Raining in Oman is a rare event, especially in large amounts. On average, the amount of yearly rain in Muscat is 100 millimetres, mostly during wintertime. A few days ago, a depression hit the northern part of the country, including the capital city, with heavy rainfall and strong winds affecting the region. Muscat is located in a narrow area between the mountains and the sea, so the rain very quickly travels between them; in large amounts, it fills the wadis and carries the danger of floods. In such circumstances, people are encouraged to stay home, to avoid driving under such conditions.
I am fortunate to live in an apartment that faces the sea, so during the day of the storm, I had the opportunity to take several photos from my balcony. In between the rainy periods, there would be brief spells where the sky cleared up a little bit; this resulted in interesting compositions with dark and dramatic clouds sweeping over the coast. From the early morning until sunset, I kept an eye on the developing weather; whenever a dramatic cloud formation appeared, I would pick up my camera to photograph it. It was interesting to see how the clouds varied during the day, from large dark masses coming in from the ocean to smaller banks passing by the horizon.
It turned out that staying at home due to bad weather resulted in a collection of nice photos. I have used my 3 lenses for this set, that is, 16mm, 35mm, and 56mm. Each one provided a different approach, depending on composing wide for the sky and clouds, or framing a bit more tight.
This article is about a recent trip of the local astronomy group to a dark observation site, located south of the town of Adam, about a 2.5-hour drive from Muscat. During my first stay in Oman, I used to be part of the astronomy club, so I was glad to learn that it was still active. Every month, the group goes to a dark site during the weekend closest to the new moon, for some great night sky observation. There are some good experts in the group, with new telescopes and imaging gear, that can produce some stunning images of planets and deep sky objects; in my case, I simply enjoy looking through the telescopes, and take some photos to stack later, using trailing or accumulation options.
After an uneventful drive, we arrived at the site, which is in a flat gravel desert area that extends in every direction until the horizon. Most of the interior of Oman is like this, vast areas of flat landscape, where only a few shrubs appear here and there. As you can see on the following map, the light pollution levels are very low, which makes for excellent observation conditions.
The wind had been quite strong during the day, kicking dust into the air, and we were concerned that might affect our viewing conditions. During the sunset, rather than abating, the wind picked up even more, bringing more dust with it. I walked around the campsite taking some photos and noticing potentially interesting compositions. The scarce shrubs provided interesting foreground subjects while framing the photos against the featureless landscape.
Fortunately, the dust cleared around 9 pm, but the wind continued to blow strongly. We were able to see some interesting objects, like Jupiter and a few double clusters; the highlight was the Orion nebula, with its dust and gas clouds clearly visible around the stars. Due to the wind, the telescopes were shaking a bit, so it was not possible to take images. Despite the strong wind, I decided to set up my Fujifilm XT-5 camera with the Fujinon 16mm f/1,4 lens on the tripod, and shot about 120 images at 30 seconds each, which resulted in 1 hour of total time. I framed a tree in the foreground, to provide a focal point against the night sky. After finishing the images for the star trail, I then mounted the XT-4 with the Voigtlaender X 35mm f/1.2 lens and took 10 photos of the Orion constellation. I used Sequator to stack both sets of images, the first one as a star trail, and the second one as accumulation.
The following morning, before sunrise, the wind had died, and there was an eerie quietness due to the prevailing silence. A few crows were flying overhead. I walked around taking photos of the small trees and shrubs. There was still a lot of dust in the air, so when the sun came up, the light was diffused; I used this to shoot some photos of the trees against the rising sun, to good effect. Even with the wind and the dust, it was a nice trip, it is always good to go out in the field and spend the night under the stars.
The Al Hajar mountain range in north Oman spans almost the entire country from east to west. This vast region is home to some of the most beautiful and wild places that you can visit and explore. One of my favorite places is located close to the picturesque village of Bilad Sayt (see map below for general location). To reach this spot are two main alternatives: you can drive from Muscat to Al Hamra and go up the gentle southern flank of the mountain via a nice blacktop road; or you can drive from Muscat to Nakhl and go up the steep northern flank. The latter option is the one I prefer, as it involves driving along a very scenic gravel road that crosses some beautiful landscapes and mountain villages. It requires a 4WD vehicle, and careful driving, but it is well worth the effort.
Once you leave the black top, you will enter Wadi Bani Awf, and its labyrinth of canyons surrounded by jagged peaks. After a few km of driving through the valley floor, with some green farms along the way, the road starts to climb, along a series of sharp curves. This part of the trip will take you to Bilad Sayt, a village that is nested on the flank of a hill, surrounded by mountains and green cultivated fields. Just before reaching the village, don’t miss one of the entry points for the famous Snake Gorge, a deeply cut and narrow canyon where the sun rarely shines; it is one of the most popular adventure destinations in Oman, involving some rough trekking and swimming through a few pools. I did it back in 2003, and it was a thrill.
