• Lebanon!

    Lebanon: House in Byblos. Go Now!

    Lebanon
    This country is home to a wide range of people from conservative Muslims and Christians to liberals who embrace the changing world. Explore Lebanon!

  • Bangladesh!

    Bangladesh: Traditional houses. Go Now!

    Bangladesh
    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

  • Indonesia!

    Indonesia: Lombok. Go Now!

    Indonesia
    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Mongolia!

    Mongolia: Desert. Go Now!

    Mongolia
    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

  • Kyrgyzstan!

    Kyrgyzstan: Tian Shan Mountains. Go Now!

    Kyrgyzstan
    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Oman

Traditional Omani Dress

Muscat

March 18, 2010
Muscat & Mutrah

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.

March 19, 2010
Village Life & Culture

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 until 2:00pm.

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 early flight.

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

Learn more about Oman Return to Justin's Travel Blog