|Sand and shadows|
The time had come to say goodbye to Oman. The country had given us a tantalising taste of the real Arabia which no shopping Mall in Dubai could ever supply. The amazing Wahiba sands, among the oldest sand dunes in the world had made us feel like Lawrence of Arabia as we whizzed up and down them in our 4×4. When we first arrived in Oman, Jebel Shams was the name on the key ring in our guest house. Now we know it is the highest peak in the Arabian peninsula at 10,000 feet and has been implicated in one of the oldest stories ever told – that of Noah’s Ark. If its next door neighbour Dubai, has carelessly thrown out the old Aladin’s lamp in favour of the new, there is a sense that Oman has held onto its old, slightly tarnished lamp and that, with the application of a little of elbow grease the magic of ancient Arabia might still be conjured up at any moment. Oman is poised to welcome more and more visitors in a sustainable way. The Sultan’s view for the future of Oman is bold and ambitious aiming to increase ten fold the tourism market by 2015.
There has been huge investment in the infrastructure of the country with shiny new airports at Muscat and Salalah in the South of Oman together with a whole network of pristine roads opening up the desert and the mountains. Oman is focusing on nature, outdoor and cultural tourism and wants to complement rather than compete with its big flashy neighbour Dubai. The number of hotel beds is set to multiply and Muscat Bay, the largest natural harbour in the world is becoming a must stop for the thriving worldwide cruise market. We loved the friendly respectful people. It is a bit of a shock to the system after life in our increasingly fractured and fractