Ali, the 2008 HZJ76

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Now we reach the main attraction of this trip, the Wahiba Sands crossing. A desert track that crosses this stretch of desert from North to South, over 100km in length, and a good test for Ali, the 1HZ, and our abilities to drive in the sand and dunes. The trip begins in Bidiyah, a town perched on the edge of the desert, and the place with the highest ratio of GRJ79's to normal vehicles I've ever seen: the vast majority of vehicles there were of our favourite kind...
After refuelling and restocking some supplies, we left Bidiyah and deflated our tires to about 25 psi from 37.5, as the track is actually quite packed to begin with.
This was the view just over the hump of the first dune out of town, where there are many "wilderness camps" for tourists.


The track is in rather good condition and drivable for any four-wheel-drive until the Thousand Nights camp, a well-known establishment. However, we took one shortcut on the way which quickly taught us that our setup was not working for climbing dunes.
The first try, we stopped after only a few metres up hill. We progressively deflated our tyres and changed gear combinations until we reached the top effortlessly at ~15 psi and in 2nd gear Low.

At Thousand Nights, there were a few hobbled camels.


This was also a known "campsite" under the trees, all of which had a few vehicles parked underneath... right behind them 4WD's were dune-bashing - not exactly my vision of paradise. We stopped at the spot where the biggest dune was, and immediately we were welcomed with cheers and invited to drive up the dune with one of the friendly locals. I happily partook, and we "popped" up the dune in a *eep. Back down for another run, this time sideways... OK, then. Glad to have tried that once in my lifetime...
We continued on the track for another 15-20 minutes before we decided to head into some dunes on the side to try to find a good campsite which would abide by my guidelines.



We settled on a spot located between the two ridges, in a flat area with a superb view.


The desert truly comes alive in the "golden hour", especially at sunset, where the contours, shadows, and colours truly come to life.




There was plenty of life around, and we even collected enough wood to have our nightly fire without touching our purchased reserve stash.

It was an unusual and pure experience: the sand being warm and clean, we walked barefoot and sat in the sand, as the bedouins would.


We lit a fire...


and enjoyed the alpenglow.


We witnessed and experienced the winds that form the dunes in the evening, as soon as the sun set. Our plan for lamb kebabs on the fire was scrapped, and a little too late we noticed the wind was carrying sand into Ali, even though the rear doors were facing away from the wind. Nevertheless, sitting on the sand, watching the stars in an unusually dark sky (even the moon was just starting its cycle), was a magical experience.


We woke in the morning to a calm day and a beautiful sunrise, the sand was cold under our feet until the sun started to share its warmth with us.


(NB - all those tracks are from us searching for the best location to setup camp)
Just as we were serving breakfast, I look up and see a bedouin sitting on the dune right above us. Other than being surprising and slightly eerie, the figure was unmoved and didn't respond to me waving a friendly hello...


Therefore we ate our breakfast, I noted the man first went to the next dune over and then disappeared entirely, so we proceeded to prepare our daily shower. As the water was prepared, I was shaving and the shower was hung, suddenly two figures are descending down the dune. Talk about good timing... After a friendly hello, we were asked about coffee, which I promptly made, and we sat on the sand and talked. They took their coffee with a full can of milk and two spoons of sugar. One of them spoke a little English, which he had studied at "colleg", and we learned of their camels, goats, and family situation. The brothers were 21 and 27, and asked my dad if he had any children. "Yes, one" - pointing to me. "And daughters?". After coffee, they asked for water, which turned out to be for washing their cups, said their goodbyes, and walked away back to wherever they came from.


The two high dunes are the only places from which a weak cell phone signal could be attained, and the reason for our chance encounter... Memorable.

We broke camp and headed out to complete the track.

Leaving camp:

An example of how most of the track was:


Posing next to the only "abandoned" vehicle on the track, an FZJ75 with over 500K km on the clock.


Posing next to a very-much-in-use FZJ80.

Stunning journey, landscape, photography, cruiser, and presentation. Dream like. Exceptional. Ever since you began this thread I've been telling people I plan to visit my friend in Abu Dhabi, rent or borrow a Cruiser, and travel to Oman. Brilliant.
Thank you so much for posting these photos and your travels... so many memories... you're doing everything right.

The chance encounters with rando's is something I loved and miss very much. You could get VERY remote and get comfortable with the idea of being all alone and suddenly someone would appear. Nearly always good natured folks.
Absutely magical, Jan. No wonder we can't get you home. How can we compete with desert vistas like that?

I liked the little Christmas tree on your camp table, even if you had no snow. 😂 With adventures like this, perhaps you're in no hurry to bring Ali "home"? Because... You know... We are only a few days from 2023. 😉

Please keep sharing! If we can't be there, vicariously is still awesome!
15 psi may seem high to those well-acquainted with dune and desert driving, but this was a compromise of sorts - much of the track was comfortable driving, at around 60 km/h, so any lower seemed too risky.

However, there was some dune climbing as well, nothing extreme, but nevertheless each approach required the right gear and momentum.

The topography was relatively flat for most of the drive, certainly not the dunes one imagines and I've pictured above, but the scenery was never quite the same. On our entire drive, we crossed paths with four other vehicles, a pair of French tourists in rented Land Cruiser, and individual locals driving their Toyota's. Not to mention, of course, the true locals - camels.


The final moments of the drive were spectacular, but no pictures could do the view justice - the sea right behind the last set of dunes. At the end of the track was a village straight out of your favourite science-fiction movie, e.g. Star Wars, that ragged tent village on some forlorn planet, except here many tents had a GRJ79 parked outside and there was a big mosque to crown it all.

