OMAN Ė March 27/ 29

 

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Oman:Muscat and Salalah- received April 2

 

Muscat:

As we headed towards the Persian Gulf, I have to admit that I was getting a little nervous.I kept thinking that if something happened, all those people who said we were crazy for going on this trip would say, ďAha!I told you it was a stupid idea!What were they thinking?ĒFor those who know me well it will come as no surprise that all the worst case scenarios were swimming in my mind.If given the chance I would have voted to skip this area if a vote was taken.Thank goodness it wasnít.We were very pleasantly surprised.

 

My nervousness was due to my ignorance, of course.After coming in from visiting Muscat, a nice couple beside us gave me an article about Oman and after reading it I had wished that I had read it before I toured the city.The article states that ďOman is very closely linked to the West.Britain was an ally for many years and more recently the USA has forged close ties with Oman.During the Middle East conflicts Oman was the centre for allied command posts.The coalition forces also made use of Omani naval and air force bases.Ē

 

When we docked in Muscat, we hopped on a bus and it took us to the Mutrah Souk.As we drove in we noticed this incredible castle built right into the mountain.It is the 16th century fort built by the Portuguese.The souk or market was quite amazing.It consisted of a number of tiny shops along a very narrow laneway.It is so tight that two people cannot pass without one turning to let the other through.The wares for sale included shawls and scarves and many antiques;Frankincense for sale in almost every one of these little shops.Apparently there was a lane that was just full of shops selling gold but we didnít make it that far; good thing for Steveís sake!

 

This place was just so different from Dubai.Islam is strictly observed in this country and while we were walking we suddenly heard, over a loud speaker, a man chanting, reciting the Koran.It kind of sent a chill down my spine and like I said earlier I felt unsafe for some odd reason.I kept thinkingÖ. what a great opportunity for some suicide bomber to pick this market that is filled with mostly American and British tourists from none other than the QE2.Oh, that sick imagination of mine!Obviously that didnít happen or else I wouldnít be writing this story so I will continue.

 

The merchants were actually very friendly and not overly pushy.We ended up buying the traditional dress and hat worn by the men for Steve and Nikolas.Steve and the merchants were trying to convince me to buy the dress and scarves that the women wear to cover their bodies and their faces but I just refused.I truly respect their religion and their beliefs but I still have a little bit of a tough time understanding the way women are treated in this part of the world.Itís so amazing to look at these women as they walk around in the scorching heat with these layers of black material.Some have just their eyes exposed and when you look in their eyes you can really see how truly beautiful they are.They say that the women must stay covered in public so that they donít tempt other men.Well, when I look at these women they looked very mysterious with just their beautiful eyes glancing out from under the veil.

 

We decided to catch a cab and we asked him to take us to the actual city of Muscat.The ride took about 15 minutes to get there and less than that to drive around the city.Muscat is very small but actually quite beautiful.The white stone buildings are built along the coast and right up to the dark brown mountains.There are mosques, it seems, on every corner and the streets seemed quite deserted apart from the tourists from the ship.He drove us past the magnificent blue and gold Al Alam Palace.This imposing landmark that overlooks the sparkling waters of Muscat Bay is the Sultan Qaboosí official residence.It is huge and ornate and is surrounded by a very tall and imposing fence.From here the driver drove us back to the souk and we decided to head back to the ship and have lunch.We were hoping to find a restaurant that looked inviting but actually didnít even see one.

 

After lunch, Steve decided to head out on his own to take some pictures and look for an internet cafť.He had an interesting experience and I will let him tell you the story.We were supposed to go back out after he came back but I decided not to and unfortunately thatís it for our experience in Muscat!

 

Salalah:

 

Lucky for us, our friend Hala had made arrangements with a driver she had met in Muscat to come to Salalah and drive us around.Unlucky for us, he couldnít make it and we had to come up with another plan.When we got off the ship we got in another shuttle bus that just took us to the port gates.We got off the bus and immediately were bombarded with taxi drivers vying for our attention.When we were leaving the ship a lot of people were getting back on saying that the taxi drivers were asking way too much for the fare to Salalah.This was QE2ís maiden call to Salalah and unfortunately the taxi drivers turned most of the passengers off and most did not even venture past the portís gate.

