Stormy nights in the Al Hajar mountains

I’m writing this while sat huddled in a fleece, hoodie and woollen hat under the covers in a Bedouin hut in the Omani mountains. Turns out the Middle East can get cold after all!

It’s not that cold by normal (British) standards of course, but still a bit of a shock to the system after several weeks in the Dubai sun.

We arrived at the mountains yesterday after a wonderfully smooth six hour drive from Dubai through Al Ain and over the border into Oman. First impressions of Oman are already very positive – it’s far less built up than the UAE and the one long road we took was flanked by miles of semi-desert bordered by the mountains in the distance. The towns and villages we drove through were full of stunning Arabic architecture and everything just seems more colourful here. The houses are so beautifully designed and the ladies we saw on the way down were all wearing gorgeous bright headscarves in contrast to the traditional black abayas of the UAE.

We’ve had some fun trying to figure out the currency here. There don’t appear to be any coins but there are two different kinds of notes – Rials and Baisa. We think one Rial is the equivalent to 1000 Baisa, which come in notes of 100. But there are also half Rial notes and 500 Baisa notes and people seem to just say ‘That’ll be six’ when they mean 600 Baisa. We still haven’t really figured it out and only realised last night that we’d accidentally tipped the petrol guy the equivalent of 20p, but had then attempted to pay something like £15 for three cans of diet coke.

As we drove up into the mountains, the temperature began to drop rapidly. Jebel Shams is the highest mountain in Oman at 3009m and feels totally different to the mountainous areas of the UAE, which are also beautiful but always in quite well-developed areas. We had fun navigating the standard winding mountain road up here yesterday and it was refreshing to have a 4×4 to get us up here after our adventures in the Nissan in South Africa! Still a very steep climb though and definitely no right turn..

When we arrived at the Sama Heights resort yesterday afternoon we were pleased to see no more than a few atmospheric mountain clouds, having read forecasts of heavy rain and thunder. We took a stroll along the breath-taking ‘grand canyon’ and up into the Al Khitaym village where Dad was instantly accosted by the local women trying to sell him some kind of woollen dream catcher thing.

There are so many funny little mountain goats everywhere here – my favourite! We found this little cutie hiding underneath her mother yesterday afternoon. I even almost realised my dream of seeing a goat climbing a tree… he’s not quite in the tree but I’ll take it.

We’d booked to stay in the pre-pitched Bedouin tents, but when we arrived the guy at Sama Heights upgraded us to two of the huts instead, warning us that it would be a cold night. We were slightly disappointed at first as we were looking forward to camping under the stars, but by the end of the night we were more than grateful for the upgrade.

The rain started during dinner (curries, flatbread and mezze) and by the time we locked ourselves in for the night, the thunder was well on its way. Five hours of lightning, hail, leaky roofs and shaky light fittings later we were thanking our lucky stars that we weren’t in a tent! One of the most impressive mountain storms I’ve ever experienced but I’m very glad that I was tucked up safely inside for this one.

Sadly the rain and clouds have continued into today so our hiking has been cut slightly short. We still managed a good two hour walk this morning and made it through a quarter of the balcony route this afternoon before we took a look at the clouds and decided to turn back. Home just in time for another impressive round of thunder and lightning!

Sama Heights itself is lovely and beautifully situated in the quiet mountains. It’s just this place, one other hotel and a couple of tiny Bedouin villages up here so there’s not much to do in bad weather, but we’ve had a cosy afternoon of cards, bananagrams and warming ourselves up with cups of tea in the main lodge.

Nice to enjoy the calm and quiet of the mountains after three weeks in the city, but I think we’re all looking forward to getting down to the warmth in Muscat tomorrow afternoon.

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