This is the first blog I’ve written that feels like an advertisement in a travel magazine or a television commercial for traveling to the Middle East. I felt like I was living a real life “Samantha Brown’s Passport to Oman” episode. When I was little, my mom would turn to the Travel Channel while we were dusting or sorting through papers together. Samantha Brown would flash her smile, crow’s feet flaring and hair blowing as she ventured through cities and towns pointing out incredible restaurants and historical castles. In my bedroom mirror, I would pretend I was the host of the show and make up adventures of my own: “Alley’s Passport to the World”! Today, I lived one of these real-life adventures. I snorkeled and swam with turtles, ventured out along the coast of Muscat on a dow (see photo above), and watched dolphins leap along the horizon. I felt like I was on the television screen in my living room…if only mom were with me.
We started piling onto the boat at 8:30am, slipped off our sandals and claimed our seats before the Dow set off into the waves. Our Program Director, Justin, and his family invited us as well as another missionary family visiting from Bangladesh. Including our student party of six, there were fifteen energetic explorers, three talented crew members, and one Captain Said on deck. Each one with cheeks fit to be sun-kissed. I claimed a cushion and started snapping pictures, bobbing with the waves and concentrating on staying upright.
About an hour in, the captain slowed the engine down and I heard one of the kiddos shouting “Look! Dolphins! Dolphins! Loooook!”. I knew there was a possibility of a dolphin sighting, but I didn’t think it would be so soon. Nonetheless, there they were, a pod of about thirty dolphins hopping through, chatting on their way like a family on a road trip. As they disappeared from view, we spun our boat the opposite way and continued toward our swimming destination.
The usual Omani terrain of tall, rocky mountains loomed over every border of the harbor we pulled into. The sun reflected off the peaks and bounced back on the caps of the waves. Below the surface, collections of coral supported schools of fish and millions of other living creatures. The humans on board our boat, including myself were glistening with sweat due to the heat of the day. Thus, many of us immediately dove in as soon as the anchor was dropped.
The water was a teal-green pigment with a flawless tepid temperature. I floated for a while, laughing with friends and squinting against the cloudless sky. As I moved my arms through the translucent sea, I didn’t realize that a creature was none too pleased to meet me. He left his mark on my lower left bicep and it tingled like a collection of static tickles on a fresh sheet out of the drier. The static soon turned into an irritating pierce on the surface of my skin. The invisible critter was a jellyfish and I had just been stung.
Back on the deck of the boat, the sting swelled in three spots leaving harsh, red ridges where the jelly’s appendages had swiped. The captain suggested I pour cold water on my arm and let it calm down. It did settle and only hurt for about ten more minutes. I sat on the shaded deck and soaked in more rays watching kids splash in the water and giggling as my friends plastered snorkeling goggles to their faces and dove in with flippers flapping on their feet behind them.
After chomping down a sandwich and some Oreos, I decided to give the water another shot. I grabbed my own set of flippers, a clear turquoise mask and bright yellow breathing tube and launched off the boat into the salty sea. I pumped through the waves, face flat in the water until I could find the reef. Always aware of the globs of jelly waiting, I hauled my body through the water until I found myself in the middle of a school of fish (the species of which I could not tell). Long, lanky eel-like critters mixed with blue and stripped, finned creatures and I witnessed their soiree silently from above.
Without fail, water would seep into my goggles causing me to come up for air. On one occasion, I was thankful for the break to breathe as a couple floating on a boat nearby shouted and pointed where they spotted a sea turtle. I followed their arm and dove to the deep. It took a bit of twisting and turning to find the shell, but there she was! A stunning turtle gliding along the bottom of the ocean floor. It didn’t take long before I was choking on salt water again. But, seeing her was all I needed before heading back to the boat.
Around 2:30pm, we departed back through the water toward the marina where the boat would dock until its next adventure. The Dow rocked back and forth, and mist lathered our cheeks occasionally while we watched the horizon. The scenery was even more picturesque than the Travel Network would show it to be. I may have a scar from the jellyfish, and way too much salt water in my system, but I still felt I was part of a trailer for a new travel film. So, any room for a co-host Samantha Brown?