Bilad Sayt is a good place to take a leisurely walk in between the farms and houses, to experience a way of living that is centuries old. Omanis are very friendly and will be invited to have coffee and dates. After the village, the road becomes quite steep, as it ascends the flank of the mountain, which on this side is almost vertical. Be prepared to negotiate hairpin bends and use low gear. The upside is that some fantastic views will open in front of your eyes, encompassing the mountain range and wadis. It is impossible not to stop a few times to take photos.
It is early January, so when I finally reach the top, it is colder than in the valley; after all, we are roughly 2,000 above sea level. Compared to the last time I was here, in 2009, a couple of tourist projects have been built, but it is still quiet and peaceful. There are other people around, mainly sightseeing; as I mentioned earlier, it is easier just to drive up the northern side of the mountain. I pitch up my tent and sit down for a while, enjoying a snack and taking in the views and feel of the place. I am close to the edge of the steep cliff, and the panoramic views are amazing. A few goats are grazing in this rocky landscape, which is mostly barren and dry, apart from a few bushes and some trees.
I walk around taking photos and waiting for the sunset. Down in the valleys below, the nighttime is already encroaching, while towards the west, the sky and clouds take on the warm colors of the setting sun. It is a magical part of the day. During the night, the temperature dropped considerably, to only a few degrees above freezing. Some heavy clouds also rolled in, but only a few raindrops fell. Looking at the image files later, I decided to convert a few to black and white, to enhance the light and the shapes in the landscape.
The following morning, I woke up before sunrise and had another great photo session. I walked along the ridge taking photos as the sun was rising, with some great light. I was only surrounded by windy silence, the same goats from the previous day, and a couple of eagles flying above me. After an hour or so, it was time to have breakfast and break out camp. It was a wonderful experience to come back to this place and see that it remains unspoiled.
As a final note, all photos were taken with my Fujifilm kit, namely the XT-4 and XT-5 cameras, with the 16mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 lenses.
The Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) rises to a height of nearly 3,000 m and is part of the Hajar mountain range. It includes the Saiq Plateau at 2,000 m altitude and receives enough rainfall and moisture to sustain agriculture. The area is famous for its maze of wadis and terraced orchards, where roses, pomegranates and apricots are abundant. These patches of lush vegetation, in stark contrast with the surrounding dry and rugged land, are what give this region its “Green Mountain” name.
Jebel Akhdar is one of the obligatory places to visit and experience in Oman and has been designated as a nature reserve since 2011. The region became notorious after Princess Diana’s visit in the 1980’s; she admired the sunset from a viewpoint that has since been known as “Diana’s point”. I first visited Saiq Plateau in 2004, and back then there was only 1 hotel and a few scattered houses, plus the old villages nested in the terraced farms. Today there are many hotels and resorts, but the beauty of the landscape still enchants visitors.
I went back to the Green Mountain a few weeks ago, to walk the trail that goes along the terraces and the old villages. It is impressive to see the human effort that was required to mold the terrain into terraces that border precipices with hundreds of meters, where different cereals and fruit trees are grown. The water is supplied through an old falaj network, narrow channels dug in the rock. After driving around to get reacquainted with the area, I stopped near the terraces to admire the sunset. Lady Di was right, it is a magical experience. I took several photos as the sun went down behind the distant mountains.
The following morning, I woke up well before sunrise, to photograph the terraces and villages as the first light was appearing. There was nobody else around, and the silence was complete. It was cold too. As the night transitioned into day, a soft pinkish light started to fall upon the cliffs.
After a well deserved breakfast, I walked the terrace trail; it was still early, so I had the path all to myself. I suggest walking this trail early in the morning, when the air is crisp and cold, to appreciate the tranquility present in the narrow streets that wind between old mud and adobe houses. If you do so, you will also avoid other visitors. It takes around 3 hours and affords beautiful views.
Besides this popular terrace walk, there are many other interesting places to visit, including historical abandoned villages (such as in Wadi Bani Habib and Al Sugra), and remote viewpoints that overlook the deeply cut mountain canyons at the head of major wadis. At this higher altitude, the plateau is also home to a good number of juniper trees, the largest of which are centuries old. You will also see several birds of prey, flying effortlessly against the blue sky.
Given the wide landscape, I made a few panoramas as well.
Even if you are not a photographer, simply sitting down enjoying the beauty of the landscape, in complete silence, is a unique experience. I plan to return during springtime, when the rose gardens will be in bloom. This is one of the few remaining regions where the Damascus rose is still grown, for oil and water.
