Sand and Tsunamis
Travels between Saudi Arabia and Japan
About Us (3)
Dave in Japan (8)
Futureland (Japan) (6)
News and Other Scary Stuff (17)
Other Travels... (12)
Picture Postings (21)
Rants and Ramblings (13)
The Magical Kingdom (33)
* Cool Map Feature...
* Visit to Odawara Castle
* Some pictures
* They let women DRIVE here!
* Cool things here in Japan
* Adventures in Sushi
* Adjusting to Life in Japan
* What an exciting year...
* TIBETAN CHEST: DETAIL
* NEW FURNITURE!
* Feb Brunch at Shonan Village
* KH hongkong
* HONG KONG: FEB 05
* Eat a camel?
* This Just In...US to Cease Existence in 2007!
* This Just In...
* This Just In...Easter Bunny Gets Pummeled by Boy at Mall
* This Just In....When Old Ladies Attack
January 27, 2005
Oman - Markets and Meanderings
Today, we got up and took a look at our surroundings...having arrived late at night, we weren't quite sure what the neighborhood around us looked like. Fortunately, our room had a decent view of the homes immediately around us, and the hills beyond. Like most Middle Eastern countries, tan and brown seemed to be the predominant colors.
We first wandered around the neighborhood of Ruwi , actually seeing Santa Claus (no one believes in him in Saudi Arabia) before catching a cab to head down to Muttrah, to the fish market. Lonely planet said this was a happening place, and since Muttrah also was where the main souks are, we figured it would be a good place to start. Sure enough, the fish market was an interesting first stop. While it was after the rush, there were still a lot of guys hawking fish to passersby. They had everything from squid, to sardines, to red snapper, to huge tunafishes.
At a dock along side, there were several guys fishing, among whom was a boy carrying a sea urchin in a net. Not sure what he was going to do with it...he just wandered around with it. We stayed for a while, checking out the chicken souk, and taking pictures, and then wandered over to the main souk area.
Along the way, we took in the sights of the seaside town. All along the small bay were all kinds of fishing boats, police boats, dhows, and a couple of larger cargo vessels. Across the bay, the "Muttrah Fort" keeps a watchful eye on the goings-on below. Not accessible to tourists, it was still an active miltary base. Closer inspection revealed that it had guns along the ramparts.
The buildings along the corniche all shared whitewashed and latticed look that was characteristic of the style of architecture in Muscat. Apparently, all buildings have to have some of the traditional look when they get built. It makes for a beautiful town.
***Brief Aside...in the Arab countries, and especially in KSA, it's common to see women in abayas, or, as we call them, "black ghosts," riding in cars, sitting outside of gas stations, and hanging out at intersections. It's strange to us, but explained by the Arab men we've asked as "for their own good." "Our wives are so beautiful, that we don't want anyone looking at them." To me, that's a bit like buying a beautiful Mercedes or BMW, and keeping it in the garage. I consider the Mrs. to be like one of those gorgeous cars, and I want everyone to see her!***
Frankly, though, the blending of cultures that one sees in Oman was refreshing. A few months in KSA, and you forget that women actually have faces. Plus, the different styles of dress, especially the Indian saris, just splashed color all over town. Much nicer than the drab Riyadh scene.
Meandering our way into the souk, the sights, sounds, and smells brought back familiar memories of other souks in Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Turkey...especially around the spice vendors. This souk had a lot less to offer in the way of tourist trap stuff, and really was more for locals. The fruit guy was there, and later we passed a butcher that had an apprentice he was teaching how to chop up a dead goat.
We saw hundreds of stray cats...they were all over the place, in varying degrees of scroungy-ness. In some of the more recessed allyways, they'd root through trash looking for food. Others were cats on tin roofs (not hot tin roofs, though).
We just aimlessly wandered for about an hour, taking pictures of just about everything...houses, mosques, grafitti, murals. All the photography worked up an appetite, so we stopped at a bakery for some fresh baked flatbread. The baker reached around in the oven with his stick, pulled out a piping hot piece, wrapped it in some newspaper, and handed it to me. "Kam?" I asked, wondering how much a piece of bread would be. "Mafi," he replied, indicating it was free. Just an example Arab hospitality...one reason that I love the region so much, in spite of the frustrations we from time to time experience. The bread was so hot, it nearly melted the plastic bag he put it in. And, it was delicious. Nothing like really fresh bread...
