Trip Start Nov 05, 2010
138Trip End Mar 27, 2013
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We were graciously granted ten days of stay at the Sultanate by His Majesty's officials. Our tickets to South Africa were originated from Dubai on April 3rd and we had to find a backdoor into the UAE. Therefore their embassy at the diplomatic district was the first point of call. Dealing with taxi drivers was very easy after our Indian experience. As always with non-metered taxis it is essential to negotiate a rate before getting on board. Bargaining is much gentler than in India and after the price is agreed on the driver becomes your best friend. A driver is a protected profession in Oman and foreign workers (about 40% of the country’s population) are not allowed to drive for a living. Fares are fairly pricy despite the fact that fuel costs 30 cents a litre. Drivers prefer to loose a customer than accept a lower fare. After all, what is more enjoyable than hanging out with your friends in the sunshine?
Our visit to the embassy of the UAE lasted exactly two minutes. There was no multilevel security as in the Canadian High Commission in Delhi. In fact, the security desk was unmanned. A consular officer stated very clearly that he is only able to issue visa for Canadians traveling on a diplomatic passport. Ordinary passports are not handled in Oman. He proposed two alternatives: getting sponsored by a hotel in Dubai or a UAE based Airline. The first option was ruled out because of costs: budget hotels don’t sponsor their guests and staying at a luxury hotel even for a few nights will drain our travel budget and send us straight home. The second option required some consideration. We got the taxi to drop us off at the Muscat business district where we had to walk between offices of various airlines. As the day went by, we realized that getting sponsored by Etihad or Emirates is possible but not within our budget therefore the only option left was rerouting tickets from Muscat instead of Dubai.
Qatar airways office was helpful and we were told what to do. We needed to cancel our tickets from Dubai and purchase new tickets from Muscat. That worked! We will be arriving at Cape Town slightly ahead of time but we won’t miss our Safari tour. Where we are going after Africa was not determined at that time and your guess is just as good as ours. While exploring Muscat CBD we wanted to book a tour of the country at one of the travel agencies. We could not drive since we did not have international driver’s licences and Sasha’s Ontario licence has expired a month before. It turned out that Oman is not a budget destination. Tours cost a fortune - a day off-road trip costs about 300USD. We collected a brochure and looked at our options. There were two places where we wanted to go. The off-road dune bashing and waterhole swimming private tour price went down after some tedious bargaining and instead of a tour we decided to hire a taxi for a day for the coastal drive.
During our night stroll at the nearby market Sasha purchased an Omani outfit known as a "dishdasha" which consisted of a robe and a hat. He was so happy to see that local people, even the young ones retained their traditional dress. Fortunately, some countries are successfully resisting westernization and preventing the world from becoming one big MacDonalds. He was still seen as a foreigner though. All Omanis hanging out at the souk knew each other and Sasha’s closed heel sandals he purchased at the slums of Mumbai gave him away. It should be noted that Muslim men always wear slippers that are easy to take off when entering a mosque five times a day.
We were really lucky with the weather. It was neither too hot nor too cold. The next day we walked to the Corniche and hired a taxi driver for the day. Our driver was quite cautious and with an atrocious death toll on Omani roads we were really lucky. His English was fairly limited, fortunately, Sasha was able to pronounce Arabic names with an authentic Middle Eastern accent. He was not familiar with roads in his own country and tended to ask for directions at every turn. That turned out to be a good way of meeting friendly locals. The first town was supposed to be a fishing village and was nearly deserted. Omanis don’t hang out on the streets in the afternoon when the sun is nearly directly overhead. The market was free of any activity and after taking some pictures we got back to the vehicle. The beach resembled a seal colony from far with fishermen lying motionless under their umbrellas. The wave breaker rocks reminded Sasha of the beaches of Tel Aviv.
Sasha realized that he knew more Arabic than he thought. His one year of study at an Israeli elementray school was fully erased from memory, however, many words sounded related to their Hebrew equivalents. He knew that he could pick up that language extremely quickly if he wanted to. Oman is country of expatriates and many of them speak little or no Arabic. In fact, Urdu or Bengali can be more useful on the streets of Muscat. Unlike other immigrant societies such as Canada or Australia the government does not make any effort to integrate the new arrivals into the community. They only see them as cheap labour that can be deported anytime. Locals seem to be peaceful and open minded. Most Omanis speak a few words of Hindi and Tagalog, additionally to broken English. While almost all Omanis are Muslim some are more devout than others. We had a couple of drivers refusing a fare because they had to pray at the time. That sharply contrasted to Indian rickshaw wallahs who would do anything imaginary and more to get an extra rupee. Crime in Oman is extremely low and nobody would even think of taking possession of something they don’t own.
When walking on the Corniche Sasha and Dasha heard the call to prayer. "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet" – the Moadzin chanted. “It is time for you to go to the mosque” – Dasha said to her man.
For the last four days of our time in Oman, we were surprised with a generous invite from a Couchsurfing expat host from Kerala. We met up with him and a few others he was hosting to give us a grand night tour of the Sultan's palace followed by a late night dinner at a tasty Turkish restaurant. We had so much in common with our host and his friends that we spent 3 nights at his home. We were lucky to have met such kind people at the last minute. It really made for one of the highlights of our trip. We formed a camaraderie, just like the three musketeers except this time it was in Muscat.
We snapped many pictures of Oman. We hope you enjoy looking at them as much as we enjoyed capturing them on memory card.