Quirk of fate, or just simply the way a quizzical journalists mind works, I don’t know, but when I’m in the Sharqiyah Governorate I always seem to have the phrase ‘Bridges of Madison County,’ circulating in my over-active mind, subconsciously forming some kind of symbiosis between the two. I wonder why?
Lena and I spend a lot of time in the Sharqiya Governorate for three significant reasons. First, the turtles. Ever since Lena first encountered the turtles South of Sur, at the Ras al Jinz Turtle Sanctuary she was hooked! Slow, ugly, heavy, unwieldy they may be, but their story, beginning with the determination of their gender being dependent upon the temperature, to their minute chances of survival and the number of predators they must face all throughout their lives, to their return to the place of their birth after three decades, to Lena is a story worthy of a symphony, and is what sets them apart from all other species.
Then there is the diversity of fish and seafood that can be found along that coastline, and as we prefer shore-based fishing now, every stopping point is a new adventure. Finally, the sand, sea, sun and stars combine, even on a windy day, to present a visual extravaganza, a sight to gladden the heart. So, with not an Eastwood or Streep in sight, our love affair has lasted more than four days, and is where we often find our meaning, direction, solitude, comfort and meditate our true calling, as did Francesca and Robert, in the shadow of some old covered bridges, in Madison County.
We’ve found the beach at Al Ashkara to be always windswept, and almost desolate, never quiet and calm, but what makes the greatest impression at this most southern edge of the region is the noise. It’s just endless, and more than any other place in Oman is an audible reminder of the power and strength of the sea. It is awe inspiring, and even almost frightening in its intensity.
Driving North from the township one passes a couple of new build villas, bringing a contemporary perspective to a region of more traditional architecture, and the Wadi Bani Khalid outlet maybe 10 kms up the road. Then just a wee bit further up the road, maybe 5 kms, is the Asylah Beach, which given its sheltered from the South aspect should be a hive of activity, but some weird looking rock formations reaching out to the sea, and abandoned fishing craft high on the beach left us with an impression of, almost neglect, which is impossible of course, and maybe ‘left behind,’ is more apt?
A long run north takes us through Suwaih, a great little ‘fast food’ shop where the daal and paratha is always really nice, and on up to the coastal cliffs of Ras ar Ruwais, where actually we don’t linger long due to my fear of heights, and, I think, Lena’s desire to spend every minute she can at Ras al Jinz. During the day we wander through the rocks, and comparatively low cliffs of the area south of the Turtle Resort and see local lads catching some nice fish, one a beautiful trevally.
In that same area one day we found a turtle jammed between some rocks well above the high tide line. It was stuck fast and completely spent, but fortunately we found some local fishermen and freed it. The poor thing just sat exhausted for a long time, and Lena stayed with it for hours, wary of the need to balance her concern for the creature with her desire that nature should be enhanced, but not the subject of her un-necessary intrusion, until it summoned the energy to return to the sea.
North of the Turtle Resort is the settlement of Ras al Hadd, which to our shame, we’ve never really explored very much, but it is the North-Eastern extremity of the region and boasts one of the warmest sandy beaches in the country. Fishermen come and go, swimmers swim and kids play, and there is so much room that nobody is ever in each other’s way. In many respects it reminds me of the beaches of New Zealand, as a proper community hub!
The beaches and coastline north and west of Ras al Hadd are predominantly fishing bases, and we stopped to fish at Shiiya, near Sur where I caught a lovely Rock Hamour, but the local fisherman must have felt sorry for us with our light catch and insisted on giving us some Koffer to take home with us. They were genuine Omanis, nice people, who perhaps could not understand the therapeutic benefits that fishing offers us, but their generosity was greatly appreciated.
Sur is Sur, and with its new Lulu Hypermarket and City Walk complex, and the giant LNG complex is a story all its own, for another day. Similarly, Qalhat, now that Bibi Mariyam’s Tomb is being restored, is the same. However, the cliffs and wadi outlets of Wadi Tiwi, the Bubble Beach and Pebble Beach at Tiwi, Wadi Shab, Fins and the soft white sands of Bimah up to the Sink Hole fishing spot, Daghmar and the cliffs up to Qurayat all make for a diversity of land and seascapes that will occupy you for hours, days, weeks, and if you let them, months and years.
Take the time to enjoy the diversity of sand, sun, rocky shores, seaweed, gentle waves and crashing seas that are light years away from Madison County and you will begin to understand the true nature of the ‘Jewel of the Arabian Gulf,’ that is the Sultanate of Oman.