Sharqiya Sands is a desert region in Oman. Through a friend of mine (thanks again!) we got the number of Bader, a local beduin. We called him and he immediately agreed to meet us and take us around the desert.
Before reaching Al Wasl, where we were supposed to meet Bader, we made a stop in Ibra. It was a Wednesday, the day when Ibra souq is at its most lively and the only day in the week the women’s souq is open. But, once again, we were too late, and the souqs had already closed. So instead, we went to the old quarter of Ibra.
The town was once an important trading center and is one of the oldest cities in Oman. Ibra became wealthy through trade with Zanzibar and the town’s people built big two- or three-story houses, almost palaces, with elaborately carved wooden doors, painted ceilings, inscriptions, and archways. Although the houses in the old quarter are now just ruins, they still speak of the wealth of their former inhabitants.
Into the desert
In Al Wasl we met Bader’s brother, who was going to bring us to his family’s desert camp. Before leaving, we had to reduce the air pressure in the tires of our car to be able to drive on sand. Driving on sand is pretty easy – if it’s flat and the sand is not too soft, that is. As soon as we had to drive up a hill however, I got immediately stuck and ceded the driving wheel to Hossam who managed to get us over the hill and to the camp.
The camp is lovely; it consists of a covered sitting area, an open area with a place to make fire, a carpet and pillows, and two tents. The Beduins are famous for their hospitality, and justifiably so. As soon as we arrived, our hosts made a fire and we received Omani coffee and dates, and later a huge plate of delicious spice rice and grilled chicken. We ate the Beduin way – by hand. After dinner, we sat around the fire chatting with Bader and his brothers or just enjoying the absolute stillness of the desert.
Exploring the desert
The next day we went on a desert-discovery tour with Bader. In his car, obviously. We may have rented a 4WD, which was great to drive up to the camp, but it was not a car to cruise around in the dunes (plus, yes, I admit it, I lacked all experience of driving on sand).
The desert’s sand is red – many shapes of red – and dotted with bushes and the occasional tree. Camels, goats and sheep graze on the scarce vegetation, lizards hide in the sand, and foxes – the big enemy of the goats and sheep – live in holes in the ground. The Beduins depend on their animals and while camels can go a month without drinking, goats and sheep need water every day.
Today, that water is brought from town in huge tanks on pick-ups. Not that long ago, however, people had to walk far to get water and transport it back to the camps with camels.
We had lunch in the shadow of a tree; goat and chicken with bread and plain yogurt. Delicious. Plus, of course, coffee with dates and halwa, a typical Omani sweet with a soft, almost jelly-like consistency made of honey or sugar and flavored with saffron and/ or rose water (you can try it in shops selling halwa in Muscat and other cities).
After lunch, Bader took us to two old Beduin women. The two sisters live like people have lived here in the desert for hundreds of years. They share a small hut, cook on a fire outside, and keep a few goats and sheep. It’s a lifestyle that is fast disappearing. Bader and his family still live in the desert, dress traditionally, and keep cattle, but they also have cars, smartphones, and live in a house. These two women, however, refuse to leave their hut and prefer to live the life they’ve always known. It’s beautiful to see but at the same time, it’s sad to know that they’re one of the last people living that traditional life.
Going for a camel ride
When we got back to the camp, three camels were waiting for us (for ten days, we were three travelers, not two: My dear mother joined us in Oman; I’m still so happy and thankful she did so!). Patiently, the camels lied down and let Bader put their saddles on. They’re amazing animals, so calm and patient. But they do have a sweet tooth (for grass) and like to stop every time they see a deliciously looking tuft of grass.
So we went for a ride as the shadows grew longer and the sands became redder. A perfect ending to a perfect day. Well, almost. The end, I mean. After quite a long, swaying ride we got back to the camp where Bader lit a fire and made fresh bread. While waiting, we played with his little son, a wonderful kid who doesn’t need any colorful plastic stuff to be happy.
The (too) short time in the desert was a highlight of our journey so far. The landscape, the animals, the atmosphere, and, of course, the warmhearted and hospitable people we met there made these days unforgettable.
If you’d like to contact Bader, here’s his mobile number: +968 9225 3882. You can call him or contact him by WhatsApp. He speaks good English but doesn’t write it very well. If you can’t call him, you can also contact us and we will communicate with him in Arabic and help you organize your trip. Important when planning your trip: Avoid weekends (Friday and Saturday)!
We feel that it’s important to support Beduin people so they can keep on living in the desert and preserve their traditions and lifestyle. Many desert camps for tourists are run by foreigners so you don’t really get a feel for Beduin lifestyle.