A Travellerspoint blog

April 2018

Saturday, February 27th, 2010: Our trip is in ruins!

It was our last day and we arose with serious feelings of regret. We had packed a lot into our six day introduction to Oman, but everyone always made us feel so welcome that it would be difficult to leave. There were two more sites we wanted to explore before breaking for the border and we started by bouncing around town to locate Ibri Fort. We had no directions or address, just a vague idea where it was in the city – the forts typically towered over everything so we figured cruising the right neighborhood would permit us to catch a glimpse of the prize.

Ibri Fort is massive

Ibri Fort is massive

Fortunately John was behind the wheel. He has an uncanny knack for ferreting this stuff out, and after I was ready to punt he exclaimed “ah-ha” and there was the fort! The fort looked inviting, but since today was Mohammed’s Birthday we had back-to-back days of closed forts. It was as massive as we imagined and I’m still not sure why I never glimpsed it before John practically drove through it. Once again there was an abandoned village abutting the fort, reinforcing the notion that folks just up and leave as buildings grow derelict.

Ibri Fort

Ibri Fort

Ibri Fort - it was Mohammed's Birthday so the doors remain shut.

Ibri Fort - it was Mohammed's Birthday so the doors remain shut.

The final Omani destination was an “official” abandoned village. Al Sulaif is a walled village on the fringes of Ibri that was only abandoned twenty five years ago. Our guide book stated you might still find some old timers hanging out at the old souk in Al Sulaif (probably wondering why business was so bad, lol).

Wandering about Al Sulaif

Wandering about Al Sulaif

We did encounter somebody, but it was Afeef (or something close to that), an Omani who claimed to be a government employee offering free tours of the site. He showed us a card indicating his government status and didn’t ask for money, but of course we were incredulous. Still, we outnumbered him three to one and after reinforcing we would not pay anything, Afeef immediately launched into a grand tour. Afeef pointed out many Arabic inscriptions and had cleverly set up his cell phone so he could recall text messages displaying the English translations. Though his English was not very good, he was very energetic and accentuated his explanations with many gestures and frequent role playing.

Afeef regales us about Al Sulaif

Afeef regales us about Al Sulaif

When it got to be 11AM we informed Afeef that we had to go. He appeared sad and replied “five minutes”. Okay, we followed along and fifteen minutes later reiterated our need to depart. “Two minutes” he replied. At this point we started thinking that it must be pretty boring standing out in the sun all day waiting for a random visitor to entertain (Ibri isn’t a hot spot). When Afeef was reduced to exclaiming “one minute” we declined and departed.

Al Sulaif Inscription - Afeef used his cell phone to show us the translations!

Al Sulaif Inscription - Afeef used his cell phone to show us the translations!

Afeef, Mark and John at Al Sulaif.  We were not sure Afeef was legitimate, but there were three of us and we were all bigger than he was, lol!

Afeef, Mark and John at Al Sulaif. We were not sure Afeef was legitimate, but there were three of us and we were all bigger than he was, lol!

Our tour with Afeef was a poignant conclusion. The people we had interacted with in Oman consistently went out of their way to assist you and I’ve never felt so genuinely welcome. We bade Afeef farewell and still gave him a modest tip, concluding the trip.

John investigates pottery at Al Sulaif

John investigates pottery at Al Sulaif


Al Sulaif - this view reminded me of THE SCREAM

Al Sulaif - this view reminded me of THE SCREAM

Only the drive back to the UAE remained, and shortly we returned to the desert environment, leaving the Hajar mountains behind. Our entry back into the UAE would be via Al Ain this time and things had changed from six years ago. After displaying passports at a border post we were instructed to park and enter a nearby building. Here John and I received eye scans, although Mark got exempted. The eye scan is part of a program to identify aliens who have been expelled from the UAE and attempt to get back in. It was an interesting and painless procedure.

In Al Ain we enjoyed lunch at a Lebanese BBQ joint, but how odd to be back in the UAE. The contrasts between the two countries earned a serious exclamation point here. Once again the diner had separate rooms for men and ‘families’ (for unaccompanied women or husbands with their family). Although disappointed women weren’t being treated as equally in Oman as I had anticipated, the return to the UAE reinforced Oman was certainly more proactive on this front than most Arabic countries.

Sahary Barb-Q

Sahary Barb-Q

Another disparity was a bit selfish. I relish the presentation of complimentary trays of vegetables when dining in the UAE, and did not recognize this had been absent in Oman until a basket brimming with olives, hot peppers and hummus appeared almost instantly after we were seated. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and this meal compelled me to curtail my complaints of too much hummus!

Didn’t get back to Mark’s home in Sharjah until after 3PM, so John and I quickly showered and re-packed for the return flight beginning in a few hours. Ready to roll, Mark, Samia and Maya took us for a quick tour around the American University of Sharjah. What a treat to see Mark’s endeavors realized. Six years ago the Student Center was a construction jungle and the College Library little more than a massive hole in the ground. Today these were immaculate beauties and I was happy to enjoy Mark’s pride in completing these massive efforts.

American University of Sharjah

American University of Sharjah

But no time to dally, it was off to the Blue Souk and this was just like my first visit, a rush-rush shopping spree before the return flight home. Once again we battled traffic into the souk, but once again arrived with sufficient time for shopping. There is no way to describe the confidence I have when shopping with Samia and I happily entered the familiar pashmina merchant’s shop. We didn’t sit for tea this time, but entered directly into negotiations and came away with some beautiful scarves.

Blue Souk at night

Blue Souk at night

Immediately we steered to Samia’s jeweler in search of black pearls. Last trip I had purchased pure gold jewelry for my wife from the Gold Souk and wanted to get something different this time. Dubai has a long history of pearl diving, so that seemed ideal. Samia’s jeweler had plenty of black pearls, but the size and coloring varied considerably. No worries – just pick out a long strand and he would create a matching set of necklace, bracelet and stud earrings on the spot!

A string of pearls.....

A string of pearls.....

Al Sabak Jewellers - custom jewelry on the spot!

Al Sabak Jewellers - custom jewelry on the spot!

This final stop reinforced my notions of how gracious people are. Manufacturing all of our items right away was not easy and after an hour Samia told Mark he should take Maya away to get something to eat. Our jeweler raised his hand to signal they should stay put and grabbed his phone while continuing to work. Within five minutes a guy walked into the shop with a glass of juice and sandwich. Then on our way out of the souk, Mark suddenly realized he had forgotten to ask for a pearl that Maya could put in the jewel box necklace he had gotten Maya in Nizwa - Samia and Maya both raced back to the jeweler’s shop, returning moments later with the gratis pearl. Talk about customer service which amazes and delights!

Posted by vances 16:49 Comments (3)

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