British Royal Airforce veterans return to Oman

Date published: 24 May 21

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Ayn Athum Waterfalls in SalalahIn 2014, tailor-made tour operator Odyssey World coordinated a group of 99 military veterans on a reunion tour to Oman. The guests were all former British servicemen tasked with protecting the Sultanate during the Omani civil war of the early 1970s. In October 2021, over 25 of the RAF Salalah and RAF Masirah Veteran’s Association will reunite for a second tour of the region.

Liz Pepperell-Skey, founder and former Managing Director of Odyssey World lived in Oman in the mid 1980s and as a traditional Tour Operator, became one of the first British travel companies to create and conduct tours of the Empty Quarter, the vast interior of Oman. It was her in-depth knowledge of the history and logistics of the region that made Odyssey World the natural choice for such a complex group itinerary.

Nesting Turtle at Raz al JinzThe tour included now familiar tourist sites such as Muscat’s impressive Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Nizwa Fort and Raz Al Jinz Turtle Sanctuary. This acclaimed conservation site revived particularly fond memories for the group as many recalled their time stationed at RAF Masirah, on an island 15 miles off the coast in the Arabian Sea. The servicemen remembered that they would often find huge turtles during dawn patrol, exhausted after digging their nests and laying up to 100 eggs during night hours. At different stages, hatchlings would also appear and start their treacherous scramble to the sea, often heading the wrong way back to the desert.

Observing the struggle of both the adult females and tiny hatchlings, troops would heave them back to the shore before the brutal heat of an Omani desert sunrise would cause dehydration and an unfortunate end. Estimates of hatchlings surviving to adulthood in the wild is anything from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000, and all of Oman’s turtle species have since been classified as endangered. Despite no formal training and subsequent knowledge that humans should all avoid physical contact with turtles, perhaps the RAF were unwittingly adopting early conservation methods that are still practiced by wildlife professionals today.

National Day in NizwaThe group continued to the island of Masirah where many were based at the RAF station during the conflict. Since the 1970s, it was noticeable how the benevolent and progressive Sultan Qaboos transformed Oman since his reign began. Before his time, islanders weren’t permitted to have dwellings on the island, forced to live a nomadic life. Now, the island includes a small village, smooth tarmac roads and a few hotels and camping facilities. Amongst the occasional wrecked dhow, kite-surfing thrill-seekers and bottlenose dolphins, tourists looking for a true off the beaten track location can find raw beauty and tranquillity on the remote island of Masirah.

On to Salalah, which for those that had served there was quite a pleasant surprise. The southern outpost town had become a developed, modern city. Luxury hotels, museums, bustling souqs and UNESCO World Heritage sites now attract international tourists. Visitors seek out the refreshingly cool climate as gentle monsoons that sprinkle the land through June-August create a year-round, lush oasis of green mountains, waterfalls and Khareef (Autumn) season temperatures averaging 25 degrees. David Rose, one of the 2014 Tour Group Coordinators remembers, “One of the shocking things for me was the instant change when we hit the Dhofar region. Grazing camelsAfter travelling 1000 km through desert and arid mountainous areas, we went around a bend and were faced with a scene that was more reminiscent of the green hills of Wales. This is Dhofar and the autumn was starting. They had some rain and the hills around the coastal area were instantly transformed. Cows grazed the fields alongside camels and the contrast was breath-taking.” 

Oman is a country full of wonder.  The recently departed Sultan Qaboos was considered a progressive, peaceful and benevolent leader, using the late 20th century oil fortunes for the benefit of his people rather than aggressively investing in careless projects seen in other new wealthy nations. To this day, Oman proudly protects its rich Arabian culture and heritage while quietly introducing change and warmly embracing respectful international visitors. With raw beauty from the sparkling Arabian coast to the bronzed Wahiba Sands to the rugged Al Hajar mountains, curious travellers will be delighted to experience the authentic Omani blend of ancient history and hospitality supported by modern development.

Jebel Akhdar MountainsOdyssey World continues to operate family, group and solo tailor-made travel throughout the Middle East with the most popular areas currently Jordan, Israel, Oman and the UAE. Using the same successful formula of developing strong relationships with reliable local ground support, maintaining value and flexibility for clients, and promoting responsible, authentic travel to their treasured destinations, Odyssey World now offer tailor-made itineraries throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Odyssey World can create your own authentic travel experience to Oman and other destinations around Arabia, Asia and Africa. Visit www.odyssey-world.co.uk or call 0117 313 7070 to start planning your adventure.

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