Good day to you! I hope you’re recovered from trawling through Oman! No.5; I know it took me a few days rest to get over writing it. Ready for the next bout? Then we’ll begin.
On Thursday the 11th of April, we set out early to attempt the ‘Muttrah Walk’, which despite being just ten minutes’ stroll from the largest port in the country, is a rocky and deserted mountain hike; you feel as if you are the only group for miles around. Having returned from a night out just hours before, the walk presented a satisfying challenge, with a teacher and his family, having volunteered to lead us on the route, looking on with bemusement.
Later that day, we met up with the same teacher, to travel to Wahiba Sands, one of Oman’s most visited attractions, being the highest quality desert within a few hours of Muscat. We met Badir, our Omani guide and were led to his camp in the desert.
Badir was an enthusiastic guide, and straight away ushered us into his severely weathered 4×4, to experience what’s known as ‘dune/wadi bashing’. Essentially this is driving very fast and carelessly across bumpy desert, while your Omani guide cackles every time you almost flip over. Fun!
Later, we walked to the highest ridge around, to watch the sunset. From this ridge we spied the only life nearby, that being a Bedouin village in the distance.
We enjoyed the amenities of the camp, including table-tennis and coffee and dates, until dinner time, which was a delicious spread of typical ‘Omani’ food (though there is no national cuisine, Omanis make very good replications of other Asian dishes, such as biryani, porata, and dahl). When the night had truly come, we drove a short way out in to the desert, where the lack of nearby cities afforded an almost unspoilt view of the stars.
The next day, after a breakfast of dahl, I finally got to try something I’d been anticipating ever since I came to Oman; sand boarding. We were joined at the camp by some other Omanis, one pictured here:
It was immensely enjoyable; however the slog up the dune, carrying a board and treading on burning hot sand, was something of a limiter on how many times I came down. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable experience.After this, we made the journey home.
But the day was not over! That evening, we were guests at the house of our delightful Arabic tutor, AbdulAziz. Of Sudanese extraction, his home was lovely, and brimming with welcoming family members, including some adorable children. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take my camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Skipping ahead a few days, notable only for a school day cancelled due to a water mains problem, and a hellish trip to the PDO Planetarium with Year 3, we come to the 16th of April, and a hockey match between the Muscat Arabian Foxes and HMS Monmouth, a British Navy ship with an intriguing history.
Before announcing the score, I must say that the Monmouth players were extremely good sports, and that at least four of their players had not picked up a hockey stick before that match. Unfortunately their enthusiasm and astounding physical fitness could not stifle the skill of the Foxes, but the final score of 5-1 to the home team shows the quality of both teams.
This was followed by drinks at the Grand Hyatt hotel, where the Monmouth players made good use of the few hours before their midnight curfew!
The next day, once school had ended, we began an ill-fated venture to Dubai with another member of staff. ‘Ill fated?’ you ask? Well having set off at 4.30pm, and arriving at the Oman/UAE border at around 8pm, our teacher friend realised that had forgotten his passport. ‘Good joke!’ we all cried. We then arrived back in Muscat at 12am. As I say, ill fated.
The following day, the 18th, we had another attempt, at 7.30am. With passport checked, double checked, and triple checked, we made it across the border, and were in Dubai by midday. At this point we parted ways with our colleague, and explored the Mall of the Emirates, famous for its in-house ski slope! However, as noted by one of my colleagues, the only people who enjoy Dubai are there either to make money or to spend it. And as we were unable to do either, Dubai didn’t hold much charm for us. That evening, on an emphatic recommendation, we visited the Titanic restaurant, owned by Marco Pierre White. I’m no restaurant critic, and so all I will tell you is that a small glass of house red cost £15.
The next morning, with considerably lighter pockets, we visited the famous Dubai mall, the largest shopping mall in the world. Enthralled by its aquarium and ice-rink, we were nonetheless still unable to really appreciate Dubai’s attraction. Unconvinced, we turned for home, the much more welcoming, cultural, and real-life city of Muscat.
That’s all for now, and I hope that you’ve either learned or enjoyed something, and maybe even both!
Important note: the tenth photo in this post was not taken by me, nor on my camera. I would give credit if I knew the name of the one who did take the photo!
Further note: the three hockey photos were also not taken by me, but were taken by a colleague on my camera.
Hello! After a somewhat hurried blog post previously, sit back and enjoy its successor, enormous as it is crafted.
At the end of March, I attended two more events at the Royal Opera House Muscat, which was hosting an a capella festival . On the 27th I saw Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, a female choir from Bulgaria, who performed in national dress. Of course recordings or photography were not permitted, so Youtube will have to suffice. The following night, I returned to ROHM, this time in dishdasha and mussar (alas, no photos), to see Cantus, an American male choir. Their performance was truly spectacular, and this was my favourite song (not a hint of bias). I wholeheartedly recommend that you attend any performance of either of these groups!
