After resting up at the hotel and grabbing some lunch, it was a bit afternoon and my driver returned to take me on my afternoon tour…except my driver wasn’t my driver. Seems the nice Bangladeshi guy who picked me up at the airport was merely a driver, and my actual tours would be conducted by the Omani guy I had been corresponding with all along. This was a, um, bonus as we’ll see below.
We started to head a bit out of town, where he informed me he was hungry and would I mind stopping for some food. Nope, any chance for a local experience was fine by me. He asked if there were things I wouldn’t eat, and despite having lunch I said no, and so we stopped at some roadside foodstalls which were his favourite. That’s where I was introduced to camel. Racks and racks of it drying in the sun:
Some delicious grilled camel…it was really super tasty, and he claimed it was the healthiest meat on the planet. “When you get sick, you eat camel. Everything better!” I’ll admit, I finished all of my serving. It had a slight bit of oiliness to it, but overall did seem pretty lean:
Our first stop was about a 30-40 minute drive outside of Salalah at the Tomb of the Prophet Job…otherwise know as the Tomb of Nabi Ayoub. It’s up for debate just what Job’s role in history was, but one thing Islam and Christianity can agree on is that he was a very important figure in the spiritual history of mankind. So important that his tomb is covered in green velvet:
The view from the tomb area was very nice, however:
I had plenty of time to walk around, because my driver asked if I minded him taking some time to pray, which wasn’t a problem. About 15 minutes later, we headed out on a short hike to see some of the area around a tomb. Only one small problem…turned out a group of women was also making the hike, so we had to wait for them to come back. Didn’t understand why completely, but had something to do with men and women mixing inappropriately.
The hike was a bit steeper down than I expected, and keeping myself balanced with only one good shoulder was a bit of a challenge. I asked my guide to go a bit more slowly, which when explained to him turned into a discussion about the relative quality of healthcare in our respective countries. Turns out he had had a shoulder injury several years ago, and never did anything about it because “these are the kinds of things you just live with in Oman.” These are the kind of interactions you just can’t plan! Finally we got to the bottom of the trail, and there was a nice reservoir under an overhang of rocks:
He suggested we go the same way back up the rocky trail, but I asked if we could go the “longer” way that had a much better trail. No problem, and the trail was MUCH nicer, and actually had some great views:
Back to the car, and we headed back to begin our city tour. We got a bit delayed by the local traffic…
First stop in the city was the Sultan Qaboos Mosque. It was closed for visitation, so I had to settle for seeing it from the outside. Much smaller than its counterpart in the capital of Muscat, but still very nice to see:
After the mosque our next stop was the Al Baleed Archaeological Park and the Museum of the Frankincense Land. I had a nice walk around the archaeological finds, and finally the museum which was very nicely air conditioned. It had some fantastic exhibits that explained the history of Oman, which I found I knew relatively little about. Before Sultan Qaboos, the country wasn’t really united until 1970 when he overthrew his father and really strengthened the armed forces and united the country. Of course, the museum told the story of him overthrowing his father much more diplomatically…
Geese hanging around at the park outside the museum:
The museum also had a great exhibit on Omani nautical history. Oman had once been ruled by the Sultans of Zanzibar, and had a long seafaring tradition. The whole time I was in the museum there wasn’t a single other visitor, which was a shame because it was really interesting. After the museum we went to the old city, where I wandered around the local shops while my guide again got something to eat. The shops were all pretty touristy cookie cutter copies of each other, all selling pretty much the same frankincense-related souvenirs.
The sun was starting to go down at this point, so I headed back to the hotel since we had a very, very full day ahead of us the next day.
Headed out bright and early in the morning, and first thing out of town my driver stopped to get gas and bottled water for us. He also came back with a six pack of glazed donuts, which he managed to polish off in under 15 minutes. He did offer them to me as well, but I figured if he managed to have some sort of diabetes-related incident one of us had to be able to drive!
