Muscat - Omani Dinner, collecting our Iranian visa's and road to Masirah Island
A true Oman dinner
On our first arrival at the Muscat beach, many locals and foreign residents had stopped by at our camping spot for a chat; many of them very interested in the conversion of our truck. Not surprising -if one knows Oman a little- the Omani are very fond of camping. Aside for the summer months (that we are certainly approaching as we speak), the weather is absolutely perfect and there are countless camping spots along the beautiful beaches, next to the wadi’s and in the mountains. One of the Omani that visited us with his grandson had invited us for a true Omani dinner at his place. Being very curious and looking forward to an Omani diner, we decided to give him a call… He had not forgotten and we were very welcome the next day. When we arrived, so did his brothers and his and their sons and we all went into the sitting area for a drink. After a while, a tablecloth was placed at the immaculate beautiful carpet and dinner was served on the floor. Oh boy… lets be very careful not to spill. It was a rich dinner with several dishes and bites, all truly delicious.
After the main dinner, several desserts were served among which also the traditional Halwa that never misses at Omani weddings closely followed with Omani coffee and dates.
After dinner, Judith is asked to follow our host and she meets with the rest of the family in the next room. When Wilfred showed the truck to the men, Judith showed our photo albums to the ladies. Especially one of the daughters was very interested and a photographer herself specializing in photographing eyes… Judith saw some very nice pictures.
After a while, Judith is brought back to the men. Realizing it was close to midnight (and everyone but us had to work tomorrow), we thanked our host for the very pleasant evening and drove back to ‘our’ beach…
Monday morning we did some errands (sending Wilfred’s suits by post to the Netherlands, getting supplies for camping the next nights) and we collected our passports with Iranian visas at the Embassy.
As summer is coming is Oman it is getting hotter and humid by the day. Towards the south are some very nice beaches and Wadi’s with lower temperatures than in Muscat. In the bookshop we bought a 4x4 routes and hikes book of Oman with some excellent routes to drive towards the south.
Following the coastal road to Masirah Island
We left Muscat after picking up passports with visa at the Iranian Embassy towards Quriyat from where we would leave into the mountains. Before we turned onto the dirt road, we visited the Dam of Dayqah and is Oman’s largest dams (75 and 48 metres in height). The dirt road that seemed recently maintained, brought us through several nice mountain passes and Aadi Dayqah. We stopped at the waterfall close to Wadi al Arbiyyin. As it was already getting late, we did not stop for a swim and continued through wadi towards the sea close to Fins where we visited Hawlyat Najm, a sinkhole – a deep natural depression caused by the collapse of the earth. The water in the sinkhole is 20 meters lower and the water is very salty, more so than the sea.
Hoping that the night would be cooler in the mountains, we once more climbed into the mountains towards Salma Plateau following the dirt road from Fins. The book mentioned several nice camping places at different heights each after some steep hairpins. We had set our aim at the highest plateau from where the stargazing would be amazing knowing that we could stop at anytime. The first hairpins went smoothly and we did not need to engage 4wd to get to the second plateau and decided to continue as planned. The next series of hairpins were much steeper (as correctly mentioned in the book) and we engaged 4wd. Close to the end of the series; we make it halfway of a very steep climb…Wilfred let the car roll backwards till the last bend and engaged low gear. He gave it another shot and makes it to the next bend. Not liking the fact that we needed to drive in 4wd on this winding concrete road, we turned the car and returned to the lower plateau for the night.
It was a much more pleasant temperature than at sea level, but it turned out to be very windy night. It was so windy, that at 3.00am, we closed the rooftop and started to watch some episodes of a series. Around 5.30am, the wind force had not reduced and we decided to start our day. The initial plan was to drive the route of the steep mountain passes, which would have been close to a full day with all the views, caves and wadi’s to admire. With the failed attempt the evening before we took the tarmac road towards Sur and continued towards Shanna, to catch the ferry to Masirah Island.
We arrived very early in Sur and when we went to visit the castle, the main gate was open, but not the castle itself. Famous for its dhow building yards, we also visited the dhow shipyard and the museum next to it. Again we find the main gate open, but the museum closed…with plenty of time to get to Shanna, we decided to follow the coastal road. It is nice stretch of road with an almost continuous view over the Oman Sea. Every now and then, we drove through a small fishing village and about half way to Shannah, the rocky dessert turned into a proper sand dessert. The ferry port of Shannah is located a couple of kilometers beyond the shoreline and to get there, we passed a long stretch of salt baths that were being harvested.
We got onto the three o’clock ferry and about an hour later drove the Masirah shore counter clockwise to find a nice place to camp. Although the wind was not as strong as the night before, it was still strong and we decided to camp in the sheltered mountainous area instead of on the beach.
