Monthly Archives: March 2014

Wadi Shab

The next day I woke early to pick up a rental car to drive to this place called “Wadi Shab” (google images) which I had in my mind as the ultimate goal for me in Oman. Wadi means something similar to valley. The idea of swimming in caves is what sold me. I don’t have any good pictures of it because I let my camera behind. Soz.

The prospect of driving in Oman terrified me a little bit, taxi journeys were always swerving honking and swearing affairs, but it turns out it’s just the taxi drivers. For the most part it’s really safe, and everyone’s a pretty good driver. I was running out of time, so I ended up having to go well over the speed limit, slowing down only for the speed cameras. So I guess I was more dangerous than most.

When I got to Wadi Shab, it was paradise. A sort of sandy gorge, sprinkled with palm trees and other foliage. Eventually I got to the river part, there were loads of indian guys swimming in its clear water. The water was actually pleasantly cool, not ice cold like a mountain spring. I could have stayed all day in the water.

I carried on walking up the gorge, and at the end there’s a bit where you have to swim to get to the end. At the end is the entrance of a cave that you can swim inside – you have to duck a bit underwater to get in there. Inside the cave was a small waterfall with a rope that lets you climb up it a bit. Had to run back really quickly in order to catch my flight but I could have stayed there much longer.

Had to fill the rental car up before handing it back, as the tank was empty. Cost £6. £6!!!! Land of black gold.

Muscat

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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.

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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.

 

Do Buy

13189035785_b841f32c6aI had to go to Dubai for a job. All I really got to see was the exhibition centre where the work was and the hotel. Once the job was finished, I had a free in Dubai, and 2 in Oman.

Someone told me about a shopping mall with a ski slope in it, so I headed there. It was deserted, full of (empty) luxury designer shops. The islamic morning prayer came out on the PA while I was there, which kind of sanctified the mall. An ode to consumerism. Found a shopping trolley parked outside the gucci shop (pictured).

There was also virgin megastore there. Maybe people actually buy CDs there, rather than downloading. It’s not impossible to access pirate bay there. Ahh, the actual ski slope looked pretty cool. You could do Zorbing there too (that sport where you climb into a big plastic transparent sphere and roll down a hill in it.) There was a conveyor belt to take you back up to the top of the hill in your zorb. It reminded me of the bit in Indiana Jones when he steals the idol and is chased by big stone balls (which look like they’re made of polystyrene).

On the metro, the stops are announced in prerecorded Arabic, then in English. When the English voice reads out the stop name, it makes no effort to use the actual pronunciation, it’s just read phonetically off the page.

13190065573_f8cb6dcbdb_bWent to the world famous aquarium and was disappointed. The sharks were cool, though. Dubai is just lots of brand new tall buildings. We visited the oldest part of town – the souk (market), and by old, that means 1970’s. Coming to the Arabian peninsula, I really wanted to get a bit of local culture, but I wasn’t going to find it in Dubai, so I jumped on a plane to Muscat, the capital of Oman.