If you say to somebody in the Czech Republic („Central Europe, small country, Petr Čech, Baroš“ – this is the best way to explain to Omanis where you are from), that you are going on holiday to Oman, he will think you are eccentric. If you carelessly add that you aren’t using a travel agent, only the two of you and with mountain bikes and that you haven't booked any hotels etc. then a decent man will shift away from you, a careful client will cancel your contract, young girls will look at you (an out-of-his-mind grandfather) with a sympathetic smiles, and parents-in-law start to wonder whether their daughter married into a respectable family. In February a normal European man should go skiing in the French Tignes, or at least in the Austrian Alps or Südtirol, and not get ready to go mountain biking to a country which nobody has ever heard about. Rumor has it that oil sheikhs are living there.
Then the one is not assured about himself. Oman – did anybody ride the bike there before? Ever? But that when Google offers you excellent web sites www.bikeoman.com and www.omanbicycle.com (by the way „the hottest bicycle shop on the earth“), you start to doubt you made something extraordinary. Then when you land in Muscat and with your bikes were unloaded another 30 bikes, your doubt grows even deeper and you reminisce how the people were staring on your bikes in kyrgyz Bishkek or jordan Amman. We came just in time of start of Tour of Oman - the unique road race with the presence of biggest stars: Contador, Wiggins, Evans, our (czech) Štybar, all conducted by big Eddy (Merxx). We could not miss the Finish of first stage and indeed it was magical mix of Orient and Europe. Eventually in the Finish local bikers helped us. Frans, owner of „the hottest bikeshop“, replaced for us bent brake disc. Once more „Thank you, Frans“, I would never manage to straighten it.
For a long time we practice touristic style called in Czechs „travel light“. In Alps you ride Transalp this way. You ride from guest house to guest house, from chalet to chalet, only snacks and warm underwear with you, no car support. In fact this is how you check how local market works. Each evening we have to find what lodging is on offer and also with food we are fully dependent on local resources. In Oman we have a wee doubt about location of guest houses/hotels and people so we strapped lightweight sleeping bags Deuter Lite Bike to seat post.
We start early morning from Seeb. To Barka it goes quite well, we circumnavigate huge sultan’s complex. The cross roads in Barka and way to Nakhl is asphalt horror with the heavy traffic. But the Nakhal fort is beautiful and positioned directly on the foothill of mountains.
We are trying to ask about accommodation, but we are not understood – you can sleep anywhere - the nomadic tradition have deep roots here – and the best is next to thermal „hot“ springs. Allegedly I can have a bath now but the wife should wait and take a bath at night. OK then. In the shop they are happy to oblige and give us some card board boxes as a matt, we did not drag the carry matt with us. Kind old man got the idea and brought old rug - well, redneck can always help the redneck! There is just that lil‘ problem with the night rest. We made theory that Muslims do not have exactly distinguished night and day like us. They still prey late at night, also it is not so hot at night, so then they sleep during the day heat and afternoon, then you are not so surprised to see them to come for the bath in hot springs at 3 am.
In the morning we made 40 fast kilometers to Al Awabi before breakfast. The breaky then merges with lunch, the visit to local house hold, 6 children is standard count. The wife probably one. The visit to fort, and surroundings and we find ourselves in perfect travel lodge on the start of Wadi bani Awf. The nice bangladeshi reveals that he works for 80 omr monthly (160 EUR) and most of it sends home to family; oh my, what the world we are living in?!? But to earn some extra money by cooking or by food delivery never occured to him. Pity, he could rip us off a little.
I am buying some provisions. One kilogram of dates instead of power bars. If only I knew how many invitations for dates and coffee expects us in Oman. I cought cute little scorpion from the bed to plastic bag and then we sleep peacefully till 6 am and the morning starts with climb up the steep road of wadi. Also there is construction going on in the wadi. The asphalt is eating nice parts of the road, only on down flat part of wadi for now, but everything else seems to us fantastic. The villages, invitation for coffee, steep road, old man who cam from side valley, rocky mountains. In the afternoon we got to village of Bilat Sayt. It is peculiar interesting village, often photographed for calendars, tourist guides and books but with no accommodation for tourists. No hotel, lodge or room for rent, no restaurant. So we watch how the village life goes by waiting how it will end up. The invite for the fist birthday of the son is probably experience for both parties. Good opportunity for me to learn how to eat rice only with hand.
Local Rashid is 18. He invites us for dates, coffee and oranges. „I hate this mountains“ he says. He wants to live in town, to be engineer. He can study free of charge. We tried to explain that on the base of news papers Oman is planning to build railways together with other gulf countries. Probably from Dubai, through Oman and maybe to Yemen. Learn, study and you will have enough work. Only after while it occurred to me that Rashid does not know what is „railway“ nor „train“. Of course – he knows what the Toyota is, it is part of his life. In 60-ies allegedly there was only 1 tractor in Oman, 3 schools and no news papers.
We are supposed to sleep upstairs in local shop, evidently this is room after laborers, and occupied by black rat. So we sleep for negotiated 7 omr on the roof on the mattraces. The view at the mosque, the bed with the sky above us and beer – of course, non-alcoholic.
In the morning we are woken up by „Allah Akbar“ at 5.23am. The mosque is next to our ear. At 6 am we are on bikes already, on our way back to main road and we start to climb again. It is quite scary. In Alps I experienced whatever but here everything is different. Perhaps the locals did not learn how to make serpentines. The cyclo-computer shows unbelievable 37% incline. We are passing big village of Haat and then we refrain to pushing. In the end we can ride and we are on the top of the road, 2.000 meters above the sea level. Close by is hotel, we are drying dump sleeping bags, hot food, tea, little rest and then only possible way is down to Al Hamra.
Wadi Bani Awf was strong experience. The nature, people, local village life. It would be possible to plan various combination of tracks including side valleys (e. g. Wadi Sahtan), that for sure. Unfortunately soon the civilization and tarmac will reach also here.
Other adventures follows: grand canyon below Jebel Shams, fort in Nizwa and in the end camp in the desert, but don’t swap the bike for camel! The beach in Yitti, lunch invitation for bbq-ed fresh fish from local fisherman and finaly 2 days of February swimming and snorkeling in Oman Dive Centrum in Muscat.
Oman is country you can understand only with difficulties. Some things somehow „work fine“ (local shops, restaurants) but others „fail“ with no obvious reason. Sometimes it is difficult to find the roof to sleep below, another time the price for the accommodation is stupidly high. In one word – Oman is „something completely different"(John Clees).
What you find fantastic is people and nature. You can rely on both. For this it worth to come here and it worth to return back. Next time it will be with tent and camping, so „travel heavy“ and with respect on advanced age maybe with car support.
So see you soon, Oman.