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Muscatting Around Oman

As related in my last post, this trip was a last minute present from my wife. We both wanted to see Muscat and it is a mere 45 minutes by air from Sharjah. We made use of the Sharjah Ruler’s airline, AirArabia once more and his modern airport.  The flight was 5 minutes taxiing, 20 minutes up and 20 minutes down. Barely time to fasten your seatbelt and turn off your cell phone.

When these two rulers get together to discuss heavy matters of the day, I wonder if they ever sit around the hookah at night and brag about their respective countries. One thing the ruler of Sharjah has bragging rights over the Sultan of Oman  is his airport. But the Sultan is building a new one, and in 3 years the Ruler will have to play catch-up. For now the Oman airport is antiquated, small, and has just a few flights to places other then the middle east. It is one of those airports I would avoid if given the chance. You know the kind, no jet-ways. I hate getting on those little buses out on the tarmac and then dumped off at some basement entrance to the terminal, with a long boring walk through grey hallways to face the immigration man. But such is life, beats staying home.

Muscat, the capital of Oman is a beautiful city.

No skyscrapers. They stick to traditional designs in buildings. Hotels outside of town are a different thing.

In a couple years Muscat will boast an Opera house on par with any in the world. On our flight home Mary Ann and I sat next to a lovely young student at AUS who just happens to be the daughter of Hamid bin Abdulla Al Ghazali, project director, Royal Opera House, The Royal Estates-Royal Court Affairs. In other words, the big kahuna on this project.

I wonder if they'll ever have any rock 'n roll?

Knowing the way these ruler types enjoy bragging rights, I will bet that there is a bigger one in Abu Dhabi before the end of the decade.

Muscat  is also very expensive. Backpackers, flashpackers, trekkers, whatever hip name you have this month, stay away. One night in a hotel here costs as much as a month in my hotel in Chiang Mai. Yeah sure, nicer hotel, but paying for a hotel for a month here would buy a small house in Kansas.

How much did we pay for breakfast?

Sometimes locals get better deals than tourists so I tried becoming Forrest Bin Omani.

My new look.

It did not work.

I went back to wearing my western garb and we took our first tour. It was Friday, Holy Day in the Muslim world. The streets were quiet. Nothing truly commercial opens until about 4 on Fridays so we went to places that cannot close.

Our first stop was a fish market. If Al Gore had invented the internet correctly he would have included the ability to send olfactory sensations. You really cannot experience a fish market without them. This was not just a market. It was on the beach. Small  (under 30′) boats pulled in with everything from sardines to black marlin. The fishermen then submitted their catch to a “public” auction. Everyone seemed to know what to do. Fish were only on the auction block for a minute or so. Then they were taken for sale in the market behind the auction area or thrown on ice and taken as far away as Dubai to be sold to restaurants. Our guide knows a couple of “Omani Boys” (his words) who do this every day. They have to buy a new vehicle every six months or so, but they make a good living.

Boat after boat unloded the days catch across the road from the market. These guys netted a little fish/big sardine species.

The guy on the left collected the money. I am not sure how it was disbursed. The guy on the right tapped the fish with his stick and buyers called out their bids. When no one else bid, the sale was made. It all went quickly.

It was fun for the whole family!

Next time I go to Oman I am going fishing for these "small" black Marlins. I talked to a fisherman who said they catch them about five klicks out in the Gulf of Oman. Sounds like fun!

From here we went to a fort. There are an awful lot of forts in Oman. Some were built by local rulers back in the day when Oman was split into separate small Sultanates. Some were built by the Portuguese when they occupied Oman.  This fort was of the Omani type.

The fort as we approached. The tree in front is a Frankincense tree. More on Frankincense later. But many of the forts were built to protect the Frankincense trade routes.

No dear, that is not a souvenir for sale!

No closer infidel!

The men's meeting room in the fort.

View from the parapets.

I have many more fort photos, more than you have the patience to look at, so I’ll move on.

Oman has a lot of fresh water that is supplied by springs in the mountains. Lucky them. These days of course they  have to use Desal to supply enough water for the population. But back in the day, it came from springs. We went to one of course. There was a nice stream flowing away from it. Omanis use it for a picnic spot.

Idyllic scene at a wadi outside of town. A wadi is basically a riverbed. Some are seasonal, some like this one spring fed year round.

I decided I had to ride this donkey. Don’t ask why. I guess another year older and another year dumber.

Not the wisest decision of my 57th year.

OOPs, there I go! At least I provided a few laughs for the locals. They are probably still talking about the dumb American who paid to fall off their donkey.

From here we went out to the coast. Oman has about a million miles of coast line with some beautiful beaches. Because were still close to Muscat, there were some very nice 5, 6 and 7 star hotels. This one is where The Dick Cheney stayed while he was Vice President. I call it Hotel Undisclosed Location. A broom closet goes for $500 a night. The best Villa? You’ll have to ask Cheney.

