The Wahiba Sands cover an area of 12 500 square kilometres in between Muscat and Sur and are what we all imagine true desert to be. The golden sand dunes reach to the horizon and beyond and seem to undulate as the wind blows across their slopes. The sand moves so much that it’s hard for even a seasoned local like our guide and driver Yahya to find the entrance to the road that will take us deep into the interior of the desert.
Our first stop is at a Bedouin home – their permanent winter camp is set between the dunes with tents surrounded by a wire fence to keep the camels and goats out. The girls of the family greet us as honoured guests, with dates and mint tea in fragile coloured glasses. They show us their handcrafts, woven from goat hair and richly coloured, and encourage us to buy a mat, a key ring or even a mobile phone case.
We leave their camp and travel further into the desert. We pass many camels with their calves. One is so young it is only just upright and stays close to its mother’s side. We arrive at the Safari Desert Camp and are welcomed with yet more dates and the traditional Omani dessert Halwa, a sweet and sticky confection of date syrup and almonds which is reserved for special occasions. Our home away from home this night is a magnificent Bedouin tent furnished with traditionally embellished beds, drawers and chests, and decorated with enormous cushions made from brightly coloured fabrics shot with silver and gold thread.
Later in the afternoon we drive out beyond the camp for some dune bashing. It’s a hair raising experience as we climb up the steepest dunes and continue to go higher and higher. Finally we stop and leave the car to walk up even further. Just when I think we’ve reached the summit of the highest dune there’s another behind it. The colours of the desert change minute by minute as the sun starts to set and the lights of the camp come on more than one hundred metres below us. Even after the sun has dipped below the horizon the light in the sky reflects on the sands in an ever changing palette. The only sound comes from the light breeze that blows across the top of the dunes. Only when it is completely dark do we walk back to the car for the precarious ride straight down the slope to the plain below.
Our evening meal is a traditional Omani barbecue of lamb, goat and chicken with salads, rice and breads, which we eat while sitting cross legged on plump cushions at traditional Bedouin tables. After dinner we sit outside admiring the multitude of stars in a sky lit by a full moon which rises over the sand dunes and guides us back to our tents at the end of a once in a lifetime Arabian night.