Exploring the Ancient Musandam Peninsula, Oman
When I was researching a trip to the UAE I randomly came across a website for an outdoor adventure company called Absolute Adventure, running trekking trips in nearby Dibba, Oman. Our itinerary up to that point consisted largely of touring cities, and this looked like a great opportunity to escape the modern cities for a little while, to what what culture and and beautiful remote places we could find.
The Musandam Peninsula is located on the Strait of Hormuz, separated from the rest of Oman by the eastern coastline of the United Arab Emirates. Coming from Dubai, we took a taxi the evening before and spent the night in Fujairah. Our taxi was arranged by the hotel we stayed at in Dubai and the driver didn’t seem to know where he was going. He got lost a few times and had to stop and ask directions. Needless to say we were a little worried, but eventually we found the Rotana Hotel.
We had arrived in the dark and were shocked to find ourselves in the morning at a beautiful beachside resort! Just beautiful. We all agreed that we wished we could have spent the day here. We opened our curtains to an unexpected mountain view, and headed down to breakfast (a huge spread with everything from pancakes to pita and hummus). We had a few minutes to spare and decided to explore a bit outside, to find huge pools and amazing scenery.
Then things got interesting! We were told since we got an entry visa when gaining entry to the UAE we wouldn’t need anything extra to get into Oman besides our passports. The tour company said to give them a ring when we left the hotel and they’d have transportation waiting for us just across the border. When we went to call from the hotel line, the call wouldn’t connect. We thought maybe we were dialing wrong, and went down to the front desk to ask for assistance. They didn’t have any luck either, then we realized we were a number short to complete the call! The tour company’s main office wasn’t yet open, so we decided we would just go and hoped we’d find our way.
We didn’t know what to expect when crossing the border, and it’s a scene I’ll never forget. A taxi took us from the hotel to the border, but we hadn’t realized the cabs wouldn’t cross the border (at least our driver anyway). The crossing was just a small tollbooth with cars waiting on either end, and men with machine guns checking paperwork on foot. We tried to look across and see if we could see our tour group, but saw nothing. We weren’t sure how to get across and our driver was in a hurry to leave, so I decided I’d give it a try on foot, while the rest of our group stayed in the car.
I have never been so scared as I was, crossing a border into an unknown country, where I was unsure of their views on women, alone, on foot, with nothing but a Vera Bradley duffle bag and no sense on how we were going to get to where we were going once on the other side. But I mustered the courage and got in line with the cars. (I can only imagine what everyone who found themselves crossing the border that morning thought of the sight of me!) The border man looked at me funny, but motioned me through. Neither of us spoke each other's language, there were some friendly smiles, I handed over my passport, he looked it over and said, “New York!?” Yes, I replied and then he waved me through. (I didn’t get that passport stamp I had been looking forward to, but I didn’t really think it was a smart move to try to mime that to the man with the gun!) So I continued walking through to the other side hoping to see our transportation….nothing.
So I went back to where I could see through to the UAE and waved my friends to come through. So then the whole scene of women on foot walking across the border happened again, and the man assuming we were all together just asked them, “New York?” They said yes, and were ushered through without showing any paperwork. Reunited, we ran through our options of trying to contact the tour….Taxi? None we could see. Ask for directions? Besides the border men, the only other life we saw was a few roaming chickens. So we decided to try to call with our cell phones (which had been turned off since our arrival days earlier). After a few failed attempts, we saw a bright yellow bus traveling down the road toward us. We stopped and stared, hopeful. A mop of golden curls popped out of the window and a man with an Australian accent greeted us with a warm welcome.
Now the real adventure began! We were taken to their “adventure center” which was a cute little building and outdoor area. Here we filled out a waiver, were given backpacks with filled water bladders and a tupperware filled with our lunch. Our group of three Americans were joined by a friendly Scottish family and off we went with our two tour guides to board a boat.
We cruised along the Musandam coast, to spectacular scenery and a waterway spotted with traditional Dhow sailing vessels. The views here alone were worth the trip down from Dubai. Eventually we glided to the Aqaba fishing village and disembarked to continue our journey on foot. We explored the village a bit and then set out on our trail along the coast. There were bits at the beginning that were a little hair raising, not everyone in our group enjoyed clinging to the side of a rock face with a sheer drop down to the water...but I found it exhilarating! There was a lot more rock scrambling on this hike than I thought there would be.
Our guide said we were traveling on ancient paths the connected fishing villages for centuries. It was/is home to communities who have been kept extremely isolated, as their ports could only be reached by boats. Still today few roads exist and are mostly dirt or gravel. The path then continued to towards the main town where we explored old abandoned stone buildings and each taking a turn climbing down to view the town’s underground “prison”. It was fascinating! Our guide grew up here and was very informative. We stopped briefly at the top of the mountain for a snack and to take in the views.
Continuing on our journey was all downhill now descending into the town of Lima. The tour group owns a date plantation at the bottom where we took a nice break. They also had a pool for anyone wanting to cool off from the hot and sunny hike. We then wandered to the port where we boarded our boat back to our starting point. The ports were fascinating places to just sit and people watch. Boats full of fisherman and village men filled the port.
Adding this trek to our trip to the UAE was such a highlight! We felt so fortunate to escape the cities and see more of what this part of the world was really like. We ended up sharing a private bus with our Scottish family back to Dubai and even that journey was captivating. We witnessed a prayer time, rural little towns (stopping at one for snacks) wild camels and a gorgeous sunset. I’ve never regretting an outdoor adventure, but some just make you feel alive and so thankful for the experience, and that’s just what this did!
Aqaba-Lima Trek 795 AED
Duration 7hrs; Level: Difficult (for exposed, steep sections)