It was a few hours after dark and we were waiting in an old 4X4 somewhere on the coast of Oman, in or around a village called Ras al Hadd, which was basically built over and around the cracked up tarmac of a defunct British WWII airport runway. Our driver and Airbnb host, Salem, had disappeared into a tiny room right by the gate we just drove through, which served as the office of what he referred to as the ‘turtle police.’ He had also rolled up the windows, mumbling something about ‘strange people.’
Hmm. So we wait.
Salem returned to the car, and switched on the top light as he turned to me and said, “Hold this.” Before I could even register, he placed in my hand the teeniest, tiniest little baby sea turtle. Our jaws dropped. We had come to Ras al Hadd to see the giant turtle mommas lay their eggs and return to sea, and we had not expected to see a turtle, much less a baby, much less in my hand, before we had even reached the beach. It was kicking with all its might (they are deceptively strong!). Salem had explained to us earlier that the little babies sometimes get confused by the light and wander into town, instead of into the sea, where their dangers multiply with cars and dogs and cats and kids. They found this baby on the road and the police had asked us to take it to the beach.
It was time to go.
Oman is famous for its turtles. Five of the Seven turtle species of the world lay their eggs on the beaches year-round, and in summer the place is literally crawling with baby turtles (Salem, a local fisherman, showed us photos on his Instagram, which is littered with incredible images from the Arabian Sea – including Orca sightings and swimming camels…seriously check out his page). Most people go to Ras Al Jinz, where the ‘official’ turtle reserve is located. You pay between 180 and 200EUR a night, and then extra to go out at night/early morning to see the turtles with lots and lots of other people.
Of course we weren’t gonna do that. Joel got creative, found Salem’s home on Airbnb for next to nothing, where he offers turtle-viewings for a fraction of the Ras Al Jinz price. He took us out to the beach after a delectable fish BBQ dinner at home (three giant freshly-caught tuna steaks). As it was off-season, we were the only guests in the house, and (fast-forward back to the dark beach) the only three people on the beach, besides a patrolling ‘turtle-policeman.’ The policemen know and trust our Airbnb guide, so allows him to bring some guests on this otherwise closed-off beach. Lucky us.
We jumped out onto the sand in the dark, me still precariously holding A BABY TURTLE, and followed our guide. After a quick rendezvous with an official, we jogged to where he pointed, Salem counted to three, switched on his flashlight, and there she was. A GIANT turtle kicking sand over her eggs. We stayed behind her as she slowly crawled out of her hole, and watched her turn back towards the lapping waves. We were speechless, and every now and then I remember that I’m still holding the baby. Even holding it up before me I couldn’t believe this little thing smaller than the palm of my hand will grow to be the size of this gigantic creature in front of us.
“Okay, let’s go,” he said, and we hurried towards the water. Salem had an eye on a waiting crab nearby, and quickly gave me the word to put it back in the water as the waves pulled back, which were, may I just add, illuminated by starry bioluminescent plankton. The turtle slid off my hand and disappeared into the black, starry sea.
Happened just now?
Thinking back on it, I can feel the little turtle kicking with all its might, the warm water on my feet, the sand kicked back by the turtle hitting my knee, but it still feels like a bizarre, magical moment in a parallel universe that seems unlikely to happen in this normal world we live in.
But it was just another night on Ras al Hadd beach.
For more of the unreal beauty of Oman, and the ultimate 3-day road trip itinerary, check out this post.