Sunday, November 5, 2023

Wadi Shab—an Oman hike that turns into a swim

Part of a seriesMiddle East, October 2023:

On my last day in Oman (and the Middle East), I got picked up at 6 am and was driven 1.5 hours to Wadi Shab, an unusual and largely pristine hike through a relatively narrow, boulder-strewn valley. 

First you pay $2 for a two-minute boat ride to the start of the hike. 

After an hour, you reach a point where you must swim or wade through three clear pools to get to the big finish. The last pool is too deep to stand. 

Unless you used a waterproof bag, you leave whatever you brought on the shore before the first pool. For me this included my phone, eyeglasses, and sneakers (I changed to water shoes). Though I knew in advance that I’d have to do this and was assured it’s generally safe, I nonetheless hid my backpack in a crevice rather than leave it out in the open as others did.

the first of the three pools (from a slight distance)

As with my visits to Jerash and Petra, I went without a guide. Unlike Jerash and Petra, Wadi Shab really doesn’t necessitate one. It’s a straight if rugged shot—no way to take a wrong turn when you are at the bottom of a gorge, though sometimes I had to figure out a way around an impenetrable cluster of boulders or swampy patch.

For most of the hike, I was the only human in sight. (I did spot a gray snake and a heron.) Once I got to the pools and lingered, people began to appear behind me, including a boisterous group of men I soon learned were off-duty soldiers. 

At the end of the final pool is a triangular-shaped opening just big enough for a human head. If you didn’t know to look for it, you’d miss it.

You half-swim, half-tread through this channel to emerge in a cavern with a waterfall (and nowhere to stand or sit). There is a rope attached to the rocky slope alongside the waterfall, but I did not try to climb up. Instead I soaked up the atmosphere while treading water for a couple of minutes, taking photos with my mind since my phone was (hopefully still) a few pools behind me.

When I swam back to the short stretch of rock between the third and second pools, I volunteered to watch the phones of a soldier and a woman from Slovenia who had both managed to take their phones through pools 1 and 2. The Slovenian woman then took a video of me jumping from a rock ledge into the third pool and took my email to send it to me. It’s been more than a week and still no email, sadly. I hope she remembers soon.

Even if not, I will remember the experience as a Middle East highlight.

tiny waterfall on the way back to the entrance

Spotted on the way back to the city. Corn, anyone?

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