REBECCA QUEEN OF THE DESERT
At the heart of a successful 4x4 tourist venture in Oman is a Kiwi, Rebecca Mayston. On a recent trip home she described her job, life and the beauty of the Sultanate where she now lives and works.
Kiwis turn up in the most amazing places. Take Rebecca Mayston, a King Country born-and-bred 37-year-old former Aucklander now living and working – as a 4x4 event manager, no less – in Oman.
Often described as the ‘Hidden Gem,’ or ‘Best Kept Secret’ of the Middle East, the Sultanate of Oman is situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
Despite a land area of almost 310,000 sq. km it has a population of just over 4.4 million people. And though it has an extensive coastline bordering both the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman much of its interior is a vast desert plain with mountain ranges along both the north and southeast coast.
Though the export of oil and natural gas remains the major source of the Sultanate’s export income tourism is growing fast. Much of the interest obviously centres of the historic capital city of Muscat in the north-eastern corner.
However, as the company Rebecca Mayston manages – The Guide Oman – is proof, the vast interior of the Sultanate provides virtually unlimited opportunities, particularly if you have a 4x4 frame of mind!
As she explains: “The Guide Oman ( www.theguideoman.com) is a company built on pure passion, adrenaline and a love for off-roading. We have become renowned for our tagalong, self- drive and fully supported desert safaris through the Sharqiya Desert as well as Rub al Khali, Oman’s Empty Quarter, and to date our’s is the only company offering such tours in the Gulf.
“Mohamed Issa al Zadjali is the founder who began off-roading many many moons ago, experiencing the hardship and true challenges that come with this terrain, but also the true adventure and joy.
“Up until 2008, when the company was formalised Mohamed Issa and his buddies ( many of whom still join us today) ventured out for trips to the dunes developing huge knowledge on the terrain and the skills required to tackle it.
“The team boasts a wealth of knowledge and experience of the culture, heritage and landscape of Oman, and all share the passion for the outdoors.”
The real Oman
“We pride ourselves on providing first class service where guests can enjoy the ‘real Oman,’ allowing you to leave enriched and refreshed from your experiences.
The company runs scheduled departures twice a month from September through to April, venturing into the Sharqiya Desert, and the Rub al Khali.
The majority of their clients are currently Omanis, as well as residents and Gulf country locals and residents who travel through for their weekend adventures.
Some, says Rebecca, travel up to 1,500km one way to take part.
“Having such a strong Omani participation gives a very authentic local experience flavour to the trips, and with such a strong group of regulars it makes it much more like a club or as we call it “desert family” atmosphere.
“We have a mix of men, women, and families who all equally enjoy the trips. And our annual Ladies Desert Safari, which hosted 66 women (19 different nationalities, including 11 Omani women) in October 2017 was the fifth femalededicated event we have run, helping to fuel the increasing number of females who enjoy our events.”
Like the manager of any small to medium size business anywhere Rebecca can turn her hand to pretty much anything The Guide Oman requires, from replying to emails to passing on the rudiments of successful sand driving.
“During the week, “she says, “you will find me busy with office tasks, all the PR and marketing, financials and operations, as well as business development growing our private tour and corporate event programmes.
“During the weekends I manage and hostess the events, overseeing registrations, briefings, and driver education.”
A knack for driving
Speaking of which Rebecca says that there is a definite ‘ knack’ to driving in the local sand.
“Desert driving is as much about developing a good strong driver-vehicle bond as it is being cool, calm and collected.
“The best tip I share with those on our trips is that you are driving 4x4s not Ferraris or Lamborghinis, so be cool, driving in the desert is not about speed, it is about consistency, momentum, with gentle acceleration and braking and a softness to the steering.
“We all get stuck, that is actually part of the fun, and you have to learn to laugh at yourself... because the reality is, if you are not getting stuck you are not in the desert!
“That said, all our trips begin with a full drivers’ education session, complete with a demo Jeep in the dunes. We talk about the importance of tyre pressure and how deflating your tyres to the correct pressures triples the surface area connecting to the sand.
“We also talk about the importance of reading the tracks to learn the soft and firm sand, the relationship of gravity with desert driving and how you must grow the vehicle-driver bond and never force your vehicle to go where it is doesn’t want to.
