Title-1.jpg


We found a tour company in Oman that tailored our private trip to our wishes. They also provided us with a local Omani guide that added to the experience. The manager of the company is Indian and our agent was Sri Lankan, but that goes with the territory in these oil countries as the locals are given stipends from the government which makes them less hungry to work.

 

The map below shows the GPS tracks for both this Oman trip and also our Saudi Arabia trip.

 

Oman’s recent history is fascinating. To really appreciate these photos, and Oman itself, you may want to read the brief history we put at the end.

 

 

mapallcorrected

 

1P1250683

The capital of Oman is Muscat.

 

This is a photo of the original old town of Muscat, which was chosen for its excellent harbor and natural defenses. Up until 1929 it was only reached by sea or by footpaths over the hills. A one-lane rough road through the roads was then made by the British.

 

Until the 1960s most of the homes were supplied with water by donkeys carrying pairs of 4-gallon tin drums.

 

 

 

“Wadi bashing” is popular with locals and tourists. It’s possible to go southwest through the mountains on a highway, but it’s much more fun to go through using the wadis.

 

These narrow “valleys” between steep canyon walls have rough trails that vary in their 4WD-ness.

 

Here we’ve been in water and have to climb out to the trail roughly where that guy is standing. We requested that wadi bashing be on our trip itinerary and we did quite a few of them.

 

 

1aP1030974

 

P1250728

 

 

The scenery is amazing in these wadis.

 

We loved the fact that our guide wore the Omani dishdasha. When he was “off duty” he wore the below-the-knee length pants and t-shirts popular now and looked European.

 

His German girlfriend, also a guide in Oman, of four years had just broken up with him and he was devastated. For him, the relationship was assumed to be forever. He loved the life: tourist guide in winter in Oman, then summer in the Alps. 

 

 

 

 

 

On the right is Nizwa fort.

 

We climbed around lots of forts like this restored one. They are being fixed up, one after the other, to meet Oman’s goal of switching to tourism from oil after the oil runs out.

 

 

P1250704

 

P1250784

 

 

 

 

 

Nizwa fort was especially good to climb because there were nice staircases everywhere and the crenellations made for varying camera views.

 

P1250972

The place on the left is called  Birkat al Mawz

 

During the Jebel War (when many areas refused to join the current Sultan) the local sheikh was the rebel leader. At the Sultan’s request, the British (who were helping him) bombed three of the sheikh’s fine palaces.  One of them they totally obliterated as a warning to the villagers. Even today, this area is known for sullenness toward foreigners which is not common among Omanis. We didn’t notice.

 

There is an amazing 17thC irrigation canal (faraj) running along the houses.

 

 

P1250706

 

1bP1250715

This is an example of Oman’s effort to attract active adventure tourists, i.e. rock climbers.

 

In Wadi Bani Awf’s Snake Canyon there are 3 zip-lines to get rock climbers across the canyon. I think these were installed by a British climbing group.

 

This was NOT on our program!

 

But it was amazing to see. This is a super-telephoto shot as this was far below the road we were on. 

 

This is a fissure that goes completely through the mountain. Hikers can hike the bottom which involves rappelling and swimming at times.

 

There is also a lot of hiking in the area around Jebel Shams (10,000’).  Wadi Nakhr Gorge is called the Grand Canyon of Oman, and is like a baby one.

 

We had scheduled to do the “Balcony Walk” shown here. It’s a 5-hour out-and-back hike (not down and up). We’ve circled in pink some hikers in the photo who are climbing out of the canyon.

 

We arrived in late afternoon and could see the entire area. The next morning the entire canyon was so full of fog we couldn’t even see 50’ down!

 

So no hike. Some things don’t work out.

1cP1250723

 

P1250721

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oman’s Little Grand Canyon.

 

 

 

 

We really enjoyed looking around in the abandoned village of Al Mansfah, a community of mansions once owned by prosperous 19th c. merchants.

P1250798

 

 

 

P1250746

 

P1250748

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked the lanes of medieval Misfah.

 

 

 

 

Jabrin Castle looks a little stern but it has the most elegant and elaborately decorated ceilings inside.

 

 It was built in 1670 as the home of Bil’arub bin Sultan, an imam known for his interest in scholars and poets. This isn’t the only building in the complex.

 

The restoration took 7 years and was completed in 1983. It then was furnished it with antiques of the period.

