Saying goodbye to Muscat and our decadent luxury, we loaded up an SUV, and with a new driver headed up the coastline then west to the mountains and a different look at Oman.
First stop was the market in As-Seeb. On the outside were vendors selling vegetables and fruit from their trucks. While I was hesitant to approach, all these men were friendly and quite willing to be photographed. Then, inside the fish market, we were treated to fish auctions and aisle after aisle of fresh fish ready for purchase as buyer and seller haggled over the prices.
This turned out to be an excellent place to further investigate wizars and their use, since everyone pulled up the hems in their long white dishdashas to avoid getting them soiled and smelly. I found out one should not look too closely when they were sitting on flat surfaces – they were not schooled in how to sit modestly in a skirt. Hiding the family jewels was not necessarily a concern, at least in one instance, although feet were carefully tucked away so they didn’t offend anyone. Priorities. I was able to get a good photo of one classic pose; the focus of my attention was not happy to be photographed but said he was willing. He was beautiful, absolutely timeless. Unfortunately, the lighting was not good. But his is still one of my favorite photos from the trip. Notice the wizar.
After leaving the fish market, I was surprised to see that we drove past the location of the Royal Cavalry on our way out of town. Since this was a public place, I felt there would be no harm in taking a photo. The well-manicured exterior hints and the immaculately groomed grounds within.
From there, we went on to visit Nakhal Fort where we climbed endlessly while learning about Omani life and culture of the time. Here we met a whole series of gentle museum/tourism specialists who added to our positive view of Oman with their sweetness.Our guide, a former English teacher, met the first of his many students that we would run into all over the country. They had not seen each other in a long time so they did the most touching, absolutely precious-to-see social ritual of nose kissing. It happened quickly, and I was in the car so I didn’t get to photograph it. At my request, they did it again, with some embarrassment (as seen here), while being filmed (such a kind pair!), but I learned later the camera did not record it (the sun made it impossible to see what the camera was doing).
So, I am attaching a photo of a postcard instead. This is done only between men. I can’t imagine anything cuter to behold!
Heading up a wadi, we stopped at a quiet serene (except for the people) pool Ain a’Thawwarah Hot Springs. Two young girls were swimming, so I stepped out onto the rocks first, then into the creek itself. In spite of warnings to be careful, I ended up slipping on the rocks and taking an unexpected plunge. A bath did hurt, and by the time I was out of the water again, I had met a German couple from Stuttgart, which was not far from our home in Heidelberg.
The two little girls were delighted with my swim but our guide, I think, was a tad embarrassed. I suppose I had broken a million rules on the conduct of females in public. Other females past puberty were sporting black shrouds and milling discretely on the sidewalk and patio. He got over it after awhile, though. We ate our first meal in an informal, outdoor setting – we had a short power struggle over where we would sit, the men preferring the shade, and I, still soggy wet, preferring the sunshine. We compromised but putting a table half in in sun and half in shade. Afterwards, we were ready to travel up the Wadi Bani Auf, the most beautiful (they say) mountain road in Oman.
The mountains have a brown, muddy-surfaced appearance – looks a like Gaudi had been here practicing for Sagrada Family. Eventually, we arrived at our mountain camp in the Jebel Shams. It was already cold and got even colder as the sun went down.
That evening we had a wonderful talk with our guide in the campground restaurant. He was very willing to discuss the ongoing problems he had with his two wives. It seemed that wife number one, with two children, was not fond of wife number two. Number One was in Sohar in the north and Number Two lived in Salalah in the south. He also was free in sharing his experiences on his Haj – he called it his hike. It was our first glimpse into the heart of a muslim. His experience to me sounded very much like a conversion experience in a Christian church, and he was very sincere and tender in his description of his feelings about it all. I felt we experienced real fellowship that night.
After dinner, we returned to our cabins – so glad they were concrete and protected us from the winds that were by then very strong. Thankfully, I was out of the wet clothing and dressed in my warmest clothes by now. Still, I passed on a shower. Even with a little extra heater going to add to the regular heating of the cabin, it was still very cold. I would wait until we were down below in the desert, I thought. (Had I realized what was awaiting us there, I would have showered here!) So, to bed we went, staying close for warmth, and looking forward the next day.