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Among the many different trips that can be made into the range of the Hajar Mountains, the track that leads to the oasis of Shiis is one of my favourites. The beginning of the road is on the east coast and leads first through the tiny Omani enclave of Madha, that lies in a bend of the wadi, so that the road dips down to wadi level both at the entrance and at the exit of the village. In times of rain this road may not be passable. The oasis that lies at the back of the village is a botanical gem, with some rare plants such as Dalecampia scandens and Crotalaria retusa having been recorded.

Just beyond where the road crosses the wadi bed the second time is a place where the beautiful Tecomella undulata tree grows in abundance on both sides of the road. Its large trumpet-like flowers grow straight from the branches, virtually without a stem. At this site the government has made a recreational area with picnic tables and shades. When the river is in spate, there is no prettier place to spend a Friday!

But for the real adventurer the better parts lie beyond this site. First one has to pass through a newly constructed settlement, and then the track crosses pass after pass, forever deeper into the mountains. The rocks along the road are so varied and colorful that almost anyone would want to become a geologist. In fact, the Hajar mountains are of great interest to professional geologists, because this is one of the few places on earth where volcanic rocks that were once at the bottom of the ocean can be studied at the surface without a dense covering of vegetation. Here a cascade of white "streams" is made up out of calcite deposits, there a seam of mica glistens like diamonds. Dark red chert lies side by side with sparkling gold muscovite. Even garnet has been found here. Once I had the good luck to see the rocks when it was raining. The colors show much brighter when the rocks are wet
Side wadis tempt you for a walk past blue-green pools. There are many places to go for a cool swim. Unfortunately some people that enjoyed this privilege have left graffiti on the rocks and garbage in the wadi bed. I can never believe that anyone can do that. How much more fun to leave a place exactly as you found it: clean, pretty and peaceful.

On one rather hot early summer walk, I found a low cave with hundreds of butterflies. This is where the large White-edged Rock Brown (Hipparchia parisatis) survives the summer. The wadis are lined with Oleander bushes and Saccharum reeds and many small plants have found a niche between the boulders in the wadi bed. Dragonflies flit by with speeds up to 70 km an hour, damselflies can be seen in pairs on twigs and grasses. Once I found an extraordinary creature between the rocks here. At first I though it was a woolly spider, but when I focused in with my close-up lens I saw it was a very small camel spider. Its body was orange and its legs were very furry and black. As I tried to take a picture, its front two legs came up over its head. It was a defensive gesture, no doubt, but it looked as if it was covering its eyes in order to hide from this threatening giant above him. I quickly left it to live its life in peace.

From one of the high passes there is a sudden splash of green to be seen, nestling amidst the reddish-brown and black rocks. This is the oasis of the Bani Humayd. The track that leads between the gardens is lined with very old fig trees (Ficus cordata) and "sidr" trees (Zizyphus spinachristi). These latter trees have sweet-smelling flowers that are nutritious fodder for goats, while the small yellow fruits that come later are enjoyed by the farmers themselves. They are like small sour apples. If you take care not to trample the crops and destroy irrigation channels and stone walls, the farmers welcome you to rest in the shade of the palm trees. Between the sorghum plots, the date palms and the citrus trees, there are many wild flowers to discover and enjoy. The delicate white flowers of the aromatic basil (Ocimum basilicum) vie for place with the yellow stars of Urospermum picroides and the tall twigs of the jute plant Corchorus trilocularis. Small maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris) line the water channels. In early summer the farmers sing as they work in the palm groves, but most of the time the silence is carried only by the tinkle of water and the song of birds.

On, on we travel across rough boulder beds to where a waterfall bars further vehicle use. This is the oasis of Shiis, well advertised by the sudden appearance of electric street lamps in the wadi bed! The pools at the foot of the waterfall are another favourite picnic place and sadly also badly polluted by careless visitors. It is possible to walk through the palm groves on the left to the top of the waterfall and from there follow the course of the wadi upstream for many more miles. The people of the village object to anyone taking a swim in this upper part of the wadi - understandably, as their drinking water comes from here. You can see the channel and pipes that lead the water across the high cliffs to the houses that are built precariously along them.

Among the rocks of the walls that surround the fields, the large lizard Lacerta jayakari finds its home. This is one of the two species of reptiles that are indigenous to the Hajar mountains (the other is the smaller brilliantly coloured Lacerta cyanura, with its bright blue chin, belly and tail). Indigenous means that the animal does not occur anywhere else in the world. With its large size (up to 60 cm) and its beautiful mottled slate blue skin, Jayakar's lizard is certainly a creature worthy of protection. Fortunately, as far as I know, people do not persecute it for any reason, and there seem to be plenty of them around. Another reptile often seen in this habitat is the slender and fast Wadi racer, Coluber rhodorhachis. This rear-fanged snake is not dangerous to people, as its fangs are set far back in its mouth so that it cannot grasp anything very large, and the poison is only fit to kill its prey of fishes, toads and small mammals. The non-dangerous snakes can be distinguished from the more dangerous vipers by the shape of their body and head as well as by their behaviour. The heads of vipers are triangular, with a well-visible neck, and their bodies are usually quite thick. The fast, thin snakes have bullet-shaped heads and no distinguishable neck. Vipers are usually slow-moving, rather lazy reptiles. It is not unusual to step across a viper without even noticing it (it happened to me and to other wadi walkers). The snake only strikes if it is being hurt or if it feels threatened. The poison is potent and an immediate evacuation to a hospital is necessary. With treatment the bite is unpleasant and painful, but without treatment it can be fatal.
On one visit I found an interesting example of nature recycling: a deserted bird's nest had been taken over by a colony of paper wasps. The cells of the wasp's nest were suspended from the arching top of the globular nest and profited from its shade.
Bird-spotters can have a good time on this trip too, as there are so many different habitats: gardens, open rock and wet streams. The most interesting bird that I ever spotted was a Hammerhead stork, but I am told by the birding experts that it is very unlikely that this African bird made it this far north and east, so it was probably a figment of my imagination.

Even though the way back follows the same route, the views are different and many different plants catch your eye. With late afternoon back lighting large flowering plants like Cleome rupicola or Lavandula subnuda look especially pretty. A last visit to a deep pool to wash away the dust of the trip and you are ready for the long ride home.



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