interview by josh bennett - photos by brendan eime & courtney hunt
Random facts about Oman by Brendan: Feral cats are feral and usually hate being picked up. There is definitely surf potential over there. You just have to be at the right spot at the right time. Camels over there have one hump. Flamingoes are rad, and goats end up in the most random of places you can’t even imagine.
Oman isn’t the highest hitter of overseas travel destinations. How did you end up there?
Courtney, my girlfriend, flew into the Sultanate of Oman a month before I did to help family who had moved there for work. So when I arrived she had pretty good bearings of the capital city, Muscat.
How do you go about planning a road trip in a place like this?
Courtney and I did a lot of google earth exploring. First to roughly plan our trip, looking for refuel and food stops in the desert. Courtney had made good contacts while helping family move there, so once I arrived we were able to borrow a friend’s 4WD and gear to go exploring.
Would you say you are a well seasoned traveller? Is travelling in a place like Oman a walk in the park?
No not at all, I have never travelled outside Australia before so I was super excited to dive right into the deep end of exploring a completely different culture. However, Courtney’s nickname is gypsy and she has travelled a bunch around the world. But as a young, western woman in the Middle East, this was a whole new experience. We were both beyond excited.
What are the benefits of travelling to a country that isn’t on the tourist map?
They say Oman is the Empty Quarter, and that rings true in so many ways. Most people have never even heard of Oman, or if they have, they have no idea what’s there. We were both so stoked to experience what the word ‘explore’ truly means. We went to a country where tourism hadn’t paved the way for the masses. We didn’t see any backpackers or many westerners outside of the capital city and if we did they were in tour groups with a guide or two. We got so many double looks as two white westerners traveling without a tour guide. Not that it was offensive, it just was not common at all. A lot of the ex-pats in Oman who we had met before and after our adventure hadn’t travelled as far or remote as we had.
What is the best part of living out of the back of a 4WD on a trip like this?
You could sleep in the back and watch the stars and hide from the wind at night. You can camp anywhere in Oman, so we would set up little fires for meals and morning camp coffees. It was so surreal; the isolation camping in such an unknown land, looking across the starlit ocean, imagining Iran on the other side.
Did you find any Middle Eastern gems?
Oman has some ridiculous natural gems. There are these oases that flow down through the most majestic mountain terrain. They call them Wadis. Absolute paradise; crystal clear waters cascading through ancient mountain villages, date palms, donkeys, forts with distant Arabic voices echoing from time to time. It’s like what you’d imagine took place hundreds of years ago, but it still exists. The biggest time-warped feeling you could imagine.
How would you describe Oman?
Oman is contrasted with ocean and desert. Its relationship with the ocean revolves around fishing, diving and being out to sea. As we drove further away from civilisation, the landscape started to morph into a space like dreamscape. Just the highway traversing through the windswept sand dunes, an occasional camel and a Bedouin sand camp here or there. We would occasionally pass little shepherd’s huts with their herds of camel and random goats.
Did you find it hard navigating through the desert?
After seeking out wild flamingos at Filim, we decided to take a short cut and put the 4WD to good use. Brendan was the expert sand-rally driver and Courtney navigated a dim grey line on google maps through the ever-changing dune scape. At one point all we could see was sand. Everything started to look exactly the same and we felt, for the first time, lost. The disorientation smacked us in the face. We realised how far from home we really were. We eventually arrived at the destination. To our surprise it was more like a ghostly fishing village instead of the idyllic desert beaches we had imagined. With no one in sight except a lone swimmer, we followed a track to some space-like sand dunes, for the night’s rest and reflection. The silence was beautiful but eerie under the full moon. The next morning, we awoke to wild camels grazing around the 4WD, the first company we’d had in days.
What’s your stand out memory from the road trip?
We’ve always been fascinated with the Bedouin people and their culture, the true desert dwellers. Our dreams came to life when we got the chance to camp out in the Sharqiya sands with the Bedu, where the Bani-Wahiba tribe once lived. The setting sun over the dunes is a moment we will never forget. The shadows and colours changing as the stars came out was surreal and then to watch it again as the stars faded early the next morning was awe inspiring. The Bedu culture is full of life, dancing, singing, giggles and smiles. We felt an openness there that we had never really experienced in the rest of Oman, which is a typically reserved nation.
What's the vibe of the locals?
Oman is a conservative nation but very friendly and welcoming. They were overjoyed to see young westerners keen to discover their culture. From the West the Middle East is clouded with stereotypes and barriers formed by propaganda. To be able to break through these walls and have personal encounters with beautiful humans was life-changing. The West-East mind frame dissolves and a powerful feeling of togetherness captivates the heart.
After returning from a trip like this, has it changed your outlook on life or direction?
We experienced such an overwhelming spirit of generosity and kindness in the East. Something we want to share, to encourage everyone to be less self-centred and more outward and thoughtful towards others. East or West, we all live on this earth together.