Before we left, Hilal took us and the family to his uncles house for a engagement ceremony lunch. Many of the relatives in the area came by also (which means a ton of people). As per traditional the men and women ate separately. The men’s room was packed. We sat on the floor in three circles of 5 or 6 people each. I had the honor of sitting next to Hilal’s uncle who was the elder in the group. The kids did all the serving (one traditional I wish we had back home – instead we spoil them)
. First the plastic goes down (for all the food that is spilled due to eating with your hands). Then this huge plate of rice with chicken on top went to all three circles along with hot sauce (Omanis love this more than people from Louisiana), and cold cut veggies. During the meal nobody drinks anything which is hard to get used to. After 4 weeks in Arabia I’m not too bad in eating with my hands. I do drop less food than the locals. But that’s also because I put less food in my hand. A typical Omani puts a handful of rice and meat in the hand, presses it a little to form a ball and then pops it in the mouth. I have found that even I eat less than most Omani men (and I can usualy put some food down it I want too). My plan was to loose some weight over this holiday but Hilal has fed me too well. I guess that means exercise back home. During lunch I was feeling good about myself as my little group had just about finished our huge plate. But then another huge plate of chicken and rice came down upon me. Everybody looked at me and said "eat!!" So I ate a little more but with quarter hand-full. After lunch came the drinks – YES!! First came some bottle water in small cups like school orange juice. Then the 2 liter bottles of Pepsi and Mountain Dew – these Omanis really love the Dew. But I really have to educate these people to drink more of the finest cola in the world – Coca Cola. During the lunch every time someone new came in everyone stood up and shook their hand and greeted one another
. I guess this is a good way to get some exercise.
After lunch, Pooja and I drove off for our 2nd desert camping adventure. Pooja drove the 130 km to the entrance of the desert –called the Wahiba Sands. First we got some gas (don’t want to run out in the desert) and went to a tire shop to get the tires deflated to 17 pps (I could have done this but I don’t think anyone owns a tire gauge). After the tires, we went to the entrance of the sands. There, we found a little forest of bushes and collected some fire wood (or in this case fire twigs). Pooja ended up going crazy on this part and loaded up the entire back of the Pajero. Every so often people would stop by in their cars to see if we were OK or if we needed a guide to the sands. Since Hilal had already taken us once, we thought we knew what we were doing. I took over the driving here.
The place where we are going to camp is 37 km in the sands. At first I drove a little slow with a few people passing me. To follow the “road” in the sands you just follow where others have been. Sometimes it is a narrow passage between sand dunes and at other times the road is 1 km wide. 16 km in we passed the sign for the 1001 nights desert camp (which we tent camp close to) and turned to go up the dune where others were already dune bashing. I went up this crazy looking dune (much steeper than I remember Hilal going up the last time)
. But with Pooja’s encouragement and the 4x4 on in the lowest gear, we made it up the 45 degree angle dune. At the top, the trail stopped. Where to go now? We got out of the car and looked all around. Pooja even went up to the tallest dune but could not find the track. Were we lost? Around us was this Indian doing crazy 4x4 tricks in the sand and jumping dunes. Since the sun was going down quickly we decided to regroup and head down the dune. Going down is OK as long as you keep the car straight down – if it turns sideways you can easily flip over. We went back on the main road and a few km latter we found where we were suppose to go up for the camp. This ramp up the dunes was much easier than then one a few km back. This was the fun part of the trip – we were now on top of the dunes and we were going up and down these little humps of sand and bouncing all around. I really do love this driving.
After 15 km more we found our campsite. However, it was very windy. So getting the tent up was not easy and sand was blowing everywhere. It only took us 5 min. to get the ten up but still there was a ton of sand in our tent. By now the sun had already set (everything was set up in the nick of time). After blowing up the bed it was now time to light the campfire. With all the wind it took awhile. Another handicap was the fact that the lighter was left at home. That makes lighting a campfire even harder. So, I took some paper out of my notebook and lit the paper with the stove (not the safest method in the world but our only choice)
. The first few attempts failed. Then, I broke some of the twigs into small pieces and then put the burning paper under it. This did the trick. Then we put the big twigs (no logs here) on top of that. Since these were just twigs the fire did not last too long (although we did back a trunk full of them). As I sat watching my fire in the dark desert, Pooja made her shisha and said it was one of the best. However, by now the stove had so much sand in it (it was still pretty windy with sand all over) that it failed to light anymore. So no noodles for dinner tonight. We would have to do with a small bag of Chips Oman (best chips in the world) and Mangos (thank goodness we had a massive lunch). As the fire was going out I just lay in the sand and watched billions of stars. The sand was so soft I could have just slept here but I would have been under the sand by the morning. After our huge dinner of fruits we went to sleep – though it took awhile since the wind was blowing the tent pretty hard.
Very lazy morning just sitting around and reading. Pooja and I packed out backpacks for the camping night out in the desert. We really don't need much since it is just one night and the desert is only 130 km away. Hilal got us some fruit from the store and a medium sized cooler to keep everything cool from the desert. We did not see much of Hilal this morning as he was very busy with all his Oman jobs (that’s after flying in yesterday from his Dubai job). We packed camping gear in the Pajero (tent, bed, stove, snacks, cooler).