursion was unequivocally geared towards those with young children- line fishing in the sea, which was more for novelty than for angling. Nonetheless, all participants gave it a true scout’s try, prompted by the promise of a “big catch”.

I’m not sure what it is about coming back from a ½ or full day sojourn out on the sea that makes an individual feel as if he/she has just returned from an epic adventure as a maritime seaman, perhaps as a result of throwing caution to the wind in the unfamiliar setting whilst respecting the majesty of the sea. The only thing that seemed wanting on the journey back home was the honeyed sounds of local Arabian music.

About the author: I am an “Artiste” (Painter, who has exhibited artwork in galleries in NY,NJ), lover of all music and art forms, “foodie”, educator, writer, who has always been passionate about connecting with people of diverse backgrounds. I have been living in the Middle East for the past 5 months and hope to continue trekking across the globe to engage in experience “nouveau”.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Oman Beach Football

Oman jebel-akhdarAngry shouts puncture the morning air. Heads twist to stare at two men in colourless dishdashas, nose to nose in furious confrontation. Beneath the stark, earthy battlements of Barka fort, they could be warring tribesmen from three hundred years ago in Oman’s turbulent past. Instead, their fingers jab towards fish writhing in a small motorboat and argue about a stolen catch. The argument fades behind us, replaced by the sound of bartering on the beach and hopeful gulls in the air.

My friend Marc and I step over gutted fish entrails in the sand by the stalls. Bright, gaudy umbrellas fill the sky, casting welcome shade from the desert sun. It is March and already forty degrees. Marc glances at the sweat on my forehead. “This is nothing. In summer, it gets hot enough to crack the dashboard of a car,” he says mischievously.

Oman MinaretsTourists stroll between the maze of boats, pulled high from the water. Their cameras click incessantly. The Omanis do not mind. Howls of laughter come from one of the boats when boys see their faces on an LCD screen. This is Barka fish market. The fish could not be fresher if we walked into the sea and caught them ourselves.

“Assalamu alaikum,” Marc says to an old fisherman. The man nods and flashes a gap-toothed grin. His leathery face creases against the glaring sun. “Wa alaikum assalaam,” he replies in gentle tones, wishing peace on us as well. He sweeps his open palm across the array of fish on a tattered, blue tarpaulin on the sand. He will sell whatever his family can catch. Today, it is tuna and grouper. The next stall has a marlin that fills the sheet.

“Bikam?” Marc asks, starting the bartering for the tuna. This takes some time, involves much arm waving, horrified gasps, and even walking away, but Marc gets his fish with a look of triumph.

We drive by the fort where Ahmad Al Bu Said invited his Persian enemies to a banquet, fed them, and then had them executed. Forts dominate Oman, a constant reminder of battling tribes in this unassumingly beautiful country.

Oman Beach FootballWe are camped on a beach nearby with thirty other teams, ready for tomorrow’s punishing endurance race through the Jebel Akhdar mountains. By mid afternoon, the delicate aroma of our fish is wafting from the barbecue. Sunset comes quickly here and sparks an Omani passion – beach football. Swelled by people from the village, hundreds of players fill every available inch of the beach, silhouetted against a blaze of orange. Families watch and cheer from the side. It makes me miss home. I have been away too long.

As darkness falls, the murmur of waves follows me and I phone my family. Little, grey flashes dance around me in the sand. “I’m surrounded by ghost crabs,” I tell my young daughter. “No, don’t get scared, that’s just what they’re called,” My wife answers, “She’s hiding behind the sofa. What did you say?” I leave the camp behind and the crabs dash out of my way. Then I stop.

Oman sunsetA large creature is splashing in the inky-black surf. My imagination spikes. “There’s something coming out of the water towards me…” I am torn between fear of the sea-monster and wanting to see what it is. Then it reaches a patch of weak light. “It’s a huge turtle,” I whisper. I stare in fascination as a three-hundred pound loggerhead inches its way through the sand. “I think she’s going to lay her eggs.”

Oman has 1,700km of coastline, most of it sandy beaches. Over 60,000 loggerhead, green and hawksbill turtles come ashore to lay millions of eggs throughout the year, but usually on Masirah Island or at Ras Al-Hadd reserve. Not where we had just been playing football.

The turtle scours the sand in clumsy jerks then she uses her powerful flippers to dig a hole in methodical swipes. I am mesmerized as she lays her clutch of one hundred golf ball-sized eggs over the next hour. I am so close I can see salty tears sliding down her cheeks. The crabs return, scuttling over sun-bleached driftwood. By the time they are born, the hatchlings will face many threats before a terrifying, predator-filled scurry to the ocean. Few will survive. She covers the nest and crawls back into the surf. I shiver in the chill off the sea. It is late, the fires are dying and I head for my tent.

The dawn tide has wiped away my footprints but I glimpse the edge of her tracks, like tractor treads, leading back into the Gulf of Oman. Her nest has disappeared. A breeze carries the scent of the ocean. She is out there, somewhere. I stand on an empty beach and smile.

About the Author: Rob Tye has won several fiction and travel writing competitions including the “New Travel Writer of the Year” competition in 2013 run by the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has trekked on Kilimanjaro, camped with Bedouins in Oman, and climbed frozen waterfalls in Scotland. He lives in the New Forest, England with his wife and family.

By Lee Abbamonte

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to a whole new world.

Travel enables you to see the world through other peoples eyes and from other points of view.

Travel increases your awareness of other cultures and people.

Travel makes you smarter.

Travel is the best education you can receive.

Travel enables you to speak intelligently on a variety of global topics.

Travel shows you how global policy effects different countries and different types of people.

Travel brings you to places you’ve only dreamed about seeing.

Travel shows you landscapes you never thought were possible.

Travel shows you what real beauty is.

Travel shows you that everything is beautiful in its own way.

Travel makes books and television come to life.

Travel makes adventures happen everyday.

Travel makes dreams come true.

Travel gives you a sense of enormous accomplishment.

Travel gives you something to look forward to to.

Travel gives you options.

Travel is a lifetime journey that is never the same twice.

Travel makes the big world small.

Travel humbles you.

Travel puts things into perspective.

Travel shows you what poor is.

Travel shows you how unfair this world can be.

Travel shows you people overcoming the longest odds to live their life to the fullest.

Travel shows you triumphs of the human spirit.

Travel teaches you how to say “Cheers” in 30 different languages.

Travel teaches you the International language of beer.

Travel teaches you to appreciate wine and the beauty of vineyards.

Travel teaches you to try new things.

Travel makes you yearn to do new things.

Travel teaches you the difference between a traveler and a tourist.

Travel teaches you to become a traveler and not just a tourist.

Lee Abbamonte is the youngest American to visit every country in the world. I am a travel writer, travel expert, global adventurer and have appeared on NBC, CNN, ESPN, GBTV, Fox News, Jetset Social and have been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Bloomberg, Smart Money, Slate, OK! Magazine, Peter Greenberg radio and many others. I’ve visited 306 countries and am one of the world’s most-traveled people.

“I believe in globalization of everything including people. I believe that I am a citizen of Earth. I believe that people around the world are at their core, basically good and the same. I believe that more people should experience the world and the way traveling can open their eyes and minds to different and exciting things. I believe in just being myself. I believe in life.” – Lee Abbamonte