A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about turtles

São Tomé city tour and Monte Café

An easy day


View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

I set the alarm for 06:30 this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds before breakfast. I am not disappointed.

large_1b895b70-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
Yellow-billed kite

large_2c142100-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
Village Weaver

large_3cb13610-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
São Tomé Prinia

large_52edcec0-60f9-11e8-b656-a517d5442a14.jpg
Yellow Fronted Canary

large_61e7bb20-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg
Yellow Billed Kite

large_6e9594a0-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg
Village Weaver

Four 'lifers' (new species to us) before breakfast on the first day! I also spot a couple of cute little lizards.

large_cea7b260-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg

large_d7d6c560-60f9-11e8-9cae-cde7a26c98d7.jpg

large_136dbed0-60fa-11e8-807f-8384375a64d5.jpg
Breakfast

Forte de São Sebastião

The old San Sebastian Fort has now been turned into a museum.

large_cc8e0080-6101-11e8-b772-f902ff25b446.jpg

The square outside is home to statues depicting the first settlers in São Tomé and Principe.

large_ffe53bc0-627c-11e8-88e9-61e009274831.jpg

São Tomé & Principe were both uninhabited prior to colonisation by the Portuguese in 1470 who came in search of land to grow sugar and as a base for trade with mainland Africa. São Tomé, being right on the equator and more than wet enough, fitted the bill perfectly. Slaves were brought over as forced labourers from Congo and Angola on the African coast to work the plantations. The first successful settlement was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the Portuguese crown and by the mid-16th century the islands were Africa's foremost exporter of sugar.

large_09a0b040-627d-11e8-88e9-61e009274831.jpg

Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were 'undesirables' sent from Portugal, mostly Jews, a great number of whom soon died.

large_bcb62860-628f-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

By 1515, São Tomé and Príncipe had become slave depots for the coastal slave trade centred at Elmina in Ghana. The interesting little museum chronicles the history of the country, but unfortunately photography is not permitted inside most of the rooms in the fort, so you will just have to make do with some external shots from the courtyard.

large_ee7dd730-628f-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

Sugar cultivation declined over the next 100 years as a result of competition from the West Indies, and São Tomé was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.

large_07438bc0-6290-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

In the early 19th century, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced to São Tomé. Large plantations (known as roças), mostly owned by Portuguese companies, sprung up all over the islands. Soon São Tomé became the world's largest producer of cocoa, with 800 of these plantations, and although this is no longer the case (and so many of the roças lie in ruins), cocoa remains the country's most important crop.

The second room in the museum shows examples of the different types of cocoa beans (and there was I thinking a cocoa bean was a cocoa bean). The plant was originally brought from Portugal as an ornamental plant, and remained so until someone said: “You're wasting your money, this plant grows so well here you should start a plantation”. Experts were imported from other Portuguese colonies such as Mozambique and Angola, and the rest is history.

large_85863d20-6290-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

Other rooms are devoted to Catholicism, the President, the Flag, dining room, culture room (including voodoo paraphernalia and mannequins in various traditional costumes) and a gallery of old pictures from the city.

large_5d5fa790-6291-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

By far the most emotional and poignant of all the exhibitions, is the Massacre Room. I find most of the pictures too distressing to look at, yet again despairing at man's inhumanity to man.

By the time we get to the 'turtle room', my back is giving me a lot of pain. I had hoped the pain would be gone by this morning after a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed, but not so; it is getting worse and worse.

large_09ddacb0-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

São Tomé is home to five different species of turtles, and much education work is taking place to ensure their continuing conservation.

large_1a91cc30-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_267e7890-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_2ef02f00-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg
I had no idea Leatherback Turtles could grow that big!

Climbing onto the roof is proving to be quite a task because of my painful back. It is worth it for the view though.

large_a019e900-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_944c8470-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_a97a4530-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

large_b24454d0-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg
The graves of some 'important people' of a bygone age.

large_c1947780-6292-11e8-b471-e737d6985953.jpg

Catedral de São Tomé

The 16th century cathedral is the oldest on the island and is reputed to be the first Catholic church to be built in an African country.

large_0e0f6720-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

The original building was constructed from wood, but the church was rebuilt in a more durable material - concrete - in the 17th century.

large_1b902100-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

As a place of worship, it is popular, especially for Sunday mass, when the pews are full.

large_3020b760-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

Damaged by fire during a revolt in 1975, the church was repaired from donations.

large_821231c0-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg
Beautiful relics from the Portuguese era.

