Oman 2012

If you just want to see pictures, go to : Oman photographs

Introduction

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No data for file : We took an 8-day charter to Oman in January 2012, mostly because I had won a holiday with Solresor and this seemed like an interesting place. We stayed at the 5-star Hilton in Salalah, which had excellent service, and was placed on a mile-long white sand beach that seldom had more than a dozen people on it. To get around we rented a car and the driving along the coast was very easy, with big new roads and little traffic.

Oman has had oil riches, but the previous Sultan wasn't very good at sharing it with the population, and only since his son took over in the 70's has the country started to develop again. But the oil is expected to run out around 2030, so there is now an enormous push to develop tourism to replace it, and this year we were in the happy position of enjoying those efforts before the country becomes another Benidorm.

Diary

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No data for file : The first day we explored the town on foot and by cheap taxi, and bought frankincense in the souk market. This no longer costs more than gold, but production is still unique to the Dhofar province of Oman. In case you're wondering, it's the dried resin of the frankincense tree, and is burned over coals to release it's unique fragrance.
Locals were friendly and helpful without being intrusive, and we always felt safe and comfortable. For a while we had happy young children as our guides, which brightened up our day.

The second day we walked to the neighbouring 'fishing village', which turned out to be a petrol station and a run-down cafe, whose car park was none-the-less full of Humvees and Lexuses, a symptom of the new-found wealth of many. For some reason I was amused by the safety procedures at the petrol stations, which involved having a single bucket of sand by the pumps. I felt they could at least spare a second bucketful to combat a burning petrol station. In the afternoon we caught up on jet lag and the very early flight by dozing on the beach, before chasing camels with my camera during the frustratingly rapid sunset.

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No data for file : By day 3 we were feeling refreshed and ready for a desert safari. Five Landcruisers left the hotels and drove 5 hours through gravel desert that felt like one very long quarry, which I suppose it is. We shared a car with the happiest mother-daughter pair ever, and were entertained by their infectious laughter throughout the trip. After a couple of hours driving we stoped at the lost city of Ubar, an old trading centre that was only rediscovered a few years ago.
Just before sundown we arrived at classic sand-dune desert - "The Empty Quarter", and we all ran up into the dunes to watch the sun set over the camp, and I enjoyed photography heaven. I got a great shot of a fellow photographer on the next dune, and when I later gave him my card so I could send him a copy, it turned out he was the editor of the magazine through which I had won my trip, and after talking to him more it looks like I might even get work though him in the future - not a bad piece of networking on what happened to be my first day as a full-time freelancer.

After dark we ate camel stew, which was good, and seemed to contain an entire camel given the intersting body parts that kept popping up. We then sat around the camp fire listening to the locals talking about their country, and marvelling at the number of stars we could see in the clear, unpolluted sky. We also saw an amazing shooting star, which looked more like a comet, with a wide sparkling tail. I don't know if this was because it really was big, or just the clear sky making it look that way. When it was time to sleep we pulled our beds out of the tent and dozed off staring at Orion, something that was probably appreciated more by Lotta since I can't focus beyong 6 inches without glasses, and saw just a grey blur.
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No data for file : The morning was more efficient than the evening, and within 30 minutes of waking our convoy was screaming across the desert into the rising sun. The early start and fast driving meant that the hotel was still serving breakfast when we got back, and it felt odd to have 250 km under our belts as we sat down with the other bleary-eyed guests. We were pretty bleary too, so we had another lazy day on the beach, enjoying the unlimited amounts of high-quality food that the Hilton produced.

The next day we hired a car and drove out to Mirbat 80 Km away. This was more our kind of town, small and compact, and previously the centre of the horse trade. We stopped for coffee and were treated by a very nice old man with whom we had no words in common, but manged to communicate anyway. Or thought we did, at least. After that I thought it would be fun to have a shave at one of the many barbers on the street, and all went well until he offered to wash my face, which I didn't realise would involve noxious lotions which due to my sunburn essentially removed my face, leaving a bleeding red mess as my interface to the world and the relentless sun. Almost two weeks later I still bleed after washing my face.

The next stop on our day was some snorkelling bays just past the Marriott Hotel, for which we had some vague directions. With what we now know to be a stroke of luck, we navigated the sand roads without incident, and found a nice little bay that we shared only with all manner of tropical fish, including our favorite, a monocle bream (I think) called Findus. The air and water temperatures were around 25 degrees, which is perfect for us, but the sun was extremely strong, and I burned for only the third time in my life, despite using SPF 20 cream. We thought the water was quite clear and the fish variety large, but experienced divers said that we need to up our expectations.

We later learned that we had misunderstood the scale of the directions, and the 'real' bays were much further away, but we were happy with ours, and decided to keep the car another day and head back there. This didn't go so well, and by missing our old path we learned that identical-looking tracks through the sand had wildly varying stability, and after trying to speed through a soft spot ended up well stuck, a long way from stable ground. Warning: Variable passed to each() is not an array or object in /customers/f/c/7/frozentime.se/httpd.www/php/display_image.php on line 103 Warning: Variable passed to each() is not an array or object in /customers/f/c/7/frozentime.se/httpd.www/php/display_image.php on line 106 Warning: getimagesize(): Filename cannot be empty in /customers/f/c/7/frozentime.se/httpd.www/php/display_image.php on line 441 Warning: getimagesize(): Filename cannot be empty in /customers/f/c/7/frozentime.se/httpd.www/php/display_image.php on line 446 ddd

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No data for file : An hour of digging and building a new road out of slate got us to a gravel plateau, but getting off that was no easy task either and after dismissing every exit as too dodgy we then had to reassess and take the least scary route, this time even faster, which let us surf over 10m soft spots, and eventually we got our poor little car back on track, and found our bay, where I sat and pondered why I've never seen a Toyota Yaris in the Paris-Dakar Rally, and how I could forget to take a picture of our stranded car and our beautful piece of road construction.

And suddenly our holiday was over. Not the most exciting ever, but it wasn't really meant to be, as we both wanted to rest up after a hectic autumn and with new jobs starting.

Conclusion

Salalah is currently a great place for young families who want sun, sea and steaks at great hotels, but for more active holidayers it takes a bit more work to find entertainment than other destinations. We were happy to chill out there for a week and take our small excursions, but of the places we have been to on packages I would probably recommend Madiera or La Gomera over Salalah for those wanting more local activity, like hiking and sight-seeing. Still, we had no complaints about the place, it's just that some other places in the world are maybe worth visiting first.

© Mark Harris 2012

(Oman photographs)

(Frozentime Images homepage)