If you’re in Muscat on May 13th, join us for our next inspiration speaker, Suaad Al Harthi. Listen to her tales of travel and learn about the ecosystem’s challenges. By raising awareness and brining the experience of nature closer, she hopes to inspire a more sustainable future for the benefit of people and the environment.
Nigel Winser | Image Source: University of Westminster
ub-cool: What project brought you to Oman?
Nigel Winser: We came to Oman on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society in 1984 to undertake a geographical survey of the Wahiba Sands desert on invitation from the government. The science director, Dr Roderic Dutton and I brought together three groups of people: the people who understand the earth (the geologists and geomorphologists), the people who understand the animals and plants (the life scientists), and then the people who understand how people relate to both those (the social, the human geographer). So, we built a big team, of earth, life and social sciences to come and study the Wahabi Sands.
“The sands in those days were pristine. We completed a report for the government, published in the Journal of Oman Studies (special Volume III), and it documented everything we saw into absolute detail. And, it’s been recognized as one of the best interdisciplinary studies of its kind of an isolated Sand Sea. My book about the work was called ‘The Sea of Sands and Mists’.”
Image Source: Nigel Winser
ub-cool: How long was the project and what was the most remarkable aspect about it?
Nigel Winser: The project was 6 months long and it was the first time that we started to truly integrate all the thinking from all the different disciplines, with the help of satellite and computing technologies. Every evening there were really powerful discussions between the earth, life, and social scientists to come up with the overall picture. And, also importantly, tapping into traditional knowledge of our Bedu guides, led by Said Jabber Hilays Al Wahibi.
At the time a large team completed the survey of all the rocks, of all the soil, all the sands – we mapped it all. Then we mapped all the plants, and conducted studies of what lived there. We saw Sand Gazelle, Sand Cats and, and Fennec Foxes. And, when you read the report, the list is phenomenal; we found a lot of insects, many new to science, and documented the botany of the sands. Much of the findings are in Oman’s Natural History Museum and the new Oman Botanic Gardens.
“Thanks to the help of leaders in the Oman Government and the Office for the Conservation of the Environment, the findings were presented at a seminar at the Sultan Qaboos University. We were proud of the completed report of the important sand desert, now called the Sharqiya Sands. The legacy of that continues to the work I’m doing today, 30 years later.”
Wahiba Sands Desert in Oman | Image Source: Nigel Winser
ub-cool: What is the government’s involvement in these projects?
Nigel Winser: The Oman Government has a long record of instigating important marine and land conservation projects. The big lesson that I’ve had is that everything that we are doing here, in terms of environmental studies, is a vision from His Majesty. For instance, the study of the Arabian Tahr, in Wadi Sareen (in the Hajar Mountains), with the National Field Research Center for Environmental Conservation and the Office for the Conservation of the Environment. That Sareen reserve was set up in the 70’s by His Majesty under his jurisdiction through the Diwan of Royal Court, led at the time by Mr Ralph Daly, believing that we need to protect it. The Hajar Mountains is an outstanding landscape that is home to wonderful wildlife.
“His Majesty is very supportive to sustainability and wanting to protect Oman’s natural heritage.”
ub-cool: What would you say are the most dangerous wildlife you would encounter in the desert?
Nigel Winser: I think you always have to be very careful of the snakes.
ub-cool: Snakes? Not scorpions?
Nigel Winser: No, I think, if I had to put them in an order, I think it’s the snakes. And, you must always check your boots at night! But, I think, it’s still very rare – nonetheless, you still have to be very careful.
According to Wikipedia, the majority of the dozen or so snake species in Oman are harmless. However, the following four species, which are uncommon, are venomous: cobra, puff adder, carpet viper, and horned viper (pictured here) | Image Source: reptileforums.co.uk
Nigel explains that unlike popular opinion that snake bites are the biggest danger during an expedition, they are in fact quite rare. The two more common acts that end up being fatal are:
The most dangerous thing on expeditions is driving accidents. We’ve lost more people on expeditions through road traffic accidents, than anything else. So that’s the more dangerous thing. We have a number one rule when we’re doing expeditions:
“#1 Rule: Never drive without a seatbelt, and never drive at night. That saves lives.”
The second area is usually climbing accidents: mountaineering and falling.
“Driving and falling outweigh being bitten by snakes and being attacked by a dragon.”
