Winter sun. Possibly even more talked about than Winter Miles. Christmas is over. It’s still winter. There’s 11 more desolate months until the festive period begins again. It’s cold and wet. And this January it seems to have been unusually cold and wet. In other words: it’s miserable.
So, clearly, some winter sun is required. But where to go? I got married last year so this decision, like
so many all others nowadays, is completely out of my hands. Holly had done some extensive research and I was duly informed that we were heading to Oman to do a swimming holiday with SwimTrek. Could I please book the flights? Yes dear.
The SwimTrek part of the holiday was to be 5 days so we decided to do some sightseeing in Oman first and turn it into a 2 week holiday. We spent some time in Muscat and then drove into the mountains and spent a few days there touring around. Oman is an amazing country with some incredible scenery and very friendly people. I would thoroughly recommend going there.
I hadn’t realised that Oman was actually split into two, and that the SwimTrek part of the holiday was based in the much smaller northern part of it – the Musandam Penisula. We flew from Muscat to Khasab, checked into our hotel and waited, slightly nervously, for the first meet and greet. Who would we meet? Would they be nice? How good at swimming would they be?
First up were introductions. Please give your name
and swimming background.
“Hi, I’m Mackensie. I used to swim on the Canadian National Squad.”
Okay, wow. Extremely good. Hopefully just an anomaly though.
“Hi, I’m Devon, I’m also from Canada. I do a lot of Masters swimming.”
What is Masters swimming? It also sounds good. Oh dear.
“Hi, I’m Catherine. I swim Masters as well, but in America.”
Another Master. Are they like Jedi Masters? Feeling like veritable muggles we introduced ourselves. Luckily, there were a few others as well so we didn’t stand out too much. Ricky and John, our Swim Guides for the week, took us through the safety briefings and general plan for the week.
We had a brief acclimatisation swim that evening, before dinner and a hopefully early night. Sadly, the 6 Nations had just started and put paid to this sensible plan. A few of us ended up watching the mighty Scots roaring to a famous win over Ireland and then, subsequently, England struggle lackadaisically to a thoroughly undeserved victory over France in the wee small hours of the morning.
Started early. Ricky and I decided to go for a run up the nearest hill to watch the sunrise. The scenery at the top was truly stunning and it made the early start and rocky, ankle-risking scramble completely worth it.
We descended, and thanking the Gods for no injuries, breakfasted. There was an air of nervousness in the group at the thought of day 1, but we crammed as much food in as possible and boarded the minibus for the short journey down to the port where we would meet our boat. It was a large dhow, with an area at the front full of enormous cushions upon which we could recuperate following each of our swims. We each chose a seat and sat to begin our first day.
It took about an hour or so to journey into the fjord (or, as our resident geologist Rachel informed us, sound) and some people dozed off with the gentle rocking of the boat and the warm early morning sun. It was a very idyllic and relaxing way to begin the trip. Maybe this wouldn’t all be hard work?
I was awakened rather abruptly when the ship’s engine cut out and was confronted with a rather alarming scene.
Ricky was standing in front of me grinning, holding a large tub of Vaseline and pulling on a blue surgical glove.
“Come on mate. I’ve done everyone else already.”
Err, I see. And what exactly have you done to everyone already?
It turns out this is common practice for long distance open water swimming. Swimmers slather Vaseline all over themselves in a desperate attempt to stop chafing. I also hoped it would have a secondary effect and allow me to glide effortlessly through the water but was told this wouldn’t be the case.
We prepared ourselves, donning our swimming gear. The water was wonderfully blue and inviting. Unbelievably, it was 24 degrees. Despite the fact that we were in Oman, it was still February and the idea that we could swim non-wetsuit seemed outrageous. Surely this was all a joke?
It wasn’t. We dived in, some more gracefully than others, and were all pleasantly surprised to find the water extremely agreeable. The morning swim was to be a coastal affair – we were asked to keep the coast on our left and swim until lunch. For someone used to following ‘the black line’ these were marvelously liberating instructions.
However, Holly and I were still a little worried about keeping up with all these International Swimmers and Jedi Swim Masters. Wouldn’t we just get left behind and drown?
Happily, SwimTrek had thought of this as well. We had all been separated into separate groups based on speed, given shiny swim hats and a safety boat for each group. Each boat carried enough supplies to sink a small ship (but not, crucially, itself) and was to monitor all our progress to ensure we didn’t fall behind and drown. Splendid!
The swim itself was remarkably relaxed. That first morning we swam around 4km, which was pretty much my longest ever swim, but the distance passed easily. The scenery was incredible and each breath was an incredible vista as we slowly made out way down the coast of the fjord. The underwater views were equally stunning and we swam over coral and a whole host of other marine wildlife.
Lunchtime came quickly and we reboarded our boat. A speedboat had been sent back to the hotel slightly before we finished and had brought back a hot lunch for us all. There was a huge amount, but we all ate ravenously. After we were full, the boat chugged slowly to our second swim start, allowing us time to digest our food. Some read, some slept, others chatted comfortably, all the while drifting through this unspoiled and rugged landscape. It was a truly charming way to pass the time.
The afternoon was to be a shorter swim, but this time would include a crossing. This meant we had to swim as a close-knit group so the boat could man mark us all, and stop any other boats in the fjord mistakenly running us over. Marvellous. We stuck together like limpets and swam with gusto across the fjord. Our guide navigated us across with no issues. We had a peek down to the end of the inlet that we had just swam across to see one of the local villages, but were told we could go no closer. The locals apparently don’t like Westerners nosing around their villages too much.
We reboarded the boat and began our trip back to the hotel. An extremely successful day 1!
Days 2-4 passed in similar fashion. I will refrain from describing them in detail in order to keep this dissertation to a minimum (well done on making it this far). Some highlights (and lowlights) from them include:
- Having the police called on us by some locals scared we were going to steal their fishing nets. The police turned up with full attack boat and deck mounted machine gun, slightly more firepower than the situation demanded we felt, but once the situation was explained they left in peace.
- Swimming through the biggest swarm of jellyfish I have ever seen. They were completely harmless but the situation was extremely eerie and a few people got out and sat on the boat for a few minutes until we had passed.
- Swimming to Telegraph Island, an island upon which a telegraph station had been built in colonial times and was the origin of the phrase, ‘going round the bend’ – a reference to the extreme heat in the summer making British officers desperate to return to civilization.
- The dolphins that met us every morning as we sailed into the fjord.
Sadly the holiday came to an end far too quickly. We had had a magnificent time, and were lucky to have such an amazing group of people to swim with. Both Holly and I are extremely keen to do another SwimTrek holiday at some point.
SwimTrek had arranged a transfer bus for us all to get back to Dubai, where everyone left. Holly and I spent a blow out day and night in the Atlantis, The Palm, where we had a great day at the water park. I made a shameless (but successful – haha!) attempt to KOM a section of the palm and we saw the Burj Khalifa, before flying home at the unholy time of 0235 in the morning. Our brief foray for some winter sun was over, and we arrived back to London, where it was snowing. Of course.
Remaining Strava links
Day 2 Afternoon (pre-police)
Day 2 Afternoon (post-police)