Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Raz Al Jinz Turtle Reserve

On Thursday we headed in to Muscat to visit the mosque.  Tate had done his presentation on Muscat and was excited to show us some parts of the Mosque that he learned about.  This was the first time since moving to the Middle East that we went somewhere I had to cover my head.  It made me feel so lucky that we don't have that added stress everywhere we go.  It's really complicated to make sure your head stays covered while being a mom of active kiddos.  Perhaps if I actually learned how to wrap it properly?
It was a blazing hot day and we rushed through a little bit.  Partially because it was just so blasted hot, and partially because we wanted to see as much as we could before our boys attention spans gave out!
Kenna and Taryn have a little fan club wherever we go.  People are always asking if they can take their picture, touch them, kiss them.  Actually, most of the time people don't ask.  So we appreciate when they do.  It's been interesting having two cute little babies and being around so many cultures with no personal space where babies are concerned.
The shoe racks outside.

The girls were so sweet even though it was so stinking hot!

I could have taken pictures of every hallway and every facade.  So much beautiful detail.

This is the main chandelier.  It has over a thousand lights.  And the rug in this room is the second largest hand woven rug in the world.  Two little tidbits Tate was very proud of from his presentation.

After our visit to the mosque we went to the souk.  The harbor was right across the street and even though the heat was crazy the boys could have stood there for much longer than we did, watching fish swimming around and boats coming in and out.

The souk was much like I expected it to be.  Tons of little shops with really unique little treasures.  The bathrooms were also probably the most disgusting that I have ever seen.  Sometimes traveling with kids is rough that way.  "Can't you just hold it for like an hour so we can find some place that would have bathrooms a little less gross? No?  You can't?  Because you're just a little kid?  Okay then! Here we go!"

These are my favorite pictures in the souk.  This place had jewelry hanging from every where and the boys were digging in an enormous chest of treasures.  Sea shells, pendants, little creatures stuck in amber.  It was a little boy's heaven.  Like a real pirate treasure chest!
The next day we checked out of the Shangri-La and drove to the Raz Al-Jinz turtle reserve.  It was quite an adventure.  I think it was about a three hour drive through some really beautiful scenery.  Tall, dry mountains jutting out into the ocean.  White, rocky desert dotted with goats and camels.

After a couple of wrong turns and a LOT of driving on rarely marked roads in the desert we luckily arrived at the reserve.  We got checked in to our "eco tent" and an hour later ended up switching to another tent across the way because the A/C in ours wasn't working and it was sweltering.  That's right, our tents had really strong A/C.  And a bathroom, shower, TV, fridge, table and two comfy beds and plenty of space for our two pack and plays.  It was glamping at its finest.  

