Archives for the month of: December, 2014

We arrived into Calicut about 8pm on the 17th November and got a taxi from the prepaid service at the airport. It wasn’t really prepaid as the man gave us over to a driver and told us to pay him 500 rupees (about $10) for our half hour ride. Our taxi was an lovely old Ambassador car, no airconditioning and wind up windows. The”Raviz Kadavu” hotel was a much nicer hotel than where we had stayed previously so we had a good night’s sleep and then ventured with their driver to downtown Calicut to the local Vodafone office to get a sim card. In order to obtain one we had to provide a photocopy of Maurice’s passport, a photo of him and a letter from the yoga villa to state that we were staying there. They then check everything out before they give you access to the sim card which seems to take anything from three to ten days.

We had a delicious lunch with the driver at our usual”Metro Manor” hotel and then we had a more than usual hair raising drive up to the mountains with a crazy taxi driver who obviously had a death wish. We didn’t want to be part of that so Maurice shouted at him to be a bit more careful especially as the drive took nearly three hours.
The winding road up to Udayagiri which stands at about 1000 metres was being dug up for desperately needed road improvements
so we were transferred to a jeep to travel the last couple of kilometres.

It had been a year since we had been there and they had made many improvements to the villas and were building two more with
magnificent views down to the plain below. The plants and trees had grown considerably after a heavy monsoon season. It was
much cooler than at the same time last year and there was much haze and cloud and only a couple of decent sunrises. we needed
something warm to wear in the early morning and in the evening.
We were only six guests for the first few days – Bernard and Marie from Reunion island, Shoba from New Zealand and Ravilla from Russia. They were all lovely and we got on well. Once the couple from Reunion had left Reshma arrived from Mauritius. Guests usually stay for between 3-4 weeks depending on the treaments they receive.

The internet was unfortunately not working so I walked down to the next town a few kilometres away to find that their internet was also not working so I tramped back up the mountain, a wasted trip but very good exercise.
They did offer to take me to a town 20 minutes away so the next day I set off on foot for some exercise down the mountain and was collected on motorbike (no helmet for me) to the internet cafe which had fast internet access.
Three of us and the manager ventured one day down to Mananthavady a larger town 45 minutes away for a shopping expedition where we all managed to find some nice Indian style clothes to buy. On the way we saw a modern ambulance which had the words “oxygen” and underneath “freezer” written on the rear door. We wondered that if the oxygen didn’t work the freezer may take over?

Maurice had many mud all over treatments and poundings to reduce the calcification in his joints for his rheumatoid arthritis. Some may think it was hocus pocus but the natural treatments work for him and he doesn’t take any drugs which take their toll after a few years. I did the weight management programme (story of my life!) and it consisted as well as limited food to powder poundings and massage with medicated oil. Friends have asked us what we did all day but as most of the guests concur we didn’t have much down time and some of the treatments were rather taxing which left them feeling quite exhausted. A typical day was:

6.15am Pooja (ceremony)
7am Yoga for an hour and a half
9am breakfast
Treatments which are staggered from 9.30am onwards which take 1-1 1/2 hours
1pm Lunch
2.30pm Walk 1 1/2 hours
4.30pm Yoga 1-1 1 1/4 hours
6pm Dinner
7.15pm Pooja
After treatments, walk and yoga we usually are in bed by 8.30pm

Maurice and I didn’t attend the pooja sessions but managed most of the other yoga sessions. The staff were very obliging and caring and were a happy group group of people who looked after us well.

Ravilla and I went with the doctor, yoga master and manager down to the other Ayurveda villa location one night to listen to the staff
singing some Malayalam folk songs. It was about 45minutes drive away and we drove through the Tholpetty wildlife reserve which encompasses hundreds of kilometres through the western Ghats.

We saw about six elephants on the way there and then after dinner and the performance we stopped to look at a couple more
elephants who had two babies. We were very quiet but one elephant obviously didn’t like us being quite so close (they were near the roadside) so trumpeted and started to run towards us. The driver took off quickly thank goodness. We then saw two groups of deer let by a stag with giant antlers. It was the most wildlife we had seen in our four years of visiting there.
There were tigers in the reserve but the closest we got to seeing one was some droppings at the top of the mountain behind the villas. They were distinguishable by the amount of hair therein similar to other cats.

