Exploring some of the attractions in Muscat in particular, but also around Muscat was good fun. We explored something different each day and the highlight for me was going out with our friends in the Arabian Gulf to sail their fishing boat on Sunday afternoon, with a crew of six. The boat is a beauty! A traditional Omani wood fishing boat, originally built to run on just an engine, which has been rigged with a traditional Omani sail on a 12m mast that Mike helped to install last year. It was my first time sailing so I felt excited and slightly anxious about the whole experience. As the boat sailed out from the Marina I got the chance to admire the vast mountains we left behind. The air has a hazy look to it and you can just make out in the distance rows over rows of high rocky mountains. We did a quick sail out, mainly to wash the boat and prepare it for a future sail down to Salalah. The sea was clear and transparent, the breeze made us all forget for a short while about the heat and we even spotted a dolphin jump, out in the distance.
A couple of our friends recommended that we check out Wadi Shab. So we headed for Sur and found a little town called Tiwi. You leave your car at the car park where there are few young guys hanging out and some boats. For a couple of Rial one of them will take you across the water. We also asked one of the guys if he could show us the way and he agreed to take us up to the waterfall. Once you are on the other side of the lagoon, you trek for about an hour through some massive boulders, on a path that if you know the way it’s actually really easy to follow. For the uninitiated, it looks like a giant made his way through the mountain and left in his wake a trail of stones and boulders. Once you are on the other side you walk past a small garden with big palm trees and plenty of birds, passed and over a falaj and you arrive to this massive, massive rock with a small lake underneath. I read in The Duncan Adventures blog that they had a diving competition here last year. To get up to the diving spot you climb up on some ropes and then you plunge from about 20m! Definitely not for the fainted hearted! I have to admit, had we not had Abdullah with us I would have probably stopped here, had a swim and headed back to the car. Although the spot is definitely breath taking, it’s really worth walking on. So we kept on walking through more rocks and boulders and we arrived at this magical swimming spot: a couple of pools of water with sandy bottom and crystal clear water, where you can easily walk in and swim in the most refreshing water surrounded by these breath taking rocks. It’s worth reminding you how hot it was so by the time we arrived at this paradisiacal spot we were so sweaty that we couldn’t wait to jump in the so inviting pool! I decided that this is good enough for me so I stripped off quickly and sat myself in the pool. The water was incredibly warm and clear, shimmering in the afternoon sun. Abdullah kept on saying that we must walk just a bit further, five more minutes around the corner, through the pools, to see the cascade at the other end. I just couldn’t go any further so I stayed behind to guard our belongings and the guys kept on going. When they returned some half an hour later Mike told me about this spectacular waterfall that comes down from the mountains in this cave that to get to they swam through under water. After a couple of quick pics we headed back down the mountain. The sun was setting and so we hurried back to the car before it got dark. The thing with the sun in Oman is that it goes down very quickly but also it gets dark early, despite the summer times. While in Europe, in September the sun goes down just before 9ish pm, in Oman by 7pm is pitch dark! So anyhow, we made it back to the car before dark wishing that we could have spent a whole day up there.
Of course you can’t go to Muscat and not visit the Sultan Qaboos Palace. I actually saw this during my first trip to Oman, 4 years ago, and it left a lasting impression on me. It was February back then, so being wintertime in Oman it was a balmy evening. I distinctly remember taking this picture and being amazed at how the light was bouncing over that sheer expanse of polished marble. So much marble! But even more lasting was the scented sweet air of the evening, the palace was surrounded with thousands and thousands of planted petunias and jasmine and the air was absolutely filled with their sweet smell. It was exactly how, as a child immersing in loads of Arabic and Turkish story tales, I imagined a sultan’s palace would smell.
So we went back there again but this time being summer and much hotter all the flower beds were empty and the air was hanging with heavy heat this time, no sweet scented jasmine!
We also spent a couple of evenings visiting the Old Muttrah Souq. It is a must see, full of some obviously touristy shops but also some lovely stalls selling incenses, spices, fabrics, silverware and bric-a-brac. The scent of burning frankincense is all around, stallholders (all men) are smiling asking you to come in and have a look at their pashminas. They are all very friendly, no one will be pressuring you to buy and I often go into a shop and marvel at the quantity of merchandise they squeeze in – it’s like an Aladdin’s cave! I find it strange that they all seem to be selling exactly the same stuff! I’ve got a couple of favourite shops though. I love the spice shop in particular. I picked up from there some really nice and hard to find oils, like saffron oil, at absolute bargain prices. But my best buy this time was date syrup. I never tried it before and God it was such a pleasant surprise, I absolutely love its depth of flavour and natural sweetness. My other favourite shop is Paisley the carpet shop. The guy who owns this shop is originally from Kashmir and he is a real character. He named his shop after a flower but, to his surprise, he recently found out from a Scottish tourist that Paisley is a town in Scotland! Clearly very well read and very interested in the world, he loves talking to his customers to share his views and to keep himself connected to far away places. As he put it: this shop is my way of travelling the world! If you ask him, he will take you upstairs and show you the most amazing silk carpets you have ever seen!
On our last day here we decided to hit the beach again in the morning so we went down to the Yacht Club for a last morning of swimming and baking in the sun. The sea was so incredibly warm that day, I could never imagine that seawater can feel that warm! We were lucky, although we did not bring a snorkelling mask, we managed to spot some beautiful colourful fish swim just beneath the water surface. Unfortunately, the sea was also littered badly with plastic so we spent some enjoyable time fishing plastic bags and all sorts of plastic packaging out of the sea. It did make me sad to witness in such fine setting the reality of our plastic filled life!
Mike had a meeting set up in the evening at The Grand Hyatt and so I joined him. The Grand Hyatt is an opulent hotel, done in an old style Omani architecture. Again, a lot of light dancing off the marble flooring and walls, with a grand stained window façade facing the sea and the pool area and regal staircases; all this left me suitably impressed! After dinner, Mike and I spent a very pleasant hour in the garden by the jacuzzi killing time and wishing we came prepared for a dip in the inviting and empty jacuzzi two steps away from our table.
All our packed bags were already in the boot of our rented car so we hopped in and headed for the airport. As we went through the big glass doors I paused for a minute, let the hot air caress
me once more and wished we could stay a bit longer. Oman has played its charm on me and once again, I was smitten! Farewell hot, scented Oman, until we meet again!