Ibri Fort - still don't know why we couldn't see this huge structure until we were right on it!
It was our last day
and we arose with serious feelings of regret.We had packed a lot into our six day introduction to Oman, but
everyone always made us feel so welcome that it would be difficult to
leave.There were two more sites we
wanted to explore before breaking for the border and we started by bouncing
around Ibri to locate the Ibri Fort.We
had no directions or address for the fort, just a vague idea where it was in
the city – the forts typically towered over everything so we figured cruising the
right neighborhood would permit us to catch a glimpse of the prize.
Fortunately John was
behind the wheel.
He has an uncanny
knack for ferreting this stuff out, and after I was ready to punt he exclaimed
“ah-ha” and there was the fort!The fort
looked inviting, but since today was Mohammed’s Birthday we had back-to-back
days of closed forts.It was as massive
as we imagined and I’m still not sure why we couldn’t espy it before John
practically drove through it.Once again
there was an abandoned village abutting the fort, reinforcing the notion that
folks just up and leave as buildings grow derelict.
The final Omani
destination was an “official” abandoned village.Al Sulaif is a walled village on the fringes
of Ibri that was only abandoned twenty five years ago.Our guide book stated you might still find
some old timers hanging out at the old souk in Al Sulaif (probably wondering
why business was so bad, lol).
We did encounter
somebody, but it was Afeef (or something close to that), an Omani who was a
government employee and I guess provided free tours of the site.He showed us a card indicating his government
status and didn’t ask for money, but immediately launched into a tour of Al
Archway in Al Sulaif
Afeef pointed out many Arabic
inscriptions and had cleverly set up his cell phone so he could recall text
messages displaying the English translations.Though his English was not very good, he was very energetic and
accentuated his explanations with many gestures and frequent role playing.
When it got to be
11AM we informed Afeef that we had to go.He appeared sad and replied “five minutes”.Okay, we followed along and fifteen minutes
later reiterated our need to depart.“Two minutes” he replied.At this
point we started thinking that it must be pretty boring standing out in the sun
all day waiting for a random visitor to entertain (Ibri isn’t a hot spot – I
had to add the location to TravBuddy).When Afeef was reduced to exclaiming “one minute” we declined and
Our tour with Afeef
was a poignant conclusion.The people we
had interacted with in Oman
consistently went out of their way to assist you and I’ve never felt so
Al Sulaif was a treasure to ramble through...
We bade Afeef
farewell and gave him a small tip, the trip was done.
Only the drive back
to the UAE remained, and shortly we returned to the desert environment, leaving
the Hajar mountains behind.Our entry
back into the UAE would be via Al Ain this time and things had changed from six
years ago.After displaying passports at
a border post we were instructed to park and enter a nearby building.Here John and I received eye scans, although
Mark got exempted.The eye scan is part
of a program to identify aliens who have been expelled from the UAE and attempt
to get back in.It was an interesting
and painless procedure.
I’ll recap the last
few bits of the trip in the Dubai blog, since
our few remaining hours were spent in the UAE, but this is a good stopping
point to summarize thoughts around Oman.What a fascinating destination.We focused on a rather narrow swath of the
nation that left out Salalah, the BatinahCoast, the Wahiba Sands
and so much more.
Pottery at Al Sulaif
I’m glad we focused on
just a piece because I felt we really got to experience Muscat and the mountains with what little
time we had.
My key impressions
are that it is wonderfully receptive of visitors.Other Arabic countries are difficult for
female travelers, but I feel this is a haven in a notorious region.That said, despite coming away with the
impression that woman could travel here with far less hassle, what I read about
the progressive treatment of Omani woman was not evident.I don’t recall seeing many women walking
around unaccompanied by males (ostensibly their husband) and most were
veiled.Even though restaurants didn’t
have the segregated sections (a men’s section and a ‘family’ section where it
is women only or men with their female family members) typical of other Arabic
countries, there were never unaccompanied females at restaurants or
anywhere.Still a long way to go, but perhaps
a step ahead of the rest.
The most incredible
facet of Oman
was the wealth of interesting destinations.
Afeef extolling the virtues of Al Sulaif
We never grew weary of checking out another fort and there are hundreds
beyond the handful we visited.Natural
beauty also abounds.We scratched the
surface over our two days with Naseeb, but there are beautiful wadis and
amazing hikes around every corner.I am
hopeful this litany of our travels entices you for Oman is a fascinating experience.