 

 

P1250768

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yvonne loves camels, including signs to watch out for them!

P1250797

 

 

 

 

 

The UNESCO site Bahla Fort is not open to the public as it is being restored, but it will be amazing when it’s finished.

 

A fort has been here since 1000 BCE.

 

In Oman we climbed around on many restored forts. Some have rooms furnished the way they were when they were used.

 

2P1250761

 

3P1040020

We went on to our next big adventure: The Wahiba Sands.

 

Tours usually stay in the sands for one night – we requested two nights and spent our free day being driven 100+ miles over sand dunes.

 

We ate lunch in this large Bedouin tent where our (dune) driver’s family provides typical lunches for tourists – the tent can hold two groups. This is in the middle of nowhere, about a mile from the highway. Outside the tent the family lives in the traditional way: a tent and corrals for their animals. The young man in the center is the son of the family and was the one who drove us around all day.

 

 

We got stuck – twice. Once we were miles from anyone and our guide and Bedouin driver had to dig us out with their hands. The other time we got pulled out by a vacationer with a pulley-supplied jeep. That was easier.

 

The Bedouin driver drove sensibly in the dunes. Our guide (who usually drove) was far crazier. Near our permanently-tented camp there is a high, steep dune where everyone goes to the top for sunset. Our guide “raced” up the steep dune - in reverse! It was SO fun! We encouraged him to do it again – and he did! – and again …

P1250856

 

P1250827

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juergen loves the dunes too!

 

 

P1250831

 

P1250848

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yvonne climbing up for a run down…

 

 

P1250858

 

P1250882

 

 

There is nothing like a beer in the desert.

 

Especially in Islamic countries.

 

Inshallah.

P1250902

 

5P1250914

After dinner at our “camp” Bedouins came and did traditional songs and dances for us.

 

These niqab-like masks are worn by some of the Bedouin women in Oman. We’ve never seen them elsewhere.

 

Before we went to the desert we went into a shop to get an Omani dishdasha and a muzzar (turban) for Juergen. He’s wearing that outfit in these photos.

 

A woman traveler we met at dinner told us that when she saw us come in she thought a local guy was with a European woman! (even though Yvonne was wearing the “desert” dress she wore in Libya)

 

P1250964

The coastal town of Sur played a crucial role in overseas trade with Africa, by being a center for slave trade and arms trafficking – normal forms of trade then and not considered immoral. The British finally got them to sign an anti-slave trade treaty in 1822, a year that 4000 slaves were brought to Sur.

 

Sur has long been famous for dhow building and we watched guys working on a very fancy one.

 

In 1861 Sur had over 100 ocean-going dhows in its trading fleet.

 

Sur is the home of the legendary sailor Sinbad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wandered around the lighthouse and the Al Ayhah area of Sur which has prosperous merchant housing.

P1250968

 

This photo was taken in an Arabian mountain gazelle sanctuary.

 

After hunters killed or captured them all for pets they were bred again outside of Oman and reintroduced.

 

There are now several sites in Oman for introduced gazelles. The gazelles can be bred twice a year and are native to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Oman. They are protected in all places.

 

Enforcement of the rules is difficult.

 

Hunters were just caught in July 2013 after killing ten.

6P1250949

 

7P1260102

We flew from Muscat (the capital) northwest 220 miles to the tip of the Musandam peninsula, which is on the Strait of Hormuz only 35 miles from Iran.

 

This strait is one of the world’s busiest and most strategic waterways; Iranians often threaten to mine this strait.

 

We returned to Muscat by ferry.

 

At the time, anyway, this was the fastest ferry in the world. It had an incredibly smooth ride. These ferries are built in Australia and carry 208 passengers (+ 12 crew) in 3 classes. We cruised at 60 mph (Juergen’s GPS)! There were a large number of vehicles on board.

 

 

 

 

 

It was like an airplane Inside the ferry. This family occupied the two rows next to us. The mother was eating by pulling out her veil and eating under it.

 

Omani women rarely dress this way, so we guessed they are tourists visiting from Saudi Arabia.

P1040239

 

P1040236

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many shore surveillance stations along the Omani coast directly across from Iran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cute pipe fishes in the water.

 

They look like straight-bodied seahorses.

P1250966

 

P1250996

We took a dhow trip along the coast into a giant fjord that is very calm and sheltered – and known for dolphins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve seen lots of dolphins but it was never as much fun as this was.

