We are back in Germany – green, rainy, well-organised, toilet paper deprived Germany – oh how we missed you, or did we?! I`ll admit it dealing with the thought that we might not be able to get back was pretty unpleasant, but I can`t say that I felt particularly homesick over the last two weeks and I hope neither did the other fieldtrippers. Letting go of the excursion routine, the great outdoors and the people that surrounded you non-stop is easier said than done. So, to make our transition back into our everyday lifes a bit smoother and to say goodbye to our readers, I am writing one last blog.
Oman is a wealthy state. We have seen various expressions of this wealth in the last two weeks. They come in form of prestigious development projects like the botanical gardens or the university, in form of a rather wasteful usage of water and in form of cheap fuel, I mean when did you last fill you 120 l tank for 45 €? For Omani citizens the governmental welfare is almost limitless. There are no taxes, free healthcare, education, and a piece of land to build on for every married adult. All of this wealth pours from a single source: oil. One can discuss the sustainability of this situation, but that is not where I am going with this.
When we prepared the lunch for our fieldtrip participants on the first day we triggered a lot of confusion. ‘Is this dinner already?’ (at 1 pm mind you.) ‘No this is lunch.’ ‘WE GET LUNCH?’
Yes indeed, you get lunch. Yes, every day. Three meals a day is apparently unconventional for fieldtrips and I have to admit I gain a few pounds every year, but come on, did you think we would let you starve?! There are fresh veggies, fruit, eggs (oh so many eggs), bread and a number of spreads on the buffet. Dinner embraces the popular concept of ‘Reis mit Scheiß’, whereby ‘Scheiß’ is usually spicy goat or camel or, on meatless days, chicken. But where does all of this come from? How does Oman satisfy its food consumption?
Driving off-road is a crucial part of this fieldtrip. We get the Land Cruisers for a reason and the people who drive have the chance to try out a number of different terrains, starting with basic dirt roads, ending with loose sand or gravel. For some of the drivers it`s the first time to leave the safe haven of asphalt and also the first time to handle a 2 ton four-wheel-drive. The fact that there have never been any major driving incidents shows that the off-roading is actually easily learned. Still, there are some tracks that are somewhat tricky.
Imagine a wadi. A dry river bed, filled with gravel, at the foot of a tower-shaped mountain. A few trees and shrubs grow between the rubble. Night has already fallen, the mountain stands black before the night sky. The full moon is bright enough to see every pebble and every thorny twig. In this wadi there sits a camp right beside a rudimentary dirt road. The camp has a large white truck, a row of cars, some tables, a circle of camping chairs around a campfire and a few scattered tents. The fire is burning, an interrupted card game lays on a boulder and from the boiling pots in the truck`s kitchen comes a smell of roasted chicken, but nobody is there.
Oman is a desert. Per definition, a desert is an area with less than 250 mm of annual precipitation, which is true for the entire country, except for the highest mountains. Still, I believe that if you ask a random European what a desert looks like, they will not describe the landscapes that we saw the last couple of days. Neither turquoise water pools and hanging gardens nor beaches come to mind when you think of deserts. Instead, they will describe what we are about to experience next: red dunes stretching out to the horizon, hot sand under our feet, an unforgiving sun in a clear blue sky, a landscape so barren of vegetation that you wonder if anything can survive in it.
At our beach camp of the last couple of days two things are very obvious. First, Gösta always makes us park in “direction of escape” and second, if you wish to avoid the toilet-tent and instead use the beach – better do it early, otherwise you risk to become amusement to the many fisherman that pass you by on their speedboats.
Today we spend the whole day on a terrace. I know what kind of image this sentence probably triggers: armchairs, cold cobblers, homemade lemonade, sunglasses and general relaxation. Forget that! The terrace we are talking about is a marine terrace, so a staircase-shaped coastal landform that is formed through a combination of sea-level variations and land uplift.
This fieldtrip is a highly interdisciplinary fieldtrip. In theory, this means that we can all broaden our knowledge about the neighbouring fields of geology, geography, archaeology and ecology. In reality, this means that it is a little different than the fieldtrips our participants are used to. And what happens when you take people out of their known environment and expose them to changed conditions? Nagging! Usually it takes about a week before the geologists start to complain. This year`s geologists seem to be particularly petty, because it took only one day for them to notice ‘we didn`t look at any outcrops yesterday’. (If you read that last bit in a whiny voice, you are correct.)
The day has come. In dribs and drabs our newly minted Oman-travellers arrived at the hotel in Muscat. A hotel that conveniently changed its name and 1/4th of its facade over the last couple of months, but otherwise, from staff to breakfast, remained exactly the same. From the standpoint of the arrivals, something else probably changed its facade over the last 24 hours and that is Oman itself. The country went from a blank shape on a map to a real place with character, colours, sounds and smells.