Under the desert


Let me tell you a story, of a true life adventure in the desert of Oman. It starts with 3 friends, ploughing through the sand dunes in their Landrover to reach a hole before sunrise. They’d seen it on the map, a hole in a landscape of potholes, troglodytes and sand. This one was different. It had no name.
Reaching the spot marked on the map, they skidded to a halt, and let the sand trail settle. The sun just broke the ridge, its glare breaking the silence and galvanizing the 3 men into action. As old hands they worked together, belaying from the Landrover winch and rocks at the hole’s edge, sweat dripping on the ropes as they lashed them together for the descent. One at a time, they abseiled over the edge of the rim with the grace and confidence of divers at Acapulco. The joined ropes were heavy, progress felt slow, but 40 minutes in they landed on a solid floor, about 110 metres below the rim. A trickle of water snaked across the base, emerging from a small pool next to the overhanging wall.
A brew was made while strategy was discussed. Tea leaves swirled aside, Andy waded slowly into the pool, enjoying the delicious cool of the water before disappearing with an inelegant splash. He quickly bobbed to the surface grinning.
“Hand me the rope Don i’ll see if there’s a way through”
He clipped the rope to his harness switched on his head torch and dived back down into the pool. He could feel an opening just below the surface and after a few breath holding attempts, followed the roof with his hand and swam forward. Don and Bob counted, 1001,1002,1003,1004,1005,1006,1007,1008, 1009,
“The rope’s tugged twice, he’s through!”
The guys quickly followed, diving below the surface of the pool, following the roof of the cave, counting as they swam. The roof disappeared and they emerged into darkness that felt spacious around them. Stumbling to the edge of the pool, grazing knees and elbows they stood and shone their torches around them. A silent, glittering audience of stalagtites and ‘mights, marched beyond the reach of their torch beams.
“Aaa!” Andy yelped in fright, feet recoiling out of the water. The others felt it too and lunged for the pool edge.
“It’s okay, ssh!” Andy became still and trained his torch into the water at his feet.
“Stand still, wait, look” The water cleared around their feet as their heart rate steadied.
“Fish?” They whispered, amazed.
“Fish!” Andy exclaimed reverentially.
“Under the desert? Fish?”
“Look they’re completely transparent, you can see their organs, but heh they’ve no eyes”
“These one’s don’t have eyes either. I guess there’s not much to see down here?”
Gently they caught a few of the cave fish that day and there began their journey back to the Natural History Museum in London and a new species was named; Garra Dunsirei, after the first foot they nibbled.

Jennifer MacLellan

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