Tuesday, 11 April 2017

A Musandam Adventure

Dr. Linda C. Angell shares a recent IXO adventure:

Every semester, IXO plans a dhow cruise out of Dibba in the Musandam Peninsula for that semester’s cohort of study abroad students.
For our Spring 2017 trip, we planned an early departure from campus, with 32 of us leaving at 6:30 am from the Library Roundabout. We arrived at the Omani border by 9 am, and sailed right through immigration without any problems. We parked our bus in the sandy parking lot just next to the marina and climbed on-board our dhow.
The weather that day was perfect, and we had a fabulous day enjoying the views, swimming in the sparkling emerald waters in several coves, snorkeling, exploring the little beach villages, falling off the banana boats, visiting the natural limestone caves, having our lunch, jumping off the boat, reel fishing, and catching a barracuda.

By the time we pulled back into the harbor at 6:30 pm, as the sun was setting and the fish market onshore was bustling, we were all tired and sunburnt and happy – looking forward to a nap during the ride back to campus. We jumped into the bus and set off. As we were departing the parking lot, we found the way was blocked by a variety of boat trailers that had parked haphazardly around the entry points. The bus driver saw an incline just ahead that looked like it led to a more spacious area, so off we went. We got about 50 meters before the wheels started spinning, and the bus became mired in sand.

The guys all piled off, and soon were busy working to put stones and wood under the tires, to provide some traction. After a couple of attempts to drive away, the women also clambered down to lighten the load a bit and hopefully, to help free up the bus. 

Over the next two hours, we all watched in fascination as a parade of progressively larger vehicles and bigger crowds stopped by to try their luck at freeing up the bus.  First, a very nice Omani gentleman in a Land Rover with a winch parked nearby, and after a lot of fuss and confusion around the front of the bus trying to figure out the best place to attach the winch, the Land Rover gave it a try.  The attempt drained its battery without any sign that the bus was budging, and the Land Rover had to be jump-started. 

Next, another Omani gentleman in a pickup truck stopped and offered to get the bus unstuck for a mere 1,000 AED. He had a ‘special system’, he told us, that was guaranteed to get the bus out. We talked him down to 500 AED, and told him the money was his if he could get us out of there! He tried, no luck.  So that was Plan B.

Meanwhile, the crowd was growing thicker – it appeared that we were to be the Friday night entertainment for this small Omani village.  Probably, there were 200 people all milling about, in a rather carnival atmosphere! Someone must have called Civil Defense, because they showed up around then, along with some guys in hard hats. There was a lot of conferencing going on. Every effort to move the bus also involved a group of 20-30 people at the back (or sometimes the front), pushing with all their might – it really was a Herculean effort for all involved!

Eventually, a large flat-bed truck pulled up, the kind you see towing broken-down dump trucks, etc. The flat-bed was hydraulically lowered down to form a kind of platform, and a larger winch was attached. After a lot of hubbub, another attempt was made until the chain snapped with a loud cracking sound. Still the bus made no sign of moving. The large flat-bed truck pulled away.

A few moments later, shouting could be heard all around us as a backhoe-type of heavy earth moving vehicle came up to lend a hand. We all thought that this must be the moment we were waiting for, and we were filled with hope and good cheer! The backhoe tried pulling from the front of the bus, and then went around to the back – it tried rocking the bus back and forth – but really that bus was simply not going anywhere. That was becoming abundantly clear. 

Meanwhile, we had been standing on this beach, with no facilities of any kind nearby, for approximately 2 hours, and we were all beginning to feel the need for some personal comforts. The situation was looking progressively more hopeless, and the bus was now displaying cracked windows and peeling paint from all the pushing and shoving. 

Increasingly desperate phone calls to the bus company, and the Transportation people at AUS, were being made while these attempts were going on. It transpired that the bus company was unable to send another (replacement) bus to pick us all up in Oman, as that meant a driver with a visa to enter Oman, and that required a day or two to organize. So, after two hours stranded, the decision was made to walk the two kilometers to the UAE border, where a bus could actually be sent to rescue us.

We started walking, and we must have been a real sight, the 32 of us all strewn out and straggling along the road to the border. Some of our amazing Peer Advisors began flagging down cars and asking if they could assist by shuttling us in groups of 2-3 to the border. The driver of one of the cars we stopped said he had a bus, and went off to get it – a few moments later he pulled up with a bus that was miraculously big enough to fit all of us. Once to the border, we walked across, and over to a pleasant beach park just inside the UAE border – a place where we could sit and rest and where we had facilities and restaurants nearby. There were several families out and enjoying the park, with camp fires, etc., and truly the situation could have been far worse. The moon was beautiful and the stars were out, and we had a football in our midst.

We waited there for 2 hours while a bus was dispatched from AUS to come and get us. The bus arrived around 10:30 pm, and we all clambered exhaustively (but happily) on board. We got back to the AUS Campus around 12:55 am, literally 5 minutes before the curfew! Success, in the face of adversity! And another great story to tell our friends and colleagues.

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