On Friday 29th of March, my colleagues and I sailed east of Muscat on a plushly decorated dhow, a ship of ancient Omani heritage (a dhow roundabout is pictured in my second Oman blog post).
With a nod to the British Ambassador, we sailed east for about two hours.
Reaching an exact place known only to our captain, we dropped anchor and surveyed the scenery around us.
At this point we had a few hours simply to enjoy the peace. Some swam, some snorkelled, there were even kayaks. Until the jetski arrived! A friend of a friend of the captain (which seems to be the dynamic for most opportunities in Oman), gave rides both on the back, and on a rubber ring dragged behind at high velocity – a bumpy ride! After some hours had passed (all too quickly), it was time to sail back, which at sunset provided some fantastic views.
Now then, this is where the real blog starts, as the next day (30/03/13) marks the first day of the famous ROAD TRIP. Unlike many of the Western schools in Muscat, the Sultan’s School gets only one week for Easter/Spring Break, and so we utilised our short time as efficiently as possible.
Starting in Muscat, which is in north Oman, we drove south-east, to a fantastic sink hole. As with everything magnificent I see in Oman, I was shocked that there were so few people there.
After a few hours of relaxed swimming and sunbathing, we proceeded further south-east, to Sur, the proverbial ‘one-camel’ town. It was entirely deserted, other than a herd of goats roaming the streets. We passed this fort, and hoped to look inside, but of course it was locked. Nevertheless its external aspect was lovely in the sunshine.
We journeyed further along the coast, to the eastern-most point of Oman,the famous Raz al Jinz beach. I say famous because it is on this beach that droves of sea turtles are found to lay their eggs. Sneaking onto the beach out of hours, we saw no such thing, only boats.
Slightly disappointed, and aware of the oncoming sunset, we went a little further and set up camp on an empty beach.
The next morning, we had breakfast in the village of Juwaic. Sitting on a rug accompanied by a cheerfully football-obsessed Omani, I had a kebab for breakfast, and very delicious it was too. We then continued our journey along the coast, to the port town of An Nadjah. From here we embarked (just about) on the car ferry, and spent two hours travelling to the island of Masirah, which, we had been told by many, was a very beautiful area. We were unable to identify this however, as sunset was almost upon us, and we swiftly set up camp on a beach on the north side of the island. It was on this beach that we had the biggest and probably best surprise of the trip; on a nocturnal walk, we came across a turtle on the beach! To top it off, she was digging a hole, in which she would later lay her eggs. Alas, it is considered distressing to a turtle to use flash photography at night, so there are no photos.
The next morning, we set off on a perimeter drive of Masirah, to see for ourselves its natural beauty. However, having driven right around the north and east sides of the 40km long island, we saw nothing but dust and road. It must be beautiful in the centre. Stopping at the port (the only centre of habitation on the island), we had a wonderful breakfast, accompanied by little Abadi. Probably the closest I’ve ever come to kidnap.
After the ferry back to An Nadjah, we stopped following the coast, and instead headed into the interior, in order to reach Salalah more quickly. Passing through Haima, we camped just south of the town, and though we were only 100m from the road, it seems that the desert in the dark is a dangerous place to go wandering! Suffice to say, we got hideously lost on a ‘short’ walk into the desert, and took a long time to find our camp again. Onto the next day!
We had breakfast in al Ghaftayn, a walled village which felt very much like a compound, but they served some excellent breakfast, so no complaints here! After this we finished off our hard slog to Salalah, arriving and promptly getting lost while trying to meet our contact there (a teacher from the Sultan’s School). Eventually we made it to the recently opened McDonalds (the first in Salalah!), and after lunch, we moved on to the al Baleed archaeological park. It reminded me very much of Knossos, in that it was hot, and there wasn’t much there.
After that, we had a short journey east of Salalah to a lovely beach, under the shadow of an extremely welcome, and welcoming expat clubhouse.
The next day, we ventured into the centre of Salalah, which for the country’s second biggest city, has but a small number of shopping streets: two in fact. In its defence, the streets are quite long, and filled with many curiosities.
Resisting the urge to get that second mussar, or that second kumma, I was however caught sufficiently off guard to accidentally get a haircut, along with head massage and wash, facial exfoliation, back, shoulder, and hand massage, and valuable life tips (one girlfriend is not enough, get three).
We then explored some wider parts of Salalah, which the pictures will detail better than I.
We then visited the Frankincense museum, which was actually a lot more interesting than it sounds, as it also covered Oman’s extensive history, particularly its long tradition of international diplomacy. Culturally enriched, we met our Salalah contact once again, and proceeded over mountains to a beach west of Salalah, in fact only about half an hour from Yemen (yikes!). The views on the journey were spectacular.
