THE ARABIAN FJORDS IN STRENFIT X500 INFLATABLE KAYAKS

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"We're Nathan and Théo, two 24-year-old twin brothers from Normandy who went our separate ways for our studies - one to Rouen and the other to Marseille. We both had the chance to take a full month's holiday, and decided to go on an adventure together. The idea of an itinerant journey in kayaks had always fascinated us, even though neither of us had much experience on the water. The weather in October pushed us towards a destination closer to the equator. After a bit of research, we found the Arabian fjords. These mountains drop right into the Strait of Hormuz in a region of Oman called Musandam. We didn't have the gear we needed for that kind of trip. We contacted Itiwit,  Decathlon's paddle sports division, via Facebook, and presented our project. They wrote back directly asking if we'd like to test their new Strenfit x500 inflatable touring kayak in the types of conditions we'd find in the fjords (intense heat, humidity, frequent carrying). They lent us two inflatable kayaks complete with all necessary equipment, on the condition that we sit down with the brand's engineers for a debriefing when we returned from our adventure. One was delivered to Normandy and the other to Marseille, so we could train a bit before heading off. This was really great because we needed to get used to the kayaks before any full-day paddling!

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#1 Preparation & getting there

This trip was more than a sporting challenge, as we'd outlined an itinerary but not specified stages so that we could tailor the journey to how things were actually going. The major difficulties would be the lack of fresh/drinking water, the constant presence of saltwater on our skin, and the intense heat that stays above 30° even at night and in the water: it was a good way to test the resistance of the kayaks through lots of carrying and under the sun. Our itinerary started with a flight to Dubai, after which we needed to get to the border between the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Once we'd crossed that, we began the kayaking leg of our journey, paddling to the entrance of the fjords and then exploring the Sham fjord, after which we made our way back to the border and to Dubai by road to finish out our trip.
 

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#2 Days 1 to 3: Getting to our point of departure

Our airline, Gulf Air, had a "student" discount that let you check an additional bag. So our kayaks, paddles (stored in Wedze by Decathlon ski bags), and camping gear were all checked through easily.  After a night in a hotel in Dubai, getting food (canned goods, corned beef, grains, cereal bars, water, freeze-dried soups, pasta, rice), it was time to head for the border of Oman. Our packs were massive and walking with all our gear was difficult, especially in the heat. We were able to find a bus that took us closer to the border by taking us to Ras Al Khaimah. It was a long trip as the bus was pretty basic, but at least had space for luggage! Once there, we had a lot of help from locals, who were incredibly kind! We finally arrived in Sha’am, the second-to-last city before the border, where we slept on the beach. That first night was hard because of the heat, the mosquitoes, and the non-stop noise of 4x4s off-roading on the sand. We were lucky not to be run over while we slept! After thoroughly checking our packs, we finally arrived in Musandam. We got a good laugh from the looks on the faces of the soldiers and police at the border when we had to explain what we were doing, and also explain we intended to do it without a car

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#3 Days 3 to 8: Getting to Khasab

On 10 October we had just crossed the border and were on the beach that was the launching point for our kayaking trip. Sheltered from the sun under a bridge, we took our time eating and inflating our kayaks. Finally, the sea! That evening we arrived in the village of Fudgha to camp. Already running low on water because of the sun,we went to get some in this little village. We got really lucky because we met a family that welcomed us into their beautiful home and offered us lots of water...and dinner to boot! Remember that at the time we were completely covered in salt and sand, but it wasn't a problem for them. This fabulous encounter on the first night of our trek was truly heartening! We got back on the water the next morning and made our way to Khasab, the city that marks the entrance to the fjord we'd targeted. We were only able to paddle during the morning and the end of the afternoon to avoid the scorching sun. During this trip, we got to see bioluminescent phytoplankton, cormorants, turtles, and lots of very colourful fish. But in spite of it all, those first 4 days weren't easy. The sea water meant we were permanently wet. It was hot at night, and the sand from the beaches was everywhere, all over us and our gear. It was a bit harder than we'd planned, so we had to take a small break in Khasab. We stayed two nights in a hotel to wash, eat something other than our rations, rest, visit Khasab, and prepare the next leg of the journey.
 

