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Published: June 21st 2019
We get off our flight from Melbourne at Dubai just after dawn and transfer to another plane for the short flight across to Muscat. Visibility isn’t great, but the views from the plane of the rugged Omani mountains poking up through the haze are mesmerising.
The friendly young man in the seat next to us introduces himself as Ali. He tells us that he is from Pakistan, and he is travelling to Muscat to ply his trade as a silversmith. Issy asks him how old he is. He says that he thinks he is twenty, but he might be twenty one. I wonder how it’s possible for someone not to know how old they are. I then remember reading somewhere that it’s not unusual for Pakistani cricketers to burst onto the scene as teenager prodigies, only for it to be discovered later that it’s more likely that they are really in their twenties. Apparently birthdate record keeping is not a Pakistani strong suit. Surely parents must remember how old their children are, but then again maybe birthdays just aren’t a big thing in Pakistan. Ali takes the obligatory selfie with Issy and me and we bid our farewells.
The Muscat airport is very new and massive, but seems to be a bit short on planes and passengers. I think the airport’s planners must have been looking to a distant future of an order of magnitude more activity than seems to be going on here today.
We walk out of the airport into a wave of heat and humidity, and our glasses fog up so we can’t see where we’re going. Fortunately we manage to avoid walking in front of any buses.
We’d imagined Muscat to be a sleepy backwater, but the drive from the airport to the hotel suggests otherwise. Our taxi driver hares off at 120 km/h along an eight lane highway lined with office blocks, fancy car dealerships and manicured lawns and gardens. The city sits on a costal plane set against a backdrop of spectacular rugged mountains which are just visible through the steamy haze.
We spend the afternoon lazing by the hotel pool next to the beach. It is ridiculously hot and humid. The pool temperature is in the high twenties and not really all that cooling, so I wander down into the sea to see if that might provide a bit more relief. I should have known better. The sea’s like a hot bath, and the temperature must be somewhere close to the mid 30’s. I wander into deeper water to see if it’s any cooler there, but it’s the same. I remember the sea being ridiculously hot in Dubai when we were there previously, but that was in the relatively enclosed Persian Gulf. This is open ocean. How can it possibly be this hot?
It seems very peaceful here, but we’re finding it hard to forget news reports of The Donald and the Iranians getting a bit tetchy with each other recently. Apparently some oil tankers passing through the Gulf of Oman then got caught up in the crossfire and ended up a bit the worse for wear. We can’t see any missiles flying around offshore today, so hopefully The Donald can manage to keep his fingers away from the button, at least until we’re safely entrenched somewhere else. We’re planning to spend the last week of this trip in Hawaii, and The Donald was kind enough to grant us a US entry permit when we applied for one a few weeks ago. I hope he‘s got better things to do than monitor obscure travel blogs or he might have changed his mind by the time we get there.
I don’t think we needed the hotel compendium to tell us that nude and topless sunbathing are a no-no here in conservative Islamic Oman, but it did come as a bit of a surprise to learn that gentlemen are required to wear long pants and ladies to dress appropriately formally at the hotel’s only dinner restaurant. As we’re about to walk into the restaurant Issy suddenly remembers that she’s forgotten to put on a bra. There’s a worrying pattern developing here. We’d just about got off the plane in Muscat this morning when she told me that I needed to go back to our seats because she’d left her iPad behind, and her jumper’s still on the plane that we flew on from Melbourne to Dubai. I hope heat induced memory loss is reversible.
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