“Most importantly we stress that you need to learn persistence, patience ... desert driving is not easy, it is challenging, it is testing, but you must learn to not let the frustrations of getting stuck slow you down.
“In fact, as we tell everybody before they start one of our trips, once you learn to cool down and administer persistence and patience you will discover that with determination ( and a very controlled accelerator pedal) more often than not you can dig yourself out of being stuck independently!”
Since she has been involved in the 4x4 scene in Oman Rebecca says that there has been a major change in the type of vehicle turning up to do The Guide Oman events.
“In the past the range of vehicles was always hugely diverse, with every 4x4 you can think of joining. Over the years, however, as the skills and interest in off-roading and 4x4 modifications has developed, there has been a big change in demand based on vehicle suitability.
“The 2012 launch of the new Jeep Wrangler saw a big shift to a Jeep majority on the trips, with guests enjoying the light vehicle body with the powerful engine capacity and the easy ability to personalise their vehicle.
( That said) “There are still avid enthusiasts who haven’t made the switch and who still enjoy their modified Toyota Prados, FJs, utes and Land Cruisers and/ or Mitsubishi Pajeros. The trips also always include the usual ‘ big boys and their toys’ too, with everything from MXT Trucks and custom-built German campervans, to super modified buggies.
“Did I also mention that some of the Jeeps have in-built satellite TV ( one simply cannot miss a football match) as well as hot water showers!”
If you happened to catch an episode of the new ‘post- Clarkson’ Top Gear last year which featured a race from Dubai ( sea level) to a mountain top hotel in Oman you will at least know that the latter has a very different look and feel to what you otherwise might expect of a Middle East country.
Home for now
For Rebecca it is very much ‘ home,’ for the present time anyway.
“Oman has such a diverse landscape, for a start, unlike anywhere else in the Gulf,” she says. “As well as kilometres of stunning coastline, you have these dramatic mountain ranges towering to over 3,000m above sea level, with the Grand Canyon of Arabia, and vast expanses of sand dunes in both the Sharqiya Desert as well as Rub al Khali ( aka The Empty Quarter) which is the biggest sand desert in the world.
“Not only does the landscape differ but so too does the weather. In the summer months, for instance, when Muscat is baking in 50°C heat, the altitude of the mountain ranges means temperatures 20°C cooler, providing a summer sanity escape route.
“This weather is also complimentary to the production of roses, pomegranates, walnuts, apricots, etc, which all flourish during summer in the Jabal Akhdar ( Green Mountain region west of Muscat) .
“Over summer, also, Salalah, in the southwestern region of Dhofar experiences the monsoon where the days are filled with drizzle and rain, the landscape turns lush green with waterfalls flowing and cool 25°C days, and you can sit back and enjoy coconuts, bananas and papayas in the misty weather.
“Because rain is such a rarity across the whole region it is truly a celebration to enjoy the sparse rainfalls and because of this the entire Gulf region converges on Salalah during this to enjoy the unique weather.”
Peace be with you
Finally, Rebecca says that the Omanis are some of the most warm, welcoming and hospitable people she has come across in all my travels.
“You may be miles from anywhere in the depth of rugged mountains only to hear “A’Salam Ali Khum” ( welcome, peace be upon you), followed by invites to join them for Kahwa ( Omani coffee – black with cardamom and rose water) and dates,” she says.
Though the majority of people she sees through her work with The Guide Oman are locals, Rebecca says that tourism is a key growth industry in the Sultanate, and that she hasn’t met anyone yet who, upon making the effort to visit, has been deeply impressed.
“The majority are simply blown away with what we have here and immediately fall in love with the country,” she says. “The good thing right now, is that the tourism industry is starting to boom, and the sheer potential of the region is only just starting to unfold so I am thrilled to be here as it is all starting to grow and develop and change.”
To find out more about Oman and the 4x4 adventure opportunities it offers check out The Guide Oman at www. theguideoman.com, or on social media at www.facebook.com/ TheGuideOman or www.instagram.com/ GuideOman
Mountain road to Jabel Abiyad climbs to 1400 metres above sea level.
Beaches offer a different sand experience.
Desert life x 2