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Published: June 27th 2019
The resort has installed glass barriers to make sure that none of its guests have their holiday plans disrupted by accidentally falling off the rim of the canyon hundreds of metres down into gorge below. I’m keen to get some happy snaps from a bit closer to the edge so I go for a wander to see whether safety standards might be a bit looser elsewhere nearby. I wander through the outskirts of Saiq and find a spot where I can get right up to the canyon rim above the villages we hiked through yesterday. The views are beyond stunning.
I share the view with two European girls and their Omani guide. The guide looks a bit concerned that his charges might be getting just a bit too close to the edge for comfort, and yells at them not to jump. One of them responds “why not”? Not wanting to die comes to mind quite quickly, but I think the guide might have thought of that reason already, so I decide not to interfere.
We have lunch at an Iranian restaurant next to the hotel. On the short walk back, a car carrying five young Omani men in full
traditional dress screeches to a halt next to us. One of the men winds down his window and insists that we take a picture of them all. Another of the men is smoking a cigar, and they all look like they’re in full party mode. We oblige with the photo and they then drive off into the resort. Issy says she thinks they might be here for the Omani equivalent of a buck‘s night. I wonder whether Omanis have buck‘s nights, and if so what the order of proceedings might be. Whatever it is I’m very much suspecting that it probably doesn’t involve strippers and copious quantities of alcohol.
We spend the afternoon lazing by the pool.
This evening we’ve signed up for a drive higher up into the mountains to watch the sunset. Our guide’s name is Hayman. We pass one of the Sultan’s private gardens. Hayman tells us that a vast array of exotic fruits and vegetables is grown here, including strawberries and lychees, and these are then transported down to Muscat for consumption at the Sultan’s Palace.
The conversation turns again to the water situation. Hayman says that he’s been told by many long
time residents that the Jebel Akhdar, or Green Mountain, was indeed very lush and green before the climate suddenly changed. We reflect on the irony that climate change has had such a severe impact on the lives of some of the residents of a country whose economy is so heavily dependent on oil.
We reach our destination on the top of a hill, and Hayman produces a large traditional rug and pillows for us to lie on. He then serves us coffee and dates as we watch the sun set spectacularly over the mountains. The setting is idyllic. There is almost total silence, broken only by the call to prayer from a distant mosque, which only serves to add to the atmosphere.
On the drive back Issy asks Hayman whether there was a big celebration in Saiq last night, as we saw some fireworks or flares going off a few times during the evening. Hayman tells us that this would have been part of military training exercises. He says that these are in full swing at the moment in preparation for the arrival of some British troops who will also be training here from early July. He tells
us that the Omani “Fast Sword Brigade“ is based here, and these are amongst the country’s best fighting troops. I trust they’ve got a bit more than a few fast swords to defend themselves if a hostile neighbour decides to attack. He says that their training regime is brutal. One of the first things they have to do when they first arrive is to hike from the check point we passed way down in the valley on the way here a few days ago, tens of kilometres up the mountain to their training camp. They have to do this carrying a full pack, and they‘re only given a single bottle of water. They’re also not allowed to use the road; they have to find their own way up through the wilderness. He tells us that quite a few of the recruits get lost and don’t make it back to the camp. I hope someone then goes looking for them, but Hayman doesn’t volunteer that information and I decide that it might be better not to ask.
We see some wild donkeys on the side of the road. Hayman says that these were brought here from Egypt, and the locals
now call them Egyptians. He tells us that he is from Egypt, and when he first arrived in Oman he was a bit taken aback when people started referring to him as a donkey. A donkey wanders casually across the road in the darkness in front of us. Hayman tells us that the penalty for running over a donkey is 5,000 Rials, which is close to twenty thousand Australian dollars. He says that if he had to chose between running over a donkey and running over a person, it would be cheaper to run over the person.
We stop at a street side stall in Saiq so we can sample the local skewered meat. It is delicious.
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