It was the most tearful of fair-wells. I was leaving Oman and saying good-bye to my closest travelling companion, my car. As I handed back the keys to the white Yaris that I had rented for almost six months, I began to tear up and remember some of the fantastic times I had enjoyed in Oman, almost all of which had involved my plucky four-wheeled friend. Before this journal entry begins to descends into an advert for a certain Japanese car manufacturer, please allow me to explain a little bit about travelling around Oman. This may, in turn, explain why I loved my little car so much.
Transport in Oman is patchy at best. There are a few high-speed, air-conditioned buses that run between major cities. For example, there is a bus between Salalah in the far South of the country and Muscat (the capital), and a service between the capital and the beach city of Sohar. Buses also run several times a day to Dubai from Muscat. However, I lived in the desert town of Rustaq, to which there was no service. The nearest bus-stop was 44km away in the town of Musannah. Coupled with this there was absolutely no train service. On a local level, there are no regular buses, just mini-vans that bus around the city intermittently. In short, getting around is difficult without a car. The only alternative is a taxi. This often works very well as there are scores of private vehicles that operate both locally and between cities. Unfortunately, these are not always regular. For example, during prayer times or in the heat of the afternoon they can be very difficult to find. Additionally, they do not have meters, so prices can vary dramatically.
Because of all these concerns, I decided the best option was to rent a car on a long-term lease. This is the most popular choice amongst expats living in Oman. The majority of major rental companies offer discounted deals for those renting on a monthly, rather than daily basis. Therefore, I was able to get a shiny white Yaris for 150O.R per month (just over 275 USD). As this option was so popular with expats, I was one of ten foreigners working in Rustaq who drove exactly the same type of vehicle.
In Oman there tends to be two types of driving: city driving and country driving. The latter of these two labels may conjure images of rolling green hills and winding country lanes. But, that could not be further from the truth. Country driving in Oman often involves steepling mountains, imposing sand dunes and hair-raising river valleys. Because of this, most expats tend to simply use their Yarises to flit between cities, leaving country driving the domain of the 4X4s. However, as I was keen to see as much of Oman as possible and I did not want to spend too much cash renting a Jeep, I decided to push my little run-about to the limit.
This began with a trip to the beach. My friends and I headed to Al Sawadi, an area famous for its golden sands and snorkelling opportunities. When we arrived, we found the parking lot to be quite a hike from the actual beach. We also noticed that many other beach-goers had parked their vehicles on the sand itself – we failed to notice that the vast majority of these were 4x4s. So, I turned my Yaris onto the sand and headed to a quiet little area where the sand looked especially golden and the sea looked especially blue. Even though the area in question was about 30m away, we got nowhere close. The wheels of my little car simply span around and around in the sand. We were stranded. It took four of us and whole lot of engine revs to get us out. The experience told us that the walk from the parking lot was not actually that far.
The Yaris's second expedition came when two friends and I decided to take a trip to Wadi Bani Awf, a dried out river gorge that provides some of the most staggering scenery in Oman. As in much of the Omani countryside, there is no road. Instead, there is a winding dirt track. After the beach experience, we knew there was little chance of going too far along the floor of the gorge before the terrain became impassable. So, we decided to see how far we could make it. Surprisingly, the Yaris battled its way four or five kilometres into the gorge with little alarm. However, we were halted when we encountered a series of small ponds appeared that only Jeeps and 4x4s could traverse. From there we continued on foot, but were impressed at how well we had done.
The final great adventure I took in my trusty companion was to Wadi Bani Khalid, a spa resort located deep into a desert mountain range. To get there, we had driven along a desert highway from the coastal town of Sur for nearly 200km. We were then faced with the type of mountain it normally takes oxygen and crampons to scale. It was no exaggeration to say that the drive took us well above the level of the clouds. The round was frightening steep and winding. However, it was the Yaris's finest hour. As we saw many tourists turn back or hitch rides in Jeeps the Yaris ploughed on with scarcely a grumble from the engine.
Leaving Oman was an emotional experience. Saying good-bye to friends is always sad, as is leaving a place that had become home. However, I think the moment I handed the keys of my Yaris (REG 3660) back to the rental company, I think I shed my first tear in Oman.