The small village of Wakan sits atop a hill, at the end of the Gubrah bowl, in the heart of the Jebel Akhdar mountains. During my first stay in Oman several years ago, this was one of my favorite places to visit; there are a few hiking trails in the area, and the views from above the village are stunning. The Gubrah bowl is literally a window into the (geological) past, as the erosion has carved out into the mountain range, resulting in a large flat area surrounded by tall and rugged peaks. The region is easily accessible, being less than a 2-hour drive from Muscat (see location map below).
Even though the main road going through the Gubrah bowl is now blacktop, to reach Wakan you will need a 4WD vehicle, to negotiate the short but steep gravel road. Due to this limitation, the village is still relatively quiet, with a reduced number of tourists. For this visit, my plan was to walk the trail that starts in Wakan and climbs up the mountain, affording magnificent views over the mountains. The weather happened to be great, with a cloud cover that added an extra sense of mystery to the area. In my backpack, I had my usual Fujifilm kit of 2 cameras and 2 lenses, namely the X-T5 with the 16mm f/1.4 lens, and the X-T4 with the 56mm f/1.2 lens.
The village consists of a few houses, which are nested against cultivated terraced hills; people grow fruit trees (pomegranate, almond, peach, among others) and several types of cereals and vegetables. At an altitude of 1400m, the climate is cooler than in the valley below, and there is plenty of water that comes from the mountain through a network of falaj, or channels excavated in the rock.
The first part of the hike is easy going, as you cross the village and the fields. The trees are showing the colors of Autumn, with rich oranges and reds. I stopped several times to take a few photos. The clouds and the mist add to the sense of quietness that emanates from the mountains. After a few hundred meters, the paved steps end, and you start walking along a narrow and rocky mountain trail, that has been used for centuries, as it connects Wakan to the Sayq Plateau, which is located higher, around 4 km away. Every now and then, I stop to take photos and enjoy the scenery. Sometimes the sun breaks through a gap in the clouds, shining upon the valley below.
The way is always up, but after a while the trail levels a bit, next to a huge cliff face. This is a good spot to rest and admire the view. This time, I decided to return to Wakan, rather than walking all the way to Sayq Plateau, which requires a bit more time. But even if you walk only up to this point, it is already a great experience.
The Sharqiya Sands, also known as Wahiba Sands (named from the local tribe), are a desert with an area of around 12,500 km2. The desert was formed by a combination of south-western monsoon and northerly trade winds, forming long linear sand ridges that can reach to 100 m high. Located to the southeast of Muscat, they are easily accessible via a nice blacktop road, taking about a 2-hour drive. Below is a general location map.
During my first stay in Oman, I used to visit the Wahibas regularly; there is something special about being in the desert, watching the sunset or sunrise, surrounded by complete silence. With the sun lower in the horizon, the shapes and patterns of the dunes are highlighted by the interplay of light and shadow. Sand colors are variable, from subdued yellows to rich orange and red. The last time I had visited the Wahibas was in 2009, so I did notice some changes after 14 years. Namely, the number of tourist camps has increased, and there is mobile network coverage. Even though the area is visited by many tourists, especially during the winter months, you can easily find a nice spot all for yourself. You can choose to book accommodation in one of the several desert camps, or simply camp on your own. The camps are always located in the interdune valleys, which are easy to drive to.
In terms of photography, I used my 2 cameras (Fujifilm X-T4 and X-T5) with 2 lenses (Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 and Voigtlaender 35mm f/1.2). The wide-angle saw a lot of use for large vistas and sand patterns, while the standard lens allowed me to shoot the more general subjects. As the sun is low in the horizon, it is necessary to work quickly, because the light changes fast. It is better to allow yourself some time in advance to climb the dunes and find a good spot. Wind can be a problem, as it carries sand everywhere; the sand is very fine and can adhere to your camera gear and tripod. I was careful to always replace the lens cap and store the gear in the backpack when moving between locations. This is normal procedure when shooting in this type of environment. And of course, the wind is what created the desert to begin with, so it comes with the territory.
After settling in, I went out for a photo walk at sunset, climbing the western dunes to reach a high location. Interesting vistas and subjects are everywhere, so I just kept shooting. There are plenty of patterns in the sand, and the rare green bush here and there. The experience of watching the sunset surrounded by all this natural beauty is unforgettable. At night I also carried out a session aiming at getting some nice star trails and Milky Way photos. The area was dark enough, even though there was light pollution coming in from the camp itself, and some vehicles driving through the valley.