Oman’s beautiful mountains | Image Source: Nigel Winser
Nigel Winser: The Arabian Tahr are these fantastic antelopes that live in Oman’s mountains, which will be the focus of the 3rd Oman Natural Heritage Lecture in London by Haitahm Al Rawahi, from the Office for the Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court.
“They’re like acrobat goats with special rubber toes. And they can stand on tiny ledges. At present, the current studies show the population is really healthy.”
An Arabian Tahr | Image Source: TheNational.ae
Nigel Winser: The unique Arabian leopard in Oman is shy and elusive. Scientists like Hadi Al Hikmani who have been studying them for over ten years, very rarely see it. The images come from camera traps.
ub-cool: Which is more difficult to see the Arabian Leopard or a Snow Leopard? And, which is more rare?
Nigel Winser: If I had to put money on that, I think that the Arabian Leopard is more difficult. I’ll tell you why. Because the Snow Leopard, if you work hard, you’ll find where she and he and the family are. And you’ll then see them. The Arabian Leopard has very rarely been filmed. I think the Arabian Leopard is rarer. I think in Oman the numbers are very low.
ub-cool: What is the reason behind the low numbers of this animal?
Nigel Winser: Habitat, habitat, habitat is the key – and hence the value of Oman’s protected areas.
The Arabian Leopard is one of the smallest species of leopards | Image Source: SharjahUpdate.com
Global warming is by far the biggest issue, and no one has really properly understood the impact. It’s very simple: reduce our global carbon footprint. It’s very simple in principle, but it’s very difficult to do. Hence the importance of the recent UNFCCC discussions in Paris and the renewable (wind and solar) energy agenda.
Globally, the big, big growth area for this, of course, is going to be electric cars. Last time I checked my carbon footprint was 12 tons. So, I have to offset it every year, which means I could put money into projects that grow trees to absorb carbon. This way, everybody can have a zero-waste lifestyle if you want. So, if everyone did that, throughout the world, we’d have a better chance of saving the planet.
Nigel in the field | Image Source: Nigel Winser
The second biggest issue is habitat loss. In the 70’s, my generation thought we’d save the rain forests and there was a large movement around this. We thought: done. And then there was a bit of complacency that went into it, and then a bit of rain forest fatigue. But if you look on the satellite imagery of the forests that have disappeared from Africa, from Southeast Asia, and from the Amazon, you’d be horrified. And the fact that it’s still going.
“So, in my lifetime, around over 50% of all the world’s pristine tropical forests have disappeared.”
So, whenever you see a tree, protect it. It’s priceless because it does three things: it converts CO2 into oxygen, helps provide clean air and clean water, and it provides a habitat for nature. So, every tree in the country is very precious, every tree.
Third would be the plastics in the ocean. Even the plastics that my parents and my grandparents threw away are now in the sea. The more we research in the marine environment, the more we realize it is down there already, even at the micro level, which is just causing nature a headache.
“If every adventure tourist is aware of those three things, it takes a different perspective to realize how lucky they are to walk down a clean canyon, through a clean river and see beautiful trees.”
A humpback whale breaching near Suaad Al Harthi | Image Source: Suaad Al Harthi
We learned that in Oman the Authority for Electricity Regulation announced that their 2018 plans would help to set up the framework in Oman for electric cars. While, last year their focus was more on solar energy and allowing for private users, residences, etc., to feed into the grid.
Nigel: Yeah, it’s fantastic. We’re very close to all roofs, all car parks, and very soon glass in buildings will be acting as solar panels, so we’ll be getting more and more of our energy direct from the sun. It’s not rocket science. Quite exciting, actually.
“And, I think Oman is in a really strong position, because of how much sun it gets.”
Image Source: Nigel Winser
Nigel Winser: The big lesson for the new generation of leaders in Oman is to protect any habitats that have fantastic ecosystems; this includes the marine environment. I am proud to be working with such leaders in Oman especially with the National Field Research Centre for Environmental Conservation and more recently with the Office for the Conservation of the Environment and the Environment Society of Oman.
Worldwide there are a growing number of ‘citizen scientists and eco-tourists’ who want to get involved in doing data collection and observation and sightings. And I know that model because I had the privilege to head the Earthwatch Institute for 10 years and Earthwatch is an organization who enables the public who pay to go on active science projects. New models are growing all round the world, using hand help Apps to identify and record plants and animals.
“For me, the ultimate adventure is being in a great landscape with the local community, seeing wildlife and recording it in some way: photography, painting, sound, or even observations, putting it into your notebook.”
