Early morning flight to Muscat. Weird you have to pay for a visa when you get there. That set the tone. You have to haggle with a taxi driver every time you want to go somewhere (the buses are terrible and there’s no other option). Money, money, money.
First off, I went to the Grand Mosque, as that seems to be the number one attraction. It was very impressive. Oman is a very religious country.
I went to a part of town called Muttrah to see an old market. Finally I got to see a bit of real life. The market wasn’t too exciting, but the streets surrounding it were pretty nice. Nearby I could see a small castle on top of a hill. I didn’t know anything about it, so I kept walking towards it. As I got close to it, I decided to explore a particularly charing derelict house, with one side wall cut away, only to find a hideous scene of hypodermic syringes and burnt foil etc on the stairs. Back to the castle.
I climbed the stairs that led to the castle. Just as I was almost at the top, I turned round to get a great view of the bay, and just then, the prayers started from the minarets of each of the different mosques in earshot, maybe 20, all oblivious of eachother, all in different keys, cacophonous, but somehow they went nicely together.
Back to the castle. After almost giving up because it appeared to be locked, I discovered that one of the entrances was actually only bolted from the outside, as if they were trying to keep something trapped in there.
I went in apprehensively, and found that it was being squatted in, but no-one was home. Didn’t look like they’d kept the place very tidy, probably because they were also junkies. Didn’t stick around for long, didn’t fancy meeting the occupants.
5 minutes later, I was at the bottom of the hill, and a massive convoy of about 50 cars which all looked like they’d just been freshly spray-painted, drove past. Turns out it was the president of Iran. Police and army were patrolling the road. Lucky they hadn’t seen me in the castle, it would have made a great sniper hideout.
Walked a few miles to “Old Muscat”, the posh part of town with the Sultan’s palace and the government buildings. The buildings were impressive and minimal, colonial looking, with ornamental cannons and superfluous ornate lamp-posts everywhere. The palace itself was colossal, complete with anti-aircraft guns on the terrace.
It was all very well-kept and clean. But completely empty. Not a soul was there, except on my way out when I saw 2 scrawny looking boys playing cricket on a perfectly manicured lawn, using a milk-crate as a makeshift wicket. That’s like a few kids playing football outside number 10.
I walked another 10km or so, not able to face haggling with another taxi driver, to get some dinner, having to walk through a massive building site where I had to walk along a very long narrow plank of wood over ditch. Crossing streets is a little bit of a gauntlet. There are no pedestrian crossings, and most of the roads you want to cross are big and full of fast cars. You just have to wait for a human shaped slot and go for it. Sometimes that takes a few minutes.
Much like Amsterdam uses the guise of “Coffeeshop” to hide its intentions of selling drugs, Oman uses it to conceal the fact that they’re selling kebabs.