The following morning, I went out for a pre-sunrise walk; climbing the dunes, the sand was cold, as the temperature at night had dropped significantly. I kept photographing as the light slowly changed, painting the sand with soft colors, that became more intense as the sun climbed over the top of the opposite ridge. Again, it was magical simply to sit on the top of the dunes, watching Nature’s beauty unfolding in front of me. It was wonderful to go back to the Wahibas after 14 years.
A visit to the fish market in Mutrah is one of the best ways to experience the local hustle and bustle, as the fishermen arrive in their boats, bringing their catch. You need to arrive at dawn, because the activities start very early in the day. It is interesting to see the fish being unloaded and carried into the nearby market building; or simply being sold right there on the spot, as restaurant owners come by to negotiate.
As a photographer, it is a place full of opportunities, and I simply walked around for a while with camera in hand, greeting people along the way. I find it a good approach to be nice and open about what I am planning to do, which is take photos. After a while, nobody pays me any attention anymore. For this visit, I used the Fujifilm X-T4 and the Voigtlaender X 35mm f/1.2 lens, which is manual focus. I like this lens very much, it is small and manual focusing is a breeze.
After 14 years, I am working in Oman again, and living in Muscat, the capital of this beautiful country. Even though there are more buildings, roads, and development, the unique cultural heritage of a romantic Arabia is still very much present in the old forts, markets, countryside, and of course its friendly people.
This set of photos was taken during a very early visit to the old part of Muscat, along the shoreline and Mutrah Corniche, with the old Portuguese forts surveilling the sea. I am looking forward to revisit some familiar places in the mountains and deserts, while finding new ones.
Note: photos were taken with Fujifilm X-T4 and X-T5 cameras, plus Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 and 56 f/1.2 lenses.
The Odeceixe beach is one of the most popular ones in SW Portugal. In fact, a few years ago, it was awarded the prize of “best beach with cliffs” in a “7 wonders contest”. Located at the estuary of the river Seixe, it is characterized by a large body of sand. Where it faces the ocean, the sea can be rough, with tricky currents; the more protected river side is excellent for families and small kids. I hadn’t visited this beach for several years, but recently I had the chance to spend a nice afternoon in there. The name Odeceixe originated from the Arabic, with “ode” coming from “wadi”, or river.
To get to the beach, you pass through the picturesque village of Odeceixe, with its windmill in the top of a hill. Last August, the area suffered a violent forest fire, so the surrounding landscape is still covered by burnt trees and dark soil. It always saddens me when something like this happens… close to the beach, there are a few houses that hug the southern cliffs; here, you can find numerous cafés and restaurants, plus plenty of accommodations to rent. These are busy all year round, especially with the local surfer community, and visitors walking the trails of the Rota Vicentina.
After spending a few hours in the beach, I drove to the northern margin of the river, where I left the car. From there it is possible to walk along part of the Rota Vicentina coastal trail, to reach the northern promontory. This is where you will have the best view of the beach. I spent the next hour or so, until sunset, taking many photos. You can appreciate how the interaction between the river and the ocean has created the large beach, thanks to the accumulation of sand. After walking around for a while, I merely sat down and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the tranquility.
This is indeed a beautiful area, and I think the award was well deserved.
It is rare for me to visit this area, and not spend some time in the Cabo Sardão cliffs, simply to enjoy the place. The view along the coastline is magnificent, and sunset is special. It is common for both locals and visitors to gather and admire the scenery, as the sun slowly sinks into the horizon, bidding farewell to another day. In early October I took a few days off to spend some days in the region, and one of the afternoons found me once more in these cliffs.
I arrived about one hour before sunset, and took a stroll in the vicinity of the lighthouse. The weather in the beginning of Autumn feels like a hot summer, but the days are starting to get shorter, and the light has acquired a stronger golden tonality. There were some clouds in the sky, so I was hoping for some interesting color. While waiting for the sunset, I went to a few favorite spots of mine for some photography time; some of these locations are a bit more tricky to access if you are afraid of heights, so please be careful. All the photos were taken with the Fujifilm X-T5 camera and Fujinon 16mm f/1.4 lens.
I made a few photos to the north of the lighthouse, following the signaled path. There are several small hidden beaches that were completely empty. After that, I went to another location, facing the cliff, which offers the classic view of the lighthouse on the top, with the precipitous rocks descending into the ocean. Because there was no wind, it was safer for me to walk down a little more than normal, and thus obtain a more unusual angle over the scenery. I like how the lines from the rocky layers seem to guide the viewer to the distant lighthouse.
As the sunset time was approaching fast, I more or less remained in this location, but turned west. The clouds were reflecting interesting and rich warm colors. As the sun disappeared, the lighthouse keeper turned the light on, a moment that is always interesting to photograph.
I never tire of going to this special place and admire its beauty, it truly is magical.