This was as close poor people like us are allowed to go.

Close by here was the Oman Dive Club which had a great beach, pool and restaurant. It was open to normal folk. A word to the wise…remember I said Oman is expensive? Lunch was over $50. All we had were a couple of sandwiches, a beer, and oh yeah, this.

Welcome to my side of the coconut!

I hear the diving here is absolutely first class. I did not check their rates, but I can't imagine them being reasonable.

The drink board. Prices were insane. A beer was something like $7 dollars. These mixed drinks reminded me of the Cosmic Crab menu in Bocas.

By now things like the renowned Souk were open so we went shopping. We had not planned on buying much of anything, but we found a carpet store and ended up buying a carpet from Kashmir. The salesman was quite good without being aggressive. I walked into checkout a wall hanging, Mary Ann walked in and he went to work. I thought he was wasting his time until Mary Ann spotted one rug she really loved. I decided to make him work some more. If you have never been in a rug shop, you can really make these dudes hustle. They pull down these heavy rugs and spread them out for you by the dozens. Then they have to roll them back up and put them away. It is almost cruel if you do not buy one. This store is part of co-op run out of Kashmir, which is going through some heavy war type crap right now. He also had some Iranian rugs, but he has to hide them because of the sanctions against Iran at the moment. He only had three left, we considered saying “bring them out”. We have now bought 7 carpets, not one from the Middle East. Soon.

The most interesting thing to buy in the Oman Souk is Frankincense. Yup, the same stuff one of the wisemen brought baby Jesus. They also sell Myrrh. And gold. You could have quite an authentic Christmas here. I learned a lot about Frankincense. For instance;

-It is harvested from a tree that looks like something that barely survived a forest fire in the Sierra mountains.

-To harvest the sap you cut it like you would a maple tree. The sap drips out, then crystallizes.

-The closer to clear, the better. The dark is not so good.

-It is put on top of burning embers to give off a gas, which is used as incense.

The entire souk reeked of the small of Frankincense. This is another time I wish I could send my readers olfactory images. It is a pleasant odor, but not something I would want my house to smell like 24/7/365. This is a photo of a Frankincense store with the proprietor sorting his raw materials by shades.

At least in Muscat, this is not a rare item. It was the primary trading item for Oman way back when. Ships came to trade for it and camel caravans headed to Arabia and Africa to trade with it.

We were bartering to buy an incense burner and some Frankincense when the salesman made us an offer we could not refure. He threw in some Myrrh, some Sandalwood, and also some Saffron. So we broke down and bought his whole package. If you google the price of Saffron, it can be as expensive as $315 an ounce, This guy was handing us about half an ounce, just for buying his Frankincense.  In Oman it is plentiful and cheap. I am considering filling a suitcase with it and heading for NYC. Like most our souvenirs, I have no idea what to do with them now that I am home. If anyone hears about the second coming, let me know, I’ll hop on a camel, try to look wise, follow a star which will probably turn out to be a satellite,  and go give gifts.

Thanks for reading, tell a friend, and make a comment. I love comments.

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10 Responses so far.

  1. The Royal Opera House should be finished next year – you why not come back and enjoy it from the inside

  2. Nikki says:

    I love your photos! Especially the one of the boy and his donkey in the stream. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thank you Sumayyah. You are my audience, people who like to laugh and get my warped sense of humor.
    Please keep reading.
    Yeah, I guess $7 aint bad for a beer if you’re from NYC. But after four years in beer for a buck Bocas, it hurts.

  4. Sumayyah says:

    I really do enjoy this Forrest. I wait until quiet moments to read your posts and then I laugh hysterically! Bring on in the frankensense and myrth, just don’t forget the Safron. $7. beers? you haven’t been to SF or NYC lately. Did you see Joans face book today?, the names probably would not be allowed in your neighborhood.
    Where are pictures of your rugs? keep it coming and love to you and Mary Ann.
    Hugs, Sumayyah

  5. Dick LeGates says:

    Hi Forrest and Mary Ann. Joanne and I are faithful readers of your blog. We’re jealous.

  6. Dawna says:

    Hola Forrest! Great to see you and Mary Ann still traveling even though you’re not going to the far-flung reaches. Loved the photos, especially the idyllic wadi, and I wish I could have been there to see you fall off a donkey. Thanks for posting! Besitos!

  7. Dorreene says:

    Great photos, Forrest and wonderful detail on your adventures. Oman looks like a charming place. How about a trip to Yemen? I always wanted to go there and seeing it through your eyes may be as close as i’ll ever get. I hear they’ve got great souvenir daggers you might like.

    • Hiya Dorreene!
      Hey girl, I’m crazy, not stupid. Yemen is off my map. As is anywhere bullets fly. There are plenty of great spots to see which are at least temporarily peaceful. Daggers? Everywhere I have been has daggers.

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