Our route for the day. The time was WILDLY underestimated due to severely winding roads:
The first stop after donuts was Mughsail Beach:
View of my driver looking out into the sea:
The blowholes of Mughsail:
After Mughsail, I realised just how strong the sun was, and after only 30 minutes watching the blowholes I was already mildly sunburned. Next stop was at a group of frankincense trees along the side of the road. You could actually pick small amounts of the mineral from the bark:
More traffic delays en route:
In fairness, there were good traffic signs warning us to be aware of this:
View of the valleys between the mountains. The coastal drive is extremely windy and there are lots of hairpin turns up and down the mountain, which make for some spectacular views:
After another hour or so of driving, we got to this point:
The view from…”this point” …the strip of road in the upper right corner with what looks like a clearing at the horizon…that’s the border.
After enjoying the view from the lookout, my driver confirmed I would “like to have lunch with his relatives” and we continued driving another 1000 feet or so. Border formalities were arranged, Jacksonian principles of democracy and openness were discussed, and we were soon in the small village of Hawf, temporarily one passport and cell phone lighter. I assume this was the “daytrip tax” to ensure we returned from our excursion, but all I could think was it would give the border patrol an incentive to ensure we returned.
Got to my driver’s aunt’s house, and was invited to sit and have tea in the entry room. There were probably 10-15 small children in the room, who he said were cousins of his. A large part of his extended family clearly lived in this house, and by the end of our couple hour stay many more people had arrived…strangely all middle to older aged women and men well under 18 who were all obsessed with playing their portable video games. Kids are really the same anywhere in the world.
After about 30 minutes of smiling at his relatives, none of whom spoke more than 10 words of English, I was invited into the larger room next door where there was a large carpet on the floor and lots of cushions around the room. I took a seat on one of the cushions, and his aunt soon appeared with bottles of water, tea, and glasses of goat’s milk. I decided this wasn’t the time to refuse anything, and fully enjoy the experience. Goat’s milk and all. Between her 10 words of English, my 10 words of Arabic, and my driver translating I managed to thank them for having us in their home. Then, the feast arrived.
First came a huge bucket of steamed rice, mixed with pieces of chicken, saffron, and small pieces of tomato an cucumber. This was dumped onto a large silver tray on the floor, and my guide showed me the local way of eating with the hands. Making a small ball of rice and chicken, rolling it between your fingers, and eating it. I think this explains the whole “no left hands” rule 😉 The strange part of this is my guide and I were left to eat alone and nobody else joined us. Occasionally one of the children would come in, sit on one of the cushions in the corner (still playing their video games on their cell phones) but never talking to us, or eating, despite there being plenty of food.
We were there for about two hours, and it just felt like one of those awesome cultural moments you can’t really plan. After we finished eating, his aunt came back and tried to give me gifts. Purses made from goat hide and other small trinkets she had made from animal parts. Not knowing how I would explain to customs on my return that I was carrying local Yemeni handicrafts made of dead goats, I politely declined. She was offended, until I explained the reason, and she seemed satisfied. I did have a small conversation with her with my driver playing translator, and while I had assumed she was around 60 or so, it turned out she was only 35. She had clearly lived a very rough life, walked hunched over with a pretty bad limp, and wasn’t in the best of health. When my driver told me later they were some of the “wealthier people in the village” it really hit home.
Thanking her profusely for her hospitality again, we got up to leave and one of the small children, a girl of maybe three or four years grabbed onto my shirt and didn’t want to let go. I didn’t exactly figure out the reason, but my guide said she “wanted to come with us.” It was kind of touching, but also really awkward at the same time.
Back in the car, drive to the border, passport and cell phone handed back, I believe there may have been more “diplomatic exchanges” but since I was in the car I didn’t see what went on, and soon we were back in Oman and the Omani guards kept laughing at me and my attempts to thank them and say hello in Arabic. Humour goes a long way in awkward situations!
Last stop was the fishing village of Dhalkut, and its local mosque:
View of the beach in Dhalkut…complete with camel lounging on the beach:
I mean, come on, you see camels on the beach just hanging out all the time, right?
But cows on the beach? Much less common!
What are YOU looking at?
You know, just cows hanging out on a beach, no big deal…
Heading out of Dhalkut, I stopped to take this picture of a sign I noticed going in the direction we had just come from:
Back near Mughsail, a view onto the water from the other direction. Note how blue it is!
Finally back to my hotel around 5pm, and I was up to 181 countries visited. Just 15 to go now! Relaxing evening at the hotel, since I had to be up relatively early to begin my journey to Qatar.