My Jeep is not new. But as something of a celebration of the one hundred-thousandth kilometer since it was, a road trip seemed in order. And where better to exercise a Jeep than in the spectacular wadis and mountains of the Hajar Al Sharqi, in north-east Oman.
After the drive down from Dubai to Muscat, I was ready for some action: the new highway from the UAE border may be a tremendous feat of engineering, but it is featureless and has no services or scenery to break up the monotony. I eventually detoured to the old coast road 100km from Muscat to relieve the boredom and top up with fuel. Once in familiar territory, it seemed to take no time at all to reach my hotel in Ruwi, a good central point from which to explore.
Highway 17 runs from Muscat to Sur following the coast of the Sea of Oman almost all the way from Muscat, and is bordered by some of the steepest tracks in the whole region – narrow, often precipitous, but always superbly maintained, these twisty access ways are not for the faint-hearted. You will also need complete faith in your vehicle, as there are few places to break down safely!
Climbing to almost 1400metres (four-and-a-half thousand feet) from the coast at Fins, about halfway between Muscat and Sur, affords amazing views of the coast and a welcome five-degree drop in temperature – it must be really cold up here in the winter! The track, partly paved on the steepest and most slippery turns, doubles and redoubles on itself to the extent that, without the trusty Garmin, I would have no idea where I was.
By great good fortune, I am joined on the mountains by Elvis Ferrao, ace snapper of this medium and brave man indeed: Elvis should really have warned me about his acrophobia since he would be spending the trip in the passenger seat of the Jeep, the seat closest to the drops! But the best photographs in this story are unquestionably his.
We motored across the top of Jabal Bani Jabir, past the Majlis of The Jinn, and back down Wadi Tiwi to the coast, taking a good five hours to reach a well-earned cup of tea in a coffee shop in the fishing village of Tiwi, one of the Sultanate’s sites of ancient Iron Age archeological interest. A quick detour through Wadi Lahloo, to break the motorway drive back, gave us some mad backdrops for a few evening pictures.
Day two found us staying a little flatter, (much to “Picmeister” Elvis’ relief!) running around the wadis to the immediate north west of the capital. Wadi Al Khoud still had some water, even in late August and the bed of the wadi provided some excellent photographic opportunities to shoot the Jeep on its 100,000km anniversary. We toured the heights above Ruwi and drove past the 300-billion-year-old schist rock formations in Wadi Mai on a day-long round trip that took us back to town for an opportunity to refresh parched throats…
Oman remains one of my favourite driving destinations – I have driven on and off road in more than fifty countries, and in all sorts of conditions, but returning to Oman is always like visiting an old friend.
To be able to drive an old friend, to meet up with a newer friend when I got there and to be met with friendly faces at every turn, no matter how remote, is what makes any trip special. That the Jeep looks just as fresh, from a 1600km round trip, after a good bath this morning, is just icing on the cake!
Fraser M. Martin, Dubai