A wrong turn leads Shaquel Al Balushi and friends to a stranger and a lush oasis called Moquzeh
It was an early morning start for this week, which may perhaps have explained why we ended up going wrong.
However, this mistake turned out to be very fortuitous. Sometimes, you need a little luck to find your way.
I had left early Thursday morning with my travelling gang – my cousin, the “new guy” and “Head Man” – and it was still dark as we set off from Amerat around 2.30am. Our destination was a place none of us had ever been to before but one that had intrigued me for some time. On the way to Nizwa, I had been passing a sign to Al Afia many times and it had always interested me. I wondered about the name and what it might be like.
I was looking forward to finally finding out but fate, it seemed, had other ideas.
It started as planned. When we saw the sign for Al Afia, about halfway between Muscat and Nizwa (80km as the camel walks), we turned off the main road. We should have then turned right but inexplicably – perhaps we were still sleepy – we took the wrong turn and headed left. Always up for an adventure, our gang decided to stick with it and see where it would lead us. After about seven or eight kilometres, we came across some mountains that were a startling black in colour. I’ve only ever seen mountains this dark in Oman once before – in Mazare. Onward we went until we arrived at an open wadi. The landscape around was arid and windswept, with the overriding colour a sort of muddy brown. I managed to capture a nice shot of an ancient tree, its gnarled roots exposed to the air, ripping out of the earth and leaning precariously towards the ground.
Earlier, we had passed a low-level homestead with corrugated iron roofs and a weathered Omani metal door, old palm trees and bits of discarded items and rubbish strewn around the dusty floor. I took one of my favourite photos of the shoot here – an abandoned bike, left casually on its side. It all had a slightly apocalyptic air about it.
A baby goat posed confidently for his moment in the spotlight as I snapped away.
As I took a close-up shot of a small leaf on a rock that had crinkled brown in the sun and was beginning to curl up at the edges, I clocked someone walking towards me. It was an older man with greying hair and a beard, wearing a dishdasha. He greeted me warmly. As it was around 5.30am by then, I realised that he had probably just come from morning prayer in the small mosque we had seen not far back.
The man’s Arabic was very thick and heavy, different from the Muscat dialect that I’m used to, and I was having trouble understanding him as we exchanged pleasantries. Thankfully, my friends were able to step in and translate. We had to politely decline his offer of coffee and halwa as we had other places on our list to visit that day.
However, the man urged us to take some time and head to an oasis with pools of water that he said wasn’t far away. Our interest piqued, we jumped back into our trusty Jeep Wrangler and trundled off, travelling around 7km as the old man advised before parking and beginning our walk. It’s an easy amble; flat and relatively easy underfoot so suitable for all. Suddenly, we came upon the most beautiful and unexpectedly verdant oasis, vivid green from trees and shrubs, dotted with shallow pools of still, cool water. It was such a contrast to the barren landscape we had just come from.
This would be a beautiful place to come for a picnic with friends and family, or for the more energetic, some hiking.
Walking on, we saw green banks with bushes laden with delicate pink flowers, which are usually seen in a park, not in the middle of nowhere. The old man had told us that in the rainy season, the pools become deep and flow fast through the area. That might explain all the frogs that we found jumping around in the water and the rocks. I tried to get a close-up of one. However, fidgety frogs are not particularly easy subjects for wildlife photography. They never sit still for long!
We wandered around, drinking in the colour and enjoying the peace. Everyone was so glad that we had taken a wrong turn at the start and found this place. It was meant to be.
From Muscat, take Route 15 heading towards Nizwa. Around halfway between the two, about 80kms of so, you’ll see a sign for Al Afia. Take this turn, then turn left at the roundabout and go straight on. After about 7km, you will see a signboard, take the right. This will take you to the open wadi. To get to the oasis, take the path straight.
GPS location to reach the turn: N23°01’31,8” E57°52’02.5”