We went down to the main building and had some time to kill before dinner so we explored the little museum there.  Finn had done his presentation on the life cycle of sea turtles so it was fun to see displays and have him review things he knew and learn a lot more about where different sea turtles nest, (the ones nesting on this stretch of beach were primarily green sea turtles), and about efforts made to protect them.  
The little resort had us cornered for food.  The dinner buffet and breakfast buffet were small and the food wasn't great and it was pretty pricey but there was nothing else to be found for at least an hour's drive so we just did it.  Honestly though, knowing that the money was going to this great place that is trying to save sea turtles made it easier to swallow.  
After dinner we went back to our tent for a bit and then met at the main building again for our night tour at 8:00.  We walked for maybe half an hour across the sand to get to the beach in the moonlight.  Cameras with flash were not allowed at all at night because they would scare the turtles.  It was such an amazing experience watching dozens of enormous sea turtles coming out of the water all around us, the moonlight shining on their wet shells.  We had to wait in a group as a couple of guys went around the beach looking for Momma turtles who were already laying eggs.  Once they start to lay eggs they'll stay put if we come to watch but if they haven't started yet they'll get scared and head back to the ocean.  So we had to be careful not to be too noisy or startle any of them unintentionally.  
As we were walking out to the beach we met some new friends.  Who I think, after this experience are lifelong friends.  Jens and Yvonne Fischer are from Germany, living in Switzerland and somehow ended up vacationing in Oman.  It was a very fortuitous meeting.  We adore them and they were SO kind to us and our kiddos.  Glenn and I debated on how best to bring the girls across the desert to the beach and we decided that bringing them in their car seats would be easiest so we'd have a way to put them down if they were quiet or sleeping and be able to us both hands to take care of the boys or get bottles or take pictures.  Jens came up to us on our way out that night and helped us carry babies out to the beach.  And whenever we moved from one nest to another he'd help as well, and also on the way back at the end.  They are such kind, friendly people and we had so much fun talking to them about their lives and how they came to be traveling in Oman.  Jens happens to be, among other things, a brilliant photographer.  When we met up again in Germany at Christmas, he gave us some pictures he'd taken of the turtles so all of the most beautiful pictures in this post were taken by him.  Like the one below.
During the night tour we all got to gather around a Momma turtle who was laying eggs.  We weren't allowed to take pictures at night but Jens got this one the next morning.  It was an experience like none I've ever had.  The way everyone gathered around in a circle, whispering and in awe.  The way our little kids, even the babies seemed to understand the reverence in the air.  It was incredible.
Once the mommas lay all their eggs, they use their back flippers to cover them with sand. 
Then they start to scoop sand with their front flippers and fling it back behind them. This helps them dig their way out of the hole and also makes sort of a pile on top of the eggs so it doesn't look like a nest and it's harder for predators to find.  At one point that night I had Tate and Finn on my lap, sitting right beside an enormous momma turtle who was starting to throw sand back on the nest and she took a huge scoop of sand and threw it right in on us.  It was hilarious and so cool.  We all laughed and moved back a couple of feet.
The two scout guides would wander around the beach trying to find Mommas who were ready to have us watch them or baby sea turtles who had hatched and were on their way to the sea.  They only found one baby turtle that night and one of the guides picked him up and showed him to us.  It looked like he had been caught by a crab and one of his flippers was injured so he moved a little slower than other babies but he put him down and we watched him work his tiny flippers struggling to get to the sea.  At one point we all gasped as a crab scuttered over in his path and the guide ran out and kicked the crab out of the way.  The boys thought that was hilarious.  And it was.  We all cheered quietly as the little guy made it to the water.  So many predators and obstacles for these teensy little turtles.  Most of them hatched in the dead of night when people aren't allowed to be on the beach so we didn't see any more.  We watched a few mommas climb out of their nests and go back to the ocean.  It was amazing to watch their work.  These incredible creatures with such deep instincts.  They return to the same beach where they hatched to lay their eggs and somehow they just know what to do and then they go back to the ocean never knowing what happened to all their hard work and their tiny babies.
At 10 o'clock we were no longer allowed to be on the beach so we headed back to our tent, with Jens again helping to carry a baby, and put our kiddos to bed.  We woke them up again just before 4am and we were expecting a lot of tears and struggle waking our kids up and getting them to trek across the desert again but it didn't happen.  The boys practically jumped out of bed and didn't complain about the walk at all.  They complained a bit on the way back after our morning tour, but not on the way to see more turtles.  I was so impressed with Tate and Finn.  It was a ways for them to walk, especially in the middle of the night, but they were really troopers.  We left at 4 and stayed on the beach until about 6 watching sea turtles come out of the ocean, seeing the beach covered with turtles in different stages of nesting and then following them back to the ocean.  Jens got some beautiful pictures that he shared with us.

I got a few okay ones and realized that I should probably take some more photography classes.

I loved taking pictures of these trails the turtles left in the sand on their way to the ocean. They were so beautiful.

Taryn and Kenna were such angels.  They just sat in their car seats allowing us to take pictures and hold their brothers.  When they got hungry we made them bottles and they drank them and fell back to sleep.  Angels.

It was an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Watching the sun come up on a gorgeous stretch of beach surrounded by our family, new friends, and dozens of big sea turtle mommas gave me tingles.
I seriously regret that we didn't get any pictures of Yvonne!  She and I had a great time talking to the beach and back again.  She and Jens are such kind people and were so patient and helpful with our little ones.  Here are a few pictures of Jens with Finny and T.

My big boy, Tate, thoughtfully staring out to sea.  I love this picture of him.  He looks so grown up and at peace with the world.

On the way out we started looking for baby turtle tracks on the ground and we found this little patch where the tiny turtle tracks were criss-crossed by fox tracks.  Poor baby turtles have such a small chance of making it to sea and even then a small chance of surviving until adulthood.  
Finny was, as always, happy just to make goofy noises and make his sisters smile.

After a few hours we wandered back across the desert and had breakfast.  Then we packed up the car and drove back up to the airport to catch our flight.  The boys were packed in the back seat in between the two baby car seats but they made do.  Napping on each other in many uncomfortable looking positions.  
The overarching feeling of this trip was gratitude.  I felt so lucky to be able to witness something that I'd read about and seen videos of since I was a kid.  To be able to take a vacation like this with my family and to feel confident that we can manage our little crew and do incredible things together, was so wonderful and made us grateful for this life of miracles we get to live together.