Between the 7th and the 18th of this month I was in Oman with Soo Redshaw (Chief Leader) organising logistics, equipment and touching base with numerous useful contacts for the British Exploring expedition; a recce, if you will.
We flew in to Muscat via Abu Dhabi, well I flew in and Soo took several hours longer; her flight was delayed in Manchester. I took this opportunity to get some practise driving in the capital and took the small rental car across the city to Lulu’s, a huge hypermarket chain in Oman, to purchase a mobile phone and sim. Soo arrived at 4pm and had rearranged our meetings for that evening. We met up with Andrew Spalton and Jeff Rose, a wildlife biologist and archaeologist respectively, whom have many years experience of working in Oman. We also met up with Wendy Butler and Paul McGreavy who provided a floor for us that night, and for several nights thereafter. Early next morning we set out in our rental car across Muscat for our flight to Salalah. Now, I usually find internal flights to be quite flexible when it comes to check in times; but recently Oman Air have changed their policy and half an hour didn’t quite cut it. With our flight postponed until the late afternoon, Soo immersed herself in the laptop and I caught up on a few hours kip. Eventually we arrived in Salalah, the climate slightly cooler, but much more humid in comparison to Muscat in the north. That evening we met up with Andy Brosius to talk camels; we were hoping to use a couple on the expedition. However, it turns out that selective breeding for milk and meat has filtered out those camels that had the ability to carry heavy weight over uneven ground; it seems you just can’t get the camels these days! The following day we had meetings with Gulf Transport Company for coach hire and the British consul, and we undertook an inventory of the in-country stores. The next few days were spent visiting the desert base camp near Al Hashman to establish our access route through the dunes and to scout out accommodation at Thumrait. In the blazing heat of the Empty Quarter we undertook an inventory of the tents from the stores, and despite finishing by midday the summer sun in the desert was hotter than anything I have ever experienced; it’s hard to believe the Bedouin could survive for weeks at a time in such harsh climes. Several of the tents zips were knackered by the sand from the last expedition so we soon adapted these as sun shelters, skilfully carving out panels which allowed the breeze to flow through. After leaving the desert we decided to camp in Wadi Darbat, a famous ‘U shaped’ valley to the east of Salalah. After one more day in Salalah scouting out shops for equipment and purchasing wood for the bast camp shelter, we flew back north to Muscat, on the evening of the 13th. At 10am on the 14th we had a meeting arranged with the Office of Conservation of the Environment, where upon I met a few familiar faces. My good friend Hadi al Hikmani was present, as were Dr Mansoor and Waheed whom we liaised with during the 2012 expedition. The meeting lasted a couple of hours, with many ideas and arrangements being discussed. That afternoon the previous week was starting to catch up with us and we took it easy enjoying some fresh fruit juices and talking over plans for the expedition. The following day we visited the Oman Natural History Museum to discuss insect specimen donations; the highlight for me was opening the dragonfly display cases and finding my 2012 specimens pinned to perfection. Very impressive as they weren’t in good shape when I left them. A meeting with Ghudaina at the Oman Botanic Garden filled the following morning. Here we discussed their research team joining us in the field as well as potential areas for research and how we can help to collect herbarium specimens during the desert phase of the expedition. The Oman Botanic Garden project is truly massive. It is still in early development but the miniature model of the site promises an impressive achievement for Oman. They hope to display every plant species native to Oman, as well as explain the traditional uses for many of the plants. During the afternoon I met up with Seyad Farook a herpetologist at the Sultan Qaboos University. We chatted for several hours, after which he took me to a building filled with vivariums containing many species of Oman’s snakes including the saw scaled viper, puff adder and horned viper. What a treat! It is hoped Seyad will join the expedition for several days to undertake reptile research with us. At 11.30pm on Wednesday 17th October we boarded our flight back to the UK feeling tired yet excited, our minds racing with plans for the expedition in January.
I arrived at Heathrow on Thursday morning and by Friday lunchtime was on the road to Cumbria for the leaders weekend. It was great to get stuck in discussing the expedition plans with Ian Steptoe (Deputy Chief Leader) and John Davis (Adventure Leader), as well as receiving the low-down on leading for British Exploring from James Dyer (Operations Manager).
Over the first weekend of November we have the expedition briefing weekend where all the expedition members meet each other and presentations are given discussing aspects of the expedition. Until then, it’s back to the emails, submerged within my nest of paperwork, books and scientific literature.