Monday, January 12, 2009

My head is swirling

It's hard to know where to start with this trip - the Sultanate of Oman. It made such an impression on our family. Although we had this trip booked for about 5 months, and had done some research, we left for Oman still not knowing quite what to expect.

Many tourists to Oman primarily go to resorts that are set up along the coast and taking day trips here and there for shopping/touring. The temperatures were 25 - 30 C while we were there and it is a huge draw for cold Europeans during winter (primarily heard UK, German & Russian during our stay) months.

Before we headed to a resort for sun and relaxation, we spent 3 1/2 days with an Omani guide, Salah, and traveled through a portion of their Country. Oman is bigger than Switzerland but the population size is only approx. 2.5 - 3 mill. (depends on who you ask). One third of the population lives in the capital city of Muscat - a port city. Until the 1970's, when Sultan Qaboos came into power, Oman was relatively closed to the rest of the world. Fact - in 1970, there was only 10 km of sealed (asphalt) road in the country. A very conservative and struggling country. Since then, the Sultan and the people have worked hard to bring the Country into the 21st Century and it is evident in the roads, hospitals, schools and ministry buildings - everything is relatively new, efficient and they embrace technology while trying to preserve their culture and heritage.

OK - enough of the history lesson today.

Random thoughts/experiences re: our trip:
  • We grew to enjoy the smell of Frankincense in the air (80% of Frankincense comes from Oman)
  • the Dates - tasty!
  • Omani coffee - a blend of arabica beans, cardamom and rose water - delightful if you like trying different coffees. I do - and Bart drank some to be respectful with the other men - His first coffee ever! Drinking it in a Bedouin tent and at the Muscat fish market - in little porcelain tea cups rinsed out in warm water. I don't know whose germs were on there but it would have been rude to refuse our hosts.
  • Ladies - take your own tissues/TP for the toilet. Only in hotel and/or museum facilities will it be available. And wearing a skirt is better than pants. I never thought to take a pic of a potty there - a whole blog in itself! Anyhoo - they were typically what the girls call a 'squat potty' - not a seat but porcelained floor potty with a hose bidet for 'rinsing'. Believe it or not - there are countries that find the use of TP to be unhygenic and backwards. Enough of that.
  • an old Omani man touching my arm in the Souk (market) and holding out his hand without looking at me. As an Omani man would not touch a woman without her permission (they only shook my hand if I offered it), I figured he really needed some Rial. I won't forget how that felt.
  • watching my girls dress in Bedouin clothes and how beautiful they looked
  • looking at all the differences in dress - the men in their neat, clean dishdasha's (white or earth toned) with caps/turbans and the women in everything from black decorated abeyas to colorful wraps to full abeya w/ birka (face veil). There were many degrees of dress if you took the time to look. And in the heat/sun, being all covered up in loose, light clothing makes a lot of sense.

First stop on our tour: Birkat al-Mawz (Banana pool). A pretty village of date palms, banana and mango trees. We drove through on our way up to the Jebel Akhdar (green mountain) area where we spent our 2nd night. The mountains themselves are not green - it refers to the areas below which support a variety of agriculture during the cooler months when rain accumulates in the wadis and terraces.

In the Nizwa Fort - traditional pottery and chests found in many homes. The New Year dessert buffet our first night. We stayed at a hotel by the airport, got rested and acclimated before the touring began. It was quite a feast and the girls enjoyed the New Year noisemakers and party hats they were given. The desserts? We had to force ourselves to stop!

The Nizwa Souk: we were so overwhelmed by all the items here. We did buy Bart's khanjar (a traditional Omani curved dagger) and Omani outfits for the girls here. I need to go back though - they had things that I didn't find in the Mutrah Souk!!!
Rachel looking over Nizwa from one of the Fort rooftops. More later. It's Bart's Bday and I need to bake a cake. Happy 4-th Birthday Honey!!!!!!

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