After fits and starts, we are in Muscat tonight.Stayed at Markâ€™s place in Sharjah last night and after breakfast we loaded his Explorer up and headed back to Dubai to retrieve John.Traffic was wicked and twenty five minutes into it Mark realized he left his passport back home!Our early start was not to be, though the hour-and-a-half delay would yield a benefit.
Being as we dropped John off remotely last night we never had a chance to gather the books he had brought along for Samia and she was disappointed there would be a weekâ€™s delay until we returned from Oman.Because Sunday is a regular workday in the Middle East, Samia had to be in Dubai and after we grabbed John we met her for lunch and passed along the reading material.Behind schedule, but with all of our duties fulfilled, it was off to Oman.
At last the real journey was underway and with Mark at the wheelwe steered out of Dubai and hellish traffic.We were entering Oman via Hatta, one of several possibilities.The amusing footnote about the Hatta route is that you drive through about fifteen kilometers of Oman without any need of a visa before re-entering the UAE and leaving once again, but through either countries border posts the second time.Apparently there is no exit off of the road passing through Oman the first time, so they donâ€™t bother.We were confused when John announced receiving a text message welcoming him into Oman but we hadnâ€™t hit Hatta yet.It was a good puzzle for the road and some map study permitted us to decipher the international mystery.
Unraveling this mystery was not the end of confusion, however.After stopping at the UAE border post you have to drive a stretch before connecting with the first Omani stop (I had only entered at Musandam before and all the stops for both countries were within fifty yards of each other).You only get your vehicle inspected at this first stop and if no contraband is detected, earn a ticket validating that fact.There are several other office buildings along the road here, but the building where you have to stop and get visas is another two kilometers down the road!
Once we stopped at the proper facility, obtaining tourist visas into Oman was straight forward.You have to fill out a form with real basic info (name, nationality, etc.) and then pay up.I recall that Mark paid a lot less than me when we entered Musandam in 2004 since he is a resident of the UAE, but we were only quoted 150 Dhirams for all three, so no idea what the breakout was.Interesting note was that the tourist visas for John and myself were good for thirty days, but Markâ€™s was only twenty eight?
Safely inside Oman, I assumed the driverâ€™s seat for the next 300 kilometers towards Muscat along the BatinahCoast.There are many attractions along this pathway, but the drive wasnâ€™t very interesting.The route stretches along the coastal flats a few miles inland, so you canâ€™t see the ocean or the mountains on the opposite side.Everything was lush and nicely landscaped, but fairly uniform.Iâ€™ve been on utterly dull drives where you roll on forever past barren wasteland and it wasnâ€™t that bad, but a bit of a letdown since we were keen to explore the many beautiful natural spots of Oman.The sole exception was the random sculptures adorning most of the roundabouts.Often very tasteful and arty, sometimes inscrutable and occasionally just plain nutty, these random works of art were always a diversion, lol.
Mark took over once again as we encroached on the Muscat metropolitan area, mainly because heâ€™s been here about five times before.I was sure glad he did because it was dark now and traffic was very thick.Had to dial up the hotel for some guidance to the promised land, but language barriers resulted in a few wrong turns.We persisted and eventually wound up at the Beach Hotel in QurumBeach.
I should point out that even though Muscat is the capital of Oman and everything in the general area is loosely referred to as Muscat, the genuine old town of Muscat is a teensy port and the area is compromised of a multitude of similar small villages like QurumBeach.
Our reservation was for a two bedroom suite and though a bit musty, we were amazed at the palatial size of the accommodations.Two separate bedrooms (each roughly as large as your typically hotel room), bathroom (with western toilet!), a fully equipped kitchen and large living room.Yours truly volunteered to take the couch in the living room and after unpacking we inquired about dinner possibilities at the front desk.
A strip mile only a quarter mile away was the suggestion, and it was terrific.The mall contained a multitude of restaurants and we were delighted to learn it was right on the beach!We didnâ€™t realize we would be so close.
We selected a Lebanese restaurant which seemed to contain more shi-sha smokers than diners, but it was total cultural immersion we were after.Shi-sha tobacco is always flavored, usually with fruits and the smoke is not unpleasant, so we were quite happy to be surrounded by a crowd whose majority was Omanis in traditional garb and fezzes.As content as I was in this crowd (in the UAE you never see locals, it is mainly ex-pats and western dress), there was disappointment in the clear absence of women.Although Oman has a reputation for being progressive with respect to womenâ€™s rights, this first data point suggested there was still a ways to go.
After dinner it was back to the hotel where Mark and I took up our traditional grudge match of Spite & Malice.This is a card game Mark and I always play when traveling together, and whoever wins the most matches in any specific spot can lay claim as the ruler of that realm.Though we would have several more nights here, I took an early 2-0 lead in the duel for Muscat.
While we played cards, John tried to get his ATM card re-activated.He doesn't use it back home and couldnâ€™t remember his PIN --- a few futile guesses in Dubai managed to get his card shut down.Sounded like he finally got things corrected and off he went at midnight in search of an ATM.Alas, the one he found wouldnâ€™t accept his card at all and he never got to even try and punch a PIN in.
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