Rim shots at Jabal Shams

Nizwa Travel Blog

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John with the old man who kept trying to sell me rocks! (Mark Kirchner photograph, all copyrights reserved)

Dawn for the second day of hiking revealed the stunning setting which Jabal Shams rested in.

Saif along the Rim Trail at Jabal Shams (Mark Kirchner photograph, all copyrights reserved)
  Feeling sunlight on your face this far up was bracing, the air still chilly from last night but whispering things would shortly be nice and toasty warm.  Everybody congregated in the restaurant for a buffet breakfast and soon returned to our rooms to re-pack.

Carted my pack out to Naseeb’s Patrol and dropped it along with a plastic bag containing wet clothes from yesterday’s hike, then strolled around the grounds to take in some of the views.  Heard the others and walked back, only to discover my wet clothes strewn all over the place --- damn goats!  The incident would lead to a running joke that goats ate my underwear at Jabal Shams.

We were practically at the trail head for today’s venture, the Rim Trail of Jabal Shams.  Not nearly as arduous as Snake Canyon, the appeal of this route was towering views and a visit to a deserted Arabian village nestled amongst the cliffs.

The trail is easy, but don't stray! You may notice there is a village about a mile below (white spots in the center)
  On the short drive over Naseeb asked if we minded him sitting this one out: he was tired and his sinuses were acting up from yesterday’s cold and wet.  In his stead he promised to hire Suleiman, a local who was intimate with the trail, to guide us.  We readily agreed, secretly pleased that we had outlasted our guide.

There were several decrepit huts around the beginning of the trail and Naseeb barked some Arabic at a pair of boys scampering about.  Suleiman’s wife (well, one of his wives) informed Naseeb that he had hiked down the wadi and wouldn’t return for several hours.  So the substitute for our substitute became Saif, Suleiman’s son.  While all of this was being sorted out, a really old dude with flowing white beard was holding a handful of rocks in my face, trying to get me to buy one.  Hurled all the Arabic I knew to make him stop, but he was persistent.  Fortunately Naseeb told me that the gentleman didn’t hear or see too well anymore and it was okay to ignore him.

Zooming in so you can see the village...

Naseeb accompanied us for a short ways and I followed him a bit too closely.  When he stopped suddenly I put my left foot down in the wrong place and heard a distinct snap, followed by excruciating pain.  I didn’t say anything, but after a few steps I knew this wasn’t one I was gonna walk off.  However, I would probably never pass this way again and already the views were amazing.  When Naseeb turned around I didn’t accompany him, committed to pushing ahead so long as I felt it was safe and could endure the pain.

The Rim Trail basically follows goat paths along the edge of Wadi Nakhr, an enormous and spectacular gorge.  Though the trail skirts the rim, it is a safe jaunt, probably a little under five miles to the deserted village and back.  Even though Saif only spoke a handful of English words, the relative ease of the path didn’t require any intense communication and he proved to be a wonderful guide.

Abandoned village along the cliffs at Jabal Shams
  Incredibly sure footed in his sandals, Saif would point out interesting sights along the way and had an uncanny knack to spot fossils along the trail.  All of the fossils he handed to us were ancient sea critters and it was hard to get my head around the fact that this trail, 10,000 above sea level, had once been underwater!

Took about two hours to reach the village, absorbing thrilling views and scenery the entire way.  Inside one of the hovels, Saif gestured at one nearby and uttered “baba”, which means father or grandfather, and we were stunned.  Perhaps the old guy trying to sell rocks had lived here?  We would learn later that this isolated spot had only been given up thirty years ago.  Both Saif’s father and grandfather had lived here.  The government apparently funded construction of the tenements back at the trail head to lure everyone back from the edge.

What we learned directly from Saif was that he was twenty years old, attended school in Al Hamra where he was in the twelfth grade, and that a school bus actually transported him back and forth.

Abandoned only thirty years ago...
  That didn’t explain what he was doing leading hikes on what one would have thought was a school day, but there could be many reasons why he was out and about today.

