Rim shots at Jabal Shams
Nizwa Travel Blog› entry 9 of 20 › view all entries
Dawn for the second day of hiking revealed the stunning setting which Jabal Shams rested in.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was a few more hours back to
*** 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.
Rounded up the night by heading into Duke’s at the