Colorful and tiny are the tents nestling between the massive rocks. Palms are embellishing the background instead of wallpapers. Stars are glowing instead of a lamp. Right next to the scenery bicycles are standing in the dust packed with huge bags. Lutz Bothe and his friends are on a bike ride. Not across the lovely Netherlands but the Arabic desert country Oman. With their bikes, wild animals, a lost passport and a car racing on the beach at night.
I talked with him about his extraordinary biking trip and also collected some facts and tips for traveling Oman.
“We got the idea of traveling across Oman by bike while we attended a lecture about a trip to Tanzania,” Lutz remembers. He and his three buddies are nature-loving friends from a village called Huy. “After some research we found out that Oman is a very safe country for tourists. Furthermore, it’s not overcrowded by them. Then we talked to somebody who highly recommended this country and the weather in January seemed to be perfect.”
In January, it’s winter over there. The temperatures are around cozy 90°F. No, you haven’t mistaken me.
Soon the group is starting to plan out the trip. Lutz and his friends did not want to rent bicycles, so they finally disassembled their own bikes, put them into huge packets and took them on a plane – at first to Turkey and then to Oman. “Nothing at all was damaged.”
The planned route is about 400 miles long. The group is starting in the capital of Oman – Muscat. Afterwards they’re going to Sur, meeting the easternmost point Ras Al Hadd, visiting Al Kamil and going back to Muscat by Taxi – with their bikes on top of the cargo area. “The route seemed to be ambitious but that did not scare us”, Lutz explains. “We always tried to stay open to adapt the route if it would become too difficult. We knew it would be hard, but we still wanted to have fun.”
And the friends are having lots of fun along the way! Right on their first evening in Oman they are visiting the spectacular Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque at night. The huge onion dome and the endless and elegant front are extremely impressive. More than 300,000 tons of sandstone were used to build it. It was opened in 2001. Beauty does not always have to be ancient.
“We often stayed overnight in a wadi and pitched our tents in
complete solitude.” No, Lutz is not planning on sleeping in Hotels. Instead of that he and his friends are listening to crickets and gargling irrigation systems while the moon is painting the
rocks white. You never should camp out in a wadi without special knowledge. Wadis are dry river beds. But if a thunderstorm comes down – even miles
away – it fills up with water very quickly and can be deathly.
But Lutz and his friends are far away from any danger. In an Arabic country? Yes, in an Arabic country! “We only met friendly and helpful people on our way”, he says. “Nevertheless, you shouldn’t forget that Oman is traditionally Muslim. You always should keep in mind what you wear and how to behave. Especially when it is about taking pictures at religious places.”
Along the roadside kids are giving the cyclists a high five. The owner of a bakery is inviting the group into his house. On one evening the four friends are camping out next to an Omani family who is having a picnic all night long. “At first the people seemed to be reserved. Friendly but reserved,” Lutz reminds. “But whenever we started talking to them for a while they became very accommodating.”
Some days later the group is passing a sign that’s warning them of tigers. Afterwards they’re meeting wild dromedaries. What an overwhelming and majestic experience.
While Lutz is talking about that, I have to think about the day I saw a grizzly bear jumping over a guard railing right in front of my car in Yellowstone National Park.
Close to Al Kamil Lutz and his friends are sleeping at the seaside for the last time before they are
starting off to the inland. “At the there suddenly started a car racing right on the beach.” Lutz laughs.
And then it happened: “We went to a supermarket to buy some food and went on with our tour. Six miles later I recognized that I had forgotten my purse with all my money and my passport in it in the market.” Lutz is instantly thinking about the problems that would occur without a passport, and so he is immediately returning. “About half a mile before I was back at the market a pick-up stopped right next to me. It was the owner of the supermarket who was already looking out for us. I had found the purse and wanted to bring it back to us.”
The cyclists are relieved. This situation was just another proof for the kindness that is happening to you anywhere when you are traveling. No matter how far you are away from home or how extraordinary the place might be you are traveling through.
After twelve days in Oman and seven days on a bike Lutz and his friends are back home safely with a pick-up full of memories and impressions.
After hearing stories like that I’m always super curious and asking myself: “How is that working?” So I collected some answers from Lutz:
What about the language?
Many signs are also in English and the Omanis are generally very friendly and helpful if you’ve got a question. In the countryside it might happen that you only can use gestures if you can’t speak Arabic. But don’t worry. Usually you even do not have to speak English fluently to be able to communicate.
What do people eat there?
The national cuisine was very tasty. You’ll find rice with chicken or fish with curry in any variation. We also brought some things like coffee, pasta, ready-to-eat-meals and sweets with us or bought them in local supermarkets. One important thing: Read the custom regulations before you bring any food from your home country. Some things are not allowed to be imported.
What about safety?
We did a lot of research before we started off and discovered that Oman is a very safe country for foreign tourists.
But for us it was still important to respect the local and cultural manners. I would recommend this to everyone. With proper clothing you can even
visit mosques without any problems.
What kind of travel season would you recommend? What about the climate in Oman?
The best time to travel to Oman is from November to March – in the winter. We had temperatures around 90°F by day and 60°F at night. I recommend traveling slow on your first days and carrying enough water with you. The sun was shining every day but at the coast it can rain heavily and also severe storms with flooding is possible.
Can you tell us something about the entry and what kind of Visa you need in Oman?
You can apply for your visa at the Omani embassy in your home country. But you don’t have to (in Germany) because you can also get it right on the airport in Muscat. The visa has different validity periods. Our visa was valid for 30 days and did cost round about $50. The checking was strict. The passport is examined in detail and you will be asked some short questions about the reasons for your trip.
What about the road conditions and the traffic there?
Most of the roads were in a good condition with wide shoulders. The traffic regulations are very similar to those in Germany. Violation will be punished strictly. You always should keep an eye on the other road users, especially in roundabouts. Omanis are sometimes driving very fast. I would recommend wearing a helmet as well. But it shouldn’t be a black one like I had.
I got to know Lutz on Instagram. There he is posting atmospheric pictures from near and far under the name of huystagram. He says he’ll stop at his 999st post. But don’t hope so.
All pictures by © Lutz Bothe/huystagram