“I knew Oman from when I was a soldier here in the 1990s,” the former British Royal Marine explains. “There’s a huge variety of terrains within a relatively small geography—islands, beaches, mountains, desert—and I was amazed no one else was doing mobile camps. Oman is extremely safe, and with the correct licenses, we’re pretty much free to set up where we like.”
Nelson has refined the concept over the last five years, and his trips are now defined by their flexibility, with made-to-measure itineraries that take in a few well-scouted locations running from Muscat all the way down Oman’s 1,700-kilometer-long coastline. In the north, these include camps amid the dune fields of the Wahiba Sands or set high in the secluded Hajar Mountains as well as a beach site near Ras al Hadd, home to some of Oman’s best surf breaks. In the south, there’s the Empty Quarter and the coastal bivouac where we are now, which, in the right season, is supposed to be an excellent spot for whale watching (no less than 17 ceta- cean species frequent these waters, including a family of humpbacks).
This stretch of shoreline is also considered among the world’s most important hatching ground for endangered green turtles, which makes sense, as we don’t see another soul. And although there are no waterparks or other obvious touristic diversions, we have plenty to keep us occupied, like an afternoon’s fishing in a little blue-and-white skiff hired out of Mirbat. One day, we stop by the ruined harbor of Khor Ruri that once shipped frankincense to the Queen of Sheba, and picnic in a wadi dotted with emerald-green pools. On another, we wonder at a fossilized waterfall in a vast curtain of travertine rock and feast on huge lobsters drawn straight from the sea. We tour Mirbat itself, a small settlement with crumbling mud-brick buildings known only obscurely as the sight of a 1972 battle between nine British SAS soldiers and some 300 communist guerillas. And we learn from one of our guides, Mussalam, about the Ibadi Islam practiced by the Dhofari people in these parts. He also talks me through the cut of the perfect woman: her nose should be straight like a knife, her eyes should be dark, and her hair preferably curly. As to her legs, it is very important to see them before any commitment is made. Only then should one agree to marry her.
When I ask Mussalam how his culture is changing in the face of the sultanate’s modern, oil-fueled economy, he pauses for a contemplative moment before saying, “I was born in a cave. My grandson will be born in a hospital.”