x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Snug under the stars in Oman

Our car is no stranger to dust, but after zig-zagging on dirt roads up 950 metres to the top of Wadi Bih in Oman, it was even dustier than normal.

Our car is no stranger to dust, but after zig-zagging on dirt roads up 950 metres to the top of Wadi Bih in Oman, it was even dustier than normal. We drove the 300km from Abu Dhabi behind a small caravan of friends. My husband hadn't slept the night before due to a work deadline, so I drove the entire way. If you have a baby in the back seat, a two-wheel-drive car, and don't know the way, I advise that you go with friends. I was a diligent tailgater.

We stretched our legs in Dubai, picked up another family or two piled into their 4x4s, and then pushed on to the border crossing at Dibba. The UAE Off-road guide published by Explorer maps a different route through Ras al Khaimah, but Dibba's border guards waved us through, taking note only of the number and nationality of our passports. The drive had already stretched to four hours, which is indeed a stretch with a little one whining in the back seat. As much as we plan for naps, there are always periods of wakefulness that require racking our brains for silly songs. We came up with more than I would have thought just a year and a half ago before Iola was born, though not quite enough to stave off 40 minutes of crying and boredom.

From Dibba we headed back west into the Hajar mountains. The baby fell asleep just as we were entering the wadi, which allowed our eyes to wander among amazing, precarious, rocks. As one drives along the bottom of the wadi, the sheer cliffs on each side inspire visions of being crushed by boulders falling 300 vertical feet. The gravel road was well maintained and wide enough to let two-way traffic pass each other occasionally, if one could keep one's eyes at eye level. After about 10km the wadi widens out and then the road ambitiously approaches the saddle between two summits. In spite of my doubts, our little Honda Jazz attacked the steep incline bravely and we made it to the top in fine, dusty, form. All this was lost on the little munchkin, however, who woke as soon as the engine stopped.

When we arrived at our camping spot we went for a walk past deserted terraced farm villages and looked into caves used by goat herders. We set up our tent and laid out the queen-size sleeping bag we had ordered in the US for camping trips with the baby. Other families had blow-up air mattresses and palatial tents, and I was only slightly jealous. We walked with our group, which included seven children, to watch the sun set over the Rawdah Bowl. The views were breathtaking, and at almost 1,000 metres the air had a delicious chill.

Our baby was the youngest of the children, and two of the girls were determined to dote on her, wanting desperately to carry her off on adventures. She protested, feeling unadventurous. We were followed back to the campsite by a curious donkey who stayed until the next morning, begging for attention and getting a couple crusts of bread. The donkey and eating baked beans from a can were the highlights of the trip for Iola. The highlights for me were the queen-size sleeping bag and watching falcons glide on thermals. Singing songs with the ukulele and watching a campfire glow under the stars were pretty nice too. travel@thenational.ae