By Yeru Ebuen — Much has been said about Wakan, and the truth is, almost everything you need to know can be found on the internet. The key facts will always be same — that it’s about two-hour drive from Muscat, that it is located 2000 ft above sea level, that the people in Wakan earn their living through farming, and that despite tourist intrusions, the locals there remain very welcoming and gracious. There is a saying among travelers that has become a cliché, “It’s better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.”
Wakan has become that cliché for me. I’ve seen beautiful photos of it a thousand times. I’ve heard stories about it so much that in me grows the yearning to step my foot on its popular steps. The first time I paid attention to Wakan is on a video shared by a foreigner who spent about two weeks here in Oman. It was followed by another video, one where the trees were in bloom and for some reason, the blossoms reminded me of the Sakura flowers of Japan. It is for those videos that I was inspired — dreamed about it. And for a weekend warrior, yearning often becomes a reality.
We’ve gotten accustomed to the Sultanate’s hot temperature by now. Summer is something we forgive and tolerate because we know that somewhere, like in Salalah, the weather gets better, and that in winter, the Sultanate becomes a place worth exploring — all of its nooks and crannies, its heritage and ancient sites, the new places and the yet-to-be discovered attractions.
Much has been written about Wakan but experiencing it is totally different and one will discover more — things that online reviews and travel sites fail to mention.
For instance, that prior to your car climbing the mountain roads, you will pass through roads that are well-developed. There are no light posts but reflectors serve as your friend while you drive. As you traverse the good roads, you will enter into this place fully surrounded by mountains and that if you look real close, you will notice that the mountains embrace the area — they surround it, they protect it.
If you visit it late afternoon, you will appreciate the setting sun because it will hide behind tall mountains and the layer of peaks will make you feel that you are somewhere else — a difference place, familiar yet still Oman.
After covering about 30 kms or so, just as when you are about to climb the mountain roads, you will see sleepy villages along the way. They will be set amidst green, magnificent date palms. At first you will wonder what they are doing there and you’d ask why people will choose to live in this so far-off place. It’s only after opening the car window down that you’ll gain understanding. The temperature in Muscat may rise to as high as 40 degrees but here, in this place protected by gargantuan peaks, the temperature is very tolerable — fact is, it’s really ideal.
Online travel stories and reviews will also not discuss in details that you have to prepare for the road. Although they mention that you have to use a four-wheel drive, they won’t prepare you with the reality that you will be passing through rough roads cut out from the side of the mountains. By the driver’s seat, you can see the deep plunge. You can see the picturesque wadis down below but reviews won’t mention that it is through rocky and dusty slopes you have to pass in order to get on top of the mountain where Wakan is nestled.
When you travel there in the evening, isolated from the dashing lights of the city, trusting only your car lights to show the way, you will wonder why you even take the crazy adventure. You will hold to anything stable, every movement of the car, the rocks by which your car tires step on, you will feel. And for a moment, the exhilarating ride will make you question whether it was all worth it.
Then you make it to the top. A tower welcomes you. You climb to the top of the tower and you will see the beauty of stones and rocks, of mountains carve perfectly by nature. From where you are, you will see that there are more steps to take, up into the hidden valley where fruit trees and crops grow aplenty.
You’ll pass through giant boards with reminders from the Minister of Tourism. It will remind you to observe traditions. It will remind you to respect the people. It will remind you to dress appropriately — to have your shoulders and knees covered. It will remind you that the people here are nice enough to welcome you to their place so that you also get to enjoy the bounty of nature and experience the place’s unique culture and heritage. The reminder will tell you to always ask for permission before taking people’s photos. They are not trying to be grouchy or rude. It’s just a reminder that this a different place — one where courtesy and respect should be upheld at the highest level.
If for some reason you’ll lost your way, people will point you in the right direction. They mainly speak Arabic but if you listen enough, and try to understand, even the gestures make sense.
When you open that black gate that leads to the steps that would reveal to you what Wakan is hiding, you will begin to appreciate how truly majestic everything is.
You’ll pass through different crops growing healthy on the ground. You’ll notice the pomegranate fruits starting to take form. You’ll notice the falaj that makes all this life possible in this remote place. And as you walk farther and farther, higher and higher, up to where the barleys are planted, and you get to the spot where you can see the village and the green that embrace it, then you will tell yourself that Wakan was worthy of your panting breath, of your aching feet, of your exhilarating ride.
If for some reason you get to meet some of the kids, and in their innocence, they reach out their hands to you for a handshake, and they giggle afterwards, you will realize how simple everything is in this village.
When you reach the top, spending only but a few minutes taking in the scene, incorporating everything — letting go of the hustle and bustle of the city life — it will dwell on you that these people — the Omanis living in Wakan are somehow more fortunate than many.
As you make your way down, passing through the same vegetation, the same houses and the same steps you’ve taken earlier, when you take it all in and you do an introspection — you’d realize that the experience is not the same with what the online reviews tell you.
This is what the pictures rob you of. This is what the stories rob you of. To have the opportunity to experience heritage where it matters.
As you walk back to your car, fortunate to have seen the women of Wakan harvest some of the fruits from their gardens, when you see the tower again, when you see the sunlight bidding you goodbye and the darkness saying hi, as you traverse that rough mountain road, worried if you’ll ever make it safe back to your home, the memories and the experience will stay with you.
You don’t have to talk in Wakan really. You don’t have to be loud and noisy. You don’t have to overcome its scene with your presence. To experience Wakan is to do an introspection of yourself.
In the darkness of the evening, while the person who drives the car tries his best to navigate the way, you’d somehow come to a thought — between you and the people living content in that mountain village, who truly is lucky?
And when you reach Muscat, with all its dazzling lights and glorious buildings, you’ll always think of Wakan. And when you meet your friends, you’d tell them your story. You’ll tell them what you realize. You will tell them of the roads, of the fascinating palms, of the different feel of the place. You will wake in them the same yearning you felt before you went to see it. And if you are a writer, you will write your thoughts down hoping you can translate your experience on paper. But you will not come close to how you actually feel and what you truly experience.
And if your friends are weekend warriors themselves, their yearning will become reality. And they will take the same roads you took. And when they do what you’ve done, and realize what you’ve realized, then that’s when you know that they too have discovered the real secret of the mountain village of Wakan.