We drove along the coast, to our intended campsite for the night, located by the sea. With a beautiful view of a beach, perched on a flat cliff, it was an ideal spot. A few minutes after we had set up camp, a car drives up, and a (very kind) man gets out and tells us that camping is forbidden, even on the cliffs. See, this area is a Natural Reserve due to the turtles that nest on the beaches. A few years ago, camping on the beach was not disallowed. Camping on the cliffs was explicitly allowed. Now, not even that is possible, as people disturbed the turtles and some even poached them... A bit of an unfortunate situation, because there is obviously no signage to indicate this recent rule-change, and the sun was already setting, meaning we would be arriving at camp at dusk.

You can spot the turtles nests, those are the "dimples" in the sand:


Sunset accompanying us on the road...


Luckily, I had another spot marked on my map of many things, and we arrived there with just enough light to find a good flat area above a small beach in an inlet, where some people had already set up camp. We enjoyed our lamb kebabs on the hot coals, and celebrated Christmas Eve with a G&T and festive decorations.


While this campsite wasn't ideal in that it didn't check all my boxes (namely: there were some other people camping about 200m away, and there was some light pollution from the nearby city of Sur) it was still magical and quiet. Other than some fishermen's boats passing, it was completely secluded, and we could listen to the waves crashing onto the cliffs all night.

We woke to a stunning sunrise, toward which our tent was ideally positioned.



After a hearty breakfast and a hot shower, we departed to continue North along the coast.


The first stop was the city of Sur, which boasts a lighthouse (built in 1997) and a pretty harbour.


Continuing north, we stopped at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Qalhat, a city which flourished between the 11th and 16th centuries, and remained untouched since its abandonment in the 16th century. I say "remained", because like most of these sites, once they have been discovered, humans are wont to "improve" or "reconstruct" them. In this case, there were zero signs leading to the UNESCO WHS, and we found it by looking at satellite maps. The site was located on the other side of a wadi from the modern town, and required a climb up a rather steep escarpment to reach. There was a sign at the entrance "closed for maintenance", a typical and unfortunate situation for many World Heritage Sites.


Skirting Muscat, we followed the new mega-project highway which connects Muscat to Sohar and the Fujairah emirate of the UAE. The highway is four lanes in each direction, and the traffic is quite low. Speed limit is 120 km/h + 20 km/h buffer (common in the region). Four lanes are ideal for driving in the Middle East: the right lane is for the occasional heavy truck, plodding along at 80 km/h, left lane is for the "crazies" going way over the speed limit & buffer, while the two center lanes are for regular drivers. For comparison, the coastal (old) highway is only two lanes in each direction, and is absolutely maddening to drive, since driving sensibly at around 105-110 km/h (give or take a little) is essentially impossible.

We stopped at Al-Hazm fort, another "rebuilt" tourist attraction.


Then, we turned off the highway amid ominous dark clouds, and followed a pin I had marked in an interesting, green wadi. There was a lush, rather luxurious town at the start of this journey, with large newly-built villas, greenery and flowers, all very proper and trim. Since Google Maps hasn't actually mapped the road I wanted to follow (rather, it was only seen satellite imagery), we were playing it by ear to enter this wadi. At the village, a man stopped and rolled down his window, and asked us where we were going. Once we said the wadi was our destination, he waved for us to follow and showed us the first entry. Still, we had to navigate a maze of narrow roads between old houses and palm plantations, a village elder holding up a cable dangling too low for us to drive underneath, and had to back down the road to let oncoming traffic pass. Finally, we were through, and I was surprised that the road was large and well-graded... not the little track I had seen on Google Maps. We followed it up and down, intersecting the wadi numerous times, until the sun was setting and we decided to find a spot to set up camp before dark. We spotted a suitable location as we encountered the first oncoming traffic, a Toyota Hilux crew cab diesel, which promptly stopped and everybody got out, all excited. They introduced themselves, and explained that the road was built recently by them for the installation of a new high-voltage transmission line which will follow the valley... This meant we visited in the perfect moment - already with easy access, but without the impending destruction of the natural beauty that the lines, pylons, and equipment will bring. The crew left and we set about navigating a small off-camber link to the plateau we wanted to use, parking Ali into the wind, with a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and green wadi beneath.


Dinner was beef goulash from Austria: delicious.



It was quite windy right after sunset, which necessitated the stones on the table to prevent everything flying away, but the wind settled down shortly thereafter and we could enjoy a quiet evening of frogs, birds, no light pollution and no human-made structures.
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Some nighttime shots of our campsite:




After a superb night, we woke to a delayed sunrise from behind the mountains.



Breakfast was served, a large six-egg omelette and lots of cucumbers and tomatoes.

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The sun finally shone through after breakfast, and I set out to explore what looked like a former habitation on a escarpment below us. There was a nicely-built stone wall, a few very rusted cans and a stainless steel made-in-Japan spoon, which I requisitioned.



We broke camp and continued further up the freshly-built road, until we saw the massive destruction at the dead-end - big foundations for pylons and a destroyed landscape. Choosing instead to follow the riverbed for our return, we were treated to stunning displays of water and nature.



The untouched landscape was truly awe-inspiring.


After reaching the pavement, we continued to the Hatta border, where we experienced long lineups, with many people renewing their visas before the end of the month and year. Once across the border, the rain started, and didn't stop for our entire drive and many hours thereafter... Quite a deluge, considering where we were!

You can spot the turtles nests, those are the "dimples" in the sand:


Now you're really getting me to wax nostalgic for the Middle East. We camped on the cliffs above that EXACT beach. First two pics in this post for my old 80-series build thread shows us down on the beach... we drove down after sunrise.

Man oh man are you doing it right! Gosh I miss that place...

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