The locals we met on our walks always smiled as we greeted them and the children always wanted to know “what our good names were”.

The three weeks went very quickly and Maurice had a lot of success with his treatment and I lost 6 1/2 kilos so was very
happy. Our Russian friend Ksenia arrived a couple of days before we departed and it was nice to see her again.
We were driven much more sedately back to Calicut to overnight there and then flew on Spicejet to Chennai on the 11th December.

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A german guide who had brought a group to the desert camp suggested we take the coastal highway, a much more interesting drive than the flat uninteresting interior highway to Salalah on the south coast. He also advised us to stop at “Jaalan Bani Bu Ali” to see the oldest Omani mosque with it’s 50 domes.
On the way we found our way to one of the major tourist attactions of “Wadi Bani Khalid” but got a bit lost (lack of road signs) and we had to cross a pebbly riverbed with water flowing across it. We managed that and found the large and beautiful oasis with it’s water channels and pools.
A lot of people apparently swim there but it didn’t look that inviting although the water flowing in other parts of the wadi looked much fresher.
We had tried several times asking Indians or Bangladeshis for directions but they really had little knowledge of the country which was understandable as they worked in one spot and never travelled around the country. We therefore stopped at a service station in Jaalan Bani Bu Ali and asked an Omani who was getting into his car for directions to the old mosque.
He was a lovely friendly fellow who immediately said to follow him. “Kamis” took us on an hour’s tour of the old part of the town which was in a state of decay and gave us explanations of where the old market used to be and how people used to live. We followed him into old crumbling mud buildings making our way over broken walls with ceilings that had partly fallen in and he showed us several old mosques which had been partly destroyed over time.

The old mosque with it’s 50 domes had been restored and was being used for 12 o’clock prayers so we couldn’t see inside.

Kamis worked for Halliburton and his job was in the desert working two weeks on and two weeks off.
He showed us pictures of his four children on his latest galaxy phone and we gave him four of the little koala bears that our friend Helen had brought us. He would have taken us to meet his parents but we were in a bit of a hurry to get to Haima before dark. It was a shame as it would have been nice to meet them and see a local house. He made a stop and bought us a typical Oman sticky dessert made with dates. It was lovely to experience his Omani hospitality and we thanked him profusely. He gave us his phone number and said is we ever needed help to call him and if he wasn’t available he would get a friend to help us.

We made out way down to the coast and it was nice to be by the sea again. We passed several Bedouin dwellings and small fishing villages along the way and the scenery changed from sand with tufts of grass and bushes to undulating sandunes and then to very flat desert with a few scattered camels and goats. We got to Haima at six o’clock about half an hour after sunset and as luck would have it our hotel just happened to be next to service station where we stopped to ask directions.
We went into town after checking in to the “Arabian Oryx hotel” and went to the small restaurant which had been recommended by the hotel and had some good Indian vegetarian food for $6 total.

We continued the following day on to Salalah which lies on the Arabian sea in the very south of Oman. It is not too far from the Yemeni border.

It was five days before we saw our first camel and the only other wildlife we saw until then were two beautifully coloured birds. We just had to watch driving too fast in places as there were goats, donkeys or sheep wanderinTg around. I had expected to see more camels in the desert at Wahiba Sands but apart from those penned for camel riding they were few and far between. There was an area to see flamingoes but we didn’t find it. The Arabian oryx are found in a nature reserve but tourists are not allowed into the reserve for some reason.
We always seemed to manage to get one fly in the car but otherwise there were no other flies or mosquitos around.
We did see a shop sign promoting “eradication of insects, rodents and insulation” so there must have been some about.

On certain stretches of highway were the humps in the road and most had lost their markings which made it interesting when we happened not to see one to be catapulted into the air.
There was also virtually no rubbish around and we saw the reason for this many times with the migrant workers walking along deserted streches of the highway collecting rubbish in large black plastic bags which were then placed beside the highways for collection. It was a harsh job for them as well as all the road and contruction workers who worked outside.

