11.26.2013

Jebel Akdar: Wild Camping on the Saiq Plateau


To hear Max tell it my people crawled out of caves only a few years ago and we've just recently learned to use an indoor toilet.  That is to say, my family camped while I was growing up.  Max told me a few of his colleagues were shocked to hear that we went camping on Oman's highest mountain, Jebel Akdar, a few weeks ago and that it was by my instigation.  That's nothing,  he tells his be-suited colleagues, Brooke has been on an honest to gosh cattle drive - on the saddle, multiple days and nights, camping along the way.  While that is true, let's not explore the ways in which this event in my life was closer to a scene in City Slickers than one from the life of Calamity Jane, showing up for the cattle drive in my coolest vintage jogging jacket plucked from our local thrift store, everyone else more appropriately adorned in plaid and spurs.

But anyways, a few weeks ago Max and I scaled the nearly 10,000 feet of Jebel Akdar to explore the Saiq Plateau and hunker down for the night.  As we ascended miles and miles of switchbacks the temperature dropped 20 degrees.  We rolled down sleeves and opened windows to feel the fresh air.  The roads were lined with dozens of pomegranate sellers boasting crates of pinky fruit just picked from the orchards.  Jebel Akdar's moderate temperatures have allowed fruit to grow that could never survive in the lower, harsher desert climate: peaches, pomegranates, grapes, pears, apples.
Al Ayn
Mostly by accident we arrived at the lovely village of Al Ayn, formed on the edge of a rock-spur exploding into the empty space of a giant gorge below.  The village is built on a very steep incline and as I walked deeper into the village I descended below fruit trees and stone water troughs carrying water along the mountainside throughout the village called Falaj.         

We built a fire (for the record MAX built the fire) cooked a meal of kefta in our little grill and settled into complete silence.  Everything was lovely and picturesque, like we'd been re-inacting a scene from an American Eagle campaign (minus the trendy clothes, plus a normal body weight) until we extinguished the fire and zipped ourselves in the tent for the night.

The terror.  The donkey induced terror.  After dozing for a few minutes Buckley started to grumble - that strange, hesitant dog grumble when they think something is near but aren't quite sure.  Then we heard wild donkeys braying and racing past our tent.  Donkeys on their own aren't very scary, but then I started to wonder what else was out there.  No one knows where we are.  A friendly park ranger hasn't checked us into our campsite and noted our license plate number I began to think.  The rules for camping in Oman are simple:  If it isn't someone's private property or restricted by a sign, you can throw a tent down and camp.  It makes for some pretty great wild camping, but also a wee bit of a fright when you find yourself alone in the wild, in a foreign country with only limited camping knowledge.  I don't even have a pocket knife!  My mind raced with how I would defend my family should worse come to worse, how I would navigate by the stars and find my way down the mountain and back home - a feat I in NO way could actually have performed.  We slept on and off, being awoken by donkeys, quiet dog noises and wind scuffles that sounded suspiciously like footsteps.  Despite a crap night, Max assured me that he had fun and we will, indeed, go camping again.  The mountain was beautiful and it certainly felt like a getaway.  

My family has been urbanized for generations Max tells his friends at work the next day, to contrast the vast difference in our upbringing and approach to the outdoors.  It is true my people were farmers but I grew up in a very suburban suburb of Salt Lake City.  Where, wouldn't you know it, gosh darn, I met the urbanized young man I now share a life with.  Who lived in my same county, had the same number of children in his family, attended the same church and worked an after school job just like me.  It's amazing how different two people from almost exactly identical childhood circumstances can turn out - He, sophisticated and worldy,  Me, gap toothed and wide eyed.  Shucks.  

If you can't tell, this has become a running joke at our house.  I have exaggerated the extent to which Max thinks of my people as ruffians because it gets his goat.  Every time :)     

Al Ayn
Al Ayn


7 comments:

  1. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. You and max are so witty and adventurous. I hope you someday become a novelist.

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  2. That looks fabulous and tempts me to invite myself for a visit if camping can be involved. :)

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  3. Invite yourself! Camping can definitely be involved :) Thanks Lucy!

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  4. The wild donkeys are a unique twist to camping, aren't they! We had one that stayed nearby our tent on Green Mountain and serenaded us throughout the night. The first braying had us flipping out; the 20th or so giggling because it was just so weird, the 40th or so there was a lot of sighing and trying to get back to sleep. The views of Jebel Akdar and the story fodder, I am sure, made up for the lack of sleep. We are looking forward to more of your adventures and photos!

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  6. Those little guys are vicious! A friend of ours had their dog chased down and had to intervene in an inter-species war outside their tent. Our little guy is about snack size so I think he'll be staying IN the tent :)

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  7. I would not want to be breaking up a pet dog wild donkey knockdown on the rocky and steep terrain. I agree: IN the tent most definitely!

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