By Rose Yasmin Karim
Silver flashes broke the water's surface, and just as suddenly, they disappeared. Craning our necks over the deck, we piled on top of each other, completely hypnotised by the spectacle below.
It was the first time, for most of us, watching dolphins playing in their home turf, instead of swimming endless circles in confined tanks. It was also the reason we drove 190km from Dubai, through the emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain and Ras al-Khaimah to Oman's Musandam peninsula.
Musandam is separated by the rest of Oman by Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah, which make up part of the United Arab Emirates. At the UAE border crossing in Dahra, immigration formalities were speedy and trouble-free for our convoy of six cars. We forked over RM90 each for our tourist visa as well, a fee to exit the UAE, and another to enter Oman, which cost us slightly over RM80.
Carpets and cushions are laid down
for the comfort of passengers.
Each car required an Oman insurance, which can be applied for around RM150 for a minimum coverage of 10 days. After flashing our faces at the officer at the counter, we were off.
From the Oman border town of Tibat, our group made its way to the Musandam capital, Khasab. Unlike Dubai, Oman had none of the senseless over-development of its UAE neighbour. In its place was the majesty of Khasab's trademark mountains. The car was full of gasps as we drove within the shadows of the limestone cliffs along the serpentine twist of the coast-hugging road.
We checked into the oldest of Khasab's few hotels, Khasab Hotel. The establishment had little frill but was fairly comfortable and offered the basic amenities. You can also stay at the upmarket Golden Tulip Hotel, which sits on a cliff overlooking the gulf.
Khasab is popular with Emiratis and expatriates from Dubai and Abu Dhabi on a quick trip, so advance reservations are required especially from October to March.
A 30-seater coach bussed us to Khasab harbour at 9am the morning after for our dhow cruise along Khor Ash Sham. At the wharf I looked around to see if I could spot the scandalous speedboats that ply the Straits of Hormuz to Iran, allegedly trading goats for black market cigarettes and drugs. But no such luck.
With the promise of warmth and sun, all 24 of us settled back against the brightly coloured cushions, giddy with anticipation.
With the dhow cruising at only a few knots, we sipped Arabian coffee and munched on bananas and apples while taking in the magical surrounds.
Limestone cliffs, chiselled by underwater volcanoes thousands of years ago jutted out of the waters, giving rise to the fjord-like appearance of the coast dubbed the "Norway of Arabia".
We sailed past a village with nine small houses tucked into a narrow canyon between two mountains. Blink, and you might miss this tiny settlement because it is quite well camouflaged, just little more that stone shacks.
Only approachable by the sea, our boatman explained, the village has electricity that runs from Khasab and their fresh water supply is delivered by boat.
Seagulls flocking to Khasab harbour.
Several low-flying gulls trailed us briefly as we headed towards Telegraph Island, a cable station set up by the Brits in the 19th century to speed up communication between Great Britain and India.
The British soldiers manning the island could find little to do stuck on this lump of rock, and many went bonkers from the heat and isolation. This, reputedly, is how the phrase "round the bend" came about.
A pod of three bottlenose dolphins, frolicking 50m away, tore our gaze from the dramatic cliff.
Suddenly, out of the blue, a smaller dolphin swam along the stern, breaking into our bow wave, trying to match the dhow's speed.
We were not allowed to feed the animal, so we had to make ourselves interesting somehow. The boatmen clapped his hands, and we echoed his actions hopefully.
Then, once again, the little dolphin slipped underwater, taking with it all its enthusiasm and joy.
At a spot where the sea was calm for snorkelling, the boatmen anchored the dhow. A few of us who were willing to overlook the fluctuating temperature, splashed into the water just so we could swim with the teeming marine life below.
A wet suit would've made my dip a lot more comfortable but after a while my body became immune to the chilly water.
The dhow operators provided snorkelling masks but it was quite flimsy so we tossed it back into the boat and started a competition to see who could dive off the deck and land with the most grace.
After a few rounds of plunging into the water in every imaginable style we decided to head back. Almost as soon as we did, it began to rain.
The hard wind blew the vessel's tarpaulin away, leaving us exposed and shivering uncontrollably.
Mothers and children were ushered to a small sheltered compartment while I, along with a few others, were led to the hull.
We huddled together for heat and sat on top of life jackets, wondering if there were any rodents on board eye-balling us.
The rain finally ceased after a bit, and we returned to the deck for lunch and refreshments. Hummus, bread, steamed rice, watered down curry and friend chicken never tasted so good!
Colour returned to our cheeks, as we ate and took turns to rub our hands and backs against the boat's exhaust for heat.
It was 4pm by the time the dhow docked at the harbour. While there weren't any dolphins jumping over hoops or flapping their dorsal fins to a beat, we ended the trip with a glad heart.
Nothing beats rooting for them in their wild ocean home.
BY ROAD If you decide to drive from Dubai, allow for three to four hours travel time including UAE/ Oman border control formalities.
BY AIR Oman Air flies four times a week from Muscat on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. For flight details, log on to www. oman-air.com.
BY SEA High speed catamarans, Hormuz and Shinas sets off to and from Muscat to Musandam four days a week. For the ferries departure time table and fare information visit www.nfcoman.com.
-The Star/Asia News Network