February 22nd, 2004 – by: vances
On the dhow with Mohammed...and please note he is steering with his foot!
We pushed on to the Oman border and the towering Harrar Mountains came into view through the haze. Absolutely nothing but pure rock, these monsters shoot straight up from the desert floor. We passed through, what Mark tells me, is the world’s largest concrete manufacturing facility (ideally located given the massive Dubai projects). And I believe him. As we drove by the enormous complex, a myriad conveyors criss-crossed the roadway (about 20’ high) hauling materials back & forth. Funny sidebar here is that they actually have to import sand to make the concrete --- the tons present on Emirati deserts are too smooth and concrete requires a coarser grain!
Wee bit of commentary on sights thus far.
Plenty of camels spotted roaming about (and I really hadn’t anticipated seeing so many) in addition to even more numerous goats. Saw the Persian Gulf, a beautiful sparkling blue accented by green streaks. And finally, ‘old timey’ bill boards, including the likes of Bim, the Michelin Tire Man…feels like I have been transported back to the 1950’s and I was half expecting to see a Burma Shave sign.
Mark witnesses the utter desolation that is Musandam
We entered the mountains while still in Ras-Al-Kaymah, but declined to detour and inspect an incredible hike called “Stairway to Heaven” - a 6,000’ ascent which looks astonishing from the pictures. Estimated hike time was 12 hours, and we clearly needed some gear, but we considered sneaking up the trail a little to get a flavor. However, uncertainty over whether I could get into Oman prevented this: we figured this would be a something to do should I get denied entry.
Which way is Mecca? Our hotel room in Oman had a sticker guiding which direction to face during prayer.
But we weren’t. They apparently relaxed the rules dramatically last summer and we just had to complete paperwork & pay fees at two checkpoints. First was to exit the UAE (40 Dhirams each, about $11 US) and next, entering Oman (3 Riyals for me, 1 for Mark…one Riyal = $3 US).
We were on one of the only two paved roads in the Musandam peninsula of Oman, this one wrapping tightly to the shore at the foot of the mountains. The road went up & down steep inclines with violent switchbacks…glad Mark was driving! We passed several small enclaves along the 25 miles and eventually arrived at our hotel, the Golden Tulip Resort.
Roadstop stop at a fort along the coastal road in Oman. The entire landscape is nothing but the towering Harrar mountains...
The Golden Tulip is a recently built affair, tacky but modern. A friendly staff greeted us warmly and assuaged any concerns over language barriers: when Mark asked our bellhop if it would be possible to book a dhow the next day, he frowned & shook his head, but smiled and acknowledged once we substituted “boat” for “dhow”! Further discussion revealed he had just transplanted here from Muscat ---> don’t they have dhows there???
Next we drove into town and at the Khasab Fort Mark noticed a woman who works with Samia occasionally (she is responsible for all fort restoration in Oman and is an Anglo).
He couldn’t recall her name, so we pushed on and snaked through the roads of Khasab. This was very endearing with kids running around everywhere (it was 4PM and school was out), all smiling and waving at us. We ran into a dead end at one point, so Mark had to slowly pull a u-turn in a tight alley. Two Omani men wearing dishdasha’s came along as we were in the middle of the slow turn and their appearance to me was somewhat menacing. However, since they had to squeeze between the car and the wall to get past, they amiably introduced themselves (both actually insisted upon reaching through Mark’s window and across the front seat to shake my hand too), smiled and kept walking.
Shorelines along Musandam...
Exiting Khasab, we decided to scramble up a rocky slope just outside of town. A short ascent later we enjoyed a pleasant view of both Khasab and the Persian Gulf.
We startled several goats during our climb, but I’m happy to report there were no casualties…although it was somewhat frightening how quickly they scampered along the treacherous paths!
Our companions on the bow of the dhow...
Back at the Golden Tulip, we mellowed out and reveled in the incredible view from our hotel porch --- the Persian Gulf, framed on both sides by mountain ranges. Then we took a dip in the pool, but it was freezing cold (unfortunately it was in the shade of the hotel…probably a bonus during the torrid summertime, as Mark shared with me that pools in the summer here are more akin to saunas!). We quickly exited and retreated to our room, where we showered and went downstairs for dinner. And a lovely dinner it was: a buffet including falafel, salmon, baba ghannoujh, shrimp, squid and hamour (A Gulf whitefish)….delicious!
Mark & I subsequently retired to the “Private Bar,” which it truly was…the door to it was closed and we both thought it wasn’t open.
But when we cracked the door there was a splendid tavern appointed in classic British pub décor. In the US it would have received zero traffic, as I doubt my people would venture past a closed door labeled “private”…but glad we did!
Approaching Telegraph Island
We ended the evening in Oman with three rounds of bulls & cows on the dartboard…all three won by Mark. We were the exclusive owners of the establishment the entire evening and attempted to explain this pastime to our host. Rather intriguing since the scoreboard was obviously intended for the game we were playing, although it was a complete mystery to the barkeeper. Pretty sure our host got the gist before we retired…but also absolutely positive it will fade away since he has no one to share the pursuit with and reinforce the rules.