We couldn’t believe that the internet worked so well(we had bought an Omani sim card for five riyals) in the mountainous areas and in the middle of the desert and we had coverage most of the time even during the sand storm and rain.
In many of the coutries we had visited we were given many reasons for it not working well – the weather, the distances, the valleys, the mountains but in Oman this didn’t seem to count at all. It did make us wonder.

We couldn’t be too particular with spelling when looking for a place or town. There seem to be up to three spellings for the one town or location. We travelled to Haima via “Mahout, Muhut and Mohut”, all the same place.
Dates were in abundance from small containers to large sacks and we bought 1/2 kilo for $4 to nibble on our long road trips.

The trip from Haima to Salalah was uneventful with two military road blocks to check documents and there was practically no traffic for the entire five hour trip. We supposed that the military posts and presence in this area was because of the close proximity to Yemen over the Dhofar mountains. We came over a hill and couldn’t believe the change in the scenery.
From desert and rugged mountains we came to a green landscape and the closer we came down to the coast in salalah there were groves of banana trees, coconut palms and fields of corn and many patches of lawn.

The only problem was once we got to nearer the city google maps took us on a merry go round and it didn’t help that our Safir “Salalah Gardens Residences” hotel was part of a large mall complex with virtually no signage outside and the entrance instead of being on the road given us,it was actually in a side street.
After driving around for an hour we finally located the place which was owned by the King of Kuwait. It was a very nice four star hotel with a lovely room with kitchenette and bathroom and it overlooked an enormous central courtyard with a fountain, palms and several seating areas. We had a delicious arabic meal with wonderful service at the “Annabi” restaurant across the courtyard and had a nice chat with it’s Egyptian chef who had only been there a week. The mall and outdoor areas were teeming with people, many women dressed in niqabs and burqas. There was a cachophony at one stage for a pre wedding celebration with men waving make believe swords,beating drums and awfully loud and ill sounding singing.

The Saudis apparently flock to Salalah in Summer to escape the heat. It is then only about 35 degrees there whereas inland it reaches over 50 degrees.

The 14th of November their National day saw most buildings flying the Omani flag and people were out late with small children still screaming around outside at 1am. Many Omanis spoke to us and welcomed us to their country and wanted to know from where we came and told us that it was a safe country and to drive carefully. Even in Muscat the guesthouse we stayed in didn’t lock it’s door and many Omanis don’t lock their cars. We had women in niqabs offer us directions and most people had ready smiles whether Omanis or Indians.

There were more camels in the south to avoid on the road and we found some even on the median strip of the highway near the city. The turquoise water all along the coastline looked very inviting but we were surprised that apart from the resort hotels in Salalah, there were many abandoned houses at the seaside with only the “Cafe de Paris” showing signs of life.
We had a couple of relaxing days and Maurice bought the latest Galaxy phone and a new carry on bag . We found the prices of white goods and clothing in particular to be very reasonable and food to buy was very cheap in places like the Lulu Hypermarket where we found some very tasty Australian mangoes and fresh mango juice. It was the largest store of it’s kind that we had found anywhere in Oman.

We had read that the archeological museum and museum of rankincense was open but when we arrived there the opening hours were nothing like those shown on the internet and was closed so we decided to take the longer coastal road via Taqah an old port town where the Queen of Sheba purportedly obtained her Frankincense. We were very glad that we took this route ad stopped to see the castle there which was one of the best representation of life as it was many years ago. It looked as though the family had just popped out. We saw a tree from which they obtain the resin to make Frankincense which is then formed into stone like pieces for the incense burners.

The drive further along the coast was spectacular with wonderful views around every corner. The turquoise Arabian sea looked beautiful as we passed many bays full of fishing boats, a large new housing development and camels being herded along the road as well as some just lazing on the beach. The surrounding mountain range of Dhofar and Jabal Samhan varied greatly in colour and form and were amamzing sights as we drove along the coastal highway.
There were large parking areas along the way where we could stop to take photos or have a break as we did. There were few cars on this road and very few trucks which was good as the road was very winding for many kilometres. We calculated that we would get back to Haima a couple of hours after dark to spend the night there before continuing the 500 odd kilometres back to Muscat so we turned inland and made our way on the secondary road back to Haima where there were only a few trucks working in the oil and gas fields which were vast on that stretch of road. It was the first time that I had seen the oil derricks at work.