At the village we posed a question to Saif where the inhabitants got water.  Saif gestured up the path beyond the village and indicated fifteen minutes, or so we thought.  John and Mark took him up on the offer to visit, but my ankle was screaming with pain so I bid them farewell and found a shady spot to do some journal writing.

Naturally the side tour took a full hour, but I savored the utter peace of the environment.  Surrounded by magnificent views, a yawning chasm and towering rock faces was balm for the soul and I relished sitting on the sidelines.  Did get somewhat nervous when they ran late, but when they came back I learned Saif had introduced my companions to the village pond.

Daily view if you lived on the edge at Jabal Shams...
  Saif went for a quick dip and tried to entice the others to take a drink, but since they wouldn’t even sample tap water, the cultural immersion was limited to photographs, lol.

The return walk was mostly uphill, which was easier on my ankle although I wasn’t too happy that the leg which could potentially buckle was now poised on the edge of the rim.  The side trip put us seriously behind schedule...Naseeb was expecting us back at the village at 1PM, and it was 12:40PM when we started back.  We made the mistake of explaining this to Saif, who set a blistering pace.  Well, Saif simply appeared to be floating along in his sandals, but it was a pretty brisk uphill tempo for the rag tag collection of old farts behind him.  He would get way ahead, stop where there were a few rocks suitable for sitting on and give us a minute to catch our breath, then raise his arm and suggest “go”?  I was surprised how quickly we made it back, probably around 1:45PM, and I didn’t even mind having the old man pester me to buy his crappy rocks again.

John at the pond where folks from the abandoned village got water (Mark Kirchner photograph, all copyrights reserved)

Then Saif invited us inside their majlis, or family room, for coffee and dates.  This was quite an honor and reinforces the value of hiring a guide.  Naseeb was not only a capable guide and wonderful resource for all of our questions, his contacts had given us access we never could have imagined.  The majlis was a small, separate building with carpet, pillows and a few knick knacks adorning the walls (an umbrella was one of these decorations, perhaps the majlis also served as a closet).  We entered after removing our shoes and settled in.  Now Saif assumed the role of attentive host, plying us with dates and coffee that were refreshing after our hike.  A really special moment with the sole regret that we couldn’t do much more than acknowledge Saif’s graciousness due to language barriers.

The family started to gather around the door as we were enjoying the hospitality.

Trying to keep up with Saif on a mangled ankle at Jabal Shams --- I can laugh now, but this picture makes me question my sanity. (John Keener photo...all copyrights reserved)
  Saif had several younger brothers and soon they brought the air rifles down off of the majlis walls and started target shooting, doubtless enjoying the attention of visitors.  Naseeb even squeezed off a few rounds and I cannot begin to share how much I treasured this feeling of welcome.

Even Suleiman returned before we got out of the majlis, much older than I had anticipated (at least he looked old, I’m sure such a rugged lifestyle ages one).  One of Saif’s younger brothers reminded us life was difficult here: he had a nasty eye infection and walked around covering the eye with his hand.  In spite of the apparent poverty there was a palpable joy here you seldom sense.  On the way out in Naseeb’s Patrol, he stopped at the little souvenir stand Suleiman’s wives had set up.  Living at the beginning of such a splendid trail had certain economic advantages and we noticed four other white 4WD’s parked nearby.

Jabal Shams, Oman
  Naseeb paid one rial for a key chain the wives had braided from goat wool and I opened Pandora’s Box by buying another from the same wife.  Competitive spirit kicked in and Suleiman’s second wife aggressively marketed us to insure a sale of her own!

Mark and John wound up buying a few more and we headed off into the sun with no worries about what to do with those pesky extra keys…

We retraced our pathway through Al Hamra, stopping at Khaleej Al-Gubaira restaurant for a late lunch.  Clearly a tourist guide favorite, there were several more white 4WD’s parked along the road in front of this eatery.  While we were eating an obvious tourist (i.e., white male in western dress) opened the back of our vehicle, rummaged around in our cooler and plucked out a bottle of water.  John was watching this and when their eyes met, the guy realized what he had done.

