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Oman

Sunday, February 21st: On the Road Again

On the Road Again

After fits and starts, we are in Muscat tonight. Mark got me up around 9AM today and after breakfast we loaded his Explorer up and headed back to Dubai to retrieve John. Traffic was wicked and twenty five minutes into it Mark realized he left his passport at home! Our early start was not to be, though the delay would yield a benefit.

When we dropped John off last night we forgot to gather the books he had brought for Samia (Mark’s wife) and she was disappointed there would be a week’s delay until we returned from Oman. Because Sunday is a workday in the Middle East, after grabbing John we met her for lunch and passed along the reading material. Since I stayed with Mark & Samia my cache of books had already been delivered – Samia is an architecture professor at American University of Sharjah and due to horrendous shipping charges I always pick up several selections before coming over. We were behind schedule, but the delay allowed us to convey the remaining books and it was off to Oman with our ‘biblio-mule’ duties fulfilled.

At last the real journey was underway and with Mark at the wheel we steered out of Dubai and hellish traffic. We were entering Oman via Hatta, one of several possibilities. The amusing footnote about the Hatta route is that you actually drive through fifteen kilometers of Oman before re-entering the UAE and leaving again. This first time there aren’t any border posts, but apparently there is no exit off of the road as you tool through Oman so they don’t bother. We were confused when John announced receiving a text message welcoming him into Oman but we hadn’t reached Hatta yet (which lies in the UAE). A good puzzle for the road, some map study permitted us to decipher the international mystery.

Unraveling this mystery was not the end of confusion, however. After stopping at the UAE border post you have to drive a stretch before connecting with the first Omani stop - I had entered at Musandam several years earlier and stops for both countries were within fifty yards of each other. You only get your vehicle inspected at the first stop in Oman and if no contraband is detected, earn a ticket validating that fact. But then you drive another two kilometers before having to stop again to gain entrance visas!

Once we stopped at the proper facility, obtaining tourist visas into Oman was straight forward. You have to fill out a form with real basic info (name, nationality, etc.) and then pay up. I recall that Mark paid a lot less than me when we entered Musandam in 2004 since he is a resident of the UAE, but we were only quoted 150 Dhirams for all three, so no idea what the breakout was. Interesting note was that the tourist visas for John and myself were good for thirty days, but Mark’s was only twenty eight?

Safely inside Oman, I assumed the driver’s seat for the next 300 kilometers towards Muscat along the Batinah Coast. There are many attractions along this pathway, but the drive itself was not interesting. The route stretches along the coastal flats a few miles inland, so you never get quality views of the ocean or the mountains on the opposite side. Everything was lush and nicely landscaped, but fairly uniform. I’ve been on utterly dull drives where you roll on forever past barren wasteland and it wasn’t that bad, but a bit of a letdown since we were keen to explore the many beautiful natural spots of Oman. The sole exceptions were random sculptures adorning most of the roundabouts. Often very tasteful and arty, sometimes inscrutable and occasionally just plain nutty, these random works of art were always a break from the routine.

Mark took over once again as we encroached on the Muscat metropolitan area, mainly because he’s been here five times before. I was sure glad he did because it was dark now and traffic was very thick. Had to dial up the hotel for some guidance to the promised land and language barriers resulted in a few wrong turns, but we persisted and eventually wound up at the Beach Hotel in Qurum Beach, one of the numerous villages which today are known collectively as ‘Muscat’.

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Typical roundabout in Oman with flowers + sculpture

We walked to a nearby Lebanese restaurant for dinner, which seemed to contain more shi-sha smokers than diners. Shi-sha tobacco is flavored, usually with fruit and the smoke is not unpleasant, so we were quite happy to be surrounded by a crowd of mostly Omanis in traditional garb and fezzes. As content as I was in this crowd (in Dubai you rarely see locals), there was disappointment in the absence of women. Relative to other Arabic countries, Oman possesses the best reputation for women’s rights, but this first observation suggested there was still a ways to go.

Posted by vances 11:18 Archived in Oman Tagged oman Comments (0)

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