“I honestly never realised one could fit so much into a Yaris”, Mrs J sounded genuinely surprised.
She took a step back to admire our packing. The little rental car groaned under the weight of all the camping equipment, the size XL cool box and, of course, Mrs J’s giant suitcase. It wasn’t exactly what you would call a rugged offroader like our old Pajero, still in a garage somewhere in Salalah, but it would have to do. We would just have to stick to the tarmac for a few days.
We had planned a trip that would take us out of Salalah and back into the wild. “The wild???” I repeated with a lifted eyebrow. “Yes, you know, no traffic lights or Starbucks”, Mrs J clarified slightly irritated. The hotel stay had done her good and she was ready to meet the wild in her crispy white linen shirt, straight from the hotel’s laundry service.
Our first stop out of town was the Hafa roadside fruit stalls, the road lined with booming stalls standing shoulder to shoulder. “Fresh coconuts!” Mrs J squealed excitedly as soon as she spotted the stalls. The tiny Yaris swerved dangerously to avoid the hustlers coming running towards us as soon as they saw the car slowing down. With each stall offering more or less the same selection of fruits, there was a fight to win over potential customers. “Best coconuts in Salalah” they each claimed without seeing the irony.
I’m still not entirely sure how we, after 5 minutes, found ourselves with 5 whole tender coconuts, an enormous bunch of bananas still on the stem, 2 tomatoes and a small plant in a pot. Mrs J beamed like a small child in a sweet shop. We were finally back on the road, the sun was out, we had provisions and adventures awaited. Luckily it was too late by the time Mrs J noticed that I had left her potted plant back at the stalls.
We soon realised that there was a lot more walking involved when camping in a Yaris. Especially a rented one. “Whatever happened to ‘don’t be gentle — it’s a rental?” Mrs J mumbled as I carefully parked next to the road and made her walk the non-tarmac bit towards the Wadi Darbat. This was not terrain for a Yaris. Cascading water forming small waterfalls, the wind carrying the fine spray of water towards us — gently caressing our sweaty faces. We sat on the rocks for a while and took in the scenery. It was beautiful and serene.
A small herd of camels were watching us with poorly veiled contempt, as we made our way back to the car. They had surrounded our small Yaris and took turns using it as a scratching pole, making the poor car bounce up and down like a pogo stick. We approached tentatively.
“Do you know how to move a camel?”, Mrs J asked. Having lived in Oman for many years, I thought I did. Oh, how wrong I was. The animals didn’t budge. We needed to divert their attention long enough for one of us to get inside the car. As always I drew the shortest straw and soon found myself doing jumping jacks while singing one of Frank Sinatra’s greatest hits in a loud voice, in an attempt to get the camels to notice me. They looked at me in stunned surprise but took a few curious steps towards this spectacle playing out in front of them. And a few more steps. And a few more. In the meantime, Mrs J had sneaked up from behind and gingerly opened the car door to slide in. She grabbed the huge bunch of bananas from the back seat and ran, as fast as her little old legs could carry her, in the opposite direction of where I was performing. Holding the bananas up in the air she shouted “Hey you, come and get a piece of this!”. I assumed it was directed at the camels. The animals didn’t hesitate and moved with surprising speed towards the promised treat. Mrs J sped back to safety in the car from one direction, and I from the other. We sat for a while to catch our breath and watch the camels gorge on our bananas.
“There went our lunch”, I sighed.
“Well, there is always the coconuts”, Mrs J looked down at the hard green balls at her feet.
“Did you pack a machete?”, I smirked. She sat silent for a while.
“Frank Sinatra? Really???” she smirked back.
Lunch, who needs lunch when you can laugh...