Friday, January 23, 2009

Finishing up Oman

Oh, what a busy week it's been. But don't count the failed ski attempt. With freezing rain and icy roads, the "ski ladies" from church opted to stop in Einsiedeln at Cafe Tulipan and have a little brunch instead. While we weren't able to hit the slopes (none of us are so hard core as to ENJOY skiing in freezing rain), we had a wonderful time of visiting. The other 3 ladies work - at a real, paying job - and while, having taken a day off and not been able to ski, are glad to have the fellowship time. Plus our afternoon was then freed up to do other things - M was headed to the grocery, L to the auto shop and D, well, she was in Barcelona for work (we are usually a 4-some and I temporarily forgot she couldn't make yesterday).

What I did with my free afternoon was clean the kitchen (exciting I know!) and then download the remaining pic's of Oman that I wanted to share. I don't think I can go forward with the Blog 'til I finish Oman. It's an illness - I know. I need help.

So, where we left off was night-time in the Desert. Here is Kendra enjoying the music of an Omani man who shows up quite blurry in the right side of this pic. I don't like using flash too much at night if there's enough light BUT, of course, anything that moves becomes a blur. I was trying not to blind everyone with my flash - unlike the people from another country I won't name but who's language I attempt to speak (not Switzerland - cause we know I can't speak their language). Sorry, I know that sounds a little catty but several times during the trip it happened enough where we and our guide found it a bit much.That night, the girls had insisted they would sleep in "their" tent alone. Bart and I had mixed feelings: safe country but out in middle of nowhere, electric generators go off at 10pm, yes - we did get 'torches' (flashlights) for the girls, visions of girls crying for us in middle of night and waking everyone within a 300 ft radius (the whole camp), they were the ONLY children out there - hmmmmmm.

We humored them, said goodnight and left with promises to check on them in 10 minutes after we were ready for bed ourselves. Between their tent and ours, we had already decided to split up - Bart with Rachel and Kendra with me. First we would give them "time" by brushing teeth, etc... Bart had no sooner picked up his toothbrush when we heard sand shuffling outside and Rachel bursts in saying "Kendra's crying and scared and doesn't want to sleep alone." Kendra follows - panicked. Bart & I were laughing as I tucked Kendra into our bed and he went to get the "things" she needed for sleeping.

We then laughed the next morning as it got pretty cold in the middle of the night. I used Kendra as a teddy bear - fortunately, she slept solid during the night. BTW - the stars in the middle of the night were beyond spectacular and had to say a little prayer of thankfulness for such beauty to our Creator.

Next morning - after a good breakfast and nice COLD shower for Bart we headed out of the Dunes. Time for a little more dune-bashing. In this pic, we are headed straight down a very large hill - sliding every so gently. Salah had some fun by "washing" the car with sand.
The hill we had just come down. Must admit, the dune-bashing was one of our favorite parts of the trip (even though I was 'nervos' at first).
For your viewing pleasure: baby camels. Salah said the one on the far left was probably just a week old. The young ones are almost white and when they are laying down (that one had been sleeping and I didn't even see it) they blend in with the sand.
Bart having his first cup of coffee - EVER. My husband is not a coffee drinker - sigh - but did not want to refuse the hospitality of the Bedouin. I too, got a cup of coffee (it was delicious by the way) but only a little, expresso sized cup as the girls had items they were trying to purchase and I had to assist.

