Published: May 11th 2006February 8th 2006
The shipping port that feels more like a sleepy fishing village
The plane touches down in Dubai after 15 long hours of crying babies, no sleep and a man behind me who likes to kick chairs repeatedly. I was only too happy to get off. A very long walk takes me though customs and bag collection. Standing on the curb with no idea on how I was going to get from here to the bus station within 45 minutes, a lady askes me if I knew where anything was. She was from India but had been living in London for 8 years. We put our heads together and got a shared taxi to my bus station and her hotel. A bit of haggling and going to the actual taxi rank got us a very good price. I get dropped off at the bus and just in time.
"Yes" He took my bags through them underneath and nearly shoved me on the bus.
"OK we go now"
Walking down the bus isle looking for a seat reminded me of the scene from Forrest Gump where he is denied acceptance due to his different looks. Everyone on this bus was arab and no one spoke any english. They stared at me like
The mosque just down from my hotel that blares out islamic prayer at some ungodly hour of the morning then 4 more time during the day
they had never seen a white person before. I part with 50 Dirhams and the bus pulls away for the 6 hour journey.
It's not long before the buildings dissapear and the desert takes over. Sand, sand and more sand pretty much sums up the trip from Dubai to Hatta (the boarder town on the UAE side) We reach a checkpoint. I wasn't fully aware on the way I get myself a visa and since no one spoke english I just did as everyone else did. I followed the crowd to a little shed and handed over my passport. The man stared at me and looked at my passport. He seemed very reluctant to deal with me as he slams his stamp down. I check it to see what had been done. A stamp just like my entry stamp with UAE on it and a lot of arabic scrawl. OK so this must be my exit stamp.
The crowd moves back on the bus and away we go again. A few minutes pass as well get to another checkpoint. So this must be the entry to Oman. (I came to that conclusion since we just passed a sign
Was hoping it was going to be a bit more exciting
that said welcome to the Sultanate of Oman, pretty clever eh?) I pile off with the masses. There was no checking of passports just a lot of yelling, pointing and checking of bags. I open my bag for inspection but he didn't want anything to do with me or my bag. He opens the bus' cargo doors and checks all the bags, except mine. It's a very strange experience when there is a man yelling at you in Arabic and you have absolutely no idea what he is going on about. I start asking people.
"Excuse me do you speak english?"
I recieve nothing but blank stares. We all climb back on and the bus pulls away. OK so maybe I dont need a visa although I must. I start to worry that maybe this is the boarder trouble I was hearing about. We then arrive at a huge building with the Omani flag flying high. I am directed into the building and I see signs for visa check. Finally! I spoke to a man in the line who actually spoke a bit of english. He told me of the procedures in aquiring a visa and that I would be
A cannon looks out over the Gulf of Oman
parting with 60 Dirhams or 30 Dirhams if I am a UAE resident. The lady behind the window, who speaks exceptionally good english, flicks through my passport.
"Ah, you have a visit stamp for the UAE, are you coming by bus or car?
"Is this your first time to Oman?"
"Ahh I welcome you, today your visa is free. Welcome and enjoy our country"
This was probably the nicest customs officer I have ever dealt with. I get my entry stamp and the man who spoke english said "well your lucky, I don't know how you managed that"
On the bus and away we go. From here everything changes. It appears that all buildings in Oman have a very unique look in architecture. The roads are very well developed and the cars are all clean, neat and new. It was pretty surprising.
I finally arrive in Muscat. The city itself is very interesting. Amazing islamic architecture and all the suburbs are spread in between the large mountains that seem to cut the city into distinct sections. I am standing in the middle of Muscat with no idea on where anything is or how to get anywhere
A cannon looks out over the Gulf of Oman
and even worse, no money. I ask a man and he informs me that you cant change travellers cheques or much cash unless at the airport. That's 40kms away. GREAT!! I have to rely on my ATM card. So after a few hours of lugging my stuff around trying to get money and deciding on heading to the area of Mutrah, I catch a taxi for 200 Baisas to a hotel I wanted to check out.
Mutrah is the main shipping port and is set right on the water, but when I get dropped off at "Mutrah", there is no water and no ships. I ask the man where I am, he replys "Yes Mutrah water just there" pointing in the direction of a hospital. He screams off and I'm left in the middle of this apparent Mutrah. I figure if there is water it must down so I walk on the street that slopes down. After wandering through a Souk I come out the other side to see water. Well this must be Mutrah. I actually see 2 westerners and ask if they speak english, cause you never know where they are from.
"Oh thank christ"
Me at fort
I take guard
Not only did I run into 2 westerners, but I ran into 2 Australians from Wollongong. It goes to prove that us bloody Aussies are everywhere. I ask them if they know where the hotels are and they say "walk with us we are going back to ours, everywhere else is booked out"
I check into the hotel and they invite me to go for a walk with them to check out the Mutrah Fort. It was an excellent idea since that was my plan. We walk down the promenade that bends around following the water and I notice here like I have noticed throughout the city that everything is closed. Shops, banks, restaurants. Everything. Apparently everything closes between about 1pm to 4pm.
For the next 3 hours or so we wander following the water line checking out all the forts and mosques. I ask how much thier visa was and they said 60 Dirhams. I spared them how much I paid. We ended up at the walled city of Muscat and at the centre was the Palace of Sultan Qaboos. This man is the reason that Oman is enjoying a pretty high standard of living. 36 years ago
One of the mosques near Mutrah
when he took power in 1970, there was only 10km of paved roads, few people were educated, the general health of the population was poor and the basic standard of living was very low. Not to mention that the whole country was in civil war. Sultan Qaboos is well respected and liked all over the country.
The following day I made my way to Al Ghubrah or the Grand Mosque. This magnificent piece of islamic architecture is a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark the 30th year of his reign. It took 6 years to build and was completed in 2001. The complex which surrounds the the 2 prayer halls is breath taking. I walk on smooth, highly polished marble tiles to get the first prayer hall. They have 2 halls for 2 sex'. One for men one for women. I take off my shoes and enter the first hall. My jaw drops in near disbelief. This could well be the most impressive room I have ever been in. A vast room that holds thousands of muslims is decorated in the most meticulous way. Large ornate chandeliers hang from the roof with the largest hanging from
the main dome in the middle of the room. That Chandelier is the largest in the world. The persian carpet the covers the entire floor is also very impressive. Measuring a staggering 70m x 60m wide. It is the largest carpet in the world and it took 600 women four years to weave. I then go to the female prayer hall. It is very nice but unsurprisingly a lot smaller than the male hall.
Wandering around this city, surrounded in mosques that spout islamic prayer through the
very loud, loud speakers. The hot Arabian sun sets over the mountains. I guide myself through the elaborate, extremely well kept gardens and carefully manicured grass thats like a golfing green where local Omanis have picnic with thier families. I can't help but be amazed and inspired by this place. I feel I have found an ancient modest islamic society thats enjoying all the benefits of a modern world. The journey to London has begun. I am going to Nizwa tomorrow which should be great.
Thanks to the people who sent me emails in support. Take care
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