In preparing for our trip to Oman, we searched the web to filter and highlight the opportunities for our adventure. We had rented a Land Cruiser for two weeks that was tricked out with a rooftop tent, allowing us to freedom camp wherever we wanted, unconstrained by the itinerary of a tour group (which we’d also looked at).
Our best source became the Destination section in the weekly online newspaper Y-Oman. From 2009 until 2014 the photojournalist in charge of Destination was Jerzy Wierzbicki, who stated, “My main goal is to explore places, which neither appear in the official Oman travel guides, nor are listed by any travel agencies. Many locations in my portfolio were discovered during my trips as a press photographer. I believe that several of them are still hidden from regular tourist agencies and remain unexplored by other travellers in Oman. These wonders are still clean and untouched by civilization.”
Although there is an archive for Y-Oman, the site has neither a search engine nor an index for Destination, so the articles are almost as hidden as the locations. After I browsed each archived issue, I found the nugget, a spot not marked on any maps, that Jerzy has named the Cinnamon Desert for “the incredibly deep orange colour that was enhanced by the warm yellow of the sunrise.” This, I thought, would be a good warm-up for driving in the Empty Quarter later on the same trip.
“A Fond Farewell to my Cinnamon Desert” provided the lat-long coordinates to enter the desert from the highway, but not the direction. However, Jwerzy’s final entry on the Cinnamon Desert had a clue—he said he’d “reached a long, reddish sand dune only eight kilometres from the road.” So using Google Earth, I searched an eight kilometre radius from the entry point, looking in vain for any feature that might have been in one of his photographs. Then, just a month before our departure, Google made Google Earth Pro free. What a difference! Google Earth Pro’s resolution is so much higher that you can see double tire tracks in the sand. One set of tracks that led NNE and then swung to the west stopped near two trees, which I imagined Jerzy may have camped under on one of his thirty visits to the desert. It was less than two kilometres from the road, so it would be less of a struggle if we got stuck and Spice had to dig and hoe our way back to the highway!
Anticipating our trip was an adrenaline rush as I mentally honed-up (watching hours of YouTube videos) for four-wheel driving on sand and recovering when stuck in it. As we entered the desert solo, the sand was firm, so we didn’t deflate the tires. The track we had seen on Google Earth Pro was fairly obvious, but it was crisscrossed by others. Driving on this cinnamon sand was like being in a fresh snowfall in Saskatchewan, with gentle drift, slide and spin. As we approached our destination, a sand drift with two trees, grins on our faces, we took care to turn back toward the highway, and stop on a slight downhill slope. We celebrated with gin and tonics.
Click for an enlarged image
Remote and quiet, sand and stars—just as promised. Until the morning. We were awakened by the sound of soft bells. Looking out, a Bedouin goat herder was moving his flock past our tent. Hopefully for that goat herder, his grazing land that both we and Jerzy had fallen in love with, will remain clean and untouched. We followed our tracks carefully back to the highway to minimize damage to the fragile vegetation in the Cinnamon Desert.
We had asked Jerzy Wierzbicki to provide the coordinates from some of his favourite spots within the Cinnamon Desert. He declined, proposing instead to lead us on a multi-day trip. Perhaps it was his way of keeping freedom camping spots that are precious to him clean and untouched.
Cinnamon Desert and A Fond Farewell To My ‘Cinnamon Desert’ from Y-Oman will motivate any adventurer. “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.” The GPS location to enter the Cinnamon Desert is N 20’ 27’ 58” E 57’ 52’ 03”.
We booked our Land Cruiser, camping equipment and support services through SafariDrive. In Africa, Safari Drive owns and operates most of its own equipment. In Oman they use suppliers of high-quality vehicles and equipment that match their own standards. Of great appeal to us was the rooftop tent that provided a unique experience, allowing confident, comfortable and secure sleeping in areas of real wilderness. We had complete freedom to deviate from their sample itinerary to allow us to visit untouched portions of Oman, rather than the tourist magnets such as the Wahiba Sands. Click “Oman” in our tags to see other highlights. Following our trip to Oman, we advised SafariDrive on improvements they could make to their itinerary, equipment and disclosure to enhance the adventure for future clients, and have received compensation for that advice.