The only scary part was after dark with me driving and there were no street lights but signs warning for deer and camels. Luckily we saw none, only a stray fox who started to cross the road and thought better of it. It had taken us all day to get to Haima via the coast but it was definately worth it for the views of the sea and the mountains and canyons along the way.

We got up early the next morning after staying once again in the “Arabian Oryx hotel” in Haima to break the long trip and we got a good start on the inland road back to Muscat. I drove for three hours to give Maurice a rest who had picked up a bug of some sort.
There was little traffic again, only worker’s trucks and vehicles. This Muscat/Salalah highway was the most boring of all the roads and highways we had taken with only desert everywhere and the excitement for the morning was finding a bend in the road. It reminded us of the Nullabor plain between Perth and Adelaide. The early morning had been cool 22 degrees and it gradually hotted up to 32 degrees with not a cloud in the sky.

We overnighted at Behlys again and drove to the airport at 8am to return the hire car, have a “Costa” coffee and depart on Emirates via Dubai to Calicut for the next leg of our journey. Oman was a fascinating country with such diverse and beautiful mountain and coastal areas and we will visit it again.

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We had a very pleasant arrival into Muscat by not having to pay $60 each for a visa on arrival because we had spent a week in Dubai. A tourist information counter right next to the baggage belts employed an older gentleman dressed in a typical Omani long tunic with snug fitting cap who couldn’t have been more helpful. We had been told that the Omanis were most welcoming and we experienced that on our first day there and indeed for the rest of our two weeks there. The man gave us an assortment of maps and took his time to advise us of the places we should visit in and around Oman. The car hire people at Europcar were also extremely efficient and friendly as well as the local “Omantel” company where we bought a sim card for internet and calls.
We hired a car for the two weeks as public transport was non existent and we wanted to drive over 1000 kilometres down
to Salalah which is not too far from Yemen.

Muscat was quite a contrast to Dubai and Oman in general is geographically vastly different from its UAE neighbour.
Dubai lies mostly on sand whereas Oman has a largely varied landscape with mountains of many shapes and colours to the north and west of Muscat and then another large mountain range in the south. The deserts of the interior vary in colour as well as
the sandunes to the south which ranged from white to almost orange. We covered a lot of the country and everywhere there were highways, roads, bridges and overpasses being built. There were also many newly finished offices and appartments throughout the country with some ornate two storey houses built in between older single storey houses. Some of the villages have remained as they were hundreds of years ago. There were very few high rise buildings and no skyscrapers to be seen and apparently Sultan Qaboos a revered ruler wanted to keep it that way.
There was much celebration for two nights with cars blowing their horns (not that they don’t normally) but this was excessive. The people were waving flags from their cars and sitting on their cars waving flags. We thought that Oman must have won a soccer match but it was in aid of their leader Sultan Qaboos Said al Said who had just addressed the nation from a hospital in Germany where he had undergone major surgery. Many Omanis are very patriotic with the country’s flag as well as the Sultan’s picture on cars,in shops and businesses as well as hanging from lamposts especially for the 14th November, Oman’s 44th National Day.

Our friends Marianne and Franz who worked in Muscat in the early seventies just after the city was opened to foreigners (previously ex pats lived in a compound and were not allowed into the city). They said that it was a fascinating place then. Every night the city gates were locked. They wouldn’t recognise the place now with all the construction that has gone on over the last 10-15years albeit low rise. They have spent an incredible amount on new
highways, overpasses and bridges and the work is still going on all over the country. The highways are superb and even the secondary roads are excellent. They have no tunnels and the highways have all been cut through the mountains.

In Oman the drivers don’t seem to speed quite as much as in Dubai where they only have one speed – flat out.
We were very pleased and greatly relieved when the brakes on our hire car worked very well so as to not slam into the car in front of us in peak hour traffic. There would only have been a couple of fingers between the cars.
We just happened to be in such traffic because we got lost and ended up in the mountains outside Muscat. We were trying to get back to our guesthouse in the suburbs but the internet stopped working and google maps therefore didn’t work. We were able to turn around after about 10 kilometes and made our way back in the dark to Al Seeb and the guesthouse where we stayed.
We had brought our Tom Tom to Dubai and wanted to download a map of Oman on our new device however Tom Tom advised us that it was only available on old Tom Toms which didn’t make sense to us.