Saif and John enjoying dates and coffee in Saif's majlis (Mark Kirchner photograph, all copyrights reserved)
  He sheepishly returned the bottle and any tension was relieved by laughter --- everyone appreciated how easy it was to confuse which white 4WD was your own!

It was a few more hours back to Muscat with one more photo opportunity.  Shortly after Nizwa we sidled down a narrow lane through a palm-studded oasis town.  I remarked how beautiful it was and asked where we were.  When Naseeb informed us this was Tanuf I asked whether this was the town bombed out of existence by the RAF during the Oman civil war in the 1950’s.  He told us it was indeed and pulled over so we could take some photos of what appeared to be a strafed village (though as you will see in the next few entries, I suspect this was just one more example of an abandoned part of town).

Inside Saif's majlis

 

 

 

*** Abandoned Villages footnote:  heard back from Naseeb and wanted to set the record straight on my faulty hypothesis that Omanis abandon their mud brick buildings.  With proper maintenance, Naseeb shared these structures are quite durable and can be around for 400-500 years!  It has been the introduction of modern materials and construction methods that has caused the traditional homesteads to be walked away from…and without loving care they do start to wear down.  So please ignore my misguided rambling in this journal!  J

 

 

During the home stretch we enjoyed one last conversation with Naseeb.

Enjoy the trail...but don't lapse into vertigo!
  It actually got rather intense as several topics were political.  Said goodbyes with regret and admiration for all of the insights Naseeb had provided into his world.

Rounded up the night by heading into Duke’s at the Crowne Plaza in Qurum Heights.  Mark raised this opportunity to visit the sister establishment of the famous Duke’s in Waikiki.  Only this wasn’t.....it was simply Duke’s Tavern, a hangout for the local British ex-pats, lol.  It was disappointing because we had to battle all the cars which seem to jam Muscat roadways after nightfall.  The traffic helped us decide that Duke’s was a swell place for supper, a haven where we could wait for traffic to dissipate.

Tanuf - village bombed out of existence by the RAF during Oman Civil War in 1950's
  Still a fun dinner as we revisited highlights from the last two action-packed days.

seraphimkarlien says:
Wow, I wouldn't want to do that with a twisted ankle. But you're right, it's not like you can do it every day. I hope it healed well.
Posted on: Apr 08, 2010
vances says:
John - left my key chain on the floor of Naseeb's car, lol...

Chris - thank you so much.....I truly appreciate your comments!
Posted on: Mar 05, 2010
reikunboy says:
This is awesome what a great cultural experience you had. This blog made me feel like I was on the journey with you.
Posted on: Mar 05, 2010
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John with the old man who kept try…
John with the old man who kept tr…
Saif along the Rim Trail at Jabal …
Saif along the Rim Trail at Jabal…
The trail is easy, but dont stray…
The trail is easy, but don't stra…
Zooming in so you can see the vill…
Zooming in so you can see the vil…
Abandoned village along the cliffs…
Abandoned village along the cliff…
Abandoned only thirty years ago...
Abandoned only thirty years ago...
Daily view if you lived on the edg…
Daily view if you lived on the ed…
John at the pond where folks from …
John at the pond where folks from…
Trying to keep up with Saif on a m…
Trying to keep up with Saif on a …
Jabal Shams, Oman
Jabal Shams, Oman
Saif and John enjoying dates and c…
Saif and John enjoying dates and …
Inside Saifs majlis
Inside Saif's majlis
Enjoy the trail...but dont lapse …
Enjoy the trail...but don't lapse…
Tanuf - village bombed out of exis…
Tanuf - village bombed out of exi…
Saifs majlis, a separate building.
Saif's majlis, a separate building.
John in Saifs majlis.  The tray o…
John in Saif's majlis. The tray …
Housing at the trail head...this i…
Housing at the trail head...this …
John and Mark tackling the Rim Tra…
John and Mark tackling the Rim Tr…
Expansive Wadi Nakhr
Expansive Wadi Nakhr
Saif and Mark returning from the p…
Saif and Mark returning from the …
With guests inside, everybodys co…
With guests inside, everybody's c…
Naseeb is ready, aims and fires!
Naseeb is ready, aims and fires!
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