A Thirst for the Ocean
I grew up far from the gentle lapping of waves, and perhaps because of that, easily fall for the murmur of the ocean’s voice. Not being a water baby, it takes quite a bit of encouragement for me to take a salty dip. If the day is hot and the water tepid, I have no problem with floating aimlessly around on my back, but for the most part, I prefer long walks on the beach with the water just swirling around my ankles. Late afternoons make for my favourite time to be on the beach when the sun’s harshness retreats into the muted tones of tranquility, but early mornings just before sunrise are just as soothing and seductive a treat. Living in Al Ain in the middle of desert landscapes, I often yearn for the coolness of a soft ocean breeze.
I just came back from visiting a friend in Oman, and to my delight, the sea was never far away. With a coastline of about 2000km, the country offers many opportunities to be near, on, or in water, and as the days are growing hotter with the approach of summer, it spelled bliss. The late afternoon beach walks in Muscat with Carol were a delight, and provided us with much entertainment, as we tried to dodge soccer balls from the many soccer games in progress. Not one inch of beach was wasted, which of course meant that the joggers and walkers had to navigate the water’s edge. Many a time we had to kick a stray ball back towards a game, saving it from a drenching, with various results and inevitable laughing. One man, losing complete interest in the game as we strolled past, kindly offered: “You need bodyguard?”
There are many deserted beaches close to Muscat that can only be reached by boat, and many boat companies will gladly drop you off and pick you up again, either for a day outing or an overnight camping trip. The rugged coastline here is barren and dry, with mountains dipping their toes in the cooling water that is never far away.
Snorkeling and diving in the crystal clear water of the many bays not only allows one to discover a different world, but also provides a welcome reprieve from the lingering heat. Oman is doing its best to protect its marine life, and during my stay I was blessed to see many turtles gliding through the pond-like water or sticking their heads out for a gulp of air.
Our boat trip brought us in close proximity of Spinner dolphins, while the cool breeze felt great on my face and the view of the coastline left me in awe of its rugged beauty.
The best time of the day for me to catch a bit of sun without turning lobster-red, is early in the morning. The Yacht Club in Muscat has a lovely private beach that is swept early each morning, and not only provides ample shade, but comfortable loungers too. This is where we spent a couple of blissful hours one morning watching boats being launched and reading in the welcoming shade of a palm tree.
As a special treat, on the last day of my visit, we went for lunch at the grand dame of hotels, the Al Bustan Palace Hotel. It is a great option for those days when you do not want to feel the sand between your toes, but still have the need to be close to the ocean. The view from the Al Khiran Terrace Restaurant was a feast for the eyes, and we lingered over lunch, eating far too much.
Built in 1985 it was the first of the Gulf States’ over-the-top luxury hotels, and has earned a reputation as the “jewel of the Sultanate”. The 38-meter high domed marble-and-gold atrium lobby is impressive and the place where the hotel serves a very popular high-tea daily.
The best part of the trip for me, was the two days we went to Ras al Had, a sleepy fishing village about 200km south of Muscat, and a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Here the nights are quiet with skies littered with stars, and if you are lucky, you can also witness a Green Turtle laying her eggs. We stayed at the rustic-looking, yet very comfortable Turtle Beach Resorts. Their logo claims that it is “the place where the sun rises first in the Arab Peninsula”, and true or not, alone on the beach at sunrise, I felt as if I had stumbled upon paradise itself.