By Lauri Dammert
Edited by Dr.Hussein Shehadeh
Event travelling is a growing business all over the world. People from the rich countries of the West, Asia, and the Russians want to experience something else, having tired of the traditional hotel-beach-combination, with the obligatory but time worn 'folkloric' party.
They want an experience that is exciting, unusual but also safe. For this reason, event-travel has very similar elements all over the world: Tourists are driven in unusual vehicles to strange places, preferably inhabited by different kinds of people. The food is exotic and the nature harsh, but they are always accompanied by an experienced guide, to guarantee their safety.
The Sultanate of Oman, situated at the tip of the Arabian peninsula, is the most unique of all the Arabic countries, and its culture is pure Arabic, from everyday customs to architecture. As a modern, well-off and socially peaceful country with a legendary hospitability, it has slowly become one of the main destinations for people who seek that which is new and different. Oman has no desire to accommodate mass tourism, but many event travel companies have come into being, offering everything from deep sea fishing to mountaineering and desert trips.
Oman has a lot to offer, too: hundreds of kilometres of sandy beaches, extremely rich and easily accessible marine life, magnificent mountains and vast deserts such as the Rub al Khali and Wahiba attract a growing number of experience-seeking tourists.
The usual mode of transport in the desert is the four-wheel-drive. In the desert one can make the acquaintance of camels, eat traditional food and wonder at the lifestyle of the nomadic Bedouins and spend the nights in simple but comfortable cabins or luxurious tents.
One of the dirt-trip companies is run by Rachid al-Mughairy, who operates in the Wahiba Sands (www.nomadicdertcamp.com).
He says, that most of his customers come from Germany and USA, but even Asians are among them.
His company is a family-run business: Brothers, cousins and other relatives are guides and helpers.
"Things are going well for us," he says, "and the business is growing every year."
The personnel of this new company are enthusiastic and willing to service and help their customers, and it is obvious that they thrive the desert. They are also used to the desert - they walk across the loose sand briskly and without hesitation, while the tourists hobble after them bathed in sweat. When we walked up a dune to see the sunrise I was happy I had taken good advice in Muscat and bought myself a pair of Omani sandals. They are longish with a slightly upward front, which makes it relatively easy to walk in the sand. The heavy boots of my German co-travellers were hot and had filled with sand by the time we reached the top.
The desert is unreal. Sand everywhere, formed into fine patterns again and again by the constant wind. The scent is pure and somewhat sweet. It comes i guess from the sparse but sturdy vegetation, which gets its water from the moisture in the air, and which is being browsed by camels and skinny goats.
The colourful clothes of the Bedouin shine against the reddish sand.
The 4x4s leave an enormous veil of dust after them. The sand is so fine, that one has to let air out from the tires to be able to drive here.
The horizon is everywhere, the sunset very red and very quick. We are going to spend the night in a cottage near a Bedouin village. The only light is oil-lamps and candles, and from the kitchen one smells the scents of the Arab cuisine: herbs, spices, fish, meat and vegetables, both fresh and pickled.
The night cools to a pleasant 15 Celsius, and a fire is lit. Guides like Shakur start to dance around the fire and asks the travellers to join. The music is played by locals. The lead melody is played with an ou'd, an instrument which resembles the lute, and has an incredibly beautiful sound. The tempo is given from the arm-pit-held drum the tabla.
Shakur's pure joy and warm personality infects the multinational group of tourists.
I lie on my back on a mat and look at the stars. The Milky Way is incredibly clear here, and there is no light pollution in the desert. The stars are bright and much more numerous than I have ever seen before. I listen to the Ou'd and suddenly I see a satellite gliding across the Milky Way. I contemplate how far apart the satellite and this little desert village are in many ways, until I notice the blue light in one of the huts and the satellite dish on the roof.
So it is. The tourists want an 'original and untainted experience', but the people living in these places do not wish to remain like some kind of outdoor museum for the pleasure of the tourists - this is as true in the Wahiba Sands as it is in Finnish Lapland.
But enough of my Nordic cynicism! The trip was wonderful. The scents, colours and atmosphere of the desert remain clear in my memory. And because the business in Oman is still young, the enthusiasm of the personnel of the guide company was enthralling. I hope they have the energy to go on like this even when groups of 3000+ arrive. But one should perhaps travel to Oman now, while there is still time!