The indigo sky slightly turns greyish-blue over the Bedouin tents in the sleepy camp while in the east the sun announces itself with a pinkish hue. Venus is still bright in the clear sky. Colours appear slowly tainting the dunes in their warm orange before shadows give them more relief. The wind is still a bit cold over my bare arms and I am looking forward to the sun warming up the humid sand I am seating on on top of the dune overlooking the Omani desert. The sound of silence resonates loudly only to be broken randomly by the chirping of a few birds and the bleat of a goat in the distance.
I am surrounded by an infinity of dunes. A bit lower down, a few acacia trees here and there dot the valley between their ranges. Suddenly the bright orange sun rises behind the horizon of sand. The desert is waking up. A few sounds come from the camp in the distance my footprints in the sand lead to.
The smoke of the fire rises discretely and I hear some clapping: our host Humied has probably started baking some desert bread or gursh as Bedouins call it. The simple bread is a made of salt, flour and water the shape of a pancake, baked directly on the charcoals for a few seconds, and flattened by hand. Looking forward to having some warm gursh for breakfast, I look around one last time and walk back to the camp, jumping in dunes going downhill and feeling my thigh muscles on the way up.
The desert has been home to the Bedouins for thousands of years. If some families still live their traditional nomadic lifestyle with their herds of camels and goats in the Empty Quarter of Oman, today modern life tends to force Bedouins to settle down to get access to facilities like schools, roads and more. Over 25 years ago, Humied’s family pioneered desert camps to allow travellers to experience their traditional way of living. Of course, some adaptations had to be made as regulations make the nomadic essence of such camps hardly possible to abide by. The precious well ensures water supply from 153 metres below. No swimming pools, nor air conditioning units to be seen here (but for one in case of emergency in the boiling hot summer days), but traditional huts made of palms and Bedouin tents made of sheep wool with their traditional dark brown and white horizontal stripes. A few larger tents for gathering and sharing khawa (the Omani coffee flavoured with cardamom) and dates over discussions mark the living centre of the camp. Until still fairly recently, these tents were the resting quarters of Bedouins during the hot days before resuming journeys at night, preferably around full moon.
Today, we leave the naturally ventilated palm hut to brave the heat. Despite the 37°C and the burning sun, the desert is calling. There is something about seeing what is behind the next dune and we hike until we are halfway in our water supply. We come across a few camels, mostly used today for tourists to ride. Locals prefer camel races or dune bashing in powerful 4×4’s up and down the dunes, and the steeper, the better. Humied has a wide smile on his face as we are holding on tight to anything we can in his Toyota Land Cruiser surfing the dunes. He eventually stops in the infinity of the desert at his favourite sunset spot. Despite appearances, not every dune is the same and the landscape is actually pretty varied. Venturing on our own, we spot a rare Arabian Wildcat that seems to fly over the dunes giving a bit more magic to the moment. Soon, gathered around a traditional brass pot and some dates, Humied is serving some Omani coffee for us to enjoy with the very last sun-rays.
Our warm skins cool down fast once the sun has set and we make our way back to the camp to dine under the stars by a fire. Traditional Omani dishes consist mostly of meat mixed with seasoned rice and have been adapted to picky travellers: the chicken, served on the side replaces the traditional goat or camel meat. Humus, Arabic salads and fresh fruits top it off. Seated on pillows on the floor, a couple of young men start playing Arabian music on an oud – a pear-shaped guitar with 12 strings – and darbuka drum. With their voices, it sounds like a whole orchestra is performing! As the rhythm picks up, some local Bedouins join in for a dance in their elegant dishdasha, rotating a stick above their heads to the rhythm of the drums. Above us some shooting stars vanish in the darkness.
Enjoying the simplicity of life to the fullest, here in the serenity of the Omani desert, we soon retract into our traditional Bedouin tent. Dreams will involve camels, wildcats, dunes, smiling Bedouins and shooting stars until the desert wakes up again.
Marcella & Claire
- To live this adventure, reach out to Nomadic Desert Camp, the pioneers of desert camps and run by a local Bedouin family. Ask for dune bashing, 4×4 driving, desert crossing, sandboarding, camel riding (or even camel safari for multiple days). These guys, who focus on the simple and traditional welcoming lifestyle will give you the desert experience of a life time!
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Zoom in on the area of interest, and check out the black pins: each of them corresponds to an article.
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What to do in Oman:
Part of this article was published in the Beyond Boundaries e-magazine by Xtreme Adventure: