Salalah 2018 – The Wonders of the West

Hard-drives are a vital part of every photographer’s kit, aren’t they? Why wouldn’t they be? They don’t just store images, they safe-keep memories that we can relive, places we can revisit, and experiences we cannot replicate. But the problem arises when we lean on a single block of metal to hold all our beloved pictures/files/documents. What if technology goes rogue? What if, say, like Thanos, it just arbitrarily wipes half the universe data that it contains? Well, that’s kinda what happened to me…

This post would’ve gone up a lot earlier if it weren’t for my hard-drive deleting all the edited JPEGs and TIFF files from my Salalah trip. It took me a couple of months to finally come around to process the images again and here we are, in the second installment of my Salalah series, where we’ll explore the beaches and cliffs of south-west Oman.

Salalah is famous for its many beaches, but there is one in particular that appears in literally every travel guide and itinerary, and it is the beach at Mughsail. Now, what makes this beach so special? Well, there’s a lot to like such as the grand views and the unique white sand. It’s a tourist’s heaven, with plenty of portrait and landscape photography opportunities. The beach is also a surprisingly good spot for bird photography, as the white sand provides a surreal effect to the pictures if you can manage to get to eye level with the birds on the shore. Just watch out for the thousands of crabs waiting to pinch your toes and ankles if you decide to stay still for a while.

However, if, for some reason, you decide to visit the beach during the afternoon, prepare to return home with one hell of a sun tan, and sweat that would put an Olympic sprinter to shame. Seriously, do not forget sunscreen if you’re visiting this location, or any other beach in Salalah for that matter. I spent around 30 mins at the beach before the blazing heat and humidity forced me to retreat to the comfort of my car. I assume an evening visit would offer a far more pleasant experience in every way. Anyway, after the short stay at Mughsail beach, my guide offered to drive us uphill to the West Salalah Cliffs which, according to him, boasts of some of the best views of the sea in the region. How could I possibly deny?

The cliffs at West Salalah offer some spectacular photographic opportunities, both landscape and wildlife, although the drive uphill is bumpy and can be somewhat uncomfortable.

At first, the roads to the cliffs were relatively unassuming – slightly worn and bumpy, but it’s a desert, after all. The further we went, though, the worse the roads became and, at one point, we were driving on rocks and rubble with no signs of infrastructure in the vicinity. The ride was unnerving, to say the least, but thoughts of endemic bird species and panoramic cliff views kept me going. A brief survey of the habitat yielded a healthy number of species on the bird checklist – plenty of Rollers, Buntings, Larks and Sand Martins, with the highlight being an ironically uncommon Common Cuckoo.

After a drive that seemed to last an eternity, my guide asked me to get down and walk down the dirt trail that resembled a shoddy road. Hesitantly, I grabbed my camera and took a few steps towards the ledge. Pictures cannot do justice to the scale of the cliffs and the very steep drop into the blue-green sea. The view was, in a word, breathtaking. According to my guide, the rift (pictured below) was caused by a massive thunderstorm several years ago. Nature is scary sometimes…

The rift caused by a thunderstorm, the scale of which is incomprehensible to mankind (ok, maybe that’s a slight over-exaggeration)

After spending some quality time taking in the view, attempting to process the raw complexity and scale of the scene, and contemplating the purpose of my existence we set off towards the hotel to end another superb day in Salalah. On the way back, I had my first (and only) good chance to photograph a European Roller – let it be known that I had spotted hundreds of individual birds earlier on the trip. However, this was the only shot I could manage of this species where I had a pleasing background, a clean perch and a decent head angle all at once. Right before this shot was taken, a light breeze cleared some of the heat distortion in the scene so the bird ended up sufficiently sharp. It was an enjoyable, although sometimes frustrating, experience trying to photograph this common but skittish species. 

The common European Roller is deceptively difficult to photograph.

That marks the end of my second post in the Salalah series. Part three, which is also the finale, will be coming soon, barring any further disruptions *cough* corrupt hard-drives *cough*

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