YERU EBUEN –
There was something utterly different about Wadi Shab in the early morning. Without the hundreds of tourists that are drawn to its emerald green watering holes, the sun barely peeping out from the horizon, it was one of nature’s finest destinations located 50 kilometres south of Sur.
At 6am, there was peace in its down-trodden paths. It was nature the way it should be — quiet and a great place for reflection.
But we were not the first ones there. A group of young Westerners were already checking out how they can cross to the other side of where the real adventure is happening. The boats were safely tucked on the side of a rather obnoxiously done canal. The wheezing sound of fast-driving cars on the flyover create a tremor that can be quite scary to the people waiting down below.
We were able to eat our pre-prepared breakfast before the boat drivers arrived. We left Muscat at four in the morning. An uneventful two-hour drive took us to a narrow street that led to a pool of water beneath the flyover. There was a small eatery, but that early, it was empty. So we have to settle with our pack meals.
Back and forth, the barely two-minute boat ride cost 1 OMR. For the locals and the defiant travelers who doesn’t want to pay, crossing to the other side can actually be accomplished by walking into the barely 4-feet deep water. Even that can be an exhilarating experience especially that no one knows what’s underneath the green water.
Wadi Shab has a lengthy hiker’s path. To explore the area, you would have to walk. You’ll pass through pebbled walkways, giant boulders, pass through the side of cliffs and sometimes even jump from rock to rock and all the while seeing not only different coloured dates or misty man-made waterfalls and pleasantly cool falaj but water pools that ranges from crystal clear to the deepest hue of green.
It was an outdoor person’s paradise.
Rock formations spotting
The trip was organised by the Hangouters — a group of expats I’ve meet almost a year ago who has passion for camping and outdoor adventures.
The family — as we’d like to refer to it — was originally comprised of adults, mostly married couples, who but has now grown to include three kids who also inherited their parents love for exploration, travel and nature.
It was one of the kids who pointed out that one of the rock formations looked like a skull of a sleeping dragon. From a far, it was easy to tell what the kid was trying to point out.
Barely 20-minute walk away from the drop off point, while at the trail on the side of a cliff, we came face to face with the ‘Sleeping Dragon.’ Its eyes and nose were made out of a small cave-like cut on the surface of the rock while the mouth was made by a deep cut that has turned dark due to accumulation of silt and dust. Its white colour gave an impression that it was a skull.
It was large, something that cannot be missed since it’s about 10 feet tall. And through the googled and imaginative eyes of the kid, it took a life of its own.
Beside it are smaller version of rock formations that looked like dinosaur skulls.
A few metres away, where a man-made waterfall flows into a thriving date plantation, we found ‘The Face’ — a fluffly, brown-skinned man that looks up into the sky, the natural sculpture of which was reminiscent of the style of Mexico’s Aztecs.
With the sun rising, and the blue, cloudless sky, one can imagine the fluffy man asking for rain.
We found other formations — like the white grand table that sits right smack in the middle of the dried up wadi — and we recognised that to provide more life to this place, authorities should look into the potential of these attractions.
Pick your own watering hole
One of the driving forces why tourists continue to discover Wadi Shab may be attributed to the world series cliff diving competition held in this quite remote wadi in the Al Sharqiyah region.
A quick search on the Internet about Wadi Shab will yield videos of the suspenseful activities held there that were attended by international professional cliff diving masters. From the video, Wadi Shab looked inviting and with hundreds of people, it looked exceptionally fun.
But other than the popular cliff diving site, there are many other smaller pools for people to enjoy depending on the level of safety.
On a hot, Eid holiday, we passed through around 10 spots we found good for swimming. Some were not ideal because they gave out muddy, pungent smell while others were too deep for children to frolic.
All in all, we tested four watering holes. The first one became the go-to spot and the farthest. It was about 40-minute walk and under the sweltering sun, can be a painful destination for children. But its long stretch of waterway gives variety of swimming experience — drowning included.
At noon during our visit, this area is jam-packed which is why it was understandable that parents with children, opted for the nearer and shallower spots.
The fish spa experience
This is apparently something not many discovered yet. In fact, I would claim that our group might be the first one to truly try out the fish spa experience Wadi Shab offers.
At the moment, it’s free.
From the drop off point and after a 10-minute walk, two smaller pools welcome you. The water is crystal clear while several huge rocks sit right at the middle of the larger pool. The larger pool, to my estimate, can accommodate about 15 people with a little leg room to swim around without bumping into each other.
Since we brought along with us swimming googles, we discovered that the pool was home to a school of fish. And they are the kinds that love to snip into your dead skin.
We discovered the secret of the fish pool by accident. After 10 minutes of lounging in the water, one of our group member shrieked. She said something nibbled on her feet. It was followed by another loud shrieked and a giggly laugh.
There were six of us dipped in the water. We told everyone not to move and the fish began working.
With the dead skin now softened by the water, the fish came in droves. And for what seemed to be 30-minutes, they snip and nibbled while we were happy of the discovery.
As more tourists flood in and walk towards the farthest corner of the Wadi Shab, many passersby looked at us confused.
All in all, for us, it was the best spot in all of Wadi Shab.
Safety, cleaning measures needed
Wadi Shab today is far from shabby.
It is a destination full of different activities and attractions. But we noted two incidents where people almost drowned while swimming.
What some people didn’t realise is that the pools of Wadi Shab are not like your regular swimming pools. Many of the swimming areas vary in depth and it is for lack of knowledge why near-drowning incidents happened.
Although there are plenty of reminders everywhere to take precaution while swimming or exploring the area, they were mostly written in Arabic. An English translation would be a welcome clarification to what people should remember.
It is also saddening to see that garbage is just thrown everywhere. A cave near the main swimming area became home to plastic bottles and paper wrappers and I doubt somebody will ever come to clean after them.
Wadi Shab holds many potentials for development. For sure, it will continue to receive hundreds of visitors in the coming months. I just hope that travelers and tourists will be responsible enough and clean after themselves.
With tourism becoming a significant contributor into Oman’s economy, it is wise to protect and preserve the destinations that people truly love.