Published: December 31st 2006December 9th 2006
I woke up this morning at 5:00 AM to a moon lit sky filled with constellations. I went out on the verandah to enjoy the view and warm ocean breezes with the sound of the ship cutting smoothly through the ocean.
We had breakfast delivered to our room at 8:00 AM and enjoyed the view of Oman’s coastline off our port bow. We arrived at the entrance to Muscat Harbor about 08:30 AM, but were put in a holding pattern due to the freighter traffic leaving and entering ahead of us. We drifted in front of Sultan Qaboos beautiful administrative palace building, set inside a well protected cove.
The harbor pilot finally jumped on to our ship from the double duty tug/fire boat Hafa-Al and we sailed into the harbor, made a 180 degree turn and finally docked port side at 10:15 AM. While waiting for Oman customs and immigration to clear the ship for debarkation, we noticed one of our U.S. destroyers docked on the ocean side of the port. Not surprising since US ships regularly sail the straight of Hormuz, which is close-by, to protect oil shipments passing through.
Once cleared, it took a while to
load the passengers on to the shuttle buses they were using to get us from the ship dock to the port entry gate over 1.5 km away. Once at the gate, we found our guide Ali from Mezoon Destination Management, holding a sign with Mr. Toni on it. Ali was a young 24 year old, born and raised in Oman, but who spent the last 3 years is Dubai and just returned back to Oman for employment as a tour guide. He said tourism in Oman is beginning to pick up since more cruise ships are beginning to stop there and a lot of Europeans come for Wadi tours in the dessert. Wadis are the washed out sand dune areas which allow for wild 4 wheel drive tours and camping trips in the dessert.
Ali didn’t exactly have the “can do” attitude when we began. He began the tour by saying “You’re booked for the city tour, but because the ship is so late, there isn’t much to see”. Well, we found out he was right. Muscat town is very small and laid out in a circle around the harbor. We drove for 1 minute to the old Muttrah
harbor section so we could spend about an hour in the souk, before it closed at noon for a 4 hour siesta. We missed the open-air fish market along the corniche that operates from 7 - 10 AM. We also could not go inside their famous mosque, because it is closed to visitors after 11:00 AM to allow for prayer.
Ali led us past the shops in front of the souk, most selling spices, to a perfume stall where they had us try all kinds of essential oils and sniff frankincense and myrhh in its original rock-candy like form. These 2 spices were the first major exports of trade for Oman in the 17th century. We then proceeded to a neat shop filled with all kinds of Omani antique silver daggers, Bedouin jewelry, incense burners, etc. I picked out a small silver and bronze Koran verse locket and a dagger keychain. The 2 items cost 7 Rial or about 17.00 USD ( 1 USD = .41 Omani Rial).
We strolled through all of the gold shops at the rear of the souk filled with elaborate, thick and intricately designed pieces in shiny, yellow 18 and 24 kt. gold.
We also noticed a few groups of local women dressed in traditional black dishdasha garments, with black scarves covering their heads, perusing trays of gold jewelry. Ali told us that this is a common practice when a woman is preparing for marriage. The husband is expected to supply her with lots of gold jewelry, similar to a dowry. The woman will choose what she wants with the help of family and friends, and then the man will pay for it (as it should be J !!).
We were disappointed in the postcard selection. While the sights of Muscat are limited, there were not any creative photos of Muscat life or sights. I guess it will take time before that area of tourism is addressed. We passed on our opportunity to purchase what postcards were available in the souk, hoping to find a better selection at the museum.
From the souk, we followed along the corniche road and saw the sultan’s huge yacht—more like a small cruise ship. The sultan employs a staff of over 50 people, just to keep the yacht at the ready 24/7, in case he decides to use it. Ali said the yacht had not
moved from that spot in almost 5 years.
We briefly stopped an overlook that looked over the administrative palace, museum and some Arabian style houses. From there we continued on to the Bayt Az-Zubar museum. A brand new building with displays of Omani silver jewelry, daggers, swords, rifles and costumes of the different Omani regions. It also had a display of the Sultan Qaboos family of sultans. Unfortunately, the gift shop had less of a postcard selection than the souk and no stamps. So, we missed our opportunity to send a postcard from this rarely visited kingdom.
From there we ventured to the cove behind Al ‘Alam Palace Administrative Building, sandwiched between Mirani and Jalali fortresses, originally built by the Portuguese in the 16th Century. We couldn’t help but notice the 2 anti-aircarft guns mounted in front of the palace at the entrance to the cove. We also noticed that engraved into the rock face at the entrance to the cove, were names of different ships, including USS ships—apparently a prank to complete these engravings under the cover of darkness at night. Makes you wonder what the Sultan thinks when he looks out his window at graffiti from
Our trusty guide Ali
Beer Giraffe at Uptown Cafe
USS Iowa, USS Pennsylvania, etc.
From there we drove to the new business center of town called Ruwi. Jokingly, the boys asked Ali where they could get a cold beer, in very Muslim Muscat. Imagine our surprise when Ali said, “No problem. I know a place”. We pulled into the parking lot of “Uptown Café”, which turned out to be a sports bar that serves giraffes. A giraffe is a 4 ½ pint container that lights up and has an ice sleeve in the center with a little spicket on the end. Ali informed us that he stopped drinking alcohol about 6 months ago, but took great pleasure in pouring us the perfect beer. The bar was run by Thai and Indian folks and they served some spicy, sautéed chicken that was quite tasty. I never would have pictured myself in a sectarian Muslim country like Oman, in a sports bar, with our guide in traditional dishdassa dress, pouring us an ice cold beer. Too funny !!
After a couple of hours there, it was time to depart. We said our fond farewells to Ali and Oman and boarded the shuttle back to the ship. Once again, the ship left over an hour late, waiting on the return of the ship’s pre-arranged tour buses.
We celebrated our trivia team’s improvement, as we placed 2nd at today’s challenge during sail away.
Dinner tonight was at Polo Grill with a delicious appetizer of giant tiger prawns, lobster bisque with brandy and a perfectly grilled filet mignon with asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. The finale was an exquisite crème brulee.
Turned in early to watch the Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn movie “The Breakup” and said Good Night.