The first feeling I have as I descend from our Swiss airlines air plane on this particular September night is that of a massive hot towel punching me. It punched so hard I thought my nose would bleed!
I tried quickly to understand the punch and I figured all that heat comes from the airplane; after all we travelled 5000 miles so the engines must be a bit hot. I make my way rushing to the bus waiting to take us from the airplane to the arrivals. Relief; the bus is heavily aircon-ed and I am thinking it will feel different once we are away from the airplane. At the other end, I join the other people spilling out of the bus only to be greeted by the same oven hot temperatures. It’s 11pm and although I knew Oman is hot in the summer I sort of hoped that evenings will be cooler. They are not!
We spend a couple of hours in the airport sorting out visas and a rental car. We’ll be here for ten days so we need a 10 day visa for 5 Rial each. The young women at the visa desk speak fluent English, they greet us smiling while moving fast sorting out our visas and advising us on the right one. It takes a lot longer to get through passport control. The young Omani guards all wear white dishdashas. They take their time to look at our passports and to welcome us to Oman. If you buy your visa as you enter the country you join a short queue for passport control. Even though the queue is short, it takes about 30 min to get through. Next to our queue is a much longer one. Most people in that queue are Indian man and women, some with children. The queue is serious long and thick- they will be queuing forever! Mike was telling me how once he had his visa organised before hand and he had to join the longer queue-he spent two and half hours in the line to enter the country!
Once we are through to customs, where all our luggage gets scanned once more, we walk out to the arrivals lounge. The air is filled with the sweet smell of incense. The lounge is packed with dark skinned men wearing white immaculate dishadashas with sandals and women in saris and abaya. Here and there you can see a European or American tourist wearing jeans with Tshirts. Everyone is on their iphone! An other hour later, our rental car is ready for us. It’s all frosty, the air con inside it’s set on what feels like 16 degrees. It has the look of an ice cold bottle of beer on a scorching day, dripping with condensation.
As we drive away on the big new motorway I notice huge lumps of rocky mountains. Mike points out to me a new bridge here, a new road there. It’s so impressive to witness a country with big new roads and thousands of new build growing out of sheer rock!
We arrive at our apartment. It’s past midnight, I feel exhausted, happy to be here and terrified by the heat! How will I negotiate this in day time with the addition of a scorching sun?!?
I barely closed an eye all night. I might have been over tired. Or maybe I was too hot. Or maybe the humming of the air con and the fan in the ceiling kept me awake. It was still dark outside when I heard, surprisingly, a cockerel heralding the imminent morning. Followed shortly by the Iman’s call to the morning prayer. I turned up the air con, turn on the other side and finally fell asleep. When I woke up again it was 1 o’clock in the afternoon!
We stay in our friends Annette & Thomas’s pretty apartment in Quantab, with the sea on our left, big rocky mountains behind the house, a boat yard between us and the sea, and lots of white, beautifully tile ornate houses to the right. There are goats grazing on the bare mountain, women and children in the street and some guys going out on small boats. The sun is fierce and I start exploring the apartment. It’s on two levels with a lovely roof terrace. The floor is all tiles; the tiles in Annette’s bedroom are incredibly colourful, with large circular dark brown, green and orange patterns. The view from their bedroom is stunning, the small boat yard on the white sandy beach and the large blue sea. As we drive back and forth to the house I admire the ornate white houses in the neighbourhood and the amazingly colourful wear of the local women. Thomas told me that abayas are worn mainly by women in towns and cities, as means to protect their amazingly colourful wear underneath and also to hide away their skin and body from preying eyes. The colourful dresses I noticed women around our house wear is more traditional than the abayas. The neighbourhood hosts plenty of cats, massive cats. Goats are hiding in the shade of the fences from the scorching sun. Four times a day I hear the call to prayer from the local mosque.
The thing about Oman is that it is rocky. In fact it’s like successions of giant grey and red-ish rocks, as far as the eye can see. Behind those it’s the blue sky – not a cloud in sight! Here and there all this is peppered with palm trees and green lawns. Those lawns feel both lovely to the eye, as they break up all that rock, but also wrong – so out of place in this massive heat and dry rock. Houses and buildings in general seem to be plonked on the top and between all the rocks. Large roads and highways meander trough the same rocks, long, grey, brand new belts of asphalt, riding the rocks. I can’t stop thinking about Omani builders as this army of ants, carrying away mountains to make room for roads and human habitation.
Then there is the sea! Crystal clear, warm, most of the time flat, amazing blue sea. We went out for a swim this morning to the Yacht Club, which is just down the road from Quantab. They have a small sandy beach, with a few umbrellas, tables and chaise longues. Once the Yacht Club was out of the way, in the middle of nowhere but slowly the town is encroaching around it. Give it five more years and it will find itself nestled bang in the middle of everything. That will make it a hugely desirable spot because of their amazing sandy beach. It costs two Rial to get on this beach now, I have a feeling that will change soon. The yacht club had already had their alcohol licence removed. It used to be a lively spot for ex-pats in particular and locals, who’d meet there for lunch or dinner over a couple of beers. It’s absolutely desolate now, they only do food at the weekend. There are still some boats in the yard but it’s gone very quiet, we were the only ones there this morning. Never the least, the sea here is transparent, the sand is soft and we enjoyed having a whole beach for ourselves.