SEVENTEENTH MOVEMENT: OMAN
. . . the gate for the flight to Muscat opened shortly after midnight and I entered in to the waiting area; eventually we boarded the plane and took off at 02:15, leaving Sri Lanka and South Asia behind. Once airborne, we were given our meals and I had the vegetarian plate (eggplant, sliced carrots, broccoli, and tomato sauce) with a salad and slices of fruit; I also had to cups of white wine and a cup of tea to aid my digestion. After dinner, I tried to get as much sleep as I could on the plane and I ended up clocking in a couple of hours, but I was very tired and exhausted. The plane finally landed some time after 04:30 Omani time. I departed the plane and was bussed with the other passengers to the arrival building. I then went through Immigration (quick, easy, but the exchange rate for the Visa was biased – I ended up paying more in USD than I should have), grabbed my bag when it finally came around on the belt, and then walked through customs; I then grabbed cash at an ATM before exiting the airport. It was well past 05:00. I was dismayed to learn that the taxis in Oman do not use meters, which means I and all other obvious looking foreigners will be offered the bullshit rate by taxi drivers, which is two, three, or four times the actual, fair price; it’s sad that so many people in this world think it’s okay to lie, cheat, and treat others differently; if only everyone practiced the “Golden Rule” and treated others how they would like to be treated . . . oh well, I can always retire to the mountains and get away from it all or I could just “retire”. Anyway, I started walking out of the airport and several taxi drivers tried to get my business; finally, one driver that was following me for some time had dropped his initial price of eight rial down to five rial (still one too high, but I was tired enough to take it; also, to be honest, I didn’t really know where I was going, so I needed a taxi . . . the driver didn’t really know where he was going either). I got in to the taxi and we drove off toward the ridiculously priced hotel I made a reservation with through Booking.com (Oman doesn’t appear to have cheap lodging or at least nothing available to book online; also, as I found out during my stay in Oman, nothing is really cheap here; like the United Arab Emirates and their other oil rich neighbors, they have high prices on almost everything). After driving east for ten minutes or so from the airport, we reached the general area the hotel is in, but the taxi driver pulled up to one with a similar name, thinking that was it; I checked at the reception in the off chance that it might be the one, but of course it wasn’t; the taxi driver then received directions to the correct hotel, but after driving around some more, he came right back to this similar-named hotel to be given the directions again; this time, the taxi driver finally made it to the correct hotel; I paid him, checked in once the receptionist finished his morning prayers, went up to my room, showered, and then went to sleep after 08:00 – I really wanted to forgo sleep and just get to sight-seeing, but I was incredibly exhausted and wanted nothing more then to lay in bed with eyes shut and mind dreaming.
After 13:00, I woke up, dressed, and went out to see Muscat in the daylight. I first wandered around in the vicinity of the hotel, but then decided to go to the corniche; I found a taxi and armed with knowledge pulled from the internet, was able to get a somewhat fair price (probably one rial more than it should’ve been – that’s the foreigner tax). The driver took me to the corniche near Old Muscat and immediately I was drawn to a fort on top of one of the rocky outcrops. I walked over to this fort (I later found out the name – Mutrah Fort) and then walked around it and up the steps to the main entrance (which was locked). I then walked through the souq that was filled with mostly Western shoppers . . . meaning it’s more of a shopping center for tourists than an actual souq that locals would use. Next, I walked along the corniche, looking at the cruise ships, the navy vessel, and the Sultan’s giant yacht (I wonder what the orgies on that rockin’ ship are like; alas, I’ll never know because I’m not a Sultan or a Sheik or a King); I also kept my eyes on the shore, looking at the rocky hills, white-painted buildings, and towers. After walking for a while, I eventually reached the Old Watch Tower and climbed the steps to see what was inside (two canons); then I walked through the Old Muscat Gate and over to the backside of Qasr Al Alam Palace (it was closed to the public and soldiers were guarding it, but tourists are permitted to take photographs of it, so i did); interestingly, the backside of the palace has a few anti-aircraft guns that look like they were stolen from World War II. Next to the palace are two forts (Al Marani and Al Jalali) that were originally built as prisons in the sixteenth-century during the Portuguese occupation; unfortunately, both forts are closed to the public, so I had to be content with just viewing the outsides of these fortifications. I then walked to the front of Qasr Al Alam Palace and looked around there (the National Museum is directly across from the palace, but is not yet opened). After exploring Old Muscat some more, I realized how strange this city is; there were few people out and about and most of the were tourists, the roads had light traffic compared to other Middle Eastern countries, and at times I felt like I was in a deserted place; also, Old Muscat, this main administrative area full of history and museums, was devoid of restaurants, hotels, and other things one would expect in a major tourist area (the corniche had these things, although not many); now this felt odd to me, but, I must admit, based on this first day in Oman, it is easily my favorite Arabian country due to the quiet, relaxed nature of the place, the lack of crowds and traffic congestion, the pristine, clean, white-washed look of the city, and the historic buildings (NOTE: most Arabian countries have new, oil-bought structures and, since they are traditionally a nomadic people, there usually aren’t any historic (i.e. pre-1960s) buildings to be found anywhere; also, the historic buildings that are still standing are usually forts that were built by the Portuguese or other European invaders) . . . now if only their taxis used meters. As I returned to the palace after walking around some more, it was night time; so I used my tripod to take some low-light photographs of the palace and the forts before I walked back to the corniche. Once back at the corniche, I hired a taxi to take me near the Intercontinental, where I high-ranked restaurant on Tripadvisor is located. After reaching the restaurant, I got a table and treated myself to a fine meal; for dinner I had hummus and bread, Findal Ubhar (chunks of grilled sweet potatoes with raisins and cinnamon), Saloonat Laham Jamal (camel meat curry served with white rice and diced tomatoes), and two glasses of Green Oasis (lemonade with mint); for dessert I had a date cheesecake, frankincense ice cream (this was unique and tasty, but the best ice cream I have ever tasted was a black tea ice cream – now that was fan-fucking-tastic!), and Omani coffee; altogether it was great feast and pricey. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I stopped at a next door Caribou Coffee shop to have a cool Berry White Mocha, which is one of the best coffee based drinks I have ever had. Finally, I found a taxi to take me back to my hotel (for two rials, three less than what the driver initially offered, and probably a fair price) where I typed away on my laptop and relaxed before going to sleep.