it was more like glamping, let’s just start with that. Definitely lacking in pitched tents and campfires and s’mores. Through some very serendipitous happenings, we were invited to check out a resort in the desert called the Dunes by Al Nahda. It’s not officially open to the public yet, and won’t be for another few weeks, but what we saw when we stayed was absolutely amazing – I’m sure the place is going to become incredibly popular for people looking for a desert holiday.
We drove about 75 minutes out of Muscat (well…it took two hours to get there, but that’s because we got lost). Leaving the dusty scrub land and highways behind, we eventually found actual desert – the sandy red brown undulating dunes that come to mind when you think of the Middle East. We even saw some wild camels and goats as we got closer (!!! said my heart). Eventually we found our way to the resort and were greeted with cold wet towels and a tasty lemonade before being shown to our rooms.
And the rooms were amazing! Glamping is serious business, and is probably the most decadent way I can imagine spending the night in the desert. There was a fancy bath and everything (very useful after a day getting dirty and sweaty and finding sand in every crevice). Again, just like everywhere else in Oman, there was lots of air conditioning.
We only stayed overnight, but during our stay we had massages, went out dune bashing (a little video of which can be found here) with an Omani driver who delighted in scaring the living crap out of us, ate some really yummy food, and Jon and Kal got to feel very manly and bad ass by going out on the dunes on some quad bikes. I declined, as did Amy.
The most magical part, for me, was definitely meeting a load of camels out in the desert. Our dune bashing guide had asked if we wanted to see any camels, and when we said yes he just darted off, driving aimlessly for awhile, leaving us clueless in the back seat. Eventually we spotted a hazy one loping off in the distance and he abruptly veered off the road and drove directly towards a huge herd of the slow-moving creatures. They were all gathering to where a water truck was parked – there was no building or space for them to go to, but apparently they’ve learned where they can get some water from, and are drawn to it.
Our driver stopped a shepherd walking by with one camel on a loose rein, and spoke to him in Arabic, obviously asking if it was okay for these visitors to touch his camel. We told him from in the car that no, it was okay, no need, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and a few seconds later we were all out saying hello to this man and his camel friend! The camel was very sweet – no spitting or anything.
As we were piling back into the four by four, a man in a big white car drove up and spoke to our driver through the window – it turned out that he was the owner of the land we had found ourselves on, and he invited us all back to his home for coffee and dates. Sadly, we were expected back at the resort and the sun was beginning to set, so we couldn’t. Our friends told Jon and I that this happens all the time and they’d found themselves having coffee and dates with many an Omani host over the years since they’ve been in the country.
By the time we got back, there was just enough time for the guys to head out for a sunset session on the quad bikes before we cleaned up and headed back to the restaurant for dinner.
It’s really strange being at a resort alone – besides the four of us, there were just a lot of workers trying to finish up the different parts of the place, and lots of people working at the restaurant and managing. It was quiet, and peaceful, and really really beautiful. And when we ate our breakfast in the morning, some wild goats wandered up to the back door of the kitchen and we watched the staff chase them away after at least one ate a towel! But dinner was perfect, if isolated, and they even let us set up our own little traveling speaker for music so that it wasn’t so silent. The moon was huge and the stars were bright out over the wide-open desert, and we stuffed ourselves full and chatted until we couldn’t stay awake any longer.
Back in our room, Jon and I were terrified to find a massive huntsman spider clinging to the folded cloth of the ceiling, which had camouflaged himself perfectly (it was definitely a he I just know it!), waiting to eat our faces as we slept. It….was a real debacle to get him out, I’ll tell you that. I was diametrically opposed to squashing the thing, and Jon agreed, which meant that then Jon swatted it off of the ceiling, caught it in the trash can, and then carried it out onto the sand. There are no pictures. Terror will do that to you!
No wait, there is this grainy photo I took while he was wandering out, spider in can.
I’m just glad it wasn’t poisonous and also that it wasn’t a scorpion -apparently the desert ones are particularly fond of hiding in shoes and things.
After our whirlwind day and night in the desert, it was back into the car for the long drive back to Muscat. And since we hadn’t been allowed to drink out at the resort, we were fresh as daisies (those prohibition laws come in handy sometimes, I guess…).
It was a truly awesome experience. Camping in the desert – what a treat! And sadly, this was my only camel exposure of the trip, which makes it even more glowy and dreamlike in my mind. It was unforgettable.