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Cruising the Musandam Fjords

OMAN | Tuesday, 8 April 2014 | Views [2310]

Musandam

Musandam

Pristine. The word echoes in my head the entire weekend. Wherever I look, I see pristine beauty. The rugged, rocky coastline. The sea and its shimmering shades of blue and green. Hidden bays and inlets, coves and overhanging rocks. Remote villages beneath sheer cliffs, the intense blue sky.

The drive from Dubai to Khasab takes about three hours, more depending on border formalities. Once you've passed the Omani border, the road becomes increasingly scenic as it serpents past soaring high cliffs of barren rock set against the bluest of seas. We pass through a traditional village. It is early Friday morning, and everything is quiet. A buffalo is taking all the time in the world to cross the road. I see a donkey by a tree, a goat on top of the garbage bin. A couple of kids are playing in the street, a group of men sit together just outside a tiny kebab place.

The road continues and we pass a cliff so steep that it dizzies me as I look up through the sun roof. On a beach in the curve of the road, fishermen are pulling in their nets by long ropes, bare feet dug deep in the sand, backs bent as they give it all of their strength. When we pass the village of Mukhi, the phone rings. It's the dhow company, hoping we are near as the midday hour approaches. Soon after, we arrive in the harbor of Khasab.

We climb aboard a bright blue dhow, in excited anticipation. We sit down on the cushions along the railing. Trays of bananas and apples, hot sweet tea, cardamom scented coffee, and a box of beautiful sticky dates come around as the dhow leaves the harbor. The dates in particular are popular. They are from the owner's own date palm grove, and have a sweet sticky chewiness as good as toffee made with caramel and butter.

We get to meet the owner later that evening around the campfire, and enjoy his stories of how he started his company years and years ago. "I am a fisherman, and I started with my fishing boat, taking people around the fjords." Combining forces with likeminded local individuals, it grew into the successful sea adventures and tours company it is today (website below). We talk about his date palm grove, and he explains how he makes date syrup: ripe dates are gathered in cloth bags and suspended over earthenware pots. The weight of the dates presses the syrup out. "You must come to my house and taste our homemade date honey," he invites us.

The captain with his weathered face looks completely in his element, as he steers his dhow through the waters of Musandam. We are relaxed in the cushions, looking out over the water to the rocks and cliffs. Suddenly, the captain points into the water and starts to whistle. We rush to the side. A humpback dolphin caught up with our boat and playfully swims along. Its large grey shape is easily spotted just below the surface. Every now and then it comes up for a dive, seems to smile at us and then disappears under the boat to come up again on the other side. It happens again and again, and we never tire of these beautiful creatures.
 
We anchor in a small inlet for lunch and a swim. We are not alone: shoals of colorful fish swim around us. The refreshing dip whets our appetite for lunch on board. It is a healthy lunch. Spiced rice with a vegetable curry, grilled chicken, mixed Arabic salad, hummus, and pita bread. Kept warm in double-walled pots, it tastes magnificent on deck of this dhow gently bobbing in the quiet bay under the rocks.
 
When we sail into a secluded bay, we spot a camp set up with tents, and a long table and chairs, right underneath a steep cliff. It is ours for the night, and excited we jump ship. Literally: I land feet first in the water as it laps at the sandy beach. Dinner is grilled freshly-caught fish and squid on the BBQ, as well as some mighty juicy marinated chicken legs. We sit by the camp fire for a long time. The clear dark night sky is sprinkled with stars, the moon shines in the calm bay water. What a beauty!
 
 

The silence of the clear morning is breathtaking. The sun is still behind the cliffs, and there is a crisp chill in the air. The sea is perfectly calm and pale blue in the early morning sunlight. A couple of brave ones in our group decide to go for an early morning dip, claiming the water is "not at all cold", but their clenched teeth suggest otherwise. And then the first rays of sun drop over the cliff. We leave the campsite after a basic breakfast of fruits, bread, boiled eggs, jams, and cream cheese, and climb back aboard the Dhow for a full day sailing along the coast to pass by the remote village of Kumzar. Located on the Strait of Hormuz, this most northerly inhabited village in Oman has been there for over 500 years, accessible only by boat.

 

When we anchor for lunch, we spot a fishing boat a little further down the bay. Pearl divers. One of them remains in the boat, the other one goes down with snorkel and mask. He does bring up a couple of large shells, but we cannot see any pearls from our distance. We simply enjoy this bonus bit ofcouleur locale from the comforts of our cushions.

 

Back in the harbor, the owner is waiting for us. He hasn't forgotten his promise, and asks us to follow him to his date palm grove first, and his home after. It is an absolute privilege, and an extremely pleasant one at that. His wife has made us cakes and legaimatserved with homemade date syrup. The ladies in our group are invited to meet her in the kitchen, where she shows us how to fry the delicious legaimat : you "pinch" thumb and first two fingers together, dip into the dough to pick up a dollop, and drop it in the hot oil to fry. Back in the house majlis we sit on the cushions around the carpets, enjoy hot karwa (Omani coffee spiced with cardamom and cloves), and exchange stories with our host. It is the most wonderful conclusion of an unforgettable weekend.

 
 
Dubai - United Arab Emirates
   
2 hours 30 mins
  Khasab, Oman

183.4 km

 

From: Dubai - United Arab Emirates To: Khasab, Oman

 

  • Khasab is a harbor town in the northernmost province of Oman. It is the jumping point for boat tours of the Musandam fjords (Dibba al Fujairah is another). Khasab is reached by direct road from Dubai in 2.5 hrs, barring traffic and border formalities. It takes you through three more Emirates: Sharjah, Umm al Quwain, and Ras al Khaima, before you reach the border with Oman. If you drive your own car, make sure you carry your car license with you! The border is an adventure in itself: you park the car, get inside, and wait in line to get your passport stamped. This is to exit the UAE. You drive through the border control, show the stamp, and then park again to repeat the process, this time to enter Oman. It is the same procedure on the way back. (map taken from Google Maps)
  • Musandam Sea Adventures Travel & Tourism (www.msaoman.com) is a Musandam based companies specialized in tours of the Musandam fjords. They are outfitted with several dhows with onboard equipment for snorkeling, diving, fishing (depending on what tour you book), their private campsite is very well setup and complete with tents, bedding, toilet tent, seating (dining, campfire & majlis). Ours was a private overnight camping trip with our own group. 
  • Legaimat are crunchy fried little dough balls, served with a sweet dipping sauce often flavored with spice, saffron, and lemon. It is an Arab dessert popular throughout the Gulf countries. Legaimat comes in different spellings (I have also seen gaimat and lgemat, for instance), as well as different pronunciations. Our host pronounced it "lokamah", and served them with homemade date syrup.
  • The majlis is an Arabic term for "sitting area", and in the private home is a room (usually separate for male and female) where you entertain your guests.

Tags: adventure, beach, nature, sunset, wildlife

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