Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Sharp knives, turtles & sinkholes

Having a few days off, I've just visited Sur. Despite it being hot & humid, although less dusty, I thought I'd do some sketching in the town. I like recording decay and seeing a dhow partially submerged, I thought it would be the perfect subject. Sitting on the sand, engrossed I was aware of a man standing over me. Looking up, as I said hello, I saw he had a knife in his hand. Gulp, I wasn't sure if he wanted to rob me, hurt me, or was just curious as he crouched next to me. I'm self conscious drawing with an audience at the best of times, but when they are holding a knife, I could barely contain the shaking. Continuing to draw, trying to chat a little - I've seen on tv that you get hurt less if you can make the event personal - and leave fast was my plan. I feel a bit guilty, as before I packed up, he kindly sharpen my pencil with his knife, so I think he was just curious about a mad English woman sitting drawing outside in the middle of summer.

The evening before, after the drive up from Muscat, my friend and I went to Ras Al Jinz to turtle watch. One of the things on my "to-do before I leave Oman" list. We got there before sunset, if there had been one but it was too dusty/cloudy. We were not allowed onto the beach in case we disturbed the turtles, so we climbed the cliffs overlooking the beach and sat listening & watching the waves crash below. Once back down we had a long wait until 9pm in strong winds, so strong that I almost got cold (the shelters had walls, which weren't high enough to stop the wind howling through). Finally, about 10 of us, with the guide went to the beach, stopping for an explanation on the turtles and what we would see, the group was then made to switch out torches and follow the guide's single beam towards the sea. We got to the first turtle and were joined by about 10 more tourists. The group was too big in my opinion. Justified I think when several flashes went off, phones rang, and one guy slipped into the hole nearly onto the turtle. So much for not disturbing them. The 2nd turtle we saw was laying eggs, which was amazing to see, but I was a bit disturbed the next morning when my photos (taken without flash by the guide's torch) revealed that the guide was holding back the rear flipper so we could see. I thought this turtle watching was supposed to be non-intrusive. Finally, having watched a couple of turtles lumbering up the beach, it was time to leave them in peace.

The next morning, we left Sur after breakie to take the coast road back to Muscat. It's a strange route now being half on the new highway and half on graded (non-tarmac) roads. Taking a detour just before Dibbah, we stopped at a sinkhole. As part of Oman's tourism drive it's now enclosed in a park, and the hole itself is surrounded by a wall and has steps down. Both seem a good idea as the drop is about 20m and the way down shingly. Once at the bottom, we had the pool to ourselves and swam in the amazingly clear salt water, which I think the picture shows. At one point the sandy bottom looked so close I stretched down and realised the bottom was at least another 5 metres below. All too soon, we had to leave and return to Muscat.