Parliament Building

Photographing this building is not permitted, with armed guards posted outside. Despite my experience in 2011 when I was chased down the road by one such guard after taking a picture of a bank in Algiers, I risk a covert shot from a distance.

large_f38f8a00-62a0-11e8-8eca-270d8c9fc4a0.jpg

Driving by the market and later past the popularly named 'Think Square' where Sãotoméans gather to work out a survival strategy when they have no money (unemployment sits at 70%), we head out of town and up into the hills. I am pleasantly surprised at the condition of the road: there is some sizeable areas of tarmac between the potholes. The first settlement of any size we reach is Trindade, the second biggest city in São Tomé, with 45,000 inhabitants. It was here that a rebellion took place in 1953, where hundreds of native Creoles were killed or captured and tortured to death (known as the Batepá massacre). Later their bodies were thrown in the sea, like animals. "Throw this shit into the sea to avoid troubles," the Portuguese governor was quoted as saying. A memorial has been built to mark the spot and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.

large_a787fcc0-632f-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Roça Monte Café

One of the largest coffee plantation on the island, Monte Café has now been turned into a museum offering a tour of the coffee production process.

large_b7ec8030-6330-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

At 600m above sea level, the air is considerably cooler here than in town, and the climate is ideal for growing Arabica coffee.

large_e56a0230-6330-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

We are invited up the stairs of one of the old warehouses, to walk through the exhibitions with a Portuguese-speaking guide, and Agostinho as a translator. Here the men toiled the plantations while the women worked in the factory.

large_33877f40-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

I am in agony with my back now, and seek out a chair on the balcony after the first couple of rooms, especially as photography is not permitted inside the museum.

large_a6d8bf10-6331-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Alei Coffe Shop

Despite taking a double dose of painkillers, my back is still going into spasms, unfortunately marring my enjoyment of the excellent lunch.

large_0c010c30-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Ceviche with marlin, passionfruit, onion and cucumber

large_2771bc80-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Red snapper with plantain, breadfruit and rice. The green stuff is described as a 'lusoa sauce' and is really quite nice. I have been unable to ascertain what it is in English - maybe the green tops of sweet potato.

large_7809c160-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
David tries the locally brewed beer, Rosema, which comes in unmarked bottles without a label.

large_ce25f9b0-6332-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Passionfruit cheesecake

Passionfruit is grown in abundance here on São Tomé, and I am intrigued by the size of them. I had no idea there was more than one type of passionfruit.

large_00c766b0-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_0935e8d0-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Miramar Hotel

With my back being so painful, we return to the hotel a little earlier than planned, where I have a short siesta and feel some better afterwards.

large_b21c9660-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Like last night, we wander onto the terrace for a drink outside before dinner. Tonight we choose some Portuguese Vinho Verde, which goes down very nicely.

large_bf102b70-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_c8c389a0-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_d1711090-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_daa41b30-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_e29de280-6333-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Dinner

I am assuming the hotel is not full this evening, as we are the only diners at 19:30. Tonight's special is chicken stroganoff, and we both choose that. It is very good.

large_228179c0-6334-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

large_2abbcc80-6334-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg
Coconut jelly on a biscuit base

The end of another interesting day in São Tomé, arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

large_57aee8d0-6334-11e8-95d0-c7a74a42a10c.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 07:45 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged turtles fish fort museum cathedral africa birding parliament coffee trindade pain slavery ceviche defence canary plantations weaver massacre demonstrations cocoa bird_watching roca red_snapper undiscovered_destinations sao_tome batepa_massacre miramar_hotel prinia endemic_birds forte_de_são_sebastião sugar_plantations roca_monte_café vinho_verde passionfruit back_pain Comments (2)

Ras al Jinz - Wadi Bani Khalid - Wahiba Sands

From turtles on the beach to a gorgeous oasis and finally a fabulous desert.