At the beach we met up with some engineers and a logistician from the nearby Thumrait airbase, and as such got an excellent fire going!
The next morning, after an excellent breakfast of bacon (!!) and eggs, we took one last look at this beautiful beach (which was so dazzling that I forgot to take photos), and turned for home. This time, we just wanted to get home as quickly as possible, so, briefly stopping for probably one of the best photos I have ever taken, we drove all the way up through the interior, making the 1000km distance in about 11 hours. After this mammoth journey, I had just enough energy for a glorious shower, then bed!
Well done for making it through to the end! It took just about as much energy to write it up as the week itself , but I hope it was easier to read. I’ll leave you with my favourite photo of the trip…
Hello! I must begin with an apology for not having updated in some time. However, brace yourselves now for a bumper double update!
On Friday 15th of March, we had a trip to Nizwa, one of Oman’s premium tourist sites. Arriving very early in the morning, we just caught the end of the goat souq, and proceeded to view the various other souqs still operating inside and outside of this walled town.
Having surveyed some of the outside stalls, including the frankly intimidating gun souq, we moved into the town, and explored the shops.
Some items were perhaps a little more attractive than others…
Within the town, the fort dominates the scenery.
Within the fort itself, there was much to see. Every staircase was rife with murder holes, down which boiling date juice was alleged to be poured, and hidden pitfalls, which would see an invader fall tens of feet into a dungeon below. However the best opportunities for photography were from the high towers, looking out over Nizwa.
This concludes post no.4 of my Oman blog, but no.5, which covers my recent half term adventures, will be published shortly!
Hello and welcome to the third, and hopefully not final, update of my Oman experience. Still hanging on? Great!
On the 28th of February, we launched into one of the archetypal tourist experiences of Oman: Muttrah souq. This is a bustling indoor marketplace, seemingly with only one rule: whoever shouts the loudest will surely get the most customers.
However, despite the hectic atmosphere, there is still some lovely architecture.
After enjoying the delights of the souq, we went to a lovely cafe, named after the Corniche on which is is located. However, it seems something was lost in transliteration. Nevertheless I enjoyed my Arabic coffee (qawah) at the Cornish cafe, despite their lack of scones.
Despite my resistance while inside the souq, passing by this little shop, I couldn’t help but be lured into trying on a dishdasha (the ubiquitous Omani robe). The salesman was so nice that eventually I came away with a dishdasha and a kuma (the ubiquitous Omani hat). Photos may perhaps follow.
Now, in case any of you were thinking that it didn’t seem like I was doing any work at the Sultan’s School, well let me tell you, I am!
Recently, I have been working closely with some year 5 classes. Now in a typical British school, Roman and Greek history are staples of a primary syllabus. Not so in the Middle East. Discussing the matter with a sage 10 year-old, he told me that all the history that they study is Islam related, and, I quote, ‘We have wars with everyone.’ Thinking on this, I decided to introduce some alternative history. Recently I’ve taught some lessons about Lunt Fort, Roman Emperors, and yesterday (10/03/13), I gave some lessons on Greek Mythology, which included some acting!
I set the children some work to write their own myths, to be performed next week. I’ll let you know!
Welcome to the second instalment of my travel blog!
I’ll get started right away, as I know some of you have been eagerly awaiting the promised Paul and Katie photos.
Here, Katie is below, and Paul is on top. Not so in their relationship however; Katie is a bit of a bully!
I also thought I’d take some pictures of Martha, who was happy to pose, and looks fabulous.
Now, back to the blog. Now not every day can be an exciting one, otherwise none of them would seem so, and so for this reason, and the purposes of brevity and sanity, not every day will be related in this blog.
Therefore we will launch into Monday the 18th of February, otherwise known at the Sultan’s School as Secondary Cross Country Day! Impetuous as I am, I agreed (and if we’re all honest, insisted) to run every boys’ race of the day. The basic course is a lap of the school’s perimeter road (which does not rate the term ‘cross country’), with extensions for the older year groups. The year 7s ran just under 1500m, and the year 12s and year 13s ran closer to 2000m. I ran four races under the hot sun (it was around 30 degrees that day), and the temptation to question the reason behind such self punishment was large indeed. However the crowd of children shouting for ‘Mr Ed’ from the stands was enough to spur me on! (I’m tearing up, I really am)
Wednesday the 20th was a very unusual and exciting day. It was the final day of Book Week in the Primary school, and as such the children had been invited to come in fancy dress! The same invitation had been extended to the gappies earlier in the week, and as such my colleagues had worked furiously on three excellent costumes…
And the children’s costumes at Flag…
Later on that day, my parents visited me! They had been cruising around the Gulf on the Serenade of the Seas, and had docked at Muscat that morning.