Nigel Winser: There were some forests in UK that were going to be cut down or reduced in size, and the National Forest Project, the uprising in UK was phenomenal. And, the government had to back down.
“Also, the increased number of marine protected areas. One of the great successes of President Obama, for me, was how much he increased protection of the marine environment around the world.”
View of the lecture hall and speakers at the 2017 event in London | Photo Credit: Martin Hartley
Last year’s well-attended lecture in London on 18th October 2017 featured visits and and lectures by: Dr Saif Al Shaqsi (Oman National Field Research Centre for Environmental Conservation), Aida Al Jabri (Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs, Oman), Suaad Al Harthi (Environment Society of Oman), and Rob Baldwin (Five Oceans Environmental Services, Oman). Photo Credit: Martin Hartley
The lecture had the honour of the presence of His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent GCVO (a strong supporter of geographical fieldwork in the Sultanate of Oman). Left to right: Rob Baldwin, Aida Al Jabri, His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent GCVO, Suaad Al Harthi, and Dr Saif Al Shaqsi | Photo Credit: Martin Hartley
Feature Image Source: Nigel Winser
Dear Explorer, The world is your oyster! You’ve heard that one before, eh? Well, it definitely is our motto at ub-cool. We are conquering the world one country at a time with our flag! The world is truly a small place now that we have the ease of air transport. Long gone are the days of sailing weeks across the rough-gut-wrenching seas, watching your suitcases (or, trunks!) slide across the room and almost squash your legs, just to get from one continent to another. Now, you can do that in 12 hours or less. Where in the World is the ub-cool Flag? Come along with us on our journey as the ub-cool team and friends carry our flag across the globe. We will update this page with new additions from the coolest places on Earth! If you want to be part of the journey, email us for a copy of our flag and then submit your photo and we will add it here! Spread the word and check back to see all the new cool places we have been! Turkey September 2018: Balloons in Cappadocia! Exploring the “fairy chimney” rock formations in Turkey, brought along the ub-cool flag for the stunning sights! Ukraine August 2018: Cycling through the Carpathian Mountains Cycling enthusiasts, Kate Pakhomov and Fimm, carried the ub-cool flag through Ukraine! South Africa July 2018: Fun at Lion & Safari Park Devan Kupferman and Laura Symmonds watching lion cubs playing with the ub-cool flag! Arctic Circle June 2018: The Ultimate North! The ub-cool flag reached the Arctic Circle in our founder Medina Ilyassova’s backpack! Kenya June 2018: Hiking in Kwale County! Zarian Sohrab hiked with the ub-cool flag to find some spectacular views! Oman May 2018: Waters around Muscat 10 meters deep in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Muscat, Oman, these passionate freedivers pose with the ub-cool flag! From left to right: Yousuf Al Mukaini, Sele Al Mabsali, and Omar Al Ghailani. Scotland May 2018: Dunottar Castle The ub-cool flag made its way to North East Scotland with our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan! Ireland May 2018: Southern Irish Coast Our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan, high above the beautiful cliffs of Ballycotton in County Cork. Nepal April 2018: Mount Everest Base Camp After 7 days of hiking, our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan, reached Everest Base Camp! Along for the journey was her friend and Jonathan Shubert, ub-cool Explorer and world-record endurance cyclist. Read more about Heather’s journey to Mount Everest Base camp here. Peru April 2018: Machu Picchu The iconic peak of Peru’s famous mountains rise behind ub-cool friend, Hussein Sajwani. He made the gruelling journey to the peak by the most difficult route… Then he made his way to Vinicuna, the Rainbow Mountain, to handstand in the Andes Mountain range. Georgia April 2018: Caucasus Mountains Enjoying her first visit to the beautiful country of Georgia, Medina Ilyassova returned with memories of paragliding over the stunning scenery, exploring castles, and dining on delicious cuisine. If you’re planning a trip to Georgia, discover awesome Georgia tours here. Hawaii April 2018: Koko Crater After a steep climb ub-cool friend, Anshul Bhatnagar, enjoys the view of a cloudy Honolulu! Kazakhstan September 2017 ub-cool’s Medina Ilyassova hangs out in the mountains with family and friends. There is nothing better than fresh mountain air! Bulgaria September 2017 ub-cool friend, Hussein Sajwani, making his way through Bulgaria with the our flag in tow! Tanzania May 2017: Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano – “Mountain of God” Perched at the top of this active volcano, seen as the “Mountain of God” by the Maasai community, our ub-cool founder, Medina Ilyassova, waves our flag with exciting at her accomplishment. The climb was intense to say the least. Imagine climbing at an incline of more than 70 degrees! Not to mention, starting earlier in the dark with headlights to avoid roasting under the African sun! Read about Medina’s climb up Ol Doniyo Lengai Volcano here. Last Updated: 21st May 2018 Watch this space for regular updates! Email us for a copy of our flag and we’ll add your submission to this post!
