By Chandi Wyant
The Romans referred to Oman as Happy Arabia
Upon arrival at the Grand Hyatt Muscat I read in a coffee table book that Oman was called “Arabia Felix” (Happy/Fortunate Arabia) by the Romans because it is much greener than the rest of the peninsula and has more fertile land. And since I was there with my cousin Felix, I thought that was quite apropos.
After seeing Muscat we rented a 4-X-4 Nissan and drove a few hours to the town of Nizwa. Once the capital of Oman, it has a fort from the 17th century, a charming souq and Friday live stock market. Slightly chaotic, and fantastically authentic, this market transported us back hundreds of years. We got there early as advised and our picture taking was ignored by the Omanis who were intently focused on buying or selling cows and goats.
Then it was on to Desert Nights Camp where luxury tents were spread across a wide swath of flat sand between ruddy colored dunes. We hesitated for a minute at booking the sunset camel ride. Was it going to be gimmicky? Was it exploiting us, or worse, the camels?
Luckily we went for it. And our experience was extra special, what with the storm and all.
“They are my camels” Our young Bedouin guide, Rashid, told us.
“Camels are called Ataya Allah, (Gift of God) by the Bedouins.”
I realized as Rashid spoke about his camels that this was not going to be gimmicky or exploitative. In fact since camels are the most highly prized possession of the Bedouin, they are very carefully cared for.
“Camels are known to become attached to their Bedouin owner and to be unhappy when separated from him.”
Rashid told us as we arrived at the top of the red-tinted dunes, and I sensed the symbiosis between man and beast—as if the camels understood their crucial role in providing transportation across vast deserts with great endurance, and offering their nutritious milk. Perhaps they become as attached to their owner and he is to them because they receive such respect and appreciation for their role.
As we reached our destination, the rain that we sensed in the distance suddenly arrived, and within seconds the wind was whipping stinging sand into our eyes. Felix and I immediately saw the value in the gutras we were wearing (which my Qatari friend had given us before our trip.) We pulled them over our faces leaving a slit for our eyes.
Rashid had the camels settle into the sand, and he placed one of them across the incoming wind. He told us to sit against the camel’s side. We did this, crunching down and allowing the camel to block the bulk of the wind and sand.
“Welcome to Bedouin life!” Rashid said with a laugh as he huddled with us. The rain turned the reddish sand to a dark teak color and lightening repeatedly fractured an immense space of the sky above us. The camels appeared content, as if they liked the rain.
The wind and sand became fierce enough that we had to pull the gutras completely over our eyes.
Twenty minutes later the storm was slightly abating and Rashid made the call to depart. I climbed on to my camel and she plunged forward and back, raising herself to stand. Swinging low down the dunes like the chariot in the song our camel train entered the purple-hued shadows of the evening.
The sky became Baroque–to our left clouds parted dramatically to reveal the crescent moon and to our right impossibly long lengths of lightening made spectacular appearances, commanding us to look, as they stretched between the land and the heavens. Below me my docile camel ambulated unperturbed in a rolling gait, moving over the dunes as smoothly as a boat over waves.