Qurum Beach, Oman (Mark Kirchner photo, all copyrights reserved)
Our first dawn in Oman was quite pleasant.We walked on the beach and enjoyed our first glimpses of Qurum in the sunlight.Pleasantly warm, there were already hints of steamier temps to come as the day progressed.
Next stop was the complimentary breakfast at the beach Hotel, and it was first class.This was my first ever Arabian buffet breakfast (I could just cut to the chase and say ‘breakfast’ since every one has been a buffet, lol) where hummus wasn’t present --- it is usually the main ingredient.We talked over a loose itinerary for the day and leisurely returned to the vast expanse of our apartment.
Muttrah Fish Souk (Mark Kirchner photograph, all copyrights reserved)
Here I donned my “Eddie From Ohio” t-shirt, which I traditionally wear at least once every time I get to travel outside the US.This prompted comments of how blatant a tourist I was from John and Mark, whose reaction was to don their own tacky t-shirts:John put on his “Lancaster Chopper Riders” tee (a hilarious morph between an Amish buggy and Harley Davidson) and Mark his “Lancaster Barnstormers” (Lancaster’s minor league baseball team).Inadequately attired, the tacky trio ventured out to explore Muscat environs.
Our first stop was in Muttrah, the biggest village in the Muscat metropolitan area (much larger than Muscat).Here we parked and walked about the local fish souk, a smelly but vibrant experience.
I found it refreshing to see so many people cheerfully performing manual tasks in traditional dress…this group appeared more content than the “wealthy” folks I interact with back home.
Next we dropped in on old town Muscat and parked at Merani Fort, next to the Sultan’s Palace. Ever so slowly the mystique of Muscat began to evaporate.This ancient port should have been cluttered with narrow alleys and plenty of nooks and crannies to accent stories of sea storms, pirates and intrigue.However, it seems the palace has completely replaced the harbor buildings and although there are a handful of museums scattered about, Muscat seems to consist mainly of the palace and government offices.Muttrah had been bustling with traditional dress and animated conversations:Muscat was silent and trooped by a handful of men in business suits.
I suppose the trick is to consider the larger area as Muscat to recapture the intrigue.
Downtown Muttrah from the Fish Souk
The official village of Muscat, however, was a disappointment and we shortly pushed on down the coast.Our destination was Sidab, where we had contacted a boat operator to take us out on a cruise of the coast and snorkel.We couldn’t pinpoint the location and continued to wander, eventually diverting to check out Haramil, another tiny fishing village tucked into the shore.
After snapping a few pictures we repaired to a teensy eatery for lunch.Sahil Sidab Traditional Restaurant was the stereotype ‘hole in the wall’, but quite delightful.About five tables were jammed into the small interior, with two occupied by Omani men in the now familiar traditional garb.I ordered chicken massala, Mark and John the prawn massala.One thing we were gaining an appreciation for was the value of an Omani Rial, as lunch only cost us 4.5 OR (about $15 US), much more reasonable than the 45 Dhirams we would have paid in the UAE, lol!
We had given up on locating the original boat operator, but I had noticed a “boat cruise” sign earlier as we wound down the coast, so we back tracked.
The exquisite Muscat coast...
Reading about this area suggested it was quite easy to hire a boat, and were they ever right.Though a bit pricey at 20 OR apiece, we simply walked in and minutes later had already picked out our snorkel gear.Following our pilot to the nearby dock, we were aboard and underway for an impromptu private cruise in probably a half hour.
The Muscat coastline was exquisite.Rocky outcrops aplenty, most sporting a stone turret, where immersed in the beautiful blue waters of the Gulf of Oman.We went up the coast as far as the Sultan’s Palace, then worked our way back until navigating into a sheltered cove where we weighed anchor for snorkeling.Before diving in, the pilot pointed out some elevated white boxes on the shore and informed us they were mausoleums for Portuguese sailors, several centuries old.
A superb snorkel.
Fresh beauty every few seconds passing along the Muscat coast
Not the bst selection of tropical fish I’ve ever witnessed, but more than enough to dazzle you.Mark got to try out his underwater digital camera for the first time and captured a moray eel, conch, and cuttlefish on the trial run!I had also purchased a tough digital camera that was waterproof, but Mark’s was good to 35 feet versus 10 for mine, so it had to wait patiently on the boat.For John and I, the beauty of the snorkel was simply swimming in the ocean after arriving a couple days ago from winter back in the States.
Rebounding back to Muttrah after the cruise, we dropped in on the storied Muttrah Souk.This souk got quite a lot of press and it was easy to see why.Plenty of winding aisles, numerous stalls and heaping quantities of spices, gold, you name it!John was excited to visit because he was intent on acquiring a khanjar, the curved dagger worn on a belt in formal Omani dress.We dropped in on several dealers, all of whom were welcoming and provided us with an excellent education on these ceremonial knives.
John and conch (Mark Kirchner photo, all copyrights reserved)
One dealer in particular had impressed all of us, so we returned to his shop on the way out.John initially purchased a pair of Yemeni khanjars (these are technically jambiyas, Yemeni term for the same thing) and then I added another.Finally, John purchase a prize à a genuine Omani khanjar with a pure silver sheath!After adding one more jambiya, John raised his arsenal to four and we departed.I will keep my fingers crossed he can get them through customs when he returns to the states.E-mailed my wife about our day’s activities and she thought John’s acquisitions were ‘overkill’…
Wrapping up the day was a brilliant example of what a small world it is after all.Our khanjar dealer presented us with his card at the conclusion, revealing his surname to be Al-Balushi.
Buying khanjars at the Muttrah Souk --- note Akbar's resemblance to John Belushi??? (Mark Kirchner photo, all copyrights reserved)
He asked us if we had heard of John Belushi and indicated that he was in the same family, though not closely related.How often do you get to buy a dagger from John Belushi’s cousin, lol???
Back at the Beach Hotel after pumping up the local economy, we showered and returned to the nearby strip mall for dinner at O Sole Mio, obviously an Italian joint.What a riot!The head waiters were sporting Italian colors --> one in a bright red suit with white shirt and green tie, the other in bright green suit with white shirt and red tie.Smacked oddly of a very tacky Christmas, but the food was top shelf.Entertainment, however, was not.Some guy was playing a string of pop classics and mumbling the lyrics, something like professional karaoke I guess.I thought every number was rancid, but he actually got applause two times, which I suspect were for requests he performed.
After dinner we packed up for the two day outdoor excursion (our guide will pick us up tomorrow morning and drop us back off Wednesday night) and everyone seems pumped for the daring hikes.
Muttrah round-about. The fish sculptures were typical of the artwork you'd find at most rotaries.
John had to excuse himself for a bit to continue his game of PINball, and I think he was finally successful.During John’s absence I continued to beat up on Mark in Spite and Malice, virtually assuring that I will be adding Muscat to the win column!