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Laid-back Life on the Wahiba Sands.

By John Hessburg, General Mgr
U.S. Dive Travel Network

© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.

I came, I saw, I was conquered.

Conquered by the peaceful easiness of desert camping in the Wahiba Sands, back in the hinterlands of Oman. Conquered by the calm fresh scents of the daytime desert & the cool evening air after sundown. Just a couple days of car camping under the stars, draping hats & jackets to dry over acacia trees at night, living from cook kits & simple rations out of a dusty SUV, sleeping on canvas cots with more stars overhead than sand grains underfoot -- this was all it took to erase a couple years of pent-up office stress.

"K.I.S.S." my Dad used to say. "Keep it Simple, Sam."

Desert camping & desert trekking in Oman.
Gentle energies shape the Wahiba Sands, Oman.
© Werner Thiele.

That's the secret of letting go down here: let the desert take control. Pack light, dress light, carry the ten essentials, a little food, a gallon of water a day, broad-brimmed hat, some sunscreen & you're set. No need for tents most days, unless the skeeters come out. A Gore-tex sleeping bag helps, since the Wahiba Sands deposit mega-dew on everything overnight, though the moisture dries in a few hours the next morning. Just dress in loose-fitting white or tan cotton clothing, long-sleeved shirts & long pants & the sun will be no bother. Do most of your hiking in the fringes of the day -- early morning & late afternoon -- to avoid the deepest heat.

Even on the margins of winter, the Omani desert kept at a comfy 55į F (13į C) all night long for us. It gets a little nippier up in the mountains at night. But down in the river valleys & the open desert, the air is fresh & brisk after sundown, just perfect for a good night's sleep under a light down bag. If you fret about rain showers in the wee hours, just tote in a big tarp, & you can drape it over some desert tree, then catch your final 40 winks underneath. This is duck soup camping. After all, must every outdoor adventure be some grueling march, like trekking to Everest base camp with a 70-lb pack grinding on your spine?

I've got to hand it to Robert Gardner of Muscat, my new adventure-tour partner in Oman. When he invited me across the Atlantic to Oman in late 2000, his message was clear -- give the desert half a chance & it will change you for the better.

We'll see about that, I thought. Isnít the desert where you struggle to survive, just like on Death Valley Days? Roll over, Ronnie Reagan, those Hollywood images are passe' here in Oman. You know, after a couple weeks trekking & driving across Oman with Rob, I never saw a single cactus, nor a scorpion, not even one snake. Not one. Cacti apparently do not grow in the Arabian desert of Oman. And those guidebook jitters about scorpions & camel spiders? Relax -- they are as rare as rattlers in the Rockies. And you fret about water? There are oases here & there, in every direction, called "wadis." These wadis are lush river valleys covered with pools of the cleanest drinking water on earth. My current vision of heaven is some way-back wadi in the foothills of Oman.

Rob Gardner, an affable Brit, & his wife Brigitte Wensauer of Germany, are expert back-country trekking & diving guides, whose adventure touring operation in Muscat, Oman's capital city, not only passed muster, but opened my eyes to the beauty of these Arabian desert sands. Rob & Brigitte are now our long-term business partners & we recommend their skills & savvy to all clients. They are delightful to work with.

I'm used to pushing my work days way too hard, running a tropical holiday network yet going for years without a true vacation myself, addicted to stress & Teutonic tidiness. Just a couple unshaven days on the Wahiba Sands, trekking about the painted Hajar Mountains, caving & canyoning with Rob & few Muscat buddies, & I've got this desert feeling under my skin. Probably for life. Nothing quite compares to the relaxation, the gentle joy of open-air bivouacs in the Arabian desert.

Bedouin man spins yarn from raw fiber.
© Werner Thiele.

A dozen little epiphanies per day will stand out in your memories. One of my favorites was getting up from my cot about 2 a.m. to "commune with nature," & I hiked up to the top of a large dune to see the surrounding landscape. The moon was washing the entire desert with a silvery sheen & you could see thin streaky shadows all across the dunescape, being cast by even small rocks & scrub brush. The air was perfectly still, not one sound anywhere, not even the faintest whisper of wind. It was so silent that all I could hear was the light susurration of my own breathing & I felt filled with a wonderful peace. It seemed that this was the MOST peaceful place I had ever been.

