Steven Jones is a Welshman with a taste for the wild, and is helping to put Oman on the world map for outdoor adventures.
Visiting the OMRAN building has been something on my “To Do” list for quite a while now. Standing tall next to the Lamborghini showroom in Baushar, the building has become an icon of sorts.
But why wouldn’t it? OMRAN wants to broaden the Sultanate’s horizons. Its litany of projects will soon reshape the country into becoming one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
And on this day, I was meant to be having a chat with one of the masterminds behind OMRAN’s goal, Steven Jones. Waiting for him in the lobby, the receptionists tell me that Steven is a development adviser for OMRAN, and one of the most adventurous people in Oman.
And in no time, Steven is downstairs, and amicably inviting me to join him in his office. In fact, he is extremely friendly and approachable, and we soon find ourselves talking about our common interests in trekking and travelling around the world.
I learn that Steven’s love for adventure doesn’t just stop with reading online articles and procrastinating (like me). He actually has the credentials to claim his love for what he does.
“My love for outdoor activities like canoeing, caving and trekking come from my early days in Wales,” says the adventurist. “At school, I had the opportunity to go to an outdoor education centre to try canoeing, caving and climbing, and I was instantly hooked. That’s when I realised that I really liked adventure sports.
“I started off life as a canoeist and I paddled kayaks for the Griffin Kayak Club in slalom races, before giving it up and becoming a speleologist [a person who studies and explores caves].
However, after taking up caving, Steven also took up the risky activity of cave diving, and saw himself travelling all around the world to explore caves.
“Cave diving is when the water touches the roof of the cave. Then you have to put on scuba diving gear and lights to explore them. Cave diving was, and probably still is, the most dangerous sport in the world.
“And when I was 19, it seemed like a risk worth taking,” he laughs.
Nevertheless, Steven soon joined Goldsmith’s college at the University of London to undertake a combined degree in botany and zoology, following which he specialised in teaching – to instruct in outdoor education.
“Opening up the outdoors for people and teaching them to explore is my passion,” he says.
And in 1988, Steven undertook his first job as an outdoor education teacher, enlightening youngsters and opening their eyes to a world of adventure. In the late 1980s, Steven was invited to China by the Chinese government to explore underwater watercourses to create accurate maps of the groundwater paths.
“It was called the Chinese Cave Project, and it is still going on. Every year, a group will go back to China where they will undertake the task of helping the government trace the paths of caves to help them dig bore wells. I did it for six years,” says Steven.
His love for all adventure sports, however, soon landed him a position as a consultant for OMRAN, before finally moving to Oman for a full-time role as a development adviser for the same company.
“Adventure activities are in their infancy here but in my opinion Oman has the best adventure opportunities in the whole world.
“If you ask somebody which is the best country for adventure in the world they’d say, New Zealand or the Alps in Europe.
“However, for me, Oman can compete absolutely with any of these places,” he says, adding that there is a great opportunity for developing adventure tourism in the Sultanate.
“One’s definition of adventure could be different,” he says. “For instance, it could mean being on a jet ski on the beach for one but for another it could be hitting the desert.
“But I can assure you that people are no longer happy simply lying on a beach. Many like to trek up mountains and explore caves nowadays.”
“The community of cavers here is quite small but it is growing. And Oman has some fantastic caves. My wife and I were lucky to enter a new one on Jabal Akhdar.
“We were shown the entrance to a cave by a guide from the Alila Jabal Akdhar hotel. It was just a hole in the ground roughly the size of a small table and a little more than 50 metres deep.
“So we dropped stones down to estimate the depth and got some ropes and other equipment to head down.
“This made us the first people to enter and explore that cave,” Steven says proudly.
Today, however, the cave is closed by the Ministry of Tourism for surveys to determine if it houses any rare animals, plants or other organisms. But Steven has high hopes of converting it into an adventure hub if it clears the bill.
“This very special and amazing remote place is what makes Oman so amazing,” he says.
“So we are developing it at a steady pace rather than quickly to retain its charm, and to preserve the nature and at the same time, also the culture of the people.”
Steven has just received approval from the National Survey Authority of Oman for six new trails that he has developed over the Al Hajar Mountains, close to the Alila Jabal Akdhar hotel.
“The maps actually were just approved one hour ago and will be published and made into brochures very soon.
“Three weeks ago, we had the founder of the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc, which is one of the most famous walks in the world, in Oman for a visit. After following one of the new trails, the Lost Village Hike that I opened, he said it was in his ‘top five walking routes in the entire world’!
“Oman is an absolute paradise for people who want the opportunity to do all of these outdoor activities, and in a few years, it could become one of the top spots in the world for outdoor activities.”
Have you got a unique story to tell or do you know someone who has? Contact us to have coffee with Y and be featured in Y Magazine.