“Behlys Guesthouse” which was more like a large suburban two storey brand new house with large rooms was conveniently located near the beach and opposite was a take away kebab shop, a “beuty saloon!” and a small supermarket. The landlord was a very pleasant Omani and it was run by a helpful German man, Oliver.
We found a quaint “coffee shop” which was really a small restaurant and not a coffee shop on the corniche along the seafront and which seemed to be popular after it had cooled down to about 26 degrees in the evening.
The shop had plastic tables and chairs outside facing the Sea of Oman and we enjoyed hoummos, arabic salad (so named),a plate of falafel and a vegetable korma with plenty of parathas and delicious large lemon and mint drinks for the princely sum of just under AUD9 or 2.8riyals.

Car hire and accommodation was quite expensive in some places especially the in the desert where some overnight stays were up to $600 a night and most comments were that one could pay a lot of money for accommodation and the standard not be what it should be. We were lucky in the places we chose which were midrange from $60 along the highway to $180 in the desert camp.
Our German landlord told us that it is only in the last 10 years that Oman has “taken off” as a tourist destination and is becoming ever more popular as one of the few Arab countries to still be peaceful and retain a lot of it’s culture and heritage. As there is no public transport most people either travel in a group or a few tourists hire a car as we did or a 4WD to be able to access some of the unsealed and steep mountain roads. He believed that it would never be an enormous tourist destination for backpackers due to the lack of public transport and the great distances.

It took a bit of getting used to converting the currency to our dollar. In the UAE 3 dirhams equals AUD1.00 however in Oman 1 riyal equals AUD3.00 so instead of dividing the currency we had to multiply it.

We decided on Oliver’s recommendation to head north to the town of Nakhal and we followed the coast road up to Barka. We headed into the local “Lulu Hypermarket” to buy a couple of beach towels for all of $4 each and then made our way inland through the impressive mountain range on the new highway to the Fort of Nakhal. We explored the fort which had wonderful views of the surrounding plain and the mountains. There wasn’t much to the town so we followed a winding road lined with date palms to “Ain Al Tharrawah” hot springs. The warm water gushed from the rocky side of a hill.
We lowered our feet into the water and small fish immediately started nibbling at them. I thought it a strange and tickly
sensation with some of the fish seemed vacuuming our feet.
I have seen this done in fish tanks in Bali but never felt keen on putting my feet into a tank where many other people had done the same but in this flowing water it seemed much more cleansing. As we were leaving a group of local women came down to do their laundry in the warm water.

The highways in the main were quite empty and the one to “Wadi Mistal” on the way to Nakhal had a sign which stated that the asphalt ran out after 300metres. We decided to give it a try and it must have been an old sign because it was a brand new highway through the mountains to the “Wadi”.

Every small town had mens and ladies tailoring shops, barbers and “coffee shops” and along the highway were many small contruction and engineering outifts and auto repair shops.
From Nakhal we took the inland road up to Rustaq Fort which had closed for the day so we made for the coast and back to the guesthouse. The “wadis” and groves of date palms were in such sharp contrast to the very stark surrounding mountainous areas as we drove to the north and west.

We started off on the 7th November at the very early hour of 6am so as to see the Friday livestock market at Nizwa,a two hour drive through the mountains to the west of Muscat. We were advised to leave early as the selling of the livestock finished before 11am. When we arrived at 8am the entire area around the market was already full of cars.

