A DATE WITH THE SULTAN
An account by one of the Explorer Scouts who gained his Explorer Belt in the Sultanate of Oman during August 2018.
On the 4th August, a group of 30 Explorer and Network Scouts from all over the UK, left from Heathrow and Glasgow airports on their way to Oman in the Middle East. Arriving in Muscat, the capital, we were about to start our Explorer Belt expeditions. In teams of three or four, we went around the country completing a number of tasks. Each team had a main project, five tasks they had chosen, and five completely new challenges they had never seen before. These challenges could vary wildly; my team had one challenge to collect every type of coin, and another to visit the boat factory in the city of Sur. This helped to make it even more interesting than it already was.
With the goal of travelling around the country, we headed to the city of Nizwa. An oasis town, this ancient capital was the perfect blend of tradition and modern. Spending time exploring the city, one of our challenges was to visit a falaj, which is a type of irrigation system found in Oman. While doing so, we met some local children. Having never seen Caucasians in person, these children admired us, and their mother then invited us, in broken English, to play ball with the children.
After our time in Nizwa, we headed to the mountain of Jebel Shams, but not before stopping off in the village of Al Hamra. While preparing for the expedition in Muscat, we had made friends with some of the Omani scouts and they had told their friends about us. Through a chain of hospitality, we ended up with a local who gave us a tour of the area. He then invited us to lunch, and ended up giving us a lift to Jebel Shams (an 80 mile round trip). The Omani people really are among the friendliest on Earth.
Although everyone is so welcoming, and English proficiency is high, it’s not always perfect. This meant that we arrived at Jebel Shams 2 hours later than we planned: arriving half an hour before sunset. Our campsite was a 2 hour hike away. Trekking along the edge of the canyon at double pace, we hoped we could make it to a suitable campsite before it got too dark. We were wrong. In the end we were forced to setup camp, having not completed the route. Setting off the next day, we started off with the task of finding the trail that we had wondered off in the dark. Once we had found the trail again, we headed towards the via ferrata climb. This is a type of rock climb, invented in WW1 to move troops over the Alps. Despite being only 90m long, it took us three and a half hours to complete. The team felt that the extreme heat, the overloaded rucksacks, and a lack of sleep may have contributed to this, but the guide book we checked afterwards did warn it was rated as “difficult climb”. Severely underestimating the effect of the heat and the climb on us, we didn’t bring enough water with us. Even with a series of ponds (with a questionable quality of water) to refill, we had to stop short of the summit; we didn’t have enough water to make the summit, and then make it back. Defeated we set up camp and then walked back to the road the next day.
After a long couple of days, we then had a rest day travelling to the eastern most point of Oman, Ras Al Jinz. There’s a turtle sanctuary located here, and we were lucky to arrive during egg laying season. We got to see the mother turtles laying the eggs, and even some of the eggs hatching. This peaceful and magical moment contrasted nicely with the painful climb up the mountain.
After another day of rest, we walked up Wadi Shab, a river valley by the coast. It’s here that we learnt that the GPS units given to us for our safety were not waterproof. Broken GPS units in hand, the leader of the local Omani Scout troop joined us. He gave us a tour of the local area and explained about Scouting in Oman. We then had a camp on a beach, where we were joined by a small number of other Omani scouts. We stayed up until late exchanging British and Omani Scout songs and tales.
The next day the tour continued. The unending kindness of the Omani people meant that we were treated as distinguished guests. We learnt so much about life in Oman and the history of this beautiful country. Our time together culminated in a festival held in our honour. Nearly all the local Scouts came together. We sang and danced well into the night. After the festival was over, we presented the Scout leader with some gifts as a sign of thanks: some scout badges so they could remember us and some British tea so they could experience our culture.
After being invited to stay in an Omani’s house, we were taught how to make a traditional Omani breakfast food (another one of our challenges). Making our way back to Muscat, we finished the Explorer Belt challenges by riding some camels that did not want us riding them. After what felt like hours of playing real life buckaroo, but was probably only a few minutes, the camel farmers found some nicer camels, which we rode instead.
It was a fantastic two week experience that allowed us all to learn about a new culture and country. The people were so friendly, and the landscape beautiful.
Rory Baxter Chimaera ESU Mid-Herts District
Team Omani Odyssey