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Bleary-eyed, we drag ourselves out of bed when the alarm goes off at 04:10 this morning in order to get down to the beach for the sunrise and hopefully see some more turtles.

Unlike last night, this morning's excursion is only available to hotel guests, so thankfully there are nowhere near as many people as there were last night. Today's walk is further than yesterday, however, as the one remaining turtle is further down the beach; and it is still dark when we reach the nesting site. The turtle is just finishing off covering her eggs with sand when we get there.

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_1.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_2.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_3.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_4.jpg

The sunrise is a little disappointing (especially as this is the most easterly point on the Arabian peninsula I was expecting a little more), but the surreal rock formations along this stretch of the beach more than make up for it.

large_Sunrise_at_Ras_al_Jinz_2.jpg

large_Sunrise_at_Ras_al_Jinz_4.jpg

large_Sunrise_at_Ras_al_Jinz_5.jpg

large_Sunrise_at_Ras_al_Jinz_7.jpg

large_Strange_Rock_Formations_2.jpg

large_Strange_Rock_Formations_3.jpg

large_Strange_Rock_Formations_4.jpg

large_Strange_Rock_Formations_5.jpg

As soon as it is light, the turtle makes an awkward dash back to sea, having deposited her eggs on the same beach she was born on many years ago.

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_5.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_6.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_7.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_8.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_10.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_13.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_14.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_15.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_17.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_18.jpg

large_Turtles_in_the_morning_20.jpg

Back to the hotel for breakfast and then meet up with Said, our guide, for the today's journey. Having been up so early, we sleep most of the way, but wake up as Said takes a turning off the main road, into the mountains again.

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_21.jpg
Our hotel seen from the track leading up from the beach.

large_Near_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_1.jpg
Said turns off the main road up this track

Wadi Bani Khalid

At the top of the hill, Said stops the car for the view over the bleak and desolate landscape. The scenery may be barren and harsh, but it has a stark and austere beauty to it that totally mesmerises me.

large_Near_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_3.jpg

Said beckons for us to walk to the edge of the cliff (my fear of heights has kept me well back so far), and tells us to look at the crack in the plateau. Our eyes follow the canyon down and then we see it. Wow! There, nestled on the valley floor, is the most picture-perfect oasis: Wadi Bani Khalid.

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_4.jpg

large_4292B723BBF566CE8043F50EB85AE79C.jpg

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_3.jpg

After taking our photos from above, we drive back down to the oasis and walk from the car park along the felaj (ever-present irrigation channels) to reach the stunning pools of iridescent aquamarine water.

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_6.jpg

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_7.jpg

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_8.jpg

The water is unbelievably clear and glistens in various shades of blue and green under the bright sunlight. Apparently this place is extremely popular on weekends, and I can see why.

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_9.jpg

large_43668246B7A9F1E414FBE7A62800CB4D.jpg

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_13.jpg

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_14.jpg

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_16.jpg
Said relaxes in one of the many pavilions that dot the area around the emerald-green pools.

large_Wadi_Bani_Khalid_17.jpg
The pools are fed year-round by a stream making its way down through the crack we saw in the Hajar Mountains. This is known as Oman's most beautiful wadi, and for good reason.

Lunch

In the town of the same name, we stop at a small restaurant for lunch. As my stomach is still very much playing up, I just order a plate of hummous and some bread, while David chooses a schwarma. Said, of course, has his usual mountain of rice.

large_Hummous.jpg

large_Schwarma.jpg

And, no, this is not water from the oasis, but a refreshing minty drink.

large_Minty_Drink.jpg

Back in the car, I doze until we reach the small town of Bidir, where we lower the tyre pressure on the car for the journey into the desert (plus pick up a tow rope, 'just in case').

