Not having any children myself, I was looking forward to my niece and nephew coming out to Oman for the week.
At 18 months and three years old, Matthew and Elizabeth are full of boundless energy. The challenge was keeping them occupied and, more importantly, amused during their stay. With playgrounds around every corner and soft-play areas in nearly all malls, the first few days in Muscat were sorted. But we had grander plans than that. No trip to Oman is complete without seeing the desert and at least one wadi. I’ve visited these before with my husband but how would it be with two demanding little ones in tow?
This is the story of two action-packed days, two very excitable children and one exhausted (but happy) aunty.
We drove to the desert in a convoy, ten of us altogether, five in each car. Thankfully the roomy 4x4s meant we weren’t too squashed in and the children were safe in their car seats. A big thank you to Muscat Mums for the hire of car seats, cot and high chairs (See box, right).
It’s around a two-and-a-half hour journey from Muscat to Wahiba Sands, and 1000 Nights, our camp for the night. Obviously this timing is dependent on traffic and the number of stops needed. However if, like us, you are travelling with two young children, I would add an extra hour onto that. The camp is approximately 40km from Raka Village, where the desert starts.
The journey started well, Louise, mum to Matthew and Elizabeth, had packed their favourite nursery rhymes CD and we easily passed an hour doing the actions to ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Grand Old Duke of York’. The scenery along the way was an entertainment in itself, with Matthew happily shouting out ‘digger’ every time he saw any type of yellow vehicle and Elizabeth on camel watch.
With the sun well up in the sky, we attached towels to the passenger windows to protect the children’s skin.
We arrived at 1000 Nights mid afternoon, and it was so hot there was only one place we were all headed, the swimming pool. Decked out with armbands, the kids jumped into the pool and were soon splashing about like true water babies. Come evening, we had all worked up an appetite for dinner.
Unfortunately, there was only one high chair available and that had been taken, but there were enough adults for Matthew to have his pick of laps and Elizabeth happily sat with the rest of us.
After dinner, we were pleasantly surprised by a musical interlude with some authentic Arabic singing from Bedouin men and women. The kids loved this and were in their element dancing along to the music before it was time for bed.
Sunrise the next day meant camel rides. One by one we took turns riding around on our accommodating ships of the desert. After seeing his mum and dad riding off into the sun together, Matthew decided he wanted a piece of the action too.
Back in the car again, we set off to our next destination, Wadi Bani Khalid. This wadi is around 250km from Muscat (around 70km from 1000 Nights Desert Camp) and offers pools of crystal clear waters to swim in, as well as a shaded lunch area and cafe.
Without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of travelling with children is how to keep them entertained on long car journeys. Music is invaluable, whether it be upbeat lively songs to keep their little minds ticking over or soothing nursery rhymes, which may just send them (and the adult passengers) into a peaceful slumber. Portable DVD players are also a great idea.
We arrived at the wadi mid afternoon and headed straight for a dip. Though the wadi wasn’t really suitable for small children, they were happy to watch us messing around in the cool, clear waters. There are plenty of shady areas at Wadi Bani Khalid, but again, hats and sunscreen are mandatory.
Swim over and bellies filled, we were on to our last stop for the day, the Muscat Festival at Al Amerat Park. Back in the car once again, there was no need for games or music, as our sleepy little travellers enjoyed an afternoon snooze, leaving the adults to enjoy some peace and quiet.
Thirty minutes later however, and naptime was over.
The children were awake again and ready for the long journey to be over. At this point there was only one thing for it – sweets! The sugar rush helped raise the mood alongside the anticipation of what lay ahead.
Finally, the bright lights of the festival were in sight and Matthew and Elizabeth had found their second wind. Ignoring any cultural offerings on sight, both headed straight for the slides and swings, and, as they had been so well behaved throughout the day, it was only fair that we obliged.
We all enjoyed some crepes for tea from one of the traditional Omani food stands, and after having a look at the camels and donkeys on show, headed back to our house. We were exhausted, ready for our beds but happy.
If I learnt one thing from our brilliant road trip it was just how important pre-planning is when travelling with kids. Lists have to be made and bags have to be planned and packed in advance. There’s no denying that travelling with two young children can be hard work at times but it is, without a doubt, worth it. The memories will stay with me forever.
[styled_box title=”Trek Tips” color=”green”] Muscat Mum hires out baby gear, including baby car seats from newborn to four years, child booster seats, high chairs, travel cots, strollers, child carriers and back packs. Find all info at www.muscatmums.com. Hire cost is RO2 per week for any item plus a RO10 deposit. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org