It is Eid holiday here in the Gulf, so I was lucky enough get 9 days of vacation. (Originally it was only supposed to be 5, but some high ranking religious/government person decided that everyone in the UAE should have Sunday and Monday off from work in addition to Tuesday-Thursday. Yeah!) So I decided to take a little trip to Oman. I live about 10 miles away from the border, so it was the eaisest place to travel to.
Originally, I was going to leave on Friday, and hired and guy to drive me to the bus station just over the border in a town called Burami, Oman. I didn’t have any problems leaving the UAE or finding the bus station, but once the bus arrived it was a different story. The driver wouldn’t allow me to get on the bus to Salalah, since I wasn’t a GCC (Gulf Citizen). It turns out that the bus follows a really crazy route. It starts in Dubai, and drives across UAE. Then it enters Oman and stops at the Burami bus stop to pick up people. Instead of continuing on in a logically route, it crosses the border again and drives back into UAE for a few miles, and then crosses the border for a third time and goes back into Oman where it finally proceedes to drive to Salalah. (Strange huh?!) There are only a few bordering crossings open to all people, and unfortunately the bus goes through ones only for GCC’s, so I was given the choice to hire a taxi and try to race the bus through the borders (the driver made it clear that they wouldn’t wait for me if I was late), go to Muscat, or just go home.
I choose the easiest option, of just going home for the night. That’s when I ran into more complications. The border people for the UAE didn’t want to let me back into the country, since I hadn’t offically entered or exited Oman. (You can drive all around Burami without offically entering Oman.) So the border guard wanted me to get a taxi to drive me 20 miles into the interior of Oman, get stamped in- then immediately stamped out of Oman, then make my way back to the border. Playing the sweet innocent girl card worked, and the border guard let me through without making me drive all around Oman. So things worked out in the end.
I decided that I would have to cut Salalah from my itinerary. (Salalah is supposed to be a really cool laid back beach town, full of mango and papaya trees, and it’s supposed to have an East African vibe to it like Zanzibar.) It sounds really cool, but it’s a 15 hour drive from my house, so I just couldn’t do it. I decided to spend a few days in Muscat (the capital of Oman) instead. The bus journey was much less eventfull this time, and I made it to the city without anything major happening. I stayed at a nice little hotel called Naseem Hotel, which has a great location right on the corniche in the little port town of Muscat called Mutrah.
Immediately on entering Oman, I noticed how much more friendly the Omani people are compared to the Emirates. There was a lot more smiling, people saying “hello”, and offering to help you here. Plus Muscat (espcially Mutrah and Old Muscat) really has an Arabic vibe to it. In Al Ain and Dubai I feel like I could be anywhere in the world, with the shopping malls and Starbucks, so I really enjoyed that “arabic-ness” about Oman. I spent the the first part of the trip wandering around Mutrah and Old Muscat. I visited some museums, saw the fish market, the gold souq (where I bought frankinsense- how cool to actually see real frankensense), some old forts, and the Sultan’s Palace. It was really fun wandering around, but it was incredibly hot and sunny!
The second day I went on a dolphin watching/snorketlling tour. The dolphin watching was incredibly! (I’ve been on quite a few dolphin watching tours before, but it was nothing like this. Normally you see a few dolphins and then they swim away.) In Oman there were literally 50-100 dolphins swimming along side the boat for at least a 1/2 an hour. The whole pod was constantly jumping out of the water, so it was really cool! The snorkelling was really nice too. It definetly wasn’t the best coral in the world, but there was a good variety of tropically fish to see. I even saw a sea turtle swimming around (which was a first for me) and this crazy looking white eel. The guide had said that there weren’t any sharks in the bay, so I had a mini heart attack as I was snorkelling along and saw one swimming directly below me! (It was just a little reef shark, but still the surprise of seeing sure scared me.) I don’t think I’ve swam that fast for quite a while!
In the afternoon, I went on a drive to some of the villages with a guy from my hotel and a nice taxi driver called Abdullah (who’s family had come from the village). It was really interesting to see life outside of Muscat. Oman is much less developed than I had originally thought. (To give you an idea, up unti 1970 there were only 2 schools in the whole country, 1hospital, and 10 kilometers of paved road!) A lot has changed since then, but people in the more remote areas still have troubles getting water and electricty etc. The scenary on the drive (and all over Oman) was quite amazing. It is obviously a really dry country and you hardly see any plants or green things at all, except when you get to a little village or oasis of date palms. The whole country seems to be covered in jagged mountains (which also have no plants growing on them.) It sort of feels like you’re in outer space or something.
We went to a little fishing village called Quirat (where Abdullah is from). There wasn’t really much to see, but it was interesting to just observe daily life. The people were so friendly, we got a few offers to eat dinner in random strangers houses! Another funny thing that we saw, were the goats that basically were everywhere in town. They were even climbing on top of cars! We had a simple dinner there, and tried the traditional Omani Eid dessert called “hawal”. (It is the texture of hard jello, and is flavored with tons of palm sugar, rose water, safforn, and pistachios. it was very strange, but I’m glad I had the chance to try it.)
Ramadan is finally over now, so I can eat and drink anytime I want! Yeah!! I’m headed back to Al Ain today. I enjoyed seeing Oman, but it is definetly a lot harder to be a tourist here, than in other places I’ve travelled. You really need to have your own car, since all of the sights seem to be 200+ kms from Muscat, and they really don’t seem to cater to tourists. (There aren’t many day trips, and the ones they do offer are super expensive. Well, at least to me after living in South East Asia. I’m sure Europeans think it’s quite resonable.)