Wahiba Sands

large_Wahiba_Sands_1.jpg

Suddenly the tarmacked road ends, rather abruptly, and we continue on a reasonable track of compacted sand. “This used to be like a washboard” Said says, and explains that the camps come out occasionally with heavy machinery to create new 'roads' in the sand.

large_Wahiba_Sands_2.jpg

large_Wahiba_Sands_3.jpg

large_Wahiba_San..d_driving_1.jpg

This vast expanse of perfectly formed rolling sand dunes stretches 200 miles from North to South and is named after the local Wahiba tribe who still spend their winters in the desert tending to their camels before migrating to the coast in the heat of summer.

large_Wahiba_Sands_4.jpg

large_Wahiba_Sands_5.jpg

large_Wahiba_Sands_-_Camel_1.jpg

Other than the tourists camps, there are no permanent settlements in this hauntingly empty swathe of sand, featuring towering dunes, reaching almost 100m in places, sculpted by the wind into delicately moulded crests and hollows.

large_Wahiba_Sands_7.jpg

large_Wahiba_Sands_8.jpg

Every now and again Said makes a detour off the main track, shimmying up the soft dunes and back down again.

large_Wahiba_Sands_-_Camel_2.jpg

large_Wahiba_Sands_9.jpg

1000 Nights Camp

Nestled comfortably on the valley floor, this is one of a handful of tourist camps in this area, surrounded by nothing but sand with high dunes either side.

large_1000_Night..the_Dunes_1.jpg

large_Wahiba_Sands_Truck_1.jpg
Just outside the gates, an old truck is partially buried in the sand.

The car park is almost full as we arrive (being a Thursday, it's the eve of the weekend here, with most locals having Friday and Saturday off), with almost every car being a self-drive 4x4.

large_1000_Nights_Camp_1.jpg

We are greeted with a refreshing wet towel in reception and after the usual formalities an electric golf buggy takes us and the cases to our room.

large_1000_Nights_Camp_13.jpg

large_1000_Nights_Camp_2.jpg

large_1000_Nights_Camp_20.jpg

The rooms are fashioned on the traditional goat wool Bedouin tents but with a touch of modern comfort.

large_1000_Nights_Camp_3.jpg

large_1000_Nights_Camp_11.jpg

The camp is nicely spread out in amongst mature trees, with four levels of accommodation: basic Arabic tents with no bathroom facilities; the Sheikh tents that we are in with attached open-air bathroom; luxury glass-sided Ameer tents with A/C; and lastly, two-storey brick-built Sand Houses.

large_1000_Nights_Camp_7.jpg

large_1000_Nights_Camp_4.jpg

large_1000_Nights_Camp_18.jpg

Also on site is a large restaurant, a snack-bar on board a wooden boat and a swimming pool.

large_1000_Nights_Camp_14.jpg
Restaurant

large_1000_Nights_Camp_16.jpg
Traditional seating area

large_1000_Nights_Camp_17.jpg
The snack-bar

large_1000_Nights_Camp_9.jpg
Swimming pool

With no A/C, the temperature is almost the same inside the tent as it is outside: 32 °C.

large_1000_Nights_Camp_5.jpg

large_1000_Night.._-_Our_Tent.jpg

Sunset from the dunes

After a quick change, we leave the camp behind and head for a bit of fun on the dunes with Said. Seeing a group of lads just outside the gates, crowding around a wreck of a car that has obviously been 'rolled' doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. I check that my seatbelt is properly fastened before we tackle the off-roading.

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_1.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_3.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_4.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_5.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_11.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_12.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_18.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_20.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_25.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_27.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_24.jpg

As we race up the steep-sided dunes, large amounts of sand gets thrown about, and the car slides around like a ballerina on ice. Great fun!
Here, on top of the dunes, the wind is quite ferocious, sandblasting everything in sight (including us and the cameras). No wonder these dunes are constantly on the move, shifting inland at a rate of 10m per year.

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_7.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_9.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_21.jpg

There is a definite driving skill involved in scaling the soft dunes, and Said makes it effortlessly to the top every time, unlike these Germans in a self-drive car. The secret is to keep the speed high and the tyre pressure low.

large_Self-Drive_Car_Stuck_1.jpg

After trying unsuccessfully to free their car, which is stuck half way up the dune, the tourists walk back to camp to recruit a local expert to help them out. The local guy gets the car out of the pickle without too much trouble, then shows off as he reaches the crest of the dune: taking off and landing awkwardly, dislocating the bumper of the car. Oops. Having finally reached the top, the Germans join us to watch the sunset, and we have a good laugh with them. The ridge is in fact full of tourists waiting to see the sun go down over the desert.