It was fascinating to see how the livestock market operated. Owners of goats, some calves and a few very strange looking sheep were paraded around in a circle with prospective buyers sitting on the inside of the circle and others standing on the outside. When someone wanted one of the animals, the customer stopped the owner and haggled with him until a price was settled upon and then the buyer took the rope and led the animal away. It wasn’t particularly noisy but there were many men watching the proceedings. Most women were the foreigners who had got up early as we had.
We moved along then to outside the neighbouring building where mostly boys were doing deals for pidgeons, chickens and birds.
At the back of the buildings a few men were selling vegetables and fruit and opposite in another building was the fruit and vegetable market which was very clean and tidy.
The “Souk” was in the same area, selling all sorts of daggers, silver, pottery and jewellery. We managed to find a western style “illy” coffee shop.
We saw an old man carrying a rifle and wondered where he was off to so we followed him to an outdoor area where rifles were being sold. Adjacent to this was the original “East Souk” where amongst other things special honey from wild bees was selling for about $180 for a litre.
We were going to come back to Nizwa the following day so we left for the two hour trip back to Muscat where we had our lunch
overlooking the sea of Oman and then went for a short walk along the beach which was clean and tidy but the sand was a grey colour and quite coarse. There were a lot of interesting coloured shells and stones near the water’s edge.
Wanting a non tourist place to eat that night we on a ecommendation went to the “Turkish Corner” restaurant where we
ate “Mutabel” a vegetable and cheese dip, tabbouleh, flat bread and a vegetarian pizza. The unsweetened lemon juice with mint was very tasty and it all came to a total of $12.

The Grand Mosque in Oman which is only open to the public until 11am and not on Fridays is a very impressive series of buildings with beautiful specially made carpets from Iran and exquisite chandeliers and carved sandstone. It is 20 years old and took 6 years to complete. Unlike the Catholic churches in Europe many of which charge an entrance fee, the mosques have free entry. On our way out we were invited to have a cup of tasty Omani coffee flavoured with cardamom and some dates. We were free to ask the attending well educated Omani women any questions about the mosque or islam and they had a large variety of free books on offer.

We were going to head into the “Muttrah Souk” to have a look around but a violent sand storm started and then torrential rain
as we were on our way so we changed our minds.
We instead headed west to Nizwa again. The highway had a lot of water lying about and some trees had been uprooted. We saw the result of two accidents along the way although people were driving at a lesser pace during the storm.
The “Al Karm hotel appartments” 15minutes from Nizwa town was a delightful find. It looked very stark fromt the outside but the appartment we had for about $100 a night had a sitting room, large bedroom, bathroom and kitchen with all the essentials. It was spotlessly clean and the staff were very friendly. There only appeared to be one other occupied room in the four storey building for the first couple of nights. There were not many restaurants in Nizwa so we opted for the “Lulu Hypermarket” which is part of a massive chain of enormous supermarkets found mainly in the middle east and in India. They have an extensive delicatessen section where we bought very good cooked Indian food and fresh salads to take back to the appartment.
The Nizwa mall had been open for four years however there were many shops still vacant. Maurice was in seventh heaven with all the watch shops, there were about six in a row. He ended up with a new Casio one which is linked to the atomic clock, accurate to one second in 100,000 years as well as phases of the moon, tides and much more.
About 200 metres away they were building a Grand Nizwa mall which was going to be even bigger and better. An enormous new mosque was also under construction as well as a large gateway building to Nizwa.

The Omanis on the whole are quite small in stature and the babies and toddlers are like dolls, they are so petite. The Omani women wear a variety of clothing from full niqabs to burqas and chadors and some wear western clothing and no headgear although this wasn’t a common sight.
They are polite and the atmosphere in the country is a friendly one. There are many Indians and Philippinos working in Oman. All need an Omani sponsor to work or run a business. All the taxis in Oman are owned and driven by Omanis unlike in Dubai where they are owned by Emiratis and driven mainly by Indians and pakistanis.

We made a leisurely start from Nizwa up to the town of Al Hamra and to Misfat A’Abeyeen a very old village which was like stepping back in time to see how the Omanis lived hundreds of years ago and continued to do so.
They had abundant water channelled down the hillside where banana, mango and other fruit trees were grew amongst the date palms. It was a very verdant oasis. A woman was washing the dishes in one of the channels and several branches of dates were drying in the sun on a rock in front of her house. We didn’t spend long there as it felt as though we were intruding on their village life and we only saw one old man on the street.

We left and drove to Bahla to see the fort which is shown as an historical destination. It was very large and most of it looked as though it had just been completed. It had been totally reconstructed but it had no placards or information in the many rooms apart from a sheet we were given on entry giving a brief history of the fort. There were no artifacts or any kind of furniture in the buildings which gave it a very sterile atmosphere.
The Nakhal, Nizwa forts and the Taqah castle in particular had a much more authentic flavour with artifacts, furniture and explanations of the ses of all the rooms.
We took a different route back in the late afternoon to Nizwa, had a much needed coffee and after a quick visit to the hypermarket for some salads,headed back to the hotel.

