I got into Oman on a red eye from Cairo at about 5:00am. I immediately got a taxi
to my hotel and stared silently at the city's incredible roads and street lights.
When I arrived to the hotel, they had lost my reservation, but had a room available.
The desk attendant demanded I leave my passport with him and said that it was a
law. I argued for some time, but eventually gave in and went up to my room. My room
was flooded, but I had to use the bathroom only to find out the toilet doesn't
flush and that was the source of the flooding.
I marched back downstairs, retrieved my passport and left. Outside I consulted my
guidebook and found myself next door for half the price. The guy working the desk
was from Indonesia and said he couldn't check me in until 9:00am or I would
be charged an extra night's stay, but gave me a key to see the room and determine
if I wanted to stay there. The room was nice so I agreed to stay then went to rest
on the lobby's couch until I could check in at 9:00am.
At about 7:00am a foreign woman walked in with two locals and asked for a suite
at a discounted price. The attendant called the manager, to ask about the discount
I assume, then checked that woman in and turned to me and said the manager wasn't
coming in until this afternoon so he could check me in now.
After a little sleep, I headed outside to meet Corinna, the German woman I had met
in Jordan a few days earlier. I thought we were supposed to meet at 11:00, but she
didn't arrive so I left at 11:30 to see the city.
The heat was nearly unbearable; it was over 110º with not a cloud in the sky. I
started across the street at the fish market in Mutrah. The atmosphere was as lively
as the smell was wretched. I quickly decided to move on to face the heat over the
stench, a decision I was never entirely satisfied with.
My next stop was just down the road at the souq, where I spent a couple
hours looking at khanjars (Omani daggers), jewelry and anything else the
market offered. I still had to buy a souvenir and was determined to get the best
deal I could find so checked prices everywhere and intentionally didn't bring
enough money to buy any of it; tomorrow was the day to buy.
The sellers at the souq weren't pushy like in Cairo or Istanbul and
the market seemed to be filled with locals doing their daily or weekly shopping,
not tourists looking for a souvenir. This is supposed to be one of the most authentic
bazaars in the Middle East and it doesn't take long to understand why.
After buying a schwarma from a small stand in the souq I faced
the sun again, heading east toward Muscat itself. My next stop was the Watch Tower
which gave great views over Mutrah (where I was coming from) and Muscat.
As I was coming down from the tower, I heard my name called; it was Corinna. She
thought we agreed to meet at noon, I thought it was 11:00. Either way, we found
each other in this capital city that feels more like a forgotten fishing village
and I was glad to have company.
We continued on together to Muscat, passing through the formidable gate, beneath
towering Portuguese forts and finally to the Sultan's Palace. This was Muscat
itself and it has a very different feel from Mutrah. There seemed to be nothing
here but the palace, a couple forts, and a complete lack of people. It was beautiful,
but I couldn't comprehend that this was a national capital.
Corinna and I spent a lot of time just talking and staring at the Sultan's Palace
since we had seen just about everything Mutrah and Muscat had to offer so were in
no rush to move on. Eventually we decided to make the trek back to Mutrah and as
the sun set, the temperature cooled and children came out to every park in the city
to play soccer.
Once we made it back to Mutrah we ate outside overlooking the harbor, then made
it an early night.
This morning began as I just sat on the hotel's covered patio; a man approached
me here and asked to buy my pen. I rather like my pen though and the price wasn't
right so passed as I watched the cats that seemed to be everywhere scurrying from
the shade of one object to the next.
A couple hours later Corinna and I decided to go to a nearby wadi, or valley
to see an oasis. I negotiated with the taxi drivers from some time before one agreed
to take us at our asking price. Our agreement was to drive there, spend two hours,
then return, but he decided the drive was too long so simply pointed things out
as we drove and was eager to return us to Mutrah.
