Published: January 12th 2010January 12th 2010
Mutrah corniche, as seen from our balcony
Oman has a great infrastructure these days, but it has somehow failed to give adequate funds to the road department involved with putting up the signs that lead the casual non-resident to where he wants to go. Yes road signs indicating towns, villages and cities are rather lacklustre and often missing, as my parents and I found out to our detriment as we cruised along the smooth paved roads of this Arab nation. If there are signs, they can be either long before the turn-off, say 3 to 6 kilometres before, but not actually at the turn-off itself, or they are right after the turn-off, so one misses it, thinking it is the next one, or they give you the name of some little hamlet of such insignificant proportion that it isn't mentioned on any maps, but not of the larger town that one is looking for. Yes, finding your way around Oman with just a normal road map can be a tad difficult this way and so we managed to drive wrong almost every time, choosing the wrong road until discovering yet another dead-end and having to turn back. But we managed, even if it took longer and with many
Mutrah fort at sunset
Our arrival into Muscat on the other hand was easy, since it wasn't us driving, but the bus driver on the Dubai-Muscat route. Soon we were sitting on the rooftop terrace of a nice little hotel facing the corniche and the sea, having a cold beer and watching the sun set over the mountains and hills that dot the city. A stroll around the next day, revealed it to be a relaxed and charming town, with a lot of traditional architecture and stunning scenery. Because it is sandwiched between the sea and the mountains, with the latter dissecting the city on various occasions, each part feels more like a little village. This also means it is very spread out, the urban sprawl extending some 40 to 50 kilometres down the coast.
In order to see something more of Oman we hired a car, because really the public transport is only an option if you just want to limit yourself to the towns. But for me Oman is mountain roads, wadi's with emerald pools and ancient villages, ochre and sand coloured rock formations, hills with watchtowers at the top, the intricate falaj system that irrigates the fields
and is an architectural highlight in itself, the forts that dot the landscape and the hospitable people who are always willing to help when one is lost! And to see this part of Oman a car and preferably a four-wheel drive is obligatory. We got off to a great start when the clutch in our vehicle turned out to be threadbare and upon navigating up a steep gravel road it gave up on us. Well prepared we had only a rough idea of where we were and no means of communicating with the outside world, so as to tell the rental company what had happened. Not to worry though, after walking for an hour towards where we had seen the last habitation, we encountered a gnarled old man driving a possibly older jeep, who took us to the main road, and later on that same day we were back in Muscat in the same hotel which we had left that morning in such good spirits. The next day was spent returning with a mechanic and a new rental car to the sight of the incident, picking up our luggage which we had left behind, and leaving the puzzled mechanic behind
with the broken clutch.
That evening we stayed in Sur, our base for the next few days of exploring. Explore we did, especially since we took one wrong turn after the other. Off-roading in Oman without the off-road guide to Oman isn't recommended, even when one limits oneself to the bigger sights, thanks to the above mentioned signposting failures of the government. We did manage to find a very touristic wadi, which had been turned into some kind of Disney land, some old forts (not hard in this country) and a less touristic wadi, which at first seemed very busy due to the weekend, but after walking up it for an hour and a half it became silent. Better yet, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful wadi's I have seen, and soon we were swimming in a turquoise pool through a high canyon. It more than made up for the many mistaken turn-off's we had taken.
There was of course more to see, but my time was limited, with my money running out, I had to fly back to earn some more, so after a few days, we headed back to Muscat, where I
View from Muscat Gate Museum
was dropped off at the airport and soon would be on my way to cold Europe. It was another small excursion into this wonderful country, which I seem to be doing in small increments, rather than in one long trip.
There are more photos below