Just as I turned to shuffle back down to camp a sudden bellowing sound rolled across the dune toward me & I leaped in fright. Turns out a Bedouin camel -- whose owner was letting it roam freely that night -- was hunkered down in the shadows in a declivity on the dune, so hidden I could not see him at first. He was startled by my movement & he lowed his warning -- donít tread on my bed, buddy! So much for tranquility & I started to laugh out loud, & the sound seemed to carry half a mile in that quiet air. I wonder if the camel's owner awoke with a start, thinking some overly caffeinated genie was flitting toward his campsite?

The standard of beauty in the deserts of Oman is stark & alien, unlike anything most of us have experienced. You cannot take measure of the Arabian desert with mental images from American mountains, nor from European Alps, nor from tropical island beaches. Western standards of beauty do not apply here. These deserts of Oman are like another planet entirely. You cannot meld with the living desert until you learn its own whispered language. This is a subtle thing; it probably takes years, & I have barely started. But this is a gratifying process that I intend to cultivate all the days of my traveling life. And I will teach my sons these desert ways.

"We three camels
of Orient are ..."

© Copyright Werner Thiele.

Desert tree in Oman:
a sere found poem.

© Copyright Werner Thiele.

U.S. Dive Travel offers desert camping, desert trekking & canyoning tours in Oman.
At dawn, laid-back camping from 4WDs in the Wahiba Sands of Oman.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

I can place the delights of desert camping in reasonable perspective. I once led an American expedition team into the Cordillera Real' & we camped for two months above 14,000 feet in remote uncharted valleys of the Bolivian Andes. One summer years ago I slept a long night next to puffing steam vents in the frozen summit crater of Mount Rainier during a sleet blizzard -- oh you can't beat fun at 14,200 feet. The next morning all wind ceased completely & the summit was wrapped in an enormous sundog, the morning light refracted through billions of tiny airborne ice crystals, creating circular rainbows that were layered inside each other like rings on an archery target. Breathtaking beauty. For a couple summers back in the 1980s I was lucky to camp with my best buddy, Bonz, among ancient driftwood dragons, the ghosts of four-century-old cedars, right next to the whispering Pacific, sleeping under the stars, visited daily by deer, otters & eagles -- as we hiked along 110 miles of Washington's wilderness coastline. There were some campsites way back in the Quetico Canoe Wilderness of Ontario, with Bonz & another lifelong buddy Marcus, where Northern Lights splashed gold ribbon candy across the midnight skies for 6 hours. There were other choice campsites alongside wild rivers all over Minnesota, with honest-to-gosh timber wolves howling half a mile away, which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Yet those two days on the Wahiba Sands were just as beautiful, just as brimming with happiness as any golden memories from North & South America. So gather round, all ye Nordic boys & girls, whether Yanks or Euros. If you were raised in a temperate climate, where the only sand you normally see is on your roadways after a winter blizzard, or if you have loved the South Pacific surf for years, & something inside you balks at first mention of a desert vacation, tell that something to take a flying leap. Here's what's needed -- a massive paradigm shift, catapulting into the absurd -- it takes faith amigo & the rewards for your boldness will be pure inspiration, pure enjoyment.

Like my Dad used to say when I took up track for the first time: "Remember son, some runners try to be fast. Others only do it half-fast. What'll it be?" Simply put -- you gotta wanna.

( Check our Oman Prices webpage for some ideas on camping & trekking side tours you can add onto your diving holiday. Hope you all get to be happy campers for at least a couple days in this sunny Sultanate of Oman. )

Jebel Shams, Oman's tallest peak.
© Werner Thiele.

Cliff near Jebel Shams.
© Copyright Werner Thiele.