Once we came to the realization that we had quickly driven through the wadi
without stopping, the taxi driver and I debated over our agreement and came to terms
with a stop at a small village we found on the side of the road instead of returning
to the wadi. We made our way into the village of Almara and wandered around
to see what the real daily life of Omanis is like. Here, in the middle of the desert
there was a walled in yard with date trees. There were a few children in this area
so we asked if we could go in and see the trees. They welcomed us and soon invited
us to their house for coffee.
I led, met the man of the house, who welcomed me into the family's living room
and proceeded to explain that the family has 13 children. The room was divided between
men and women and, to avoid taboo, Corinna and I said we were married. She talked
to the girls and I talked to the men as we were each offered laban with
yogurt, which was a lumpy and salty concoction of cream, milk, yogurt, and salt
so far as I could tell. I worked it down to be polite, but didn't enjoy it much.
On the male conversation I learned about the shifting cultural dress from turbans
to the modern taqiyahs or tight fitting colorful hats. The definition of
"Bedouin" has also changed from an ethnicity it seems to a lifestyle.
I was told Bedouins don't live in cities, only in the desert, but that our hosts'
ancestors were Bedouins.
The symbol of Oman, the khanjar still holds a sacred place in their hearts.
The khanjar, sword, and rifle are still common and they brought them out
to show me the family khanjar, sword, and rifle. The grandfather, who smiled
and laughed the entire time put the khanjar on his belt and held the rifle
in his hand only to fall into a silence, overcome with the pride that comes with
the tradition and history of the objects. He was happy to allow me to take a picture
of him, but only regained his sense of humor when the khanjar had been
removed. They then gave the rifle to one of the small children, about 6 years old
and had him put it back. He was happy to take a lap around the room with the gun
slung over his shoulder before heading off though.
On the female side of the conversation (Corinna later informed me), the topics were
of school and marriage. It seems most women graduate high school then wait to get
married, rarely going to school in the meantime.
Once back in Mutrah we stopped by a shop to get some water and relax only to find
the place closing minutes after our arrival. It was nearly noon and Friday is the
Muslim world's holy day so this shop closed along with the rest of the city
The rest of the afternoon was slow and we waited until the worst of the heat had
gone before we went to the souq to buy the khanjar I had decided
upon. My khanjar was just a souvenir and, while handmade and ornate, far
from a real khanjar. The real khanjar I saw today was about the
size of a person's head and hundreds of years old, whereas this one was smaller
are recently made.
The souq was filled with tourists today, although I'm not sure where
they came from. Once the buses departed the tourists ceased and Corinna and I decided
to eat outside along the harbor again. After dinner I was off to bed to catch my
March 20, 2010
I woke at 2:00am to catch my flight to Dubai and got my taxi at 2:30am. The drive
was uneventful other than my driver saying I was going to miss my flight. I was
told yesterday I had to get to the airport 3-4 hours before my flight and my taxi
driver said the same. For some reason I still wasn't concerned about missing
my 5:00am flight.
Once I arrived to the airport my taxi driver held my bag hostage until I agreed
to pay 10 rials instead of the agreed upon 7. Having had bad experiences
with taxi drivers in the past, I only put 8 in my wallet, opened it, took out the
last of my money, gave it to him, then he gave me my bag and released me.
The taxi pulled away and I looked at my watch; everyone told me to arrive three
to four hours early, so I was going to time the process from curb to gate. Total
time from curb to gate: 16 minutes; that included check-in, going through passport
control, going through security, going to the bathroom, and finding my gate; I'm
glad I "slept in."
However, their warnings soon became more real since, an hour and a half before my
flight an announcement said all passengers to Dubai had to go to the gate immediately.
I went only to find out we had to check in 1½ hours early. Unfortunately, once checked-in
we had little to do other than to sit in a caged in waiting area. I stayed outside
the area for as long as I could before the last call; this gave me time to relax
and run to the bathroom one last time.
As I left Oman, the country bid me farewell with a sign that read "entry prohibited
to unauthorized personnel/well-wishers," then I got on my plane.
Continue the above trip to:
United Arab Emirates