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.

NZ4WD - - CONTENTS - Story by Ross MacKay & Rebecca Mayston. Pho­tos by Rebecca Mayston and Scott Pow­ick.

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.

Off-road guide

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.

Jeeps pop­u­lar

“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

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