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Oman On AssignmentArrows

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From Photographer

Stephen L. Alvarez

Oman On Assignment

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From Author

Greg Crouch

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Stephen L. Alvarez



Field Notes From Photographer
Stephen L. Alvarez
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    The author, Greg Crouch, and I wanted to go to the Empty Quarter, so we went to a nearby place called Ash Shisar. It has a collapsed sinkhole that has been a well for years. Everyone going into the Empty Quarter stops there. When we got there we met a man named Mabrook Massin. He runs the visitor center, which is closed during the summer because of the extreme heat. We told him that we always wanted to see the Empty Quarter. He said, "Well, it's very hot, but let's go out there."
    This is an area of sand dunes that extends all the way to Saudi Arabia. There's nothing out there, but it's fantastically beautiful. We drove up onto the sand dunes and took a lot of pictures. As the sun went down Mabrook built a fire and made tea for us. We sat there and talked, played games, and drank tea by the firelight. It was a wonderful experience given to us by a man who had nothing to gain except the pleasure of sharing company with a pair of strangers. It's one of those fantastic things that I will remember forever.

    We made arrangements with the Omani Air Force to fly us with our supplies to the Selma Plateau so we could spend two weeks up there working in the caves.  When we got there, we noticed that there were clouds around. The helicopter left, and our camp manager came up to join us. Then the fog rolled in. It was the kind of heavy fog we get where I live in Tennessee. You can only see about 15 feet (three meters) in any direction.
    The top of the Selma Plateau is a featureless plain of fist-size rocks as far as the eye can see. When the fog rolled in, I couldn't navigate. There were no landmarks outside of camp, so it was easy to get turned around. I walked around trying to navigate by GPS or compass, but I was terrified that I would never be able to find my way back to camp. Plus we were up there looking for cracks in the ground that dropped straight into nothing. It was nerve-wracking until the fog lifted.

    In the summer in this part of Arabia, the monsoon turns the southern part of Oman into this lush, green, wet landscape. It was very strange being in the north where it was hot and dry. Then we flew down through a cloud and suddenly it was like being in the English countryside in the fall, except that camels were walking down the road.

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