 

The following photos show them above and underwater and the reflection of our dhow in the glassy water.

 

 

8P1040197

 

P1040227

 

 

 

P1260075

 

P1260084

 

 

 

 

 

The other tourist dhow came alongside to watch too. It made the dhow and cliff reflections in the water more interesting.

 

The dolphins seemed to love the interaction but went away when the dhow stopped to let people snorkel.

 

 

 

 

Khasab Fort precedes the 16thC arrival of the Portuguese.

 

A Portuguese garrison was here until 1644 as part of a plan to control the Strait of Hormuz.

 

The entire area hosts numerous exhibits that illustrate the old culture here in Musandam.

P1250988

 

9P1260139

We then flew to the very south of Oman, Salalah, for our next adventures.

 

This is in the interesting Al Hafa Souk. Barbers vied to be able to trim Juergen’s beard. (Fun) Almost every man is shaved by a barber; each pays very little but the barber has enough customers that it’s good for everyone.

 

This area is home of the frankincense tree – and all the grades of incense are sold in shops like this one. It was used for religious rites and as a medical treatment in most civilizations in the ancient world. It is still used for religious rites. Today frankincense is mostly supplied by Oman, Yemen, and the northern coast of Somalia, where the Roman Catholic church buys its supplies.

 

A frankincense tree is shown here. Incisions are made on the trunk and the resin then collected after a few days. The resin is the frankincense.

 

It has been traded for more than 5000 years and was more valuable than gold 2000 years ago.

 

Some think that frankincense was the first commodity to lead to international trade routes and that the Queen of Sheba (from here) visited King Solomon in Jerusalem in order to agree a safe caravan route for the frankincense. It went by ship to India, up the red sea, and everywhere else!

P1260339

 

11P1260273

We drove hours north into the Rub’al Khali, the Empty Quarter, the largest desert expanse in the Middle East –in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Yemen.

 

On the way there, our guide spotted people getting ready to race camels and off-road we went to watch too.

 

A dozen radio-controlled camels raced down this track with the owners in trucks alongside SCREAMING support. We raced along too. It was absolutely frantic and so bumpy that we only managed to get this one photo - of the very last camel – a trainee. They run really fast – up to 40 mph for a sprint like this!

 

 

 

Our destination was Shisr, the site of Ubar, which was first mentioned around 200 CE as a city in the sands of great wealth, wickedness and idolatry. It was set at the crossroads of the frankincense trade.

 

Many people searched for this legendary place but Fiennes got NASA to help by providing satellite images that show swellings of just a few feet in the flat desert. Using those photos he secured the permission of the Sultan and got support and in the early 1990s found it.

P1260315

 

P1260232

 

 

 

 

Ubar.

 

The sand dunes are not as beautiful as farther north in Oman, but Yvonne wanted to climb this one to be able to run down.

 

The guide thought she’d just go a little way and was astonished that she went to the top.

 

From the top she could see him making a little “dance” waving his arms to show her he was impressed!

 

Afterwards, he wanted advice on how to start an exercise program. He is 45 and notices that he’s not like he was at 20.

P1260297

 

P1260304

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost to the top!

 

Yvonne came down the steepest part a little to the right of this photo.

P1260310

 

P1260313

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the top!

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a different guide in the south of Oman.

 

He has five daughters. When asked, he said he was initially disappointed that he had no son, but he said his daughters were so nice they won him over and he is very happy.

 

We told him Yvonne’s brother had four daughters and now six of his seven grandchildren are boys, so he just had to wait for boys.

P1260324

 

The architecture in the south is reminiscent of typical Yemeni style.

P1260127

 

P1260144

 

 

This beach was great fun.

 

It was FULL of crabs racing back and forth with the water. They lived under little pyramids of sand. Try as we might, we could not get a photo of even one of them.

 

We had fun trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was built in 2009 and is more impressive than this photo implies..

P1260175

 

P1260184

A little dead-end road ends at the walled enclosure for Job’s tomb.

 

This is one of the legendary tombs for Job (another is in Lebanon).

 

We always had trouble with the  Biblical story of Job’s relationship with a compassionate god.

 

 

 

 

 

Our guide wanted to take us to a fishing village and we arrived to see a catch being unloaded.

 

He bought some fish then drove around the village to find someone to cook it for us. It was not the time of day locals were eating.

 

He found a restaurant and negotiated our meal. The entire experience was memorable.

