Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Oh Man! It’s Oman!

“This wasn’t a strange place,
it was a new one.”
--Paolo Coehlo


So it could be said of the Middle East. 

The Middle East: headlines volley terrorism vs. tourism. To visit or not to visit? We chose to go. Our cruise ship's itinerary sliced through this fascinating part of the world making stops at such far-away places that some we had to look up on maps before our departure. . .


As the ship arrived in Salalah, Sultanate of Oman on the 20th day of our cruise aboard Oceania’s Nautica, the already intense sun was uncomfortably hot. It wasn’t yet 8 a.m.

Beyond the port, a sand-covered landscape stretched as far as we could see. With a pounding sun and outstretched vistas of sand – yes, we’d arrived in the Middle East. No doubt about it.

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Port of Salalah, Sultanate of Oman

But even Ol’ Man Sun wasn’t going to drive us from the railing as we eased into our berth tucked into the industrial port of this, the second largest city in the Sultanate.  We’d glided past enormous freighters and tied up next to a most interesting commercial ship.

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We were in the Middle East - no doubt about it
Âs the photo of our navigational map above shows, we’d arrived in the Sultanate of Oman, a country on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west, and Yemen (yes, the one that war planes have been bombing since right before our cruise began) in the southwest. Salala was very close to the border between the two countries.

YangontoSafaga2015 402We’d not done much research prior to the cruise about this port of call (other than to find it on a map) and many on the ship who’d sailed in the area before said they preferred the Sultanate’s capital city of Muscat to Salalah.

However, it was our portal - our introduction - to the Middle East portion of this 34-day cruise from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey. It was a sun-baked memorable one.

I wrote earlier of heat along our route that ‘melted makeup’; the heat here wilted humans. So intense was the sun that it whitewashed the scenes – it felt as if you were looking at life-sized faded photographs. It hurt, literally hurt, the skin to stand or pause in the direct sun. As we explored the town, our steps were measured and slow, we’d drank bottles of water that we’d brought with us from the ship.


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A stark landscape greeted us in Salalah, Sultanate of Oman
While it may not have been a favorite stop, it will likely  be one of those places we remember for a long time as being such a stark, different world from the one we know.

“Except for those who travel to remote Middle East locales, the country has seldom been in the public eye other than for the use of its military bases by U.S. forces in recent years. American and British bombing raids were launched in 1991 from Oman against Iraq in the Gulf War. A decade later, U.S. forces stationed there were involved in raids against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden.”
                                                                                           -----from omansultanate.com/history.htm


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Bowls of frankincense for sale in the Salalah Souk
Along with another couple from the ship, we negotiated the price of a cab into the city and set off on our own to explore the town’s souk, (market area), where smoke from burning frankincense – sold, it seemed, by every vendor – blanketed us in an intoxicating  haze.

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Kummahs added color in the Souk
Vendors offered scarves, shoe repair, incense,  Khanjar knives, which look like curved daggers and are worn with ceremonial dress.   Islamic skull caps, kummahs, worn by men in Oman are distinctive for their colorful embroidery which made for colorful displays. 

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A cat in Salalah' Souk
The poor, bedraggled cat pictured above ventured out into one of the souk’s walkways as we approached. (Forlorn cats are drawn to us cat lovers – no matter where we are in the world.)  I had just taken this photo when one of the vendors kicked this forlorn little creature – more than once – to get it away.  I might add it took all the restraint I could muster not to cause a cultural clash right there and then!

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Our taxi driver at the Mosque in Salalah, Sultanate of Oman

Our taxi driver spoke only a few words of English – but enough to suggest an itinerary which included a visit to the mosque before it closed for afternoon prayer. It sounded good to the four of us.

Our driver, like the shop vendors we’d seen, wore long-sleeved, white, ankle-length collarless robes that buttoned at the neck, called dishdashas. With the sun’s intensity, I’d have traded my clinging  light-weight travel pants and top for one in a second!

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My travel look at the Mosque in Salalah, Sultanate of Oman

As it was I needed to add a layer, to enter the mosque. We removed our shoes and we women had to cover both our heads and our arms; all of us - men and women - had to have our ankles covered.

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The Qu'ran shown by our taxi driver - Salalah, Sultanate of Oman

We marveled at the size and the beauty of the interior.  We remarked on a set of beautifully bound books - the Qu’ran, it turned out – at which we could look but not touch. We later learned from the Middle East lecturer aboard our ship that we were precluded from touching the book  because we may have been ‘unwashed’.  Our rather shy driver, showed us the volumes (he had washed, I guess) and encouraged by our questions about the text, proudly recited from memory the passage he held open to us. 

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Entry to Salalah's Museum - Sultanate of Oman
We’d booked a four-hour taxi tour which allowed us enough time for a stop at the city’s Museum which provided an excellent view into the areas history -  not to mention an introduction to the ‘frankincense tree’.

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Source of Frankincense 

Since childhood we’ve been told that  the gifts of the Magi to baby Jesus were gold, myrrh and frankincense. . .somehow, I’d never questioned what those gifts actually were.  Frankincense is derived from a French word meaning ‘pure incense’ and comes from the sap of the Boswellia tree, of which there are 20 varieties.

We headed back to the ship and not far from the port, our driver pointed to a road branching off the one on which we were traveling, and said, “Yemen”. 

No thanks, we laughingly responded.

Oman had been interesting enough.

