Our arrival at the beach the previous evening had obviously not gone unnoticed. We woke with the sun to find four young boys sitting about 50m away from our shelter on a small dune, watching us intently. As I sat up and adjusted to wakefulness, I smiled and waved, but later gently shooed them away so that Penina could get dressed. They didn’t seem too worried.

Another warm morning, we enjoyed breakfast of bread, cheese, jam and tea in the shade of the hut.

Breakfast

Leaving Amak Amak Beach, we drove perpendicular to the coast across the coastal plain to check out a huge cave at the base of the mountains.

Cave

From there we drove east to the Zahag sand dunes, formed, no doubt, by the strong monsoon wind which had once again strengthened and was threatening to remove doors from the car. I felt childlike joy running up and down the pure white sand set against dark clouds and angry sky.

Sand dunes

Sand dunes

Penina and I climbed back in the car feeling very sweaty and gritty, and we were relieved when Wasa said we were heading for another wadi swimming hole back up in the mountains. En route, we stopped at a small village which was seemingly deserted, tatty thatch huts set amongst rocks and litter. One lonely looking satellite dish sat propped up on a metal drum.

Satellite dish

Faisal went off to find the owner of a little shop who soon came jogging along to unlock. He sold shampoo and disposable razors to Wasa and Faisal, and yummy ice-cold drinks to all of us.

The road deteriorated as we climbed the mountain range, and soon we stopped at another little village. This one was lush with vegetation and teeming with people going about their business. Wasa said it was famous for tropical fruit, so we bought a large papaya from a man who climbed a tree and plucked it fresh.

The swimming hole when we got there was everything we’d hoped for. We laid out our picnic spot and Faisal delivered a pot of hot, sweet tea.

Swimming hole

Penina and I took the opportunity to do a little bit of handwashing downstream, hanging the wet clothes over a makeshift clothesline strung between two trees. Just as we were thinking about getting in for a swim, another 4WD crawled down the track to the wadi and parked. Four men got out and waved to us before stripping to boxers and taking running jumps at the water. They swam for a couple of minutes, got out, gave their shirts a quick wash, climbed back into their car, gave us another wave, and drove off.

The water was amazing when we got in. The coolness was refreshing and invigorating, and we could feel the accumulated dirt and sweat wash away. The hole was deep and a perfectly-placed rock provided a 2m-high ledge to jump from.

Swimming hole

After getting out and getting dry, Wasa brought over lunch of potato, tuna and rice. While Penina and I ate, he and Faisal walked upstream and over a rise to wash in private. We all got back into the car after lunch and baths feeling clean and happy for the drive towards the north coast.

The scenery on that drive through villages and valleys was spectacular.

Valley

We descended to the north coast near Homhil and the weather changed immediately to hot, humid and windy — I hadn’t realised just how relatively cool and still it had been for the past 30 hrs. We stopped at a little shop to buy fishing line, and then a little further down the road to buy smallbait from some boys catching it at the edge of the water. Wasa and Faisal were going to try to catch our dinner.

Near the north-eastern tip of the island we parked at the incredible Arar Beach. A couple of enormous sand dunes rest up against the sheer mountainside, and standing there in the strong wind it was easy to understand how they’d got there. It almost felt like the gale was blowing from two opposite directions at once, whipping up the sea into a blanket of whitecaps.

Dunes and spring

Beach goat

A freshwater spring flows from the mountain to the sea, surrounded by the most unlikely crop of lush, green grass. Tiny little fish swam against the strong flow to remain in small pools.

Spring

Wasa and Faisal disappeared up the beach into the wind to try their luck with the fishing line; Penina and I just wandered around taking in the view and losing layers of skin to airborne sand while climbing dunes.

Beach shadow

The fishermen returned about 30 minutes later with two fish. They looked like they’d been out in a storm — covered in spray from the wind and a thick layer of sand. In better weather we would’ve camped at the spring but there was no chance of us staying this night. Five minutes back up the road was a small cave in the side of the mountain that would provide good shelter.

We arrived at the cave just on sunset. Wasa wanted to try to catch another fish with the last of the bait, and as he walked back to the beach Penina and I watched the sun disappear over the horizon.

Sunset

The cave was perfect — sheltered from the wind even through we could hear it howling, a flat ground of small rocks, and a fantastic view of the beach and night sky. A smaller cave just beside us bore evidence of recent and frequent goat cook-ups with lots of bones laying around and cut-off goat feet

Faisal cooked dinner and Wasa returned empty handed. We all ate together by the light of a small torch.

As with last night, Penina and I read as long as we could stand the bugs attracted by our light, and then we lay on our mats and stared at the stars.