Rachel got her camel ride. These are 'one humped' camels (the 2 hump camels are Egyptian) and they ride them by balancing on the rump just behind the hump. It's not easy. Rachel declared it much harder than riding a horse. Kendra opted out - too tall and 'scary' for her.
We left the Wahiba Sands and drove along the coast of which our final destination would be the capital city of Muscat. We stopped along the way in Sur: a port city known for 'dow' manufacturing (teak-wood boats). We also stopped at a white sand beach and a sink hole where the girls were able to wade in beautiful clear water fed from underground.
Interesting - we drove on what will soon be the newly opened Toll highway from Sur to Muscat along the coast. This route was previously only off-road and most people traveled by the interior paved road which takes about 2 hours more. The toll gates are closed BUT there are open lanes on each side for construction access, and at various parts of this highway, you are routed to the opposite side or have to work around detours - a beautiful wide highway still under construction. The public uses it but it's not officially open - or finished. This would never fly in Switzerland where they must test roads, bridges and tunnels for months before anyone can go on it.
City of Muscat.
The Grand Mosque in Muscat. Finished 6 years ago. The girls wore the Omani outfits they bought as souvenirs. They loved the pretty colors and sparkles. Most Omani women/girls wear very colorful outfits - influenced over centuries of trade with India. We think Salah enjoyed them (the girls) - he laughed alot at their enthusiasm and made an effort to include them in interesting things. We were only the 3rd Americans (family/group) he's had in 3 years of conducting tours. He also said not many people brought their children along. Most people with children stay at the resorts.
I took many pictures here - loved the symmetry of the buildings and the colors. Very muted outside - color provided by gardens and buildings kept simple but with fantastic craftsmanship.
However - once inside - beautiful craftsmanship and ornate. Below is the men's prayer hall. It has the largest, handmade silk carpet in the world, the center chandelier is of Swarovski crystal and weighs 10 tons and the tiles (colors were blues, greens and gold) and woodwork were just beautiful. We are not Muslim and differ in our beliefs because we recognize the Deity/Sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and salvation by grace, not works. But we do recognize the gifts that God gives to man as He has created man in His image. That these gifts have been bestowed upon those who accept Him and those who reject Him(His son Jesus). To clarify briefly if you don't know much about Islam(muslim) - they do believe in the same God - the God of Abraham - just as Christians and Jews do. Our differences are in the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Messiah and salvation by grace, not by works/law = there are other things but just as a broad summary. Thus, we very much enjoyed our visit even though we don't share the belief. It is an absolute work of art.
And yes, the women's prayer hall was much smaller and while, beautiful, not nearly so ornate. Jus' sayin.'
After the Mosque, we headed to the FishMarket in Muscat. The girls LOVED looking at all the different 'fish' displayed for the morning - people buying, selling, cleaning. Here we also had coffee from the coffee man (his Omani pot was strapped to a basin with hot charcoal to keep the coffee hot - and it was HOT) and went through the produce market (where I got a 5lb bag of delicious dates for the equiv. of about $2.50).
The Muscat palace of Sultan Qaboos - they like the blue, green & gold theme.
The Arabian Gulf Cup was hosted by Oman this year (football/soccer) and started while we were there. This is only 1 example of the flag/sign/colors up in every place we went on our trip. Even some cars were fully decked out -Salah had a flag on both sides of our vehicle most of the trip. As well, the Gulf Handball championships were being held in Muscat. Not the handball in a racquetball court - arena handball (still trying to figure that one out, kinda like I don't think I'll ever get crickett). So - we saw teams in our hotels as well. Quick - get to the buffet line before they do!
The Mutrah Souk at night. We had fun shopping and looking - incense (we brought home a bag of Frankincense - no Myrrh though, didn't care for the smell), scarves, Indian fabrics (I declined the 'belly dancer' costume and Bart passed on the Omani cap :) ), Ali baba shoes, silver, carved wooden items - so many things to look at.
We finally came to our final destination on the coast. And Salah hugged the girls goodbye several times - they gave him pictures they had drawn. We felt we had made a friend in Oman. But he still only shook my hand after I offered it - :) - the customs run deep and I don't know that one can truly understand it all even if one lived there. Just like I still try to figure out some Swiss customs and perspectives (speaking of that, there is a poster here that I'll have to share next week).
After 4 days of running around, we spent 4 days of doing - nothing. Which my husband truly needed. The hardest decision was what to choose from the menu/buffet. I fell in love with the local food - heavily Lebanese influenced. A lot of Lamb, rice, hummus, mulbalah (sp?)(smoked eggplant stuff - DELICIOUS), baba ganoush (like an eggplant/tomato salsa - yum) with the flat bread. I didn't know I liked cardamom and tumeric - still don't know how to make dishes with these items but I might have to find out.
Lastly - 4 hour layover in the Dubai airport. Which is not a bad place to be - see the comfy chairs you can find to wait in. Bart looked at this picture and said "Well, at least 3 of the family of 4 entered the technology age." Hey! I used a digital camera to take the pic and I can do email and stuff!
Just because I still have a Daytimer that I purchased in 1992 while working at McGladrey(it's a nice leather one - still looks new, why throw it away?), and order calendar refills each year does NOT mean I'm technically challenged. I just need to physically write things down in order to remember them. I do NOT single-handedly keep DayTimer in business. So there!
OK - now I'm done with the longest post ever. I can move on to other things.


Louise Knight said...

Thanks for popping into my blog. I love your photo's. And all the details about your trip - great stuff. Yay for hubs' first cup of coffee. You'll get him there yet. ;)

Linds said...

Fabulous...Fascinating....Fun!! This is SO interesting, Susan. And I think you are decidedly techy and 21C, because you at least have a BLOG!!

Judy said...

Again, what a neat trip! One that your girls won't forget. I miss those neat trip with our kids.

I just bought some cardamom for my mom. She uses it in Ostekaka -- Swedish Cheesecake. I like the flavor. I found it more easily here than Iowa since there are more Scandinavians here.