Bernard the lady turkey and the Garden of Misfits
With its diverse array of wildlife, Oman promises so much to the eager nature lover. The elusive Arabian leopard still survives in the mountains of Southern Oman. Striped hyenas, oryx, and even the tenacious honey badger all call the Sultanate its home. Lizards, skinks, geckos and snakes can be found across the peninsula, and rose-ringed parakeets, green bee-eaters, oriental white-eyes and mynahs are just a few of the exotic birds keen twitchers can expect to hear and see in what is often called, ‘the true Arabia.’
But a turkey? Umm, no. Turkeys are not the kind of exotic fauna you expect to wake up to on your first morning in Muscat, and see peering at you through the patio doors.
‘Bernard’ was a lady turkey who had been rescued, by my host, Nick, from a friend’s cramped chicken coop, where she had been weaned on a diet of leftover biryani, before being brought to, as my friend Emma had affectionately named it, the ‘Garden of Misfits.’ Bernard joined a grumpy tortoise, 2 truculent bunnies and a cannibal parakeet, aptly named, The Claw, who wolf-whistled, and quacked like a psychotic duck. Still settling in, and in awe of the freedom on offer, Bernard was exploring her boundaries and testing the patience of the two bunnies who thumped their feet loudly when she encroached into what they considered, their territory.
Unfortunately for Bernard, this new-found freedom was already at risk of being short-lived. Earlier that morning, Lina the maid, aka Dr Doolittle, had discovered Bernard pooing on the patio which, according to her, upset the rabbits who didn’t appreciate this odd avian defecating on their patch. According to Lina, who had an apparent uncanny ability to communicate telepathically with the animals, Bernard’s arrival was giving them headaches, and she was demanding that Nick fence Bernard in before the bunnies went into meltdown.
“I should think watching live sex shows was more unsettling for the turkey, actually,” I commented whilst we sat in the shade of the balmy 40-degree heat, watching Bernard comically strut around the lawn like an awkward half bird, half dinosaur hybrid. The night before, I had witnessed the depraved shenanigans of brown rabbit trying to hump his unimpressed female companion; the flamboyantly named, Her Viciousness, the Honourable Chickachoos the Pelleter, under the mist of the sprinklers. As she hid her head in the foliage trying to get 40 winks, it must have felt like ‘out of the chicken coop and into the sex den’ for poor Bernard, who had up until now, led a very sheltered life.
Knowing that Bernard was going to have to pull something pretty spectacular out the bag in order to gain Dr Doolittle’s affections, we finished our coffees and hit the road to Bandar Khayran for a day of paddle boarding and jet-skiing, hoping that the turkey wouldn’t have ‘mysteriously’ vanished on our return…
The drive out of Muscat, south, to Bandar Khayran, took us through winding, limestone mountain roads, littered with fallen rocks, goats and donkeys; making it both breathtaking and anxiety-inducing in equal amounts. As the Hummer negotiated tight bends with the trailer carrying the jet-ski juddering behind us, I marvelled at the mountainscape we were driving through; a road system and infrastructure still relatively foetal by most developed countries standards, which had opened up parts of the Sultanate previously inaccessible by road, yet, in my opinion, still managing to retain the natural wild and raw beauty of this ancient land. It was almost impossible to believe that when Sultan Qaboos first rose to power in 1970, after ousting his isolationist father in a bloodless coup, Oman, approximately the same size as Great Britain, had less than 10 miles of tarmacked roads across it’s landscape. Forty-seven years later, the Sultanate has been transformed into a modern and prosperous country whose nationals enjoy free education and healthcare, as well as being gifted plots of land to build their own residential property. For almost 40 years, only working Omani men aged over 25 could be included in the free land distribution draw, but this was changed by Sultan Qaboos by royal decree in 2008 to include Omani women. Although this may seem considerably behind the times to the western world, it is still a positive and momentous step for, by some estimates, currently over one million Omani women, who, now in possession of their own land rights, will have more freedom in their lives and equality in their marriages.
After an hour or so, we pulled off the road at the top of a steep and deeply potholed track which led to the shimmering waters of Bandar Khayran; a stunning reserve of inlets and coves boasting crystal clear waters and sandy beaches. My heart leapt into my mouth at the prospect of the vertiginous descent, but before I could leap out pretending I fancied to walk it, we were already on our way. I held my seat tightly and tried to find my inner happy place whilst practicing some yogic breathing - silently, so as not to alert the boys of my terror. However, a quick glimpse in the rear-view mirror and they would have seen that my happy place was proving somewhat elusive today, and instead, blind panic consumed me. To the left was a pretty much sheer drop of loose sand and rock. To the right were potholes so deep they would swallow a small family hatchback whole, so, in order to reach the bay, Otto manoeuvred the Hummer perilously close to the edge, managing to avoid the worst of the holes, and somehow, with a mixture of skill, luck, and possibly voodoo, we reached the beach in one piece, with the trailer and paddle boards still firmly attached.
“Argh, it’s so busy because it’s the weekend!’ exclaimed Nick, as he and Otto untied the paddle boards. “Ah well, we’ll just get this stuff in the water and go. We don’t need to hang around the beach with these crowds."
I looked around at the 3 or 4 small groups set beside the water’s edge - a far cry from a heaving Sandbanks on a sunny bank holiday weekend. Looking out at the 3 power boats and a couple of jet-skiers in the bay, this was positively abandoned compared to Poole Harbour, which turns into the marine equivalent of Piccadilly Circus from May to September. If this was considered busy by Omani standards, then this was a busy I could handle!
After an idyllic day of jet-skiing and paddle boarding, we relaxed on an empty sandy beach, watching the mountains turn to glowing amber as the last of the day’s rays faded with the setting Arabian sun. It was time to head back to Muscat, and to the Garden of Misfits.
On arrival, little appeared to have changed. Bernard was still strutting self-consciously around the garden, mindful of the rabbits who eyed him disdainfully, whilst no doubt, preparing for their evening sex-fest. The tortoise was hiding around by the aloe vera plants, and at the end of the garden The Claw quacked like a deranged duck on speed.
However, on a makeshift nest in the corner of the garden, Bernard had laid an egg. A proverbial golden egg, no less, as now, Dr Doolittle would have nutrient rich, fresh eggs, to feed her own beloved pugs.
As the evening call to prayer evocatively echoed around the fragrant Muscat air, I wondered if Bernard had any idea just how lucky she was to have been brought to the Garden of Misfits; I, myself, certainly felt honoured to be here.