#4 Days 8 to 14: Kayaking around the Arabian fjords

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The 8th day was the grand departure for the Sham fjord! Excited to get going on our plans, we couldn't wait to set out. Which is why we set off early in the morning. Tuesday 15 October turned out to be one of the most extraordinary legs of our journey. We followed the coastline observing magnificent reef fish and as just as our first fjord sunset began, some surprise guests showed up - dolphins! They were just next to us, beautiful, silent, and synchronised in their movements. It was a truly unforgettable moment. We continued our journey with days of kayaking, hiking, camping and campfires, swimming, meeting goats, observing dolphins, and having an amazing time. We weren't able to go into several fishing villages accessible only by water, as the people there made it clear they didn't want to be disturbed by travellers. Over the past few years, tourism has increased in the fjords, where traditional boats (boutres) offer day trips. Because of this we'd been sure to bring enough drinking water, and the storage space in the kayaks was really helpful. They really held up, even in this incredibly hot, salty and "hostile" environment (because of sharp oyster shells)!  This part of the journey was the most significant for us and still, it's difficult to describe our experience. We also feel like we should leave some things unsaid, to allow you to make your own discoveries on your future kayak-trek in Musandam! We finally made our way back to Khasab (where we spent a night in a hotel) to stock up on food, repair the oyster scrapes on Nathan's kayak, and to wash.
 

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#5 Days 14 to 16: Back to the beginning

It took us three days from the time we set off in the kayaks to get to Khasab. That left two to retrace our route before we needed to be back in Dubai. We decided to go as far as we could towards the border by sea and to hitchhike at the end if necessary. In the end, despite my spraining my thumb, we were able to get all the way back to our starting point in a day and a half and completely by kayak. Paddling further and further from the shore became more and more enticing. That was how we arrived back on the beach where we'd first inflated our kayaks - much lighter than when we'd left. 

After that, we hitchhiked to get back to the border, with much less success than we'd envisioned. We found out later that it was because of high immigration rates of certain foreigners trying to get to the United Arab Emirates before crossing the Strait of Hormuz. So drivers didn't want to pick us up and take us with them through check points. Luckily that wasn't the case with Ibrahim, a scrub nurse from Oman. He stopped for us and made space in his 4x4 for all of our gear and drove us to the border, smiling all the way. He even insisted on accompanying us to the police station. We were able to go to the front of the line since he was a local. He gave them our passports and everything was fast and easy. After that we got back in his car. Our fabulous chauffeur drove us all the way to the beach in Sha’am where we'd camped the first night, and that was where we parted ways. Just one more example of why we'll never forget the kindness of the people of Musandam!
 

#6 Days 17 to 18: Getting back to Dubai and then France

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As soon as our alarm went off, we set out for Dubai by bus, taking the same three buses we took at the beginning of the trip, before finally setting all our gear down in a hotel. We had a day and a half to visit Dubai, which allowed us time to see just how insanely big the city is, with its soaring skyscrapers (including the world's tallest: Burj Khalifa), its huge shopping centres, and its all-around state-of-the-art infrastructure. It was a whole other world and it wasn't long before we were missing our quiet nights under the stars! Finally, on the last day, we visited "old" Dubai and, through the city museum, learned a bit more about how the city actually started expanding in the 60s with the discovery of oil. The area had already been inhabited for a very, very long time by nomads wanting to make it their home. Visionaries, it would seem.
 

#7 Conclusion

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"In all, we'd paddled 150 km in the kayaks and learned many lessons. The first was that it's not necessary to be an expert before setting out on an adventure. We aren't professionals in kayaking or itinerant travel. We only knew the basics, but that didn't stop us doing it! It was maybe even because we didn't know much that we were able to have such an amazing time! We also learned about our own physical and mental limits and we never hesitated to rest when we needed to. Personally, and this is just my opinion, I think that for us this trip opened the door to an entire universe of new possibilities! Thanks to the Itiwit inflatable kayaks,we learned that it's possible and not that difficult to go somewhere far from home, somewhere unknown, and have a great time! We made it our priority to use public transport and the kayaks, and to pick up rubbish off the beaches or out of the unfortunately very polluted sea in an attempt to limit our impact on the environment.

No matter the type of trek (hiking, biking, etc.), collecting rubbish is an easy thing to integrate into your trip. And I think I only realised what we were about to do when we inflated the kayaks for the first time on that beach in Musandam. Which is pretty late, but as they say: “Better late than never!”

NATHAN &  THÉO

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