Opening my eyes to see thorny branches silhouetted against the bright blue sky, for a good few seconds I had no idea where I was. Then the stiffness in my limbs brought it all back: sleepy from the heat and hours spent trying to stay on a camel, I’d fallen into a doze on a blanket under a tree as Humeid, my guide, prepared lunch on a camp fire.
Moments later he set a large metal sharing dish in front of me, ripped the flat bread he had just made from scratch into small pieces, poured half a litre of UHT milk over them, and invited me to tuck in. Without doubt one of the blandest meals I’ve ever eaten, but one I’ll certainly never forget.
I was spending a few days at a traditional Bedouin camp in the Sharqiya Sands, a desert region in the east of Oman that’s been home to this itinerant people for generations. Humeid’s father first began welcoming tourists over 20 years ago, offering them a slice of Bedouin culture a world away from the bright lights of Oman’s modern capital, Muscat.
There’s no road through the desert to reach the camp, just some tyre marks in the sand that led me to a wide circle of sturdy-looking huts arranged around a solitary palm tree. The silence was the first thing that struck me as I settled in – no planes flying over, no bird song, not even the buzz of insects. Absolute peace and quiet.
With afternoon shadows lengthened over the camp, Humeid suggested we catch sunset from the top of the high dunes a short drive away. Easier said than done – climbing the 30-metre dune felt like scaling a wall and it wasn’t long before I was out of breath. I flung myself to the ground at the top, enjoying the coolness of the sand just below the surface after my exertions in the still hot desert sun.
As the infinity of dunes changed colour in the shifting late afternoon light, we were served dates – the freshest and stickiest I had ever had – and strong black coffee brewed on a tiny fire Humeid built on the top of the dune. With no fanfare, the sun dipped below the horizon, and a moment later a brisk wind began swirling the tiny particles of sand up into little tornadoes. Ill equipped for the sudden chill in the air, I headed back to the Jeep, taking giant steps back down the dune that felt almost like falling, the sand running downwards in the channels caused by my footprints.