We arrived in Muscat on the 20th to guess what? More hot, humid sunny weather. We cleared customs without any issues. They didn’t ask how long we were staying, where we were staying, had we visited the Satan country of Israel or anything. They didn’t speak a word to us. Not-one-word! So we went outside and proceeded to negotiate the price for a private taxi to our hotel, in the end 9 Omani Riel, about $32.00 CAD. Not too bad. Our hotel, Beach Hotel is about a 10 minute walk to Al Qurum Beach, a very beautiful expanse of beach on the Gulf of Oman which is part of the Arabian Sea and also to some extent the Persian Gulf.
Many years ago in my previous life and on my first trip around the world in 90/91 I landed in Muscat en route to Madras, India which is now named Chennai. We landed at about 1:00 am, January 17th, 1991. Do you remember that date? It was the exact date and time that Operation Desert Storm started, the first Gulf war where the USA began its war against Iraq who had invaded Kuwait a few months earlier. We waited for the crew who had changed in Muscat and we departed at 2:00 am. We were the last civilian airline to leave the Gulf region before all airspace had been shut down.
Now here we are in Muscat, a beautiful city nestled along side the Al Hajar Mountains which forms a belt between the coast and the desert. Muscat has a history of antiquity and mixes upscale shopping malls with clifftop landmarks such as the 16th century Portuguese forts, Al Jalali and Mirani which loom over Muscat Harbour. It is a beautiful city.
Today we set off in our “Duster” SUV rental and headed out South West hugging the Al Hajar mountains to visit the ancient Nizwa Castle and Fort followed by a visit to Bahla Fort then on to Jibreel Castle. Tomorrow we’ll drive East along the coast to visit the city of Sur, about 200 km from Muscat. The Omanis are very proud of their heritage so the vast majority of their historical sites have been restored to their former glory. They are truly a sight to behold.
We headed out again this morning for another day of driving the countryside and visiting historical landmarks. Yesterday we checked out of our affordable hotel and into a little less affordable hotel on the beach-side nearby. Our hotel room terrace is close to and faces the Sea and we have a big refrigerator in our room so we thought what would be better than to pick up some beer and wine, possibly save a little money, and enjoy a few sips and relax as the sun sets just to the West of us. I Googled “Muscat Liquor Stores” and had a hit of a store nearby, “African & Eastern”. What luck! So we set our Garmin GPS and off we went with images of enjoying cold cans of beer and bottles of wine on our terrace after a long sweaty day. We found the store and were greeted by a sign stating “Permit Holders Only”. We enter a huge store filled with all the booze imaginable. Fridges full of cold six packs and wine. Pallets piled high with a cornucopia of alcoholic beverages. Wow! Then the guy at the cashier desk says we need a permit to purchase. Sorry, what? Yes, you need a residents permit, are you a resident with a permit or bar owner? No to both. Well “sorry” he says, you can’t purchase alcohol. Then he proceeds to tell us that residents need to apply for a permit to purchase alcohol and the permit comes with a monthly quota. So I think back to the days when I was 16 or 17 and we “fished” for beer hoping to get an adult to illegally buy us some booze. Ah, okay, so can you buy us some beer and wine? No, sorry, I’m already over my quota for the month. Well darn. In Oman you are stuck having to imbibe in a limited number of hotel bars and hotel restaurants and that’s it. Otherwise there are no bars and restaurants serving the golden nectar.
We did a short stop in Nakahl after visiting Rustaq. It was getting late in the afternoon, it was our last day in Oman, we had seen several great castles and forts so we had a quick lunch in Nakahl near the entrance to the castle then proceeded back to Muscat. Feeling a little dehydrated after our journey I left Joyce (with her blessings) and wandered over to the Intercontinental Hotel to have a couple of cool, expensive Fosters on tap. It was about 5:15 and our hotel only served alcohol between noon and 3:00 and then 6:00 pm to I think 4:00 am while the Intercontinental served booze all day. Thank god. My plan was to download the ebook version of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Sri Lanka and the wi-fi at the IC was pretty fast so I had a good excuse. I can can up with some good ones if I’m thirsty. So, the bar at our hotel is named Route 66 and they were throwing a Halloween party with live music and fun all around so I left the IC around 6:45 and met Joyce at the bar. We had been to R66 a few times and there were always a couple to a few local Muslim men there drinking and smoking and again this night there were a couple sitting at the next table to us. We were in the bar earlier for a light lunch and I’m sure they were there at around 2:00 pm when we left. One older, one younger, both wearing traditional dishdasha, a floor length robe which appears dazzlingly white and ornate embroidered pill-box hats called a Kuma. I had seen the older gentleman a few times before and had said “hello”. He would reply hello but didn’t seem too friendly. Well…..
As the place got busier and louder we made eye contact, introduced ourselves and they proceeded to join us at our table. This was probably about 9:30 pm or so. We think they were important people because one after another over a period of several hours people stopped by to hug them, kiss their hands and generally feel honoured to see and meet them. Who. Are. We. Sitting. With? It was so loud by this time we could barely understand each other never mind the slight language barrier but we continued to order rounds of drinks and we watched in great amusement as these two “Sultans? and us proceeded to get to the no pain stage. We had a blast, Joyce danced with our Sultan to “The Sultans of Swing”, I watched in amusement and then at 1:30 am, I went to Subway (yes Subway and open till 2:00 am) to get our dinner. Fortunately we had a late flight to Dubai the next day but it was a great evening and a reinforcement of how friendly and kind the Muslim people are.
People ask us why we’re not afraid to visit the Middle East, home of Islam. Well we will tell you here and now, the people of the Muslim faith are among the kindest, friendliest, generous, honest and caring people you would hope to meet.
I included the below quote in our first pre-trip post back in April of this year. One of many but one that fits the bill perfectly.
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”