P1260198

 

P1260206

 

 

Our guide selected three fish and had a fisherman there clean them for us.

P1260224

 

P1040314

It was a wonderful fish lunch!

 

 

Omani dishdashas have a little tassel at the neck that has traditionally been used for perfume!

 

P1260261

 

 

 

The wadis of Oman are ever varied but we were still surprised by Wadi Dirbat which is not far from Salalah.

 

During monsoon this place comes alive with waterfalls and the locals flock here.

 

Seeing the locals “at play” is always fun and here Yvonne interacted with some women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The woman Yvonne is talking with here was about her age and very friendly.

P1260252

 

P1260257

 

 

 

 

She reluctantly allowed Juergen to take this much of a photo of her. We didn’t think she minded us, but she might have minded what the others thought.

 

It was obvious that almost every woman and girl had a slightly different take (probably uncertain as to what they could get away with) on Juergen’s photo-taking. Nonetheless, they were all very curious and wanted to interact with Yvonne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then, as we were about to walk on, she turned and posed with me. It would have been interesting to spend more time with her.

P1260260

 

With some knowledge of Oman’s recent history, Oman is understood to be an amazing place. Imagine, in 1970 Oman and Yemen were very similar; tribe fighting tribe, dirt poor. They are not similar at all today, and it’s all because of one man, Sultan Qaboos.

It starts with the current sultan’s father, Said bin Taimur. In 1938, at 22, he took over from his father after he was educated at a British school in India. The country was on the verge of bankruptcy; he then balanced the books and never went into debt, thinking that was the best course. From 1957-59 there was a rebel war between interior tribes; one group backed by the Saudis and the Egyptians, the sultan’s army was supported by the British. The sultan won and retreated to Salalah in the south and rarely left the city.

As no piece of machinery could be purchased without the sultan’s signature, there wasn’t even one tractor in the country.  In 1964 Shell discovered oil and by 1967 oil was being exported. The sultan refused to spend any money on development, opposed any changes and worked to keep Oman isolated from the world. Russian and Chinese imperialists filled the vacuum and began the Marxist-led Dhofar War to overthrow the sultan and take control of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz.

The sultan spent the last 10 years of his reign with his son, Qaboos, whom he restricted to the palace under a form of arrest. This was to ensure Qaboos wasn’t corrupted by outside influences after he returned from his Sandhurst military training in England.

In 1970, the current sultan, Qaboos, at 30, overthrew his father in a non-violent coup and sent him off to England in exile.

From 1970-1975 he went tribe to tribe across Oman to get their backing, one tribe at a time. With British assistance the Dhofar War was won.

After he got the endorsement of the tribes, he immediately began to modernize the country (with advisors from the US, among other countries) using the oil money as it came in. He used 5-year plans to step-by-step establish infrastructure, roads, schools, health clinics and more. His goal was to get the country modernized and independent of oil income before the oil runs out. He created a government with 82 elected members. In 1994 women got the vote. In 1998 a world-class container terminal opened. But by 1999, tourism contributed only 1% to GNP. He continues to make many changes in order to attract tourism.

He has a classical orchestra, a new opera house and more.

One of his continuing problems is to motivate the Omanis to work. Many foreigners work at tour companies and other companies because many Omani won’t do the work. Each Omani is given a stipend (we think) that isn’t much, but it’s enough to live on. The Omanis are made up of herders and farmers who find it difficult to stay at a desk at a 9 to 5 job.

It’s really interesting to compare Oman today, under Qaboos, to Yemen just next door. Before 1970, they were very similar. They are the same peoples. Tribes were continually in conflict and everyone was very poor.

Today the Omani tribes are all Omani first and tribesmen second. It’s an amazing job Qaboos has accomplished. Oman is also a presence in the world today, making a voice for a moderate Arab country.  And Yemen is still like Oman was in 1970. No peace, extremely poor, and tribe fighting tribe.

Another opinion on Oman: Last year while traveling (by air) from Ethiopia to Algeria we had a short layover in Cairo. We talked for some time with a very nice Yemeni. He was an architect (he showed us photos of his very modern house in Yemen) who went to Dubai to make money. He took his wife and three children to live in Cairo because it was better for children. When we discussed the difference between Yemen and Oman with him and asked him if he thought it was possible for Yemen, he said that he thought Oman was a little too “sterile” for Yemenis!

 

 

Thumbnail-2