Of Maps and Compasses

Weekend at Barka with family and friends

Weekend at Barka with family and friends

The weekend that just went by…was oh-so-relaxing. Family, the sun and the sea have always proven to be a healthy combination in my life. And so it was, these last few days- as my oddball of a family journeyed an hour west of Muscat, with other families for a fun sleepover at a remote farmhouse in the agricultural desert (coastal) town of Barka.

Muscat-Barka route

Muscat-Barka route

Yes, agricultural and desert. Those words go together here! Desert farmers grow their date palms, their pomegranates, roses and rear their mountain goats, Arabian horses and camels here in utter bliss. Barka is only an hour’s drive west of Muscat, the capital.

 In a young small country like this, where landmarks rule and not postal addresses or numbered streets, coastal deserts are the everyday life. And oases are a respite reality.

Follow the goat!

Follow the goat!

At the farmhouse, while the rest of the group dilly-dallied in the swimming pool, my sister-in-crime and I played truant and sped out the gates in search of the beach, with our lone tool, a Google Maps app with slow data connectivity on her smartphone. What we ended up with instead was a neat geology lesson. Following the tracks of a stray goat in the sand, we soon arrived at an area which could only be described as one replete with coastal vegetation in arid areas filled with calcareous rocks. How do I know this? The beach was still a few kilometers away but you could sure see the remnants of sea shells embedded in the sediments! A skill (environmental analysis), I sure learnt from site visits!

Carbonate rocks

Carbonate rocks

My other favourite part of the trip, however was getting behind the wheel of my father’s Land Cruiser Prado (the typical desert SUV you see in this region). Intimidating did it seem for me to drive a car significantly bigger than mine, but the traveller woman in me got comfortable in a few minutes with her driving song favourite- Rihanna’s Shut Up and Drive. One thing, however was we were lost in no time!

Barka Fort

Barka Fort

Much as I love getting lost, Google Maps acts like a terrible long-distance relationship when you’re in Oman. It’ll work for you oh-so-well especially in Kansas, but when you leave miles away for Oman, it refuses to really show you roads- GPS is no-show here in the Sultanate. And that’s when I stumbled upon this fortified gem with crenellations and turrets of utter Omani architectural simplicityBarka Fort– in the middle of nowhere, literally. I had absolutely no time to explore it on the inside, but I made my passengers take these few photos en route.

Barka Fort

Barka Fort

Soon, other architectural skills came in handy. Recognition of buildings on the scene, mental mapping of possible routes and maintaining a sense of direction- helped me get us back on track to our ever elusive farmhouse!

Losing yourself is….well, sort of, important.

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