The next day we completed the full island circle, every now and then leaving the tarmac road to drive through the sand towards more secluded beaches in search of a place to swim and stay the night.
Before we took a dip in the sea, we wanted to make the car ready for the night, allowing the car to cool down. Wilfred pushed the roof up; it felt more heavy than usual…having parked into the (strong) wind, he positioned himself better and gave it another shot… this time he certainly pushed the roof beyond the point where the gas struts should take over. But again, they did not…
Having replaced the wooden planks for a proper bed, we face a small challenge to fill up the space between the two benches… but with the fridge on the floor, two box covers, the ammo-box and a cutting board, we managed to make a reasonable bed. It was not the best night, but at least we had some sleep and no problem to wake up early to be on time for the nine o’clock ferry.
From Shannah, we drove the fastest way back to Sur to see if we could find a shop that sold gas struts…quickly we gave up this challenge and headed to a carpenter to find strong hardwood poles to keep the roof up. With hand and feet, Wilfred managed to make clear what we needed and the carpenter went to the back of his workshop a came back with an old door panel with nice wood carvings…had he really understood? Seconds later, the nice door was put on the table-saw and two poles were created out of it. With our new solution at hand, we headed out of town towards a quiet spot near the white sandy beaches of Fins for the night.
Fins, Wadi Bani Khalid and more of Muscat
En route to Fins, we found a sign for a fortress near the city of Al Mahyul named Ja’alan Bani Bu Hassan and decided to pay it a visit. To our surprise, it is not only a fort, but it also includes a small castle. The whole place was recently restored and looked brand new. The castle had some interesting rooms. Next to an officer’s mess, armory, men and women prisons and a reception room, there were amongst others also a mosque and a date storage. The next day it was sizzling hot and after a swim in the Oman Sea we headed into the mountains towards Wadi Bani Khalid instead of driving back towards Muscat.
Route to Wadi Bani Khalid
To get to Wadi Bani Khalid, we needed to cross a mountain pass. Whilst discussing the plan for the coming days, we started our way up…when all of a sudden, Wilfred noticed that the engine was very close to overheating and he immediately put the car on the side of the road. We opened the bonnet and saw the coolant of the car boiling and dripping out of the engine. Deep in our conversation, we had forgotten to switch of the air-conditioning…a small half hour later, we were able to continue our way up as if nothing had happened.
Too late for a swim (according to the signs at the parking…), we headed into the mountains behind the village and found a very nice spot high above the pools and town. Although still 35 degrees when we arrived, there was a nice cool breeze.
The next morning, we woke up early and headed down towards the pools for a very necessary bath and refreshing swim. Even though it was weekend, we had the pools to ourselves till about eight thirty.
After our refreshing dip, we continued our drive towards Muscat. In Muscat, we made an attempt to find the gas strut at one of the industrial areas, but without success and ordered them in the Netherlands. If we could not find them, we could then at least have them shipped to Dubai in parallel.
Muscat - Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Royal Opera House
During lunch the next day, we ordered tickets for Dee Dee Bridgewater, who was that night playing at the Opera. We had expected that the attire had to be a little formal, however at completion of the order, it was stated very formal…men to wear a dinner jacket or suit and women in, a conservative, gown. Having just sent Wilfred’s suits back home by post, he ended up buying another one…
We spent the night in the Holiday Inn to be able to freshen up before the Opera. The Performance of Dee Dee Bridgewater (a Memphis jazz and blues singer) and her band was built around old(er) song from well known artists that had influenced her over the years. The show was almost sold out and a very nice opportunity to not only see the Royal Opera House from the outside, but also from the inside. When we arrived, we noticed that we were certainly not overdressed, but could have survived without buying a suit for Wilfred. If not appropriately dressed, and several men were certainly not, one would get a traditional dishdasha (a floor length robe) and massar (an embroidered wool turban which is worn tied neatly around a kuma, a specially sized (as opposed to one size fits all) hand-embroidered cap that has small holes throughout the embroidery which help keep the head cool in the hot Omani sun) from the opera house.
An unexpected, yet very welcome invitation
During one of our mornings at the beach, we had also made friends with Maja and Jurjen. We had met up with them before our trip to Masirah Island, but they had been very busy with the exam project of their kids and had made arrangements to meet up when we would be back at Muscat for dinner. The dinner was planned for Tuesday when on Monday morning we received a message that we would be very welcome to stay at their place -instead of in the heat- for the rest of our stay in Muscat. We gladly accepted and had several pleasant evenings with them before we headed for the mountains. One night, we had dinner at Bait Al Luban, a traditional Omani restaurant with their specialty Shuwa; goat meat that is slowly cooked underground for at least a day and served with baked rice.
During these couple of days in Muscat, we serviced the car and visited some of the must sees like the Grand Mosque and the Old Muttrah Souq near the cruise terminal, corniche and fish market.