A Visit to Oman’s Nomadic Desert Camp
By Mercedes Masters
As a student of Middle Eastern Studies, I’ve always been fascinated with the roots of Arab culture, where it all began — and that is with nomadic bedouin roots. Hence why, when I discovered Oman’s Desert Nomad Camp online, I was incredibly excited to check it out, I booked a place for my best friend and I instantly.
Nestled within the gorgeous sunset-gold coloured Sharqiya Sands (previously known as the Wahiba Sands), you are instantly greeted with bedouin hospitality at the Nomadic Desert Camp. A friendly welcome, and smiles all round.
It is utterly picturesque. The grounds are beautifully constructed by hand (as I discovered in the evening, when chatting to men who run it) with home-made palm huts, classic bedouin yurts, and three large bedouin tents for relaxation and eating in the shade. When stepping inside your dwelling for the night, you are greeted by beds with traditional Arabic coverings, a gorgeous wooden chest of draws, a woven rug beneath your feet, and you are even provided with a mosquito net for your comfort.
After our hut allocation and the unpacking of our minimal items, my friend and I headed to the bedouin tent with shade. This seemed to be where everyone gathered. It was one of the most friendly atmospheres I have ever been involved in. We all spoke with each other, and it was significant to see that there were also people who had visited this location time and time again — a sign that it is, indeed, an excellent resort.
After about fifteen minutes of chit-chat with other strangers, one of the “Bedouin Boys,” as they like to call themselves, came up to us and said, “We are now going to drive to the dunes to watch the sunset, come, let’s go.”
People piled into their cars or hopped into the Bedouin Boys’ cars and all in a steady line drove up the dunes. It is safe to say that driving through desert dunes is incredibly thrilling. The sand underneath the tires almost feels like you’re driving on water. It is difficult to describe the sensation, but absolutely something one must experience.
Once at the top of the dunes, everyone stepped out of the cars and climbed up the dunes. As someone who is not particularly fit, I settled for one of the ‘mid-height’ dunes, whereas the fitter individuals (mainly younger children, it has to be said), opted for climbing to the tallest dunes. We were there for about half an hour, my friend and I chatting away, feeling the warm sand beneath our hands and feet, slowly watching the sun go down. In the distance, the Bedouin Boys were doing their daily prayers. My friend and I continued talking whilst the dusk turned dark. We gradually declined back down the dune, only to discover at the bottom near the cars, a fire had been lit, and the rest of the group were gathered all around.
“Wash your hands, and take with your right hand please.”
Hamed, one of the Bedouin Boys, offered me a date covered in sesame seeds. This was followed by Ahmed, another one of the Bedouin Boys, offering me traditional Arabic coffee, freshly brewed off the fire. The coffee was utterly remarkable. The scent of cardamon coming through, and a hint of cinnamon in the taste. The bitterness was contrasted by the sweet, sticky taste of the date. Divine.
The stars were beginning to come out as we were all finishing our second, third, fourth cups of coffee. Hamed and Ahmed gathered everyone together and led the way back down in the cars.
When we got back to the camp, we had enough time to get our torches, and make our way over to the dinner tent. Dinner was a buffet, with options of: spicy tomato soup; lentil curry; roasted chicken; biryani rice; basmati rice; hummus; baba ghanoush; fatoush salad; fruit; and dates to name but a few. To drink you had the option of juice, plain water, or lemon-orange water with mint. It was such joyous comfort food, and incredibly satisfying after the day trip to the desert. Moreover, I was suitably impressed that they had not only vegetarian options, but also vegan ones.
After dinner another fire was lit near the tent for shade. Circling the fire was carpets, pillows and throws. My friend and I lay down and looked up at the stars in silence — blissfully content. We were so engrossed in the stars we didn’t realise other people had joined us, until we heard the gentle strumming of the oud — the classical arabic lute; an instrument which gains you the utmost respect if you have mastered it.
The musician playing it, and his accompaniments on the drums, had clearly mastered it. So much so, that not only were the Bedouin Boys dancing around the fire, locals from surrounding villages joined for the event, as well as shy Western tourists — we all participated in dancing to the rhythm and phrygian dominant scale of the Arabic maqam music.
As our bodies grew weary from the dancing, my friend and I sat back down and watched the others, smiles glued onto our faces. Ahmed then came round with a pots of tea, pouring either ginger or mint tea round for those who wished. He then sat down next to my friend and I, and we engaged in conversation. We compared the dunes of the desert to the rolling hills of Somerset, England, where my friend and I both went to school. We spoke about life in the desert versus life in London.
The time flew by, and eventually my friend and I decided it was time to drag our bodies to bed. We glanced up at the stars in full brightness one last time, and went into our hut, and fell sound asleep, to the gentle heartbeat of the drum still playing in the distance.
The sun woke us next morning. We made our way back to the fire pit, where Ahmed was making fresh bread on the embers of last nights fire. We joined him again for a talk as he was baking and showing us how to accurately make the flat bread. It all went into a bowl, which was taken to the table for breakfast. Naturally, my friend and I followed.
The breakfast buffet had been laid out: fresh bread; eggs; honey; jam; yoghurt; cheese; an array of fruit; dates; coffee; tea; and juices and water. Our stomaches growled, and we helped ourselves. We ate in the shade, near Ahmed so we could continue talking. He told us that after breakfast they were going to bring the camels and that we could all go onto them for a twenty minute ride in the desert. My friend had never seen a camel, let alone ridden one before, so the excitement grew steadily as breakfast continued.
Afterwards, we walked to where the camels were. An older man was preparing them, throwing pillows and clothes over the hump as a seat, trying ropes to one another so we would all be collected. I got onto the camel first, as I have ridden camels before, I thought it would be best to show my friend where to lean at which point. She followed me afterwards. The terrified expression changed into a smile when the camel had fully risen. A few other tourists joined us, and off we ventured, round the dunes, with one of the Bedouin Boys leading the way.
The experience of a camel ride is indescribable. In my opinion, it is like a far gentler horse-ride, and with much more character, as you would see some camels ahead trying to nip at the other ones — or you were lucky, like me, who had a beautiful camel walking right next to you, allowing it to stroke its head.
When returning to the camp after the camel ride, we packed our things, relaxed for about half an hour, and then heading back to the car. We said our goodbyes to all the Bedouin Boys, who were so gracious with their kindness, and drove out of the camp, with a genuine melancholy filling our hearts.
As we drove off the edge of the Sharqiya Sands, when the soft sands faded to hard rock, we looked at each other both knowing the other’s thoughts: “We must return again some day soon.”
If You Go:
Sharqiya Sands, Oman // http://www.nomadicdesertcamp.com // Price (per person per night):
Adult in twin hut, 35 OMR
Rates are inclusive of guiding to the camp, drive through the sand dunes to watch the sunset, dinner, live music, breakfast, and twenty-minute camel ride.