Dear Explorer, We have searched the web looking for the best photos of the web from the month of April 2018 to inspire you to say ‘WOW‘, get outdoors & lead an active life! 10 Best Photos of the Web Here are our Top 10 pics for this month’s photo competition: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah | Instagram: @alexgoldman The mysteries of Hawaii | Instagram: @kelsealoha The iconic Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco | Instagram: @shangerdanger Turkey is now on our bucket list! Oludeniz Beach | Instagram: @buraktuzer The feeling of freedom! Los Glaciaras, Andes | Instagram: @vagabondhearts Everybody stay calm | @jferrara_photo Travelling in style in Guam, West Pacific | Instagram: @matecasar Serenity at sunset. Inle Lake, Myanmar | Instagram: @vincelimphoto White Sands Monument in New Mexico | Instagram: @everchanginghorizon And happily ever after! | Instagram @nois7 Did you miss the best photos from March’s photo competition? It’s not too late to check them out. Do you want to submit your photos for May’s photo competition? You can email us or tag us on Facebook or Instagram and remember to use the hashtag #ubcoolphotocomp Liked what you read? Subscribe below and receive more great stories right in your Inbox!
Dear Explorer, Counting down the days till your vacation but haven’t settled on a destination? Why don’t you set your eyes on Georgia? (The country in Europe, not the State in the United States!). This country has captured the hearts of many with its warm welcoming nature and generous people. It definitely has the ub-cool team completely in love! Some of our team really enjoy adrenaline-filled adventures like paragliding and white-water rafting, which Georgia has so much of to offer! But, others on the team prefer staying close to the ground – in fact, they prefer their feet firmly fixed to Mother Earth! So, we figured some of you – our lovely readers – may also feel the same and want to check out awesome adventures that keep you as close to the ground as possible. Below are a list of Georgia tours we love that allow you to explore this beautiful country from the comfort of a vehicle. Oh, and don’t forget these Georgia tours are also perfect to enjoy with the family! Related: 4 Best Sky-and-Water Adventures in Georgia 4 Best Georgia Tours on Wheels Recently emerging from decades of Soviet rule, Georgia re-opened its doors to the world in 1991. Since then, there has been a massive building project of hotels and resorts not to mention the increase in the number of flights to this small country. The Caucasus mountains are a sight to be seen – they stand tall with snow-capped peaks against gorgeous rolling-green valleys dotted with small towns. If you’re keen to explore the beautiful countryside and views from the hills all the while keeping your feet close to the ground, we have 4 different options for you from quad bikes to NASCAR-style cars! #1 – Experience the Caucasus Mountains and Castles on this Fun Jeep Tour Jump in for this fantastic jeep tour! The local experts will take you through the Dzama gorge, which is hidden between the valleys of the Borjomi forests and Kartli. Georgians consider this a sacred place as you’ll see by the many old-and-new monasteries in the area. You’ll also visit the gorgeous Bateti lake which sits on a mountain plateau surrounded by forest and a beautiful swamp. Whatever season it is when you visit, make sure you bring your camera because the scenic views will blow your mind! Oh, and we shouldn’t forget to mention the delicious barbeque picnic and red wine tasting you’ll enjoy! Learn more about this Fun Jeep Tour in Georgia > #2 – Explore Georgia on an Amazing Quad Bike Tour Want to explore the rolling green Georgian hills with your friends? Then hop on your very own quad bike and speed away! Imagine spending 2 hours exploring Mitarbi mountain, Bakuriani traditional villages, and rice fields! Then, after lunch, you’ll get the chance to taste the famous Borjomi mineral water in the national park! For those wondering – yes, the quad bike is really easy to handle making for a truly enjoyable journey. And, if you’re looking for fresh air, then this is the trip for you! Learn more about this quad bike tour in Georgia > #3 – An Exciting NASCAR-Style Car Ride in Georgia Do you love watching car races? Well, when in Gerogia, why don’t you give it a try! Strap on your seat belt and take this first-generation NASCAR car, The Legends, down the track for a spin! This modern vehicle is in the retro style fitted with a Yamaha 1300cc, 145 horsepower engine. What does this mean? Yes – You’ll go from 0 to 100km in 4.2 seconds! Fact: before NASCAR, this vehicle was a popular get-away car for the mafia! Learn more about racing NASCAR-style cars in Georgia > #4 – Adrenaline-Packed Off-Roading Drive Through Georgia Calling adrenaline seekers, this rafting trip in Georgia is perfect for you! Hang on tight for an exhilarating rafting trip down fast-moving waters! If you’re new to rafting, learn to raft from local experts and set off on an adventure of a life time. The waters in Georgia’s rivers are ideal for white-water rafting enthusiasts. Do you live for adrenaline-filled adventures? Then this off-roading tour is for you! Race through Georgia’s rugged terrain in the best off-roading vehicle, Polaris RZR. This high-quality AT vehicle will have you perched atop hills in no time! Learn more about off-roading drives in Georgia > Looking for other adventures? Visit ub-cool for more exciting adventures from all around the world! Working with local experts, the ub-cool team seeks out the best adventures for you to try! Liked what you read? Subscribe below to get more adventure tips right in your inbox!
Dear Explorer, “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again” – this is definitely the case for 69-year-old mountain climber Xia Boyu who successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, this week. Xia Boyu On Monday, the 14th of May, Xia Boyu achieved his goal on his fifth attempt of conquering the iconic mountain spanning over 4 decades of attempts. You’ll be shocked to learn that it is not his mature age of 69 that sets Xia apart from the other 500 climbers attempting Everest this year… but also that he is a double amputee! Photo Credit: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images First Attempt Led to Double Amputation Xia, now 69 years old, first tried to scale the 8,848m peak back in 1975. Only a tantalising 200m from the peak of the world, the climbers were heart broken as they were forced to turn back due to high-altitude storms. They were descending in treacherous conditions when Xia, then aged 26, gave up his sleeping bag to a fellow climber who was struggling, according to Chinese media. The severe weather took its toll on him and he discovered the next morning that he had frostbite in his feet, requiring both to be amputated. “It’s not been easy for me to reach the peak of Mount Everest which I’ve dreamed of,” he was quoted by the Peoples Daily. Related: Learn how Shaikha Al Shaiba takes on triathlons with only one arm! Time Line of Xia’s Climbing Dream 1975 – At age 26, Xiya made his initial attempt at Mount Everest but suffered frostbitten feet which required amputation. 1996 – Using prosthetic limbs he climbed mountains around Beijing but tragedy struck when he learnt he had contracted lymphoma and would need both legs amputated beneath the knee. 2014 – Xia was ready to tackle Everest again, but his attempt was not possible due to ice avalanches. 2015 – Having reached Base Camp, his next attempt was delayed due to the disastrous Nepal earthquake of 2015. 2016 – He attempted the climb again; but, within 100m of the peak, he had to turn back due to poor weather. 2017 – His planned attempt for 2018 was nearly derailed by the Nepal government, which in December banned double amputees and blind people from climbing Everest. It was claimed that it would make the mountain safer. 2018 – The Nepal Supreme Court finally ruled that the ban was discriminatory and it was dropped in March 2018. 2018, May – SUCCESS! Photo Credit: Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters In April 2018, a month before his fifth attempt, Xia told Agence France-Presse that climbing Everest was his dream. “I have to realise it,” he said. “It also represents a personal challenge, a challenge of fate.” On Monday 14th May, Xia finally reached the peak of Mount Everest. “Boyu finally won his 40-year-long battle for Mount Everest,” Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, the managing director at Imagine Treks, who accompanied the Chinese climber, told the Himalayan Times. Other Aamputees who have climbed Everest? Xia is the second double amputee to climb the summit after the New Zealander, Mark Inglis, who reached the peak from the Tibetan side in 2006. Santiago Quintero, who had half of each foot amputated during a climb in south America, also reached the peak in 2013. Congratulations Xia Boyu! Your determination and perseverance are an inspiration to us all! Feature photo: rockandice.com / courtesy of Xia Boyu Do you have a cool story to share with us? Get in touch at email@example.com