The hill was soft, my bare feet sliding backwards in the sand with each step I took upward. Upon reaching the top, I turned to stare out over the endless tiny white sand dunes stretching to the sea beyond.
Wave after wave crashed on the shore, but the wind roaring in my ears prevented me from hearing them. Sand blasted my feet, my arms, my face, stinging with every grain, but I had to look.
I was alone.
There were just two signs of human life: the road in front of me, its black surface distorted by the sand blowing across it, and two small rickety structures assembled with driftwood and fishing nets.
I’d stood here the evening before, watching the sun setting behind the headland in the distance. Then it was calm, the road empty and glistening and the dunes settled amongst the stubbly vegetation. But now it was a different world.
I had begun the five day holiday to Masirah Island with friends. But after two nights of fighting with tents in the wind, blowing sand, noisy nearby campers, and a sleepless, cranky 13-month old who kept trying to devour an entire beach’s worth of sand, they decided it was time to go home and headed for the ferry. I was on my own.
The road around Masirah Island only takes two hours to drive, so there was plenty of time for stops on my journey. Gravel roads lead into barren, rocky mountains to I-don’t-know-where. I stopped to say hi to a couple of camels.
Lonely beaches cried out to be wandered on, and I made my way across a rocky coastal flat to what would be another island at high tide. A zillion different types of shells crunched under my feet and some local boys showed their concern for me, worried that I would get stuck on the island when the tide came in.
Then I climbed that hill in the sand dunes. The sun set in a spectacular scene, casting long shadows from even the tiniest dune and sending golden light through the spray from the waves. The road shimmered black below me and not one sound pierced the air.
Later, on the way back to town, the supermoon rose over the hills in front of me, in an emphasis of how glorious this afternoon had been.
Early morning found me on the road around the island again, looking for different light, different views, different stops. For the entire first hour I was alone, standing on beaches and rocky hilltops without another soul or car in sight. On a long weekend, when Masirah Island was ‘busy’, it was amazing how empty it felt.
A beach shack thrown together haphazardly with flotsam and driftwood overlooked a gorgeous white-sand beach with crashing waves.
Camels rested next to a pink lagoon, more dirt tracks headed off into the mountains, and empty roads laid themselves out before me, beckoning to me with the solitude they offered.
The intricately carved rock gravestones of an ancient cemetery (ok, not as old as the Bat tombs, but still old) blended into a hillside above the road. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d never see it.
The very tip of Masirah Island is all white sand and crashing blue waves. Standing at the top of a hill and looking out at the dhows on the sea, I was battered by wind that was getting stronger by the minute. But it was time to go catch the ferry anyway.
I got into the long queue on the jetty, rolled the windows down and turned off the engine, letting the breeze blow through the car to cool me down instead of the air conditioning. It looked like I was going to be sitting here for a while.
Cars went past me in the other direction, slowly, and then one stopped.
‘Jennifer?’ the man said.
I was startled. Who? What? How did he know my name?
‘Don’t bother waiting,’ he said, ‘there will be no ferry today.’
And just like that I was stuck on Masirah Island for another night.
Now I know you’re thinking ‘Oh, poor you Jenny, you had to stay longer than planned on a desert island (literally), life is soooooo rough…’ but give me a break here. Because there’s this thing, you see, where you can be having a great time somewhere and wishing you could stay longer, but as soon as you can’t leave it’s actually the last place you actually want to be.
I had heard the first piece of bad news when I arrived at the National Ferry Company office to pick up my ticket. It was much too windy, so there would be no boat today, but I could try my luck with the local ferry. In high wind and rough seas. The same one the crew on the way over had pointed out and told us not to take because its safety procedures were somewhat questionable.
So even though I got in line for the local ferry, I was somewhat terrified by the thought of taking the unsafe boat in bad weather. But I didn’t know what else to do. I had to get off Masirah Island. Work was expecting me back in two days, and I had nowhere to stay that night anyway. I was consoled by the fact that if I didn’t make it off the island, at least I had my tent, and my car to sleep in if all else failed.
And then Yasser found me. Wasta (influence, or connections to important people) is a beautiful thing. Someone in my friend’s department at work had organized the ferry for us, and he gave her a contact in case we had any issues. We’d already been in touch with him once when we were running late for the ferry.
So while I was sitting in my car waiting in line, Yasser happened to be driving past me and stopped. I don’t know how he even knew I was still there, or if he knew I would be waiting for that ferry, or if it was just luck that he found the one foreign girl in line and figured out that it was one of us with the wasta and he’d better help.
Yasser told me not to waste my time waiting, took my phone number, and said he’d call when there was hope of a ferry.
What to do? I headed for the hills.
An incredible turn of luck got me back into the same room in the same hotel I’d just checked out of, despite half the tourists on the island looking for a place to stay that night. I thanked my lucky stars that I wouldn’t have to try putting up my tent in that wind.
A quick tour of the town of Hilf told me that it was definitely not as pretty as the rest of the island, and the strong wind and blowing sand made just getting out of the car uncomfortable. So, tired after my long early morning drive, I ended up back in my room taking a long nap.
I received a lot of stares as I ate my dinner at a table on the sidewalk in Hilf that night. I guess it’s rare to see a foreign woman eating alone in Hilf.
Early the next morning the line for the ferry wound all the way around the marina and way down the road. I hadn’t heard from Yasser, and I needed to get home, so there I was, along with everyone else who was stuck from the day before. I turned off the car and walked to the front of the line, where a man told me he’d been waiting since 4am for a ferry that might not go. Everyone needed to get back to work the next day.
But my wasta really worked, and Yasser phoned me around 8am. Be at the office by 8:30, he said. I went right away, but had to wait my turn behind crowds of people.
‘Go direct,’ the woman said, as she handed me my ticket. I was confused. Of course the ferry goes direct. Where else would it go?
She pointed to the time. 9:00 was printed on my boarding pass. My phone said 8:50. ‘Go direct,’ she said. Oh. Got it.
I raced my car past all the others, waving my boarding pass at the police who were stopping cars from driving down the narrow jetty. Yasser was there, boarding cars, and I gave him an incredibly grateful wave of thanks. Finally, I was on the ferry, with a long drive ahead of me, but at least on my way home.
So if you’re going to Masirah Island, check the weather forecast first, unless you want to get stuck. And get yourself some wasta.
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