Oman – The best surprise

posted in: Asia, Oman | 0

Before we started planning this bicycle tour I didn’t know anything about Oman. Then I saw some photos of the country and decided that we have to see it. Finally we went and realized that Oman is one of the best countries in the world.

We quickly rolled to the seaside from the border and the vacation began. The sea was excellent. Perfect temperature, depth, waves and above all it was all ours, no one else was at the beach during day time. We really enjoyed swimming after those hot days. We also had enough drinking water – locals often gave us a couple of bottles of mineral water and we could also count on the water fountains’ cold filtered water all over Oman. People weren’t intrusive and I especially liked that they can say hello with a short honking that doesn’t turn us deaf.

 

 

We cycled along the shore for two days. We saw a lot of destroyed houses next to the sea and learnt that the people are afraid of floods, so they build new homes further from the water. Their buildings are impressive, the enormous houses look like forts because they’re all surrounded with walls. And all of them are different. Unlike the real forts, those look all the same. We saw many forts and even more mosques. There is one every 500 meters so we could hear the singing of 6-8 Imams at once. Five times a day. The towns’ other elements are the migrants’ shops. Many people from India and Bangladesh come to Oman for a better life, they do all the manual work. Many of them open their own shops, but they aren’t very creative. We found it funny that there are at least five barber shops and laundries even in the smallest village. These are the most popular businesses but there are also a lot of ladies tailors and so called coffee shops that sell fast food. We loved to read the signs of these stores, because we could find some gems that are completely nonsense. Selling of Food Stuff, Cutting of Hair Shop and Contemporary Ice Cream Trading were probably the results of Google Translate, the owner didn’t think twice before making the sign. It was also funny when someone simply couldn’t copy all the other signs around his shop and opened a Lundary instead of a Laundry. It will be okay… The guest workers are also professionals in waste management. They leave most of the trash, just collect a little bit next to the road then light it and leave it there. Of course not even half of it burns.

 

 

From the shore we turned towards the mountains and valleys. We watched a waterfall which barely had any water, but the creek around it was pretty nice. We should have come in the winter because in September everything was dry and although not as hot as in UAE still very warm.

 


Then came the climbs. Long time have passed since our last one but until we were on tarmac, we didn’t complain. But suddenly there was no more asphalt and everything got brutally difficult. The roads were so steep that we were thinking about suing Oman, this can’t be legal! If I had been alone I would have turned back for sure, but Adam helped me push my bike several times. Once it was so steep that we had to push both bicycles together. It was one of those days when I would have been happier if we had a car. The highlight of the day was when a car stopped in front of us, an Arabic man jumped out of it and ran up the mountain, chasing goats. He was hopping on the rocks so briskly in those slippers and ‘toga’ that he easily caught two goats. This incredible scene helped a little to survive that day.

 

 

 

One day was enough of this kind of adventure. We wanted to see some other places nearby but that would have led to more struggles so we rather chose some more holiday time at the beach. The next day we had only five kilometers left of the dirt road, after that only perfectly smooth tarmac and downhill. We lost each other once on the way, but with routine we found each other quickly. When we reached the first town we bought a big box of ice cream. The Indian shopkeeper didn’t let us eat it outside in the hot weather, he invited us to his office while we finished the whole box. He also brought us some bottled water and recommended a place for resting. It was a nearby spring and creek. I get that for the locals it’s a big deal to see water that isn’t coming out of a tap but for me it was nothing special. Still it was worth going to this touristic spot because we met a very kind couple who invited us to their home in Muscat. We promised to visit them after some days spent by the sea.

 

 

The next day we reached the sea at Barka. We found a bridge that wasn’t connected to any roads yet, so nobody used it. It was quiet and gave us shade the whole day – we didn’t need anything more. We had some rest there for four days. We were having fun. In the evenings we went to bathe in the sea under the full moon. We ate lots of dates, it’s one of the few things that are cheaper in Oman than at home. The grocery stores have much more to offer than in Iran and most of the things are spicy, even banana sauce – full of chilli, you can’t taste the banana. But we made good meals. For example pineapple jam which is the most delicious when mixed with yogurt. In the meantime we got our Indian visas, we were already excited about the infamous country.

 

 

We spent our last three days with the family who had invited us. It was luxurious to stay in a big house where we had our own room with air conditioning and bathroom and to visit new places in a comfortable car. Our hosts, Amer and Zubeyda showed us many places and talked a lot about the life in Oman. This way we could get to know the country even though we completed only a little fragment of our planned itinerary. Not to mention that some of these places would be impossible to get to by bicycle.

 

 

We went up to more than 2000 meters above sea level to see the panorama from Jebel Akhdar. We walked in Al Hoota cave that was recently discovered by a shepherd. We saw some suqs – traditional marketplaces, a date farm and a falaj – water channel. We went to Al Hamra and a tranquil mountain village next to it, Misfah.

 

 

The following day we visited the attractions around Muscat: the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, a bazaar, old Muscat, the palace of the sultan and a deluxe hotel. The best part of the day was a surprise boat ride out on the sea. And although we like our nomadic lifestyle, I have to admit we enjoyed the comfort: sipping cold banana shake in a cool car and eating lunch at Pizza Hut.

 

 

During this time we learnt a lot about Oman. It was strange to hear that the leaders of the country really work for the benefit of people and if anyone has a problem he or she can turn to the government for help. The Omani people don’t pay taxes and when they turn 18 they get land for free if they build a house on it. It’s basically illegal to be poor. People are honest with each other. Zubeyda told us that once she accidentally left the fish she bought at the shop, she went back four months later when she remembered and the fish was still waiting for her, the shopkeeper gave it to her without any issues. It’s also interesting that a lot of men have more wives. We had already heard about this so when we were sitting in a park we always tried to guess who is who in the family, is that woman a wife or a daughter?

 

 

On the third day we stayed at home to get ready for our first flight with the bikes. The previous day we got boxes from a bicycle shop, it was pretty easy, it helped that we went by car. It took us a whole day to take our vehicles apart and pack them very carefully. We also separated our stuff to checked in and hand baggage. Unfortunately we didn’t weigh them, it turned out at the check in desk that they were a bit heavier than the limit. It took some time but we could stuff the extra kilos in our backpacks, this way we didn’t have to pay a fee. Our hosts helped us throughout the day and Amer who used to work for Oman Air even made some calls to make sure that our luggage is handled with care. And they made us promise that some day we’ll return to Oman and visit them.