An offshore spray off in the distance, just over the sand dunes. It was kind of like putting on a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in 6 months, reaching into the pocket and discovering a $50 note. You had no idea it was there, you definitely weren’t looking for it and you already know how you’re going to spend it. I spotted what looked like a beautiful wave somewhere between Al Ashkharah and Al Hadd on the Oman Coast and I wasn’t going to let my inexperience four-wheel driving and 500 metres of sand dunes stop me from taking a closer look.
Having already stopped three times to film a donkey, a camel and what I thought was turtle but turned out to be a rock, I was conscious of the time and wanted to get to the next spot on the surf map before the sun went down but if this spray was real and not just another “rock turtle” then a four-wheel-drive adventure over the sand dunes was definitely worth another detour.
Turns out I was right and the waves were super fun, about 4 foot, breaking cleanly on a nice sandy bottom and not another human within kilometres. I surfed it for a couple of hours then decided it’d be safer to drive while there was still a little light so threw the board in the back of the Prado and headed back over the dunes towards the highway.
What a perfect afternoon, sun setting over the desert, the Prado effortlessly floating its way across the sand and Xavier Rudd playing on the stereo; I felt like I was in a Corona ad (a weird Middle Eastern Corona ad where alcohol is essentially illegal and instead of hot girls in bikinis it’s just donkeys and men wearing robes). Then disaster hit. That fifty dollars in my jeans pocket was great, until I realised fifty bucks is fucking useless when your top of the range four-wheel drive can’t even drive itself out of some sand and now I’m trapped halfway between the beach and the highway, tyres only sinking deeper as I try desperately to drive my way out because surely the more you accelerate the better it’ll make the situation.
I’m fucked now. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going other than on a surf trip from Dubai. I’ll be lucky to make the Australian news with everyone back home probably assuming I’m just locked up in Dubai, arrested for being drunk and naked in public. I was five minutes trapped and weighing up my options for setting up camp or trying to get help from the highway when a guy wearing full Arabic dress, dishdasha, head scarf and all, appears at the top of one of the dunes, like a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia. My Arabic was about as good as his english but I’m pretty sure he was saying he’d spotted my car from the highway and came to see whether I needed help. Now instead of remembering all of the amazing people I’d met in Oman to date, like the sunset tea drinking sessions I’d had with some of the friendliest Omani men ever, all I can seem to think about was 9/11, the war in Yemen and just about every other Islamophobic bullshit media report that’s been fed to me for the last 20 years. Trapped in the sand dunes, on my own and this guy who has a striking resemblance to Osama Bin Laden wants me to give him the keys to my $80,000 hire car so he can drive it out of the sand while I push. Fuck it. What have I got to lose. I mean besides my dignity when I explain to the Omani policeman that I gave the nice man my keys then pushed him free so he could drive off into the sunset.
I handed my new robed friend the keys and he jumps in and starts manoeuvring the Prado, forward then reverse, forward then reverse, sand spraying 10 metres into the air. As I pushed from the side I could feel the car start gain traction and breathed a little sigh of relief as it slowly crept further and further forward. Within seconds though relief turned to panic as I gestured for the guy to stop so we could change places and instead of stopping his eyes lit up and his foot hit the floor, accelerating as fast as he could. By this stage I was clinging to the driver’s side window in what I can only imagine was an instinctive reaction to watching the entire Bourne series at least 3 times. Unlike Bourne though, instead of ripping the assailant from the vehicle and taking the steering wheel in one clean swoop, I screamed at the guy, “what the fuck are you doing?” as I was flung from the side step into the dunes where I sat and watched the car being driven off through the dunes.
“Fuck, my favourite board was in there” was actually the first thought, followed by, my passport, followed by, I’ve just been robbed in an Omani desert and I’ve got no idea how the fuck I’m going to get out of here. There was no point in hanging in the desert, I needed to get to the highway to try and hitchhike to the closest town and begin the work on my acceptance speech for the Omani Police Force’s “Best Stupid Tourists” award. I could see the award ceremony announcement already. “And the award goes to… The Aussie who pushed his robber to freedom from the sand dunes- Rusty”.
I trudged my way across the sand feeling sorry for myself, trying to understand how after travelling the world for so long giving strangers benefit of the doubt I had finally been duped, then something amazing happened. As I reached the high point of one of the bigger dunes, there off in the distance, the Prado was parked next to the highway with my Omani rescuer standing proudly next to it, waving his arms like a crazy man. Not the kind of crazy man I’ve been told to expect of anyone wearing a headscarf and of Middle Eastern appearance, the kind who blow themselves up or fly planes into buildings. This guy was the kind of man crazy enough to walk into the sand dunes to check on a complete stranger to see if they needed help. Because the reality is that the majority of people from these parts of the world are like the latter, capable of spreading love and kindness and helping other humans when they look like they're in need of help. We shook hands and hugged and said our goodbyes, never to see each other again. If only I had a spare fifty to hand him as a thank you for his troubles.