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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