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_30.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_31.jpg
These people seem to have brought a picnic

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_32.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_33.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_34.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_35.jpg

large_Sunset_at_Wahiba_Sands_36.jpg

Strangely enough, as soon as the sun goes down, the wind drops. We head back to camp, driving straight down the dune in front of us. Eeek!
What a fantastic way to finish another eventful and exciting day! Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for organising this fabulous Oman trip.

large_DD8372E1BB7732B65AB085D4F04129B5.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 07:01 Archived in Oman Tagged mountains turtles oasis desert sunset beach travel scenery sunrise valley sand camp camping dunes sand_dunes wadi glamping bedouin middle_east hajar_mountains wahiba_sands ras_al_jinz wadi_bani_khalid hajjar_mountains natural_pools wahiba sunset_over_the_dunes off-roading dune_bashing 1000_nights_camp desert_camp Comments (2)

Muscat - Sur - Ras el Jinz

Along the north coast


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The breakfast buffet this morning is huge, with choices of various breads, Indian, English, American and Middle Eastern dishes, plus Continental cold meats / cheese and cereals.

large_3AD04B4700B607EF21F6EEBD49F83914.jpg

large_3AD6845DAE5E9ACC4BBCF4773FCDB114.jpg

large_3AC78A51BE6506F5117131BBA791A81F.jpg

The whole place seems in a bit of a muddle this morning though, as there are no cups by the coffee machine, so people take them off the tables; there are no spoons in the cinnamon nor syrup, they run out of waffles as well as orange juice, no teaspoons are available so David has to stir his coffee with a dessert spoon.

large_Waffles_with_Mango_Sauce.jpg
I managed to get a couple of waffles before the ran out

large_3B19DD45DC5247C27F2DFEFB6F29D6B4.jpg
David had to 'make do' with a fry-up.

Fish market

Our first stop on today's journey is at the fish market in Muscat, housed in a nice new modern building, a mere four months old.

large_Fish_Market_1.jpg

large_Fish_Market_2.jpg

large_Fish_Market_3.jpg
The long thin fish on the left are barracuda, while the big yellow ones with spots are the famed kingfish.

large_Fish_Market_9.jpg

large_Fish_Market_10.jpg

The market is all very clean and the produce looks of high quality.

large_Fish_Market_12.jpg

large_Fish_Market_13__Tuna_.jpg
Tuna

Most of the workers in the market are 'middle men' rather than the fishermen themselves, often ex-boatmen who maybe now find the all-night fishing a bit too much.

large_Fish_Market_14.jpg

large_Fish_Market_11.jpg

large_Fish_Market_21.jpg

Totally in awe of his skill and speed, we watch this man de-bone and fillet a large fish in next to no time.

large_Fish_Market_17.jpg

large_Fish_Market_16.jpg

large_Fish_Market_15.jpg

.

Vegetable Market

Next to the fish market is the equally new and modern vegetable market.

large_Vegetable_Market_12.jpg

large_Vegetable_Market_11.jpg

Most of the produce is imported, and among the more familiar items, we see a lot of typical Indian vegetables, obviously to appease the immigrant population.

large_Vegetable_Market_10.jpg

large_Vegetable_Market_3.jpg

large_Vegetable_Market_6.jpg

large_Vegetable_Market_8.jpg

large_Vegetable_Market_9.jpg

The dates, however, are local and a must to accompany kahwa, the traditional Omani coffee.

large_Vegetable_Market_5.jpg

large_Vegetable_Market_4.jpg

Off-roading

Said asks if we would prefer to take the main road between Muscat and the coast, or a short-cut which would mean 20km of off-roading.
Without hesitation, we both answer in unison: “off-roading please”

large_Short-Cut_2.jpg

The road is way smoother than either of us anticipate, but the geological formations alongside it are fascinating: bleak, ragged, crumbly hills more akin to man-made slag heaps than anything nature has created.

large_Short-Cut_1.jpg

large_Short-Cut_3.jpg

I desperately try to take pictures through the car windows at every turn in the road, most of which don't turn out at all.

large_Short-Cut_6.jpg

large_Short-Cut_9.jpg

large_Short-Cut_19.jpg

The only other car we see on the 20km journey.

