After an incredible 264 trips, Jerzy Wierzbicki reflects on the location that ignited his love for Oman’s interior, telling the story of the desert that became ‘his’
Almost seven years ago, I travelled with a friend into the Omani interior for the first time.
We were heading for the well-known fishing village of Ras Al Madrakah on the coast but, for me, the trip was all about the journey as opposed to the final destination.
Everything I saw amazed me – from the mountains on the road to Sinaw, to the flat, sandy desert before Mahoot and the rocks near Duqm – it was all so new. But one place stood out from the rest.
About 70 kilometres from Mahout on the way to Duqm, near road 32, you’ll find sand dunes spread out in the distance between dark rocks and small green trees.
In the warm light of the late afternoon it looked marvellous, but we were just passing through. Little did I know I would return here many more times, discovering one of the most fantastic deserts in Oman.
Months went by and I kept seeing that place in my dreams, but having only a basic 4×4 system in my SUV and lacking desert driving experience, the trip into “my” desert remained a pipe dream, earmarked for future exploration.
I bought my first serious 4×4 in 2009 – a Toyota Land Cruiser 80 with a 4.2L diesel engine – and was finally ready to hit the dunes.
My first destination was that same area between Mahout and Duqm. The dunes are stunning and delightfully distinctive when compared with the rest of Oman’s deserts. The dunes are not huge and the desert is not sprawling, but the green trees and weathered rocks that merge the terrain with the sand give the place a special feeling.
This trip convinced me to return to this magical place as often as I could. When I arrived back in Muscat, I researched the area, but neither books nor locals could tell me its name.
A few months later, I travelled to the Al Wusta region to spend a night in “my” desert. When I awoke in the morning, I found that the dunes had an incredibly deep orange colour that was enhanced by the warm yellow of the sunrise.
It reminded me of the cinnamon sold in an Oriental shop when I was a child, so I started calling the place the “Cinnamon Desert”, using this reference in my subsequent articles and photographs.
Nowadays, I often plan my trips to the Interior to include a night in this area and I have stayed there more than 30 times.
In late 2011, I travelled to the Cinnamon Desert with a small group of European 4×4 fans so that I could explore the area fully.
The conditions were unforgettable – cold nights, weak winds and the full moon created an atmosphere in which I took one of the best shots of my career.
Three years later and my trip companions still talk about our night in the Cinnamon Desert, despite the fact we visited the Empty Quarter, the Dhofar mountains and many other breathtaking places.
On another trip there last year, I experienced a strong wind that was unusual for that particular time of year. Millions of grains of sand were whipped up into a mini sandstorm, obscuring everything but the trees from view.
Warm lighting and low contrast made for some atmospheric shots, so I picked up my camera straight away. Yet again, it was a case of being in the right place at the right time in the Cinnamon Desert.
I took many trips there last year, trying to gauge the scale of the desert and I experienced some of my hottest days in Oman, with my car’s thermometer reaching 50°C.
A few months ago, I was on my way back from Salalah and decided to take a one-day break in the Cinnamon Desert to prepare photographs for my last article as Y’s staff photographer.
I turned off from the asphalt road neat the small Bedouin settlement of Ar Rumailiyah and reached a long, reddish sand dune only eight kilometres from the road.
The silence was incredible and I found a good spot under a big tree to camp overnight. The cinnamon sands looked majestic, as always, and I used what was left of the afternoon light to take some photos on the dunes.
Hundreds of trees dotted the landscape and I couldn’t see a single sign of civilisation, which meant there was little more to do than sit in peace at the campfire with my faithful dachshund, Trop, until late into the night.
It was a fantastic and fitting way to draw my tenure as Y’s photographer to a close.
The Cinnamon Desert is between Mahout and Duqm. The dunes are next to road 32 in a few spots, but the most fantastic part of the desert is found further off the beaten track.
A 4×4 and careful driving are compulsory. A GPS will take you to a spot where the rocks create something like a gate to the desert, with the dunes just a few hundred metres from the tarmac road.
GPS location of the Cinnamon Desert: N 20’ 27’ 58” E 57’ 52’ 03”