I have been to the desert a few times and stayed in a range of places including sleeping out under the stars on a mattress and a 5* resort, but as I had my family visiting, it was necessary to find both budget friendly and non-camping accommodation to offer them a desert experience during Oman’s peak tourist season. Many people I know have enjoyed Wahiba Bedouin Camp, so I booked for us and hoped that everyone would have a great time.
Most of the camps in the desert will arrange a meeting point where you can either ditch your own car and go into the desert in their 4x4s or you can meet the guide and follow them in using your own car, if it is up to the task. I drive a Jeep Wrangler so am always keen to take it off-road when possible, so having met the guide at the Al-Maha petrol station in Bidiya we were ready to let some air out of the tyres and roll onto the sand. The drive is about 20 minutes on ‘Bedouin highway’ which is a sand road in the desert. You can make it into more interesting driving if you veer off the road and into the softer sand every now and then, and this also gives you a bit of a rest from the corrugations that makes for a pretty bumpy ride! If you’re not confident, stay behind the lead car and just follow its tracks…but if you have driven in the desert and know how to not get stuck (or how to rescue yourself if you do!), then find your own path but make sure that the lead car knows you plan to do this.
When we arrived at the camp, Obaid was pleased to see us and welcomed us as though we were long-lost friends. Although I have communicated with him on Facebook a fair bit during the planning of the visit, we had never met, but have a number of mutual friends, but he welcomes everyone this way – every visitor is a friend to Obaid and the whole crew. The rooms are basic. Don’t expect anything other than a made-up bed. Literally nothing. However, we had en-suite rooms to cater for the needs of the parents, but again, expect the very basics. Obviously there isn’t electricity so everything is powered on generator at certain times. If you need to charge your phone or whatever, bring a charged power bank to both provide for your needs and to put as little strain as possible on the camp.
Coffee and dates are the standard welcome in Oman (and much of the Middle East) and these were served in a communal area, which also had a number of books and leaflets to look at. I stumbled upon a book detailing the recent crossing of the Empty Quarter by Mark Evans and his team, which was great because I have been working with him on a project called Discovering Oman and it was cool to be able to show my Mum what I had been talking about after I watched the documentary of his journey. It still amazes me that it was possible to cross such an inhospitable environment on foot and camel – incredible and inspiring stuff.
We went up into the dunes to watch the sunset – my parents first real experience of the vastness of the desert. I drove up a dune to help with the journey for them, but they were happy to wander around and explore the views a bit once they were up there. You can depend on the desert when it comes to sunset. That giant ball of fire dropping behind a dune as it turns the horizon all manner of shades of orange and purple on its journey to provide dawn to someone else.
Dinner was fantastic, but be aware that you will eat sitting on the floor, so this may not be the easiest for everyone. The food was great and there was plenty of it as is it served buffet style in a large tent. The staff at the camp is fantastic as they do everything from cooking and cleaning to camel riding activities – I cannot complement them highly enough. But the real treat came after dinner, sat around the campfire with Obaid talking about Bedouin life. He told us about camels; they are known as ‘ships of the desert’, they are best eaten at 1 year old and a racing camel can be worth well over £200,000! He talked about life in the desert and how Bedouin life has changed in many ways, yet the lifestyle he knew as a boy remains at his core. I was fascinated by him and his story, which he told leaning on the camel he had chosen to bring to the fire for the evening. This mother could hear her baby calling her, but was calmed by Obaid and knew that she had work to do before she could return to her young family for the night.
This is one of my favourite photos from Oman. The orange shade from the glowing fire on a face of skin toughened by life in the desert but a man who is a friend to all and loves to share his story and his heritage with all those who are willing to listen. The camel in the background demonstrating the importance and dependence of the relationship between man and animal even in a time when many Bedou drive 4x4s to enhance their daily lives.
The next morning we went up into the dunes again to watch the sun rise (and to prove to my Mum that it wasn’t a fluke that I didn’t get the Jeep stuck in the sand!) before yet more fantastic food. I was pretty excited about the final activity before we headed back towards civilisation as we had been promised that we could feed the goats. I am a big lover of animals – all the animals really – but baby goats are pretty high on the list of favourites!
I was so happy to play with these goats for a while. Obviously we didn’t need to feed the tiny ones as they still had their mothers for that, but there were a whole bunch of young and boisterous goats who needed milk bottles every morning. The perfect job for me!
We headed off after this and I would certainly recommend taking the long way home and stopping off on route: Wadi Shab, Bimah Sinkhole and Wadi Dayqah Dam are all on the route home if you haven’t had enough adventure for one trip! There are some stunning camping beaches around Tiwi so you can spend longer away from the city if you choose.
This trip took place from January 4-5th 2018.
Please visit the site for Wahiba Bedouin Camp here.
I know Obaid will be happy to see you!