large_Short-Cut_10.jpg

Eventually, we stop on a ridge to tale photos out over the surreal landscape at Wadi Al Hawh. Is this really Planet Earth, or did we travel to the moon by mistake?

large_Short-Cut_11.jpg

large_Short-Cut_13.jpg

large_Short-Cut_14.jpg

large_Short-Cut_15.jpg

large_Short-Cut_18.jpg

Hawiyat Najm Park, featuring Bimmah Sink Hole

large_Hawiyat_Najm_Sink_Hole_1.jpg

Fresh water is mixed with sea water in this sink hole, making for a beautiful iridescent aquamarine colour, some 50m x 70m large and 20m deep.

large_Hawiyat_Najm_Sink_Hole_3.jpg

Despite the Arabic name Hawiyat Najm, which literally means 'the falling star', this depression was not caused by a meteorite as suggested by local folklore, but rather as a result of limestone erosion. Said suggests it was a fairly recent occurrence, maybe 25 years ago.

large_Hawiyat_Najm_Sink_Hole_2.jpg

The area around the sink hole has been turned into a leisure park, with decent toilets, shaded picnic areas and steps leading down to the water for locals and tourists to swim. Apparently it is a very popular place with families on the weekend. I can see why as there is a nice cooling breeze coming in from the sea.

large_Hawiyat_Najm_Sink_Hole_4.jpg

Kahwa and dates

Before we leave, we are invited for kahwa by Said's friend who is the gatekeeper guardian of the park.

large_Kahwa_and_Dates_1.jpg

Kahwa is more than just a 'mere coffee' to the Omanis, it's a ritual that occupies a special place in their society. Friends and guests will always be served coffee and dates, usually in small, handle-less cups.

large_Kahwa_and_Dates_2.jpg

By handing back the cup without any further ado, you indicate that you would like some more. If you have finished, you should shake the cup as you give it back.

Wadi Shab Oasis

large_Wadi_Shab_Oasis_1.jpg

What an odd place. The initial access to the oasis is underneath a highway flyover, with the pillars supporting the road sitting on an island in the wadi.

large_Wadi_Shab_Oasis_5.jpg

Having read all about this place before we left home, I had already decided I was going to give it a miss. Hearing that after the initial boat trip across the river we have to walk for an hour or more along a small rugged ledge and scramble over huge boulders just to get to the initial pools; then if we want to see the main attraction, we need to swim and wade across three pools; and in order to enter the cave, we actually have to swim through a hole between the mountains then climb up using a rope to reach the waterfall.

large_Wadi_Shab_Oasis_2.jpg

I think we'll leave this place to the adrenalin-seeking youngsters we once were.

large_Wadi_Shab_Oasis_4.jpg

Apparently, the 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving final was held here in Wadi Shab.

Wadi Tiwi

To make up for not fully exploring Wadi Shab, Said suggests that we drive up the road through the five villages of Wadi Tiwi. Sounds like a fair exchange to me.

large_Wadi_Tiwi_1.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_6.jpg

My, oh my, what a drive! This really has to be one of the most amazing roads ever. Initially the road runs along the valley floor, between date and banana plantations and rock pools with boulders so large we discuss how they could possibly come to have rested in such a place.

large_Wadi_Tiwi_7.jpg

Known as the 'Wadi of Nine Villages', the road snakes its way between towering canyon walls in amongst old, traditional settlements (where Said seems to know everyone), criss-crossed by a network of aflaj (the traditional Omani irrigation channels).

large_Wadi_Tiwi_3.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_15.jpg

I am fascinated by the huge, upright boulder in the middle of this village. Real or mad-made I wonder...

large_Wadi_Tiwi_17.jpg

Said expertly handles the car around huge boulders and rocky outcrops in some impressive bends.

large_Wadi_Tiwi_10.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_12.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_21.jpg

Trying to grab photos of passing scenery is proving quite a challenge, with me hanging out of the window holding on to the camera for dear life.

large_Wadi_Tiwi_8.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_20.jpg

Eventually Said does stop the car so that we can take a proper look at the views.

large_Wadi_Tiwi_13.jpg

If driving up was impressive, travelling down is mind-blowing, with impossibly sharp bends, large rocks jutting out into the track, crumbling plantation walls and local houses seemingly blocking our way.