Some Omanis especially the young ones had some English but not many had a good enough command for a discussion.
We saw a few guides with tourists with some speaking French, German or Italian as well as English.

We left Nizwa at 7.30am and make our way to Sur on the northeast coast on the sea of Oman. We stopped at Ibra along the way for me to see the “ladies souk” (men not allowed) which had a gaudy array of long dresses and children’s clothing. I had to persuade an older Omani lady that I didn’t want to buy one of the dresses but was just looking at them.

Sur is a coastal port and we drove around the seafront which forms a circular route around the town. An old seafaring dhow had been restored and was on display as well as some seafaring ones in the harbour. There were some nice gazebos on the beach but we had our lunch in the car as there was no seating in any of them.

We drove nearly two hours doubling back to our meeting point at “Al Wasil” at the office of the “Desert Retreat Camp” where we were to spend the night. When I booked the one night they omitted to tell me that a 4WD was needed and that they would take us the 20 kms to the camp and back for 20riyals ($75) which we thought was very excessive given that a full tank of petrol only cost us 6.5riyals ($20). We had read previously that the desert stays were expensive. Ours was $180 and which was one of the more reasonably priced camps. As luck would have it we met an Australian young man and his Russian wife waiting for the office to open and they kindly offered to take us in their 4WD which we gratefully accepted. Our 2WD would have easily made the trip but they do not allow us to take it into the desert.

We left with several others in convoy and arrived at the camp. It was in a lovely setting in a valley with tall brown/orange sandunes on either side. We stayed in a very sturdy tent made from goat hair and the gaps were mostly covered by netting to keep out the mosquitos.Luckily there were none. There were about fifty tents in total.
We could have taken the option of a camel ride or dune bashing but having done the former we opted to just relax in the bedouin style tent and have coffee and dates.
I did venture almost to the top of a steep dune to take some pictures of the sunset and it was hard work as the sand was very soft and it was very easy to make no headway slipping back with each footstep.

The owner or manager was an Omani but the two workers were a Bangladeshi and an Indian from Delhi and they prepared a delicious meal of chicken curry, vegetables, rice, hoummos, crunchy salad and flat bread. The beds were good and we had a shared bathroom which was spotless. No hot water unfortunately and the drain in the floor tended to flood the place when you turned the tap on in the basin.
The generator was turned off at 9pm and it was lovely to just stare into the night sky and see so many stars (like in
the outback of Australia). I got up at 2.30am and the moonlight lit the whole campsite. In the morning following breakfast of Boiled eggs, “foul” beans and cucumber sandwiches (a strange combination) the young couple took us back to the office on the main road and we set off for the long drive down to Haima on the coast road (half way between Muscat and Salalah).

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It was a pleasure landing at the new airport in Doha for our couple of hours transit to Dubai. Alan kindly picked us up at midnight from Dubai airport. Qatar via Doha had a schedule change which got us in after 11pm but it was half the price of flying Emirates from Rome.
I had had a bad head cold for ten days and it was almost gone when it came back with a vengeance leaving me in bed for 2days and I could only manage a walk down to the beach and to the Mall by taxi a couple of times during our week there.
In the six months since we had been in Dubai there had been major new building projects with new appartment buildings and shops springing up all over the city.
Dubai is undertaking the largest shopping “Mall of the World” which they say will be bigger and better than any of the hundred other malls already there!

Alan knows all the good and very reasonable places to eat or from where to get take away. We usually opt for Indian fare or Arabic food which we love and his lovely daughter Samantha came to see us all while we were there.
I do feel sorry for the poor Indian workers who work from 6am to 4pm six days a week in the blazing sun but for them they can earn more money than at home and make a difference to their families back home.
Their transport buses have no windows however the local buses are air conditioned as well as the bus shelters which is something as none of the locals use the bus. They all have large 4WDs or fast sports cars.

We travelled on the 5th November to Muscat flying Emirates. The plane was a great distance from the terminal and we were taken by bus after a very lengthy walk. The flight only took 40minutes and they even managed to give us a simple breakfast and serve coffee.

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