 

Hala went into the police station that was located right beside the gate and started asking them about the possibility of getting a van to drive us around.There were 10 of us and we wanted to travel all together.One of the police officers said that he had a relative with a van and he called him and said that he would be by to pick us up shortly.Well, the taxi drivers got wind of this little plan and were a tiny bit pissed off about the whole thing.You see, the police officer was taking their business away and this was not sitting well with these guys.Nikolas, me and Danika decided to wait in the police station because it had air conditioning and it was just scorching hot outside.We were able to witness the arguments as one by one the taxi drivers entered the station and started screaming at the police officers.We had no idea what they were saying but we were absolutely sure that they were not happy at all.Finally, the police officers decided enough was enough and starting handing out tickets.This certainly did the trick but you could tell these guys were furious.I was really concerned that they were going to block the road so the van couldnít come and get us, but I was wrong.We piled into the van and off we went, exploring!

 

Hala speaks Arabic so she was our interpreter.Our driver was a wonderful man named Ackmad (spelled phonetically).He said that he would drive us up into the mountains where we would have a great view of Oman and even Saudi Arabia.The drive up was wonderful as we had a couple from Scotland with us and they were teaching Danika all these cute songs.Soon we were all singing along and even the driver was smiling as we sang ďThe Wheels on the BusĒ.The landscape changed from a bit of green here and there to absolute desert.When we reached the top of the mountain we all got out to see the camels that were resting and having a water break.There were about twenty of them and it was so amazing to walk up and get a close look.Some were sitting down and it was fascinating to see how their legs bend the wrong way when they are sitting.Some were standing and some were drinking from the water basin.There was even some baby ones that were still nursing.Nikolas thought this was just out of this world and when he actually pet one he ran up to me and said, ďOh my god, I just touched a camel!!!!ĒHe was so excited.The camel herder had just milked one of the camels and was passing the bowl around for everyone to try.Only 2 were brave enough and they said that it wasnít too bad at all.We all took a ton of pictures and had a great time and when the camels had had enough they starting on their journey.One of the guys with us tried to tip the herdsman but he literally ran away from the money.

 

We got back in the van and he took us to the side of a mountain that was filled with caves.Just at the base of the caves was a beautiful lagoon.It looked so refreshing and there were two local men swimming, telling us that the water was perfect.Steve walked back to the van and changed into his swimsuit and was just about to jump in for a refreshing swim when we spotted this huge sign.It warned against swimming in the water due to the prescence of these snails and their feces have worms that can cause this very serious disease if they get in your skin.He certainly changed his mind and we quickly scrambled back into the van and drove away.

 

Hala had gone to a fabulous restaurant in Muscat and the owner of that restaurant had given her a card to his other restaurant in Salalah.We got the driver to takes us there and we were welcomed into this small restaurant and were brought into this square room with a huge carpet in it and cushions all around it.We all took off our shoes and sat down on the floor on the comfortable pillows.We looked at the menu and we all ordered a ton of food.He brought in a huge plastic table cloth that he placed in the middle of the carpet and handed out plates and cutlery.Soon, the plates of delicious food arrived and he arranged all the food in the middle of the table cloth.We had ordered hummus, yoghurt with cut up cucumbers and peppers, buriyani rice, chicken, beef, prawns, and tons of pita bread.The food was delicious and even the kids ate a ton.We all pigged out and even after all 10 of us had eaten there was still tons left over.Remarkably the bill was only about $50US for all of us, including drinks.Pop, that is, they have no alcohol, itís against their religion.The dessert was these candied dates that were absolutely delicious.

 

We piled back into the van and we made a quick stop at a souk.We bought some T-shirts because we are pretty sure we will never be back to Oman in the near future.We also bought some Frankincense and Myrrh.A few thousand years ago, when new religions were vying with long-establishedfaiths, Frankincense became an important commodity throughout the known world.Southern Arabia benefited as the only place other than a small part of northern Africa in which the Boswellia trees grow.These trees are from where the incense is harvested.As you walk through the souks you get a sampling of the exotic smells of the incense and some of their spices and perfumes.

 

We raced back to the ship and made it with just five minutes to spare.This is a little too close for comfort because if any crew member is even 30 seconds late they are punished by missing the next 2-3 port days.That is they are not allowed off the ship for the following 3 port days.Since most of the crew does this job solely for the traveling, this is not something they take lightly.When we got back on time and the crew ran on board we strolled through the tables set up with some of the local people.There was a group of musicians there and they were playing some interesting instruments.The most surprising being the bagpipes.As Iíd mentioned before we were traveling with a couple from Scotland, Bill and Betty McIntosh.Bill is a very proud Scotsman and looks fantastic when he wears his kilt on some of the formal nights.He also plays a mean bagpipes and he asked them if he could play a few notes.It was so great to hear him play and when he was finished they all broke out in a tremendous cheer.They all came around to shake his hand.It was such an amazing sight.