large_Wadi_Tiwi_25.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_26.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_28.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_32.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_34.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_35.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_36.jpg

During the rainy season this road becomes completely impassable for a few days as flood water gushes down the valley.

large_Wadi_Tiwi_37.jpg

large_Wadi_Tiwi_39.jpg

The ever-present falaj (irrigation system).

large_Wadi_Tiwi_38.jpg

Lunch

At the bottom of the valley, we stop at a small road-side restaurant in the village of Tiwi.

large_Lunch_in_Tiwi.jpg

We order traditional Omani kingfish which is lovely and fresh and comes in a tasty coating. We also have a dish with vegetables, a spicy sauce, a salad and roti; and no self-respecting Omani would have lunch or dinner without a mountain of biriyani rice.

large_Lunch_in_T..Salad__Roti.jpg

Sur

With the appearance of a sleepy little seaside town, it is surprising to learn that Sur is the fourth largest city in Oman (after Muscat, Nizwa and Salalah) with nearly 70,000 inhabitants.

large_Dhow_Museum__Sur_6.jpg
Said looking out over the estuary

large_Turtle_at_Sur_1.jpg
Turtle in the water

During the 1500s, Sur was the region’s most important port, importing and exporting goods from India and Africa, including slaves.

Dhow Museum

It's for the construction of dhows, the traditional Arab sailing vessels, that Sur is famous today, however.

large_4B90502BE4FB5DE7BC6DE6FC168CD3AD.jpg

Sur established itself as Oman’s most important ship-building centre around the 16th century, a trade which continued until the beginning of the 20th century and is barely kept alive today.

large_Dhow_Museum__Sur_2.jpg

The word 'dhow' is generally used to describe all traditional wooden-hulled Arabian boats, although locals will either refer to them as safena or suh-fin which both basically mean just ‘ships'; or they will use the more specific names such as boom, sambuq, ghanjah – which for all intents and purposes are different styles of dhow.

large_Dhow_Museum__Sur_3.jpg
Houri Al safeena – a small sailing boat used to send a rescue team to stranded boats.

large_Dhow_Museum__Sur_4.jpg
Launch samak – diesel boat from 1983 used for fishing with cast nets.

large_Dhow_Museum__Sur_5.jpg
Al Mashouh – a light canoe with a square shaped stern used for ferrying sailors to their ship and back.

Dhow Shipyard

The traditional Arab sailing vessels known as dhows are still being produced here at this shipyard in Sur, the only remaining of its kind in Oman.

large_Dhow_Shipyard_4.jpg

This dhow has been a 'work in progress' for over two years now, and will cost somewhere in the region of 200,000-300,000 Rial (ca £400,000-600,000).

large_Dhow_Shipyard_3.jpg

Traditionally, dhows were constructed of teak planks sewn together using coir rope and powered by enormous triangular lateen sails. These days iroko wood is mostly used.

large_Dhow_Shipyard_1.jpg

Many people work on the construction, with each person having a specific task, such as this woodcarver. Traditionally all the work was carried out by locals, but these days many immigrant workers, mostly from India, have taken over the jobs.

large_Dhow_Shipyard_2.jpg

I decline the invitation to climb on board the partially finished ship as health and safety is non-existent.

large_Dhow_Shipyard_5.jpg

Ras al Jinz Hotel

We continue to our hotel for the night, and as soon as we have checked in, we go to our room and await the porter bringing our bags.

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_2.jpg

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_7.jpg

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_4.jpg

He arrives fairly promptly, but once he has left, we can't find the key to our door. We search everywhere. No sign of it. Eventually we give up and ask Housekeeping for a spare, so that we can actually lock the door when we leave the room.

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_5.jpg

As it will be a late night tonight and an early start tomorrow, we try to have a bit of a nap, but struggle to get to sleep on the very hard bed.

Some two hours later, a very sheepish porter turns up with the key that was in his pocket all along. Doh.

Turtle Information Centre

There is only one reason for coming here: turtles.

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_1.jpg

One of the main tourist destinations in Oman, Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve was set up in 1996 to protect the rare and endangered green turtle which returns every year to lay its eggs on the same beach where it was born decades ago.