Finally, we hired a taxi near the Muttrah bus stop / fish market to take us over to Muscat proper. The greater Muscat area is actually a collection of suburbs Ruwi, Muttrah included). Not much happens in the old walled and moated city of Muscat, as it's more of the administrative center of the capital. Sultan Qaboos has his palace there, and the small bay is surrounded by several forts originally built by the Portuguese. Surprisingly, there was no problem taking pictures of the royal buildings...try that in KSA, and you'll have your camera confiscated, and likely smashed. Again another example of the differences between the two countries. Even the fort and the real guns (covered) protecting the palace were not off limits...What a country!
After about 20 minutes, we'd seen most of what was interesting. Being the holiday still, the museums were closed. So, we decided to walk the 4 km back to Muttrah. Along the way, we met some really friendly kids who displayed their knowledge of sign language to us. They certainly had the "this is my longest finger" sign down well. Ahh, kids today are so smart!
We stopped briefly at a small beach and saw a guy standing among the cement breakwater piles just checking out the beach scene. There were about 5 guys frolicking in the water, as well as a family enjoying a mid-afternoon dip. Nobody wore swim suits, though. They all just went in fully clothed. Arab modesty, you know.
We carried on, and passed the huge incense burner (non-functional) on the side of a mountain. It was part of a larger park that had abundant green space and trees, as well as an amusement park. In KSA, it would be families only...no shababs; but here, we saw actual boys and girls spending quality time together. Without ripping each other's clothes off. Such restraint!
On the walk back we met Mohammed, a local Omani guy that first asked us if we were French. In spite of that (just kidding to any French readers out there...), we spoke to him for a while. He wasn't trying to sell us anything, just wanted to say hi. Repeatedly, when we'd meet people, and tell them we were Americans, they would say, "America number 1!" We never heard any sort of anti-American comments or anything. They all seemed very interested, and glad that we had decided to visit Oman.
About this time, a dhow appeared on the horizon, and began to motor its way into the bay. These ships have been plying the seas between China, India, Arabia, and Africa for centuries. The rich brown wood contrasted with the blue water, and, except for the motor (and the haze gray Omani Navy ship that it passed), we could have been in any of probably 25 previous centuries.
As we walked back to Muttrah, we watched the dhow's progress, until it finally dropped anchor offshore from the corniche. We did make one brief stop to watch some kids playing cricket, and, since I've watched it on TV for a few minutes, and asked Chuck, our Aussie tablemate from the Tahiti cruise about the rules, I figured, "how hard could it be? You just try not to get hit with that hard ball they hurl at you!" So, we dodged traffic across the street, and I asked the kids if I could try a couple of pitches. I actually did hit one, too (see action photo at top of page...). After about 5 minutes, I turned the bat back over to the kids who were amused by my attempts, and we wandered on down the corniche.
As it was getting on the the afternoon, there were a lot of people just hanging out along the side of the bay. Groups of friends sat or stood along the wall catching up on the day's news and gossip. That must be what life was like before everyone had 2.4 TVs in their homes.
Finally, we got back to As' Samaka Roundabout, and caught a minivan taxi back to Ruwi. Once back there, we grabbed a quick bite of food at the Royal Embassy of Kentucky (KFC), before wandering off across the "Wadi al Kabir" or "Big Wadi" to find the Cyberpoint Internet Cafe, where I loaded up yesterday's entry. During our travels around town, we sampled 3-4 different places, partly for protective reasons (keep anyone who might be trying to keep tabs on us guessing), and partly because we kept looking for something faster than the excruciatingly slow dial up speeds...Guess we're spoiled.
We capped the evening off with a few beers in Le Pub, the hotel bar at the top of the building. Patterned after an English Pub, but with a French name, it had great views of the city, and, well...interesting..."live entertainment." It was called "live" because the entertainers had pulses and appeared to be breathing. It was called "entertainment", because the Alfa Trio, two girls and a guy from Bulgaria, were certainly entertaining, if only from a sociological point of view. The guy played the keyboards, one lady sang, and the other sort of stood out front and vaguely moved around. We think she was dancing, though we never quite decided. We also never quite decided if the lady singer was actually singing or just lip synching to a pre-recorded track. Most of the time, she would just stand there and twirl her hair. None of them seemed very enthusiastic about being there. That said, they were there trying to make a buck (or Riyal, in this case).
Anyhow, regardless of how entertaining the entertainment was, it wsa nice to sit and drink a beer after putting quite a few kilometers under our feet. Tomorrow, on to the beach!
Posted by djf on January 27, 2005 08:04 PM
Category: Other Travels...
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