Goats on Boats? – Day 17

Day 17 represented our third attempt to get into Oman – after being denied entry twice the day before. Once again, we drove up the coast and arrived at the Omani border. We were all pretty nervous because of the issues we had the day before and we really wanted to make this visit to Oman happen. As we walked into the “Departure Hall”, we paid our fee, got a laugh from the friendliest custom’s officers in the world, they stamped our passports and we left the UAE.

 

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Goat crossing – yes, I had to honk to clear the road at one point.

10 feet later, we had been welcomed by the Sultanate of Oman and had to go into their “Arrival Hall” to request visas. Their arrival hall and custom’s officers were not nearly as professional as the UAE’s. But regardless, they got us started on requesting visas.and before we knew it (and another 50 dirham – ~$13 – later), we were back in the car and on our way.

 

This is where the trip really got started and it was incredible on all fronts. Let’s start with the fact that no one in our group had never thought of going to Oman…. ever, or even knew anything about it before we got there. Within a mile of being in Oman, the claim that the sites were amazing had been validated. The road was hugging the coast and aqua blue sea on one side, with giant rock cliffs on the other. It was a perfectly paved 2 lane road with lights lining the street and pull off parking so you could stop to take pictures.

 

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Never thought I’d say, I drove us to Oman. But now I can – here’s the proof.

We stopped twice to take pictures in the first 5 miles of the drive. Finally the group decided we would never make it to Khasab at that rate and we needed to get there first – we could just stop for pictures on the way back.

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As we continued to ride along the coast and take in breathtaking views of the mountains, water and small cities along the fjords, our UAE radio station blasting out today’s American hits. It made us laugh that we heard “She Looks So Perfect” by 5 Seconds of Summer rolling along the cliffs of Oman.

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Our ride on the beach.

An hour or so past the border, we arrived in Khasab. Many people refer to Khasab as the Norway of Arabia and from what I read, it is because of the rock formations and the fjords, which are similar to those in Scandinavia, although much warmer. The town itself was very very small and seemingly it was deserted. As we tried to find a lunch spot, it looked like there were only three options, Yemeni food, Omani BBQ, or a supermarket. We decided to go to with Omani BBQ where we ate kabob, rice and cucumber/tomato salad on a raised floor – I never heard of Omani BBQ, but it exceeded expectations.

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Next, we set out to find a dhow cruise to take us out into the Straits of Hormuz – we had heard this was the “can’t miss” thing to do. The first place we went to was closed, but the second place we went in, the guy said we could go on a cruise for 100 dirham ($27) in 15 minutes, no problem.

 

With that, we drove over to the Khasab marina and boarded a dhow cruise boat. There were about 15 people on the boat from all over the world, India, Germany and Australia among them. As the boat set out the views were already incredible. We hugged the coast until we ended up in a large bay. As we coasted through the bay, all the sudden we saw a pod of dolphins 100 feet away. We hovered around for a while as the dolphins got comfortable with us, then, all the sudden we gave it some gas. As we motored across the bay, all the sudden there were dolphins on both sides of the boat trying to keep up, maybe 5-10 feet away from the boat. At one point, there were 3 dolphins on one side and 2 on the other. To see the dolphins next to us was crazy to see; they were much bigger than expected.

 

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Two of the dolphins racing to keep up with the boat.

After a few rounds of this, our boat cruised further into the bay until we arrived at a rock in the middle of it where we anchored. The captain was throwing pieces of bananas into the water, which amazingly, was attracting hundreds of rainbow type fish to hover in the area and attack as soon as it hit the water. The crew then distributed the snorkeling gear and our group jumped into the water off the side of the boat.

 

Travis took his quadricopter out and it took off from the boat to get an aerial view of the area (or to do surveillance in Oman – either is possible), which turned out great as well.

 

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View from the onboard camera on the quadricopter. That’s me in mid air jumping off the boat.

Eventually I snorkeled to shore to explore, but I didn’t have shoes and the island was all rock and gravel. Terribly painful. After a while, I just decided to wear the flippers to salvage my feet from any more pain. It looked hilarious, but it was 1000 times better on my feet.

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As the sun began to set and we got close to the port, all the sudden we saw 100 speedboats (no joke, there were a ton of them) filled with cargo covered in green tarps speeding off directly away from shore, seemingly into the center of the Straits of Hormuz. My initial thought was I thought it was a speed boat race, but then I saw the cargo, and thought they must be headed to Iran. The team thought this was impossible since Iran and Oman are not friends, but Matt later found out, that the boats head to Iran. It’s not weapons or drugs or anything, but just American products they can’t get in Iran (TV’s, cigarettes, clothes, etc.). Apparently, the boats come from Iran in the morning, full of goats (yes, goats on boats – sounds like a rap song) and other cargo, and then they leave right at sunset to increase the chances they won’t be caught by the Iranian Navy. It’s a bit freaky to think about, and also makes you think about how close you are to Iran there – 30 to 45 minutes on a boat – but it didn’t feel unsafe, and I don’t think it was. A couple boats even waved at us as we went back to shore.

 

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Some of the hundred or so Iranian smugglers starting the journey across the Straits of Hormuz.

As we went back up the coast, headed back to the UAE, we enjoyed the sunset and realized Oman is truly a hidden gem.

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For those wondering exactly where we were.

For those wondering exactly where we were, here you go.

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