I gave them a tour of the school, and then we embarked on a bus tour of the city.
One notable quirk of Muscat is the design of their roundabouts, which are used to display Oman’s heritage in various ways.
The next two images show the Sultan’s Palace and the Omani Parliament. I’ll let you wonder as to who holds the power…
Upon returning to Muttrah, the port district of Oman, we had dinner at a hotel with lots of fish specialities. After much consideration, I had curried shark, and delicious it was too. What made the meal really special however, was the view from the balcony, where we could see the Sultan’s personal yacht, moored right beside a passenger cruise ship. Even when bearing in mind perspective, the yacht is truly enormous.
The next day (Thursday the 21st of February), I met with my parents again, this time at the Grand Mosque. It definitely bore a second viewing, not only because of its spectacular decoration, but also I could show off what I’d learned not 5 days before to my parents!
Having bid farewell to my parents for 12 weeks, *sob*, the gappies went down to the beach to properly relax in the sun after a hard first week.
Unfortunately for Jack, this resulted in some rather vibrant sunburn. Upon inspection however, an upside was discovered…
Go on. You know you want to.
Hello! This is the first of my Oman blog/photography posts; I hope that there is something of interest to many here.
However, the very first day was not particularly interesting. We flew from Heathrow at 9.30, and flying via Bahrain, arrived at Muscat Airport at 22.00 local time. Having arrived at the school in darkness, we went straight to bed!
Wednesday the 13th was our first proper day. After a late rise, we had a leisurely tour of the school, which despite its Seventies architecture, looks lovely in the sunlight.
The last photo shows the reception of the school; in front of this there is a large parade ground, where the children line up for ‘Flag’, which is like assembly. I haven’t experienced one yet, but I’ll let you know how it is. Edit: Flag actually occurs inside their auditorium, with a flagpole on stage. A film has been taken and will be published in due course. Ed.
That evening, I played Unihoc with the staff, which was a bizarre experience! But it meant that the ice was broken very quickly, and it was my first experience of high-temperature sport, even if there was air-con in the gym.
Later on, we attended a soiree at a teacher’s apartment (most of them live on campus too), and I got to meet more teachers in a less aggressive atmosphere!
On Thursday the 14th, we were given a tour of Muscat, a long but thin city, with distinct districts. We visited Muttrah, the port district, and saw a few cruise ships, one of which was in fact the Sultan’s personal yacht! Muttrah was a very busy place, and our first proper experience of Omani driving was more than enough to inspire caution when we first took to the road ourselves.
The highlight of that day was visiting the Grand Mosque, which was truly spectacular.
(I am all too aware that this is not quite aligned, rest assured that it plagues me more than you)
Our self-appointed guide in the Mosque told us that this was the largest Swaroski crystal in the world, ‘as tall as a five storey building’ apparently.
There is a massive Indian and Pakistani population in Muscat and Oman, who do every manual task possible. An army of workers keep the mosque clean despite the thousands of tourists who flock to the mosque.
This trip sapped most of our energy for that day, but that evening we did summon the courage to drive ourselves to the beach outside of Muscat. Well, that was the intention, but we accidentally ended up heading the opposite way, and eventually decided that we had had enough experience of frenzied Omani driving for one day.
On Friday the 15th, I started the day by watching an Aussie Rules nine-a-side match on the school’s field. The rules are quite unusual, so I’ll leave it to the experts to explain. The match was between the Muscat Magpies and the Abu Dhabi Falcons, however due to the large ex-pat populations, in reality it was Ireland versus Australia (history does not report the victor).
In the afternoon, I had my own first driving experience; we went to Seeb, a nearby town (by the way, our hire car is a Nissan Sunny Classic, name of ‘Martha’). The souq wasn’t open that day (Friday is the second day of an Omani weekend), but through the wishes of one of our group, we bought two songbirds, Paul and Katie, who are now living in our flat! Pictures will of course come soon.
Hope that you’ve enjoyed the first instalment; perhaps in the future I won’t be quite so exhaustive…
I think I’ve been very lucky this summer, having had two fantastic holidays, and having seen some amazing things. By far the best scenes of the summer have been the landscapes, so I thought I’d share a few!
Recently visited my brother Jonathan in Bristol, took my Fuji S5800, but more importantly my Canon EOS 500N! Started with a good old aperture priority on the flower, then some long exposure of the stream..
After this I got to the good stuff, and started snapping on film. I like how dated and old the bridge looks, just because it’s black and white.
Quite pleased with this one.
For this one I used both long exposure to blur the river, but also aperture to blur the whole background. Just an experiment, but I quite like the effect.
Can’t take the credit for the photo, but I can for being damn handsome.
Quite possibly my favourite of the bunch, love how smooth the top layer is, except for the ripples behind the log.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the bumper issue