A desert adventure in Oman

We’ve come to an abrupt stop on a sandy precipice. The camel caravan refuses to move. 

Our Bedouin guide, Sultan, checks his phone. I’m not sure how helpful Google Maps are in the Sharqiya Sands. Maybe he’s messaging HQ. Maybe we’re lost! 

We must have left the camp 45 minutes ago, on camelback.  My sense of direction has been completely shot by the twists and turns, and endless sand. Not to mention the evening sandstorm that has been whipping around us for what seems like forever. 

The camels are crying; those long eyelashes are not enough to keep the swirling sand out of their eyes. 

When I finally manage to lift my head, I realise we are perfectly placed for an epic view of the desert sunset. The sand is glowing and as the sun drops, so does the wind. 

Perhaps this was a plan perfectly executed after all. We dismount and spend a few moments taking it all in. 

Still, the only way is down. And although I suspect these camels have seen it all before, they are not keen on the descent. The three of them stand wide-legged in resistance, as Sultan tugs firmly on the reins. 

Finally, the first gives in, and the rest of the train has no choice but to follow. They head down, diagonally across the dune, and I am grateful that all three of us have our feet on sandy ground.

We follow, striding down in ankle-deep silky-soft sand. There‘s an unrefined re-mount and we’re off again, into the sunset. 

By the time we arrive back at camp, the light is fading fast. We make a scramble to find the torch before darkness descends. 

We’re staying at Nomadic Desert Camp, run by five Bedouin brothers who are keen to ensure their visitors enjoy an ‘authentic’ experience. This means no electric lighting or plug sockets, definitely no Wi-Fi, and phone signal only on the highest sand dunes. 

Accommodation is in traditional barasti huts, made from date palms. The morning sun peppers the room through the gaps in the fronds, which also allow safe passage of swirling sand in the evenings.

Showers and toilets are in a separate block, with the desert sand underfoot and the desert sky above, and no hot water. Yep. Authentic. 

Our two-night stay in the desert is part of a four-day tour organised by Nomadic Desert Camp; we’ve already driven through the seemingly endless Omani mountains, up narrowing dry wadis and done a bit of dune-bashing. Our next stop is the beach, hopefully, to see turtles.

We arrive at Ras al-Jinz well after bedtime – It’s two hours after sundown; they like to give the turtles time to settle in and make good headway on their nests.

By the time we hit the beach, it’s 9pm, but we are in spectacular luck. It’s the end of the peak season and turtles are still coming in reasonable numbers. There are four or five mama turtles either digging or burying their nests just in the small patch of beach we can see. 

Our group gathers behind one turtle,  not to distract her. She is laboriously flinging sand backwards, in an attempt to cover up her nest. The guide gets the occasional flipper-full of sand across his pristine, white dishdasha, much to the amusement of the kids. 

Next, we spot a hatchling, making a dash for the moonlit Arabian Sea. It’s distracted, like any toddler, by the bright light of our guide’s torch. Eventually, he guides it back to the shoreline. We cross everything and hope it’s one of the lucky ones. 

These endangered green turtles nest every two years at most. In each season they can return four to seven times to the same beach, laying over 100 eggs every time. But the odds are low – the chances of surviving into adulthood are below one per cent. 

Our guide gets a message from his colleague. There is a turtle LAYING EGGS literally a stone’s throw away. We pick our way, single-file, across the moonscape beach. It’s full of huge craters, lumps and bumps, where hundreds of turtles have laid thousands of eggs over the summer season. 

In groups of two or three, we take turns to silently observe this most private moment, as a four-foot female pops out shiny white ping pong ball-sized eggs into a neatly carved hole in the sand. It’ll be another couple of hours until she has covered the nest and can return to sea, and another eight weeks before any of her babies hatch out. 

After a short night at Turtle Beach Resort in Ras al-Hadd, we’re off on our leisurely trip back to Muscat.

We go via Sur, where we get to clamber over a traditional Dhow in the making; stop for a look at the green oasis that is Wadi Shab, where freshwater meets the sea; and dip our toes in the striking Bimmah Sinkhole, for the tiny fishes to nibble. 

It’s been an epic, sandy, four-day adventure, but we’re glad to see the Shangri-la, our home for the next four days. A hot shower and a sundowner on the beach are calling. Read our review of the resort here

More info on our trip…

Our tour was organised by Nomadic Desert Camp; three nights and four days, including a driver/guide, accommodation and half-board costs from 345 OMR per person. The sunset camel ride and a visit to the turtle reserve are included. A night at the desert camp costs from 35 OMR per person and includes dinner and breakfast. http://www.nomadicdesertcamp.com

Turtle Beach Resort is a low-key resort on the outskirts of Ras al-Hadd. Accommodation is in bungalows decorated in Bedouin style. Low season rates start at 55 OMR for a double room on a half-board basis. https://www.tbroman.com

Turtle viewing tours at Ras al-Jinz Turtle Reserve cost 8 OMR for adults and 2 OMR for children. There is also accommodation available at the reserve. https://www.rasaljinz-turtlereserve.com

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