Anyone not here?" Mr Adnan paced the deck of the dhow quizzing passengers as we prepared to return to the port at the end of the day. It was an interesting question on so many different levels. Glancing starboard the answer was a resounding no. The bay, about an hour's boat ride north of Dibba in Oman, resembled a beach landing scene from a Second World War film. The barren rocks of Musandam had been invaded by an army of day trippers. Seven dhows bobbed at anchor. Speed boats buzzed around ferrying life-jacket-clad tourists to and from the beach. Everyone, it seemed, was here.
Admittedly the Eid holiday weekend was a bad time to visit. Agencies in Dubai had overbooked and operators felt unable to turn people away. Luckily we came on Saturday. Apparently Friday was really busy. That day Mr Adnan managed to fit 140 people on his two boats, which usually take 60 people each. Fortunately, the dhows can take it. While fibreglass boats would become dangerously unstable, wooden boats simply hunker down lower in the water taking the extra burden comfortably.
On deck it was a different matter. We sat on cushions wedged between fellow passengers, while Astrid, our eight-month old daughter, crawled on a pile of life jackets. A group of eight had left our boat before departure and demanded a refund because conditions were so cramped. It was, I suppose, a pleasant surprise just to be allowed on such a tour with a young child. When I e-mailed to ask if we could take Astrid, the reply was an unequivocal yes. It was great to be welcome as a young family. Perhaps having children did not mean an end to adventurous travel.
Swimming in the sea around the boat, marine life was scant. The concentration of tourists had reached toxic levels. Just when I thought the water was completely bereft of life, I found myself amidst of a shoal of sardines. Encouraged, I swam out further, but cigarette butts and toilet paper were the only subsequent sightings. In some ways, this cluster approach made sense: keep tourists in a single bay, protect other areas and allow them to flourish. It was understandable, but it was still disappointing to be bobbing amidst the lifeless flotsam and jetsam with scores of other people.
Going where most other people do not go has always been a fundamental part of my travel ethos. Even in busy cities, I try to stick to the backstreets and alleyways. I seek out the route less travelled simply because it is less travelled. On this tour, we were undeniably part of the crowd. Nevertheless Astrid had a good time. She sucked fresh sea air in to her lungs. She played with other children. She chewed life jackets and shoes. She was lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat. It was not a great adventure for me, but it was for her.
Robert and his family travelled with Explorer Tours (www.explorertours.ae, 04 2861991); day cruises cost $68 (Dh250) per person including lunch. firstname.lastname@example.org