Contact -- Susan & John Hessburg, Mgrs
PMB 307 / Suite # 116
15050 Cedar Avenue S.
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA 55124-7046

Voice Mail: 952-953-4124
Fax Line: 952-431-5023




First things first for your Oman scuba diving holiday. Please remember that you will need to secure a formal visa from the Omani Consulate closest to your hometown, before you will be allowed entry into Oman. Visas for most U.S., Canadian & European citizens are very easy to secure, & take only a couple weeks. In many cases, this entry visa can be provided right upon your arrival in Muscat. The Oman Embassy staffers in Washington, DC are exceptionally gracious & helpful. They are geared up to encourage eco-responsible tourism; this is quite evident. Visa fees are nominal & paid via cashier's check to the Omani Embassy or Consul General nearest to you. Make sure you prepare well for your Oman scuba diving trip.

OMAN VISA PROCESS -- Passport & visa required for all tourists, & for all Oman vacations. Tourist/business visas for multiple-entry issued for stays up to 6 months & valid for 2 years. Both business or tourist visas require a special official application form & cholera immunization if arriving from infected area & a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of passport by mail. For transit & road travel, please check with the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/387-1980, -1981 or -1982).

All package prices listed here for Oman diving holidays are subject to possible change in this steadily evolving travel market. Land prices are traditionally stable, while air prices may fluctuate for Oman vacations. Until air tickets are issued, all airlines reserve the right to change airfares without notice -- a longtime industry standard, per FAA rules. We at U.S. Dive Travel will price-protect you to the utmost of our professional ability; & that has been our pledge for one decade now. We normally secure excellent discount air tickets. Remember please, the federal government has deregulated airlines, so only they control their pricing -- not any travel professionals. But our lodging & Oman diving contracts are set for one year at a time, & therefore are rock solid nearly all seasons.

Unless specifically noted, these above packages are prices for only the land-based or vessel-based portion of your Oman scuba diving vacation, in most cases reflecting double-occupancy rooms. At most vacation resorts there will be no triple-occupancy rooms offered. Some exceptions may be noted. International air tickets & commuter "island-hopper" airfares are always extra above these land costs. Nominal service fees are also extra for air tickets & the lodging + diving components of all Oman vacations. The baseline tariffs for all clients start at $35 per person for the land portion + $20 pp for published-fare air tickets. Late-booking clients may receive slightly higher tariffs on the lodging + diving. Solo clients will always pay a single supplement to secure a private room on their Oman diving holidays -- normally 35% to 50% more -- & possibly a doubling of the standard double-occupancy rate at some resorts.

For our U.S. or Canadian clients, the preferred payment mode for all lodging, diving & side tours is by cashier's check or wire transfer in U.S. dollars. All clients living outside the USA or Canada will need to pay only via direct wire transfer in U.S. dollars -- no exceptions please. No personal checks or credit cards will be accepted for the lodging or land-tour portions of any Oman dive vacations, please. Thank you for your gracious understanding. Our service level is the highest & our prices the lowest in this industry, & thus we need to preserve a reasonable margin to keep the Ship of State afloat, thereby ensuring that your Oman diving holidays will be brilliant & affordable.

For published-fare air ticket bookings on your Oman diving holiday, USDT always accepts Visa & Mastercard, even from non-U.S. clients. For discount wholesale air tickets, however, USDT accepts only cashier's checks or wire transfers, please, since we are giving you exceptionally low net rates, below the lowest published discount fares available.

Remember, all clients to all foreign destinations will be asked by local officials overseas, upon departing the airport on your final day, to pay a nominal government departure tax, usually between USD $25 - $45 per client. USDT cannot collect this tax beforehand, so you simply pay it down there, in your host country. Be sure to stash away a little cash for this final moment at the airport, so you'll get your exit visa stamped quickly with no fuss; & away you go. Best of luck with your travel plans. We hope your Oman dive vacation is a safe & satisfying adventure. Blessings & best wishes.

Best fishes too!

>////*> <*\\\\<

John Hessburg, General Manager
Susan Hessburg, Operations Manager
Founding Partners of the U.S. Dive Travel Network.

© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.

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