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Published: February 11th 2006
Don't get lost, you may never be found.
"How much to Mutrah?"
"No not yet, I wait"
Much haggling is futile as this man would still not take me without a full taxi. No other taxi's were driving past so it looks like I was stuck. Getting around Muscat isn't as easy as I had heard. Taxi's are seemingly readily available but are willing to exploit tourists. Buses don't seem to run anywhere but to and from towns and cities. The hot arabian sun makes me swealter and there is no shady refuge in sight.
A man wanders across the road and he converses with the taxi driver. He turns to me...
"You want to go to Mutrah?"
"Ahh, Corniche. Yes come"
This man motions me to follow him through the streets of Ruwi.
Ruwi is the "transportation hub" of Muscat but without taxi's or private transport, walking would be the only way. Not desirable considering Muscat is not a built up city, more of a sprawling metropolis.
As we walked, he asked me where I am from and what I was doing in Oman. He seemed to take great interest in Australia and asked all about it. We approach a small group of
The gorgeous town of Nizwa
As seen from atop the Nizwa Fort
taxi drivers shading themsleves by the limited trees and refreshing themselves with a small juice stand. It almost looked like a group of cattle doing thier best to keep themselves comfortable. The man asked around the group. The only words I could make out were Corniche, salam and shukran. A few minutes pass and the man motions me into a taxi.
"Yes, you go with him"
"To Corniche, Mutrah?"
"So how much?"
"No it's OK he is a friend of mine"
I was on my way to Mutrah and had no idea what had just happened. I guess I don't pay him I just pay the driver. The taxi driver dropped me off, I got out and before I could pull out my wallet, he was gone.
This man had saw I needed help and went out of his way to organise a ride for me. I have become accustomed, when travelling, to look at locals trying to sell me something or help me, with suspicion. What do they want out of it. I guess its fair to say I don't trust anyone. This is the only place I have been embraced and welcomed so genuinely by
the locals. Other places have had friendly locals but this is different somehow. My belief is that it is something to do with the religion.
Muslims in the arabian states like Oman have a relaxed way of life. Muslims hold a high value of family and hospitality. Politeness and general civilities are a strong part of everyday life which differs to that in the west. All in all I find it quite a oxymoronic place. I am sort of sick of being stared at EVERYWHERE I walk and I know that I am being laughed at and ridiculed but when I am in need of someones services or request help it is given or carried out in the most exceptional fashion. In short I feel like a pariah but warmly accepted.
My last night in Muscat was spent wandering the Mutrah souk. For an hour I wandered, taking in the chaotic pase of middle eastern sales and the antics of the salesmen. I smelt the combination of food, sheesha (fruit flavoured tobacco) and frankincense (a long story attached but esentially like incense). I gazed the usual toys and shirts but also some very good quality antiques and crafts.
Many women come here to purchase a new abeyya (black silk rode) and the there are no shortage of dishdashas (a white shirt-dress) for the men. There is also an extensive section of shops that don't fit in. The are high quality shops like you would see in a shopping centre and they sell gold. Gold jewelry mainly but I hear that there is almost nothing you can't get either made from gold or gold plated. If they don't have it, they'll make it. After an hour I finally found my way out. It's more akin to an ants nest than a shopping area but it was fun anyways.
I rise with the early morning prayers (as there is little other choice) and make my way to the bus station. I meet a girl called Gwen. She is french, from South Africa but has been living in England... or something like that. She is a tour guide, so moves around a lot and doesn't stay in one place long. We get on the bus and make our way through the the desert to Nizwa. The scenery is quite similar to that of the desert in Arizona but minus the
The main reason I was eager to get to Nizwa was the Nizwa Fort. Make no mistake, seeing a fort in Oman is about as surprising as seeing a temple in Laos, but this is one of the best, or so they say.
I am dropped off at the bus station in this gorgeous little town and Gwen rushes off to take care of some research she has to do before here group arrives in a few days. I am left with all my bags and in need of a hotel. At least here, being an oasis town, there are plenty of palm trees to shade under. I finally decide on the cheapest hotel in "the bible" and solicit a taxi to the Tanuf Residency. Unfortunately, for some reason, not one hotel is in the town centre, they are all about 4km away in the directon I had just come. So after parting with 1.5 rial, I arrive at the far from impressive Tanuf Residency. My room is facing the noisy road and my bed is broken. There is no toilet paper, no towels and 1 sheet on the bed. It also had a strange odour that
Just on the other side of the Nizwa Fort
I care not inquire as to the source of. 10 a night is the cheapest I can find and it proves correct the adage that you get what you pay for.
My trip back into town was very exhausting. It is very easy to select from the wide range of taxi drivers to get out of town but to get back in is, well, not as easy. I figure there is no point waiting for a ride so I begin to walk. Knowing that there is 4.5kms of road ahead of me, I "double-time" it. At the hottest part of day carrying a back pack and having just run out of water makes it hard slogging. The constant rejection of every taxi that rolls past makes the walk almost unbearable. After an exhausting 2km I finally strike it lucky when a taxi driver stops. 100 baizas get me into town (so cheap due to the sharing with 3 other locals)
I am here. Nizwa. This town is unlike any I have been to. The buildings are all traditional Omani architecture, there are palm trees everywhere and the souk around the fort is phenomenal. All walls are seemingly made
from mudbrick and rendered. They also take on the shape of a fort themselves. On the outskirts of the souk are the old original mud brick houses that still stand to this day. At the the centre of it all is the Nizwa Fort. Built in the 17th century, but kept very well restored (Most forts and castles around the country are. It is part of the charm of this country that takes such pride in its history and goes to great lengths to retain it) 500 Baizas gets me a ticket and I begin to walk around this amazing place. At the centre of the fort is the enormous round tower. I climb to the top and get a fantastic view of the whole town. From the surrounding buildings encircled by palm trees and extends right out to the harsh desert Hajar Mountains, which are some of the highest in the country.
After my small taste of history, it strikes 1pm and everything shuts. One small restaurant is open and I kick back and relax with a shwarma sandwich (sort of a small kebab) and a mixed fruit cocktail which was absolutely lush and my new favourite addiction.
I had little else to do at that point so decided to price a taxi out to the Jabrin Castle. I ran into Gwen, told her my plans and she decided to come with. We got the driver down to 5 Rial and away we went. Screaming down the straight long road at 140km/h got us there in less than expected time.
Rising out of the desert, without rivalry, is the Jabrin Castle (or Jabreen, Garbin, Jarbrin etc... there seem to be about 6 different spellings of it) It is not what you think of when you think of a castle but it is an impressive sight. We pay our 500 baizas and in we go. It is seemingly easy enough to get around untill you start to discover little rooms and trap doors. There is a myriad of little ways of defending its self from invaders such as little pipes that over the hang the exterior so boiling oil can be poured on would-be attackers. We spent a decent amount of time there before the heat was enough.
On the way back I managed to snap off a photo of the Bahla Fort, which seems to be
Old artifacts found on the interior
much larger than the Nizwa one.
Back in Nizwa, all was closed and quiet. With little else to do, Gwen and I shared stories over a few fruit cocktails. During this she mentioned to me a restaurant that she had booked for her group called the Bin Atique which serves traditional Omani food in the traditional style (aka sitting on a big rug on the floor, leaning on pillows against the wall) I figure I might as well eat something traditional since it seems to be hard to come across. We parted ways and later that night I sat in a small room by myself eating my traditional Omani meal in silence. I now know what she ment by "Maybe you shouldn't go there by yourself" The meal was good though.
After a rough sleep in the broken bed, I had arranged for a taxi to pick me up (There was no way I was repeating the last episode, especially when I have to catch a bus) The driver took a large amount of interest in me, my country and what I was doing in Oman.
"Do you have a wife?"
"No I don't"
"In Australia, how
Lay to waste
An old piece of cannon is left to the elements, Jabrin Castle.
much are woman?"
"How many are there you mean?"
"Yes" he replies with an unsure look on his face.
"Well there are more women than men so I would say around 10.5 - 11 million"
"Ahh yes here they are 4000 - 5000"
"Only that many?"
"Yes but if they can do more like make things than they cost more"
"AHHHH, You mean how much do they cost in Australia?"
After our miss understanding he was almost awe struck to discover that wives are free (Some people may dispute that but it is a different argument) He also was dumbfounded that women have just as many rights as men such as allowed to drive cars by them selves, work to earn a living, they own business' and he nearly ran off the road when he found out that the leader of New Zealand is a woman. Lives clearly vary across the world and this was a classic example.
Once back in Muscat I priced a trip out to Wadi Shab which is apparently the most beautiful locations in Oman. The cheapest possible price I could get was 90 Rial which is somewhere in the vacinity of A$400. All
I got for that was a trip there and back and only a couple of hours at the Wadi. I am still amazed about how much they are pushing tourism in Oman but dissuade people with such exorbitant prices. I guess it goes along with the juxtaposition of the whole country.
I am currently in fast paced, chaotic and flashy Dubai. Looking back on my trip to Oman, it has been a special experience. On first look, Oman was something of an unknown arabian state that is probably best left to itself. When I told people is was going to Oman, the responce was either "Huh? Where?" or "Why? What is to see there?" To be honest I am not really sure I chose Oman to travel aside from the fact that it is a short bus trip from Dubai. I guess I set myself a challege. To venture into a place I know very little about and discover it for what it is rather than go there for a sight seeing tour. It has possibly been the best travelling decision I have made.
The country is safe. Strict penalties mean the crime rate is low and petty
A centre court yard in Jabrin Castle
theft is pretty much non existant. This point was proven when Gwen left her Lonely Planet on a table and it was still there several hours later. Terrorism seems a world away as I'm sure terrorists have better things to do than cause havoc in place such as this.
The people lead a peaceful, happy existance. They make thier way and pray to Allah. The religion is stabilty in an unstable world. They may seem unwelcoming at first but if you make a small effort to learn a little arabic, respect thier customs and learn a little history, then you will be rewarded with mutual respect and unparalleled hospitality.
The scenery is fabulous, the architecture is amazing (construction laws require a small reflection of traditional aspects in buildings) and it is relatively untouched by tourism and the western world.
Lonely Planet says it best:
Oman is not an easy destination, particularly if your alone, on a tight budget and solely reliant on public transport, but this safe and peaceful country is sure to reward the extra effort
It most definately has.
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