Again we thank you for your time and interest in our travel tales.  Until we meet again, happy and safe travels to you and yours ~

Follow these links for more travel and lifestyle tales:
Travel Photo Thursday 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration     
Mosaic Monday     
Mersad's Through My Lens
Photo Friday     
Wordless Wednesday

32 comments:

  1. Love this post and am glad you went there for us.

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  2. What an interesting place to visit. It reminds me of parts of Albania. It felt so foreign and strange, not a place I felt comfortable in, but definitely a place that fascinated me. :-)

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  3. Such an apt description -- while we weren't comfortable, we were not uncomfortable. It was just so incredibly different and we are so glad we stretched ourselves to experience it! Thanks for stopping by --- hugs, J.

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  4. That cat looks like one unhappy critter! Such wonderful photos of your trip!
    Thanks for sharing at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/02/abstractions.html

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    1. That poor cat would have been scooped up by me and fed and petted and snuggled back onto the cruise ship but sadly, the vendor's foot got to him before I did!

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  5. Hi Jackie,

    What a whirlwind of a tour! You and Joel always manage to get so much done, see the most important sights, and experience many of the wonders of each of your magical destinations! The heat sounds very scary, hot, and unbearable - it makes Greece seem like the Arctic of the East!

    Thanks for sharing; enjoyed the tour!

    Big hugs,
    Poppy

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    1. It really was hot - and yes, it did make that blistering summer sun of Greece pale in comparison! Thanks for stopping by, Poppy! Loved your last post~

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  6. Absolutely fascinating glimpse into a place I know nearly nothing about. That poor cat! We used to have cats, and whenever we travel the local cats always seem to find us.

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    1. I find that I subconsciously just a country by its treatment of animals - you can imagine where Oman falls on that 'like-O-meter'! Maybe I'll have to go back one day and see if I misjudged them based on this one incident. (I fear not).

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  7. A great glimpse into a country that sounds both exotic and utterly foreign. So glad you included the pic and info about the frankincense. Don't you love those "Aha" moments in travel when you finally see something you've only read about before?

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    1. I do love those moments, Anita. Not only did I buy some of the crystals as shown in the photo, the museum was selling it as a woman's fragrance so when I want to bring back Middle East memories, I wear my rather exotic scent!

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  8. Your blog post has been fascinating to read and see your images of your travels. It is a part of the world I probably won't ever see, so thank you so much for taking us there. I look forward to your next post. Happy travels.

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    1. Jill, so glad you are enjoying this adventure - I'd love to repeat it one day!

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  9. I think I understand the heat you are talking about. When I visited Egypt, I was like one hundred and twenty something degrees. I felt like I was going to faint several times. Oman looks interesting and beautiful. I would like to have a taste of it too.

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    1. Oh Ruth when we went to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt the heat actually hurt! I understand why they wear the robes and headgear now - I was wishing that I had a similar non-binding outfit! Thanks for the visit -

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  10. Wow you set the scene well. I can imagine the sun white-washing the day and your skin hurting from the suns rays. Good to know where frankincense comes from! The white dishdashers look cool don't they?

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    1. It was hot, Jan, such a heat we'd never experienced before - all the ladies on the cruise ship were scrambling to find and buy lightweight cotton tops and pants - anything synthetic just about killed us! Thanks for the visit today

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  11. I can feel the heat! We do attract cats as well. Loving your travels.

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    1. Glad you are enjoying our adventures in the Middle East as I have a few more tales to tell you about them!

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  12. I knew that frankincense is an incense or aromatic, but I didn't know that it was derived from tree sap. I like the beautiful minaret on that mosque. When I visited a mosque, our guide demonstrated the rather elaborate washing ritual that he has to go through multiple times a day before prayers.

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    1. Since our 'guide' was the taxi driver with limited English, we didn't see the washing ritual (we have in Turkey) and we were racing to get to and through the mosque before it was closed for prayer. Fun all the same!

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  13. Oh my, a sun so hot like that must have been hard for fair skin. Interesting culture and so sad to see the poor cat. It's heart breaking to see how differently cats and dogs are viewed in other countries.

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    1. Yes, it was a painful sun - an amazing sensation however and one that will be long remembered!

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  14. How fascinating! I'm glad you experienced it. It's too near to Somalia and the Yemen for my liking (having traversed this region as a passenger on a container ship, I'm aware of the dangers around the Gulf of Aden). But I'm glad your experience was a rich one.

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    1. You may have missed my post, but we did do pirate drills aboard the ship prior to arriving in the Gulf of Aden. It was really remarkably uneventful. . .

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  15. Glad you got at least a nice brief taste of Oman. I now from several overlanders that the interior of Oman is supposed to be really beautiful. Everybody praises the locals as extremely friendly and helpful.

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    1. Yes, we would have loved to have explored it more and have considered returning to do just that! Way to interesting to not visit again. Thanks Juergen for stopping by.

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  16. This is a really interesting travel post. I think most people would shy away from visiting, even though Oman is a safe place. I think your images show the beauty of the different culture and religion. Thank you for linking in with "Through My Lens".

    Mersad
    Mersad Donko Photography

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    1. Thanks Mersad - it really is sad when a country finds itself surrounded by or bordering on other country's that are undergoing some sort of upheaval - terrorist or political - it is almost like guilt by association; no one visits because it is 'so close to. . .' thanks, as always for hosting the link up!

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  17. What a wonderful glimpse into Oman. So many places to see in the world. I've been to the Middle East but not to Oman. The heat certainly can be oppressive beyond belief but the people I've met have been hospitable and happy to share stories. Thanks for going and sharing your story of Oman.

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  18. What an incredible place to have had the opportunity to visit! It's all so beautiful and you've captured it so nicely. Thank you for sharing it with us at Photo Friday!

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