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_3.jpg

The well laid out visitor centre showcases the lifecycle of the green turtle as well as the archaeological findings from this area through museographical displays – whatever that means!

large_Turtle_Inf..on_Centre_1.jpg

large_Turtle_Inf..on_Centre_2.jpg

There are interactive displays and a short film showing the life of a turtle and the work carried out here.

large_Turtle_Inf..on_Centre_4.jpg

Dinner

Having a bit of an upset tummy, I am not feeling up to much food this evening. The buffet is mostly Indian, with the odd international dish thrown in. I stick to potatoes with a yogurt-type dressing.

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_8.jpg

Turtle Watching

Turtles are big business here, and I have to admit to finding the whole organisation rather too big and commercialised with far too many people.

This is considered the low season as far as turtles go, so we are told to gather in the lobby at 20:15 for news on whether any turtles have been spotted on the beach this evening. The area is very crowded, with nowhere near enough seats for everyone. We are lucky, as we arrive early to find a spare sofa.

We wait. And wait. And wait. No news.

Finally, at 21:15 we rush off in seven different groups. As hotel residents, we have priority and are in group # 1.

We exit through the rear of the hotel, each group being led by a local naturalist with a torch. Initially there is a smoothish gravel path, but soon the ground becomes like slippery mud, then slightly looser sand. As we get near to the water, the sand is deep and soft, making walking rather hard work.

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_10.jpg
This photo, taken the next morning, shows the gravel path leading out from the hotel

large_Ras_al_Jinz_Hotel_11.jpg
Here you can see the 'slippery mud' (the shiny bit reflecting the sun) and just how far away the sea is.

With just a small torch, it is hard to see what is going on, but eventually we come across the one and only female who is on this beach today. She has finished laying her eggs and is now covering them with sand, ready for her to leave them to their own devises as she returns to sea. Flash photography is strictly forbidden, as is individual torches, making for very dark conditions for getting any sort of photograph of the turtle. (For my photography friends: these images were taken on ISO 32,000)

large_Turtles_at..ying_Eggs_1.jpg

After digging a hole by scooping out clouds of sand with her flippers, the turtle deposits up to 100 eggs, before carefully covering them again and returning to sea, exhausted.

large_Turtles_at..ying_Eggs_2.jpg

The eggs take around 60 days to hatch, and the tiny creatures then have to not just burrow their way to the surface of the sand; they have to make it safely to the ocean, avoiding any predators on the way.

large_Turtles_at..ying_Eggs_3.jpg

AS there is only one turtle on the beach tonight, each group is only given five minutes at the nesting site, before moving on to make room for the next group.

large_Turtles_at..ying_Eggs_4.jpg

Sitting on a rock at the water's edge I become aware of something luminous in the water, being washed up on the beach with each wave: bioluminescent algae or glow-in-the-dark plankton. Never having seen this phenomenon before, I am absolutely mesmerised. Trying to take photos proves impossible, so I just sit there enjoying the spectacle, which coupled with the bright starry sky above, makes this a totally magical moment.

large_Turtles_at..ying_Eggs_5.jpg

As we leave to return to the hotel, the turtle has finished her duty and sets off to sea. Confused by all the people crowding around her, she leaves the nesting site in the wrong direction, and it saddens me that maybe we have caused her some unnecessary stress by our presence here tonight. Or at least the sheer numbers of us – there must be between 70 and 80 tourists here this evening.

Returning to the hotel we are offered a ride in the pick-up truck, which we gladly accept.

What a perfect ending to an amazing day! Thank you Undiscovered Destination for this fabulous trip.

large_4DC7DBECF10B5A753C8415B09867DA0F.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 04:05 Archived in Oman Tagged mountains boats turtles fish oasis park canyon scenery breakfast valley sur ships sinkhole coffee oman stars buffet muscat wadi dhow dates shipyard fish_market ragged starry_night short-cut outer_worldly bimmah bimmah_sinkhole sink_hole hawiyat_najm_park kahwa wadi_shab ras_al_jinz bioluminescent glow_in_the_dark_plankton plankton egg_laying tiwi wadi_tiwi Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]