 

We got back on board and hopped in the shower and as we sat down for dinner we reflected back on our day and were so pleased that everything had turned out so wonderfully.Thanks to Hala and her expertise travel planning!

 

My side of the story:

 

Steve and Nikolas both told the story of the mayday call from the freighter.My side of the story explains my feelings and is completely more dramatic than theirs.I know, itís hard to believe.

Well, we had just gotten ready for dinner and as we were walking to the restaurant the captain comes on and says that they are presently in contact with a freighter not far from us that have sent out a mayday call.He says that it has been difficult to understand what the problem is because their English is all but non-existent.He said that they sound very panicky and that we are going to slow down and stop and see if we can be of any assistance.Well, right away my heart starts beating faster and of course all these thoughts start going through my head.Is this just a plot to get us close to a ship before they blow it up?Are they pirates?Is it really a freighter?†† I start talking to one of the friends we have met on board, Bea, and she starts to talk about exactly what I am thinking about and of course we get each other all worked up.We head up to the Upper Deck and everyone is looking out the windows, trying to see this other ship.I see it quite a ways ahead of us and I see that it is turning around.Pretty soon it is turned right around and it is coming straight for us.Steve had gone back to the room to get the camera and I was standing there with the kids starting to really panic.The captain comes over the system again and calls for his Chief Officer to come to the bridge immediately.I was so petrified.There were a couple of crew from the casino at the window and I asked them if this is normal.They also looked a little worried and they agreed with me that it looked like the freighter was heading straight for us at a considerable speed.I started to grab the kids and was walking them to the back of the ship just in case.When I looked at the ship, to me it looked like it was on fire.I saw huge clouds of black smoke coming from the top.Later I realized it was just their normal exhaust.Steve told me that I was just being paranoid and he convinced me to come back to the restaurant and to try and relax.He took Nikolas with him and they both went outside to see what was happening.He came back and told us that our ship had lowered on of the life boats and just as he told us this the captain came back on and said exactly that.He stated that one of the crew on board the freighter was seriously injured and that we were sending our doctor and a few others to see if we could be of any assistance.I started to feel a lot better until the captain came on again with the unfortunate news that the crew member had succumbed to his injuries and that the doctor and life boat were on their way back.I felt very sad about this as I was thinking that a family will be contacted about this terrible accident and they will be receiving some horrible news.It made me feel embarrassed with myself that I was so worried about myself when someone was in serious need of some help.I talked to a lot of people afterwards and I wasnít the only one that was very nervous.Unfortunately the events of 9/11 have put everyone on alert and I think we are all a little more suspicious than we use to be.I was also told that itís the law of the sea to stop and help and that sounds quite logical to me.

 

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Retrieved from http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/middle_east/oman/

Oman is slowly emerging from its hermit shell, revealing a land of friendly people and dramatic landscapes peppered with forts. Although it remains, in many ways, the most traditional country in the region, it's often more outward looking than it's given credit for.It was once an imperial power that vied first with Portugal and later with Britain for colonial influence. Its development since 1970 is all the more striking because the country's oil reserves are so limited, and because it has been kept sealed away from the outside world.

Oman's capital enchants visitors in a way that no other city in the Gulf can even begin to match. Maybe it's because Muscat doesn't have that slightly artificial feel which typifies so much of the rest of the region. Muscat, Mutrah and Ruwi are the capital's core districts.

Muscat, the old port area, is the site of the sultan's main palace and a fascinating place to wander around, but has few shops and sights except for the old city walls. Mutrah, just north-west of Muscat, is the main trading and residential port area. Ruwi is the capital's modern commercial district.

Salalah is about the only corner of Arabia that catches the Indian summer monsoon, and it's also the best base for exploring the villages and archaeological sites of southern Oman.Numismaticists will have a field day as coins from as far away as China have been found at the site. There are very good beaches all along the road to Mughsail, once you're about 5km (3mi) west of Salalah, near the ruins of Al-Balid, site of the ancient city of Zafar.

 

Full country name: Sultanate of Oman
Area: 212,500 sq km
Population: 2.8 million
People: Arab, Asian, African, Baluchi
Language
: Arabic, English, Persian
Religion: Ibadi Muslim (75%), Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Hindu
Government: monarchy
Head of State: Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said

GDP: US$18.6 billion
GDP per capita: US$7,900
Annual Growth: 1%
Inflation: 0.5%
Major Industries: Oil, natural gas, agriculture, fishing
Major Trading Partners: Japan, UAE, South Korea, China, EU, Thailand