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.
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.
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.
Sometimes locals get better deals than tourists so I tried becoming Forrest Bin Omani.
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.
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.
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.
I decided I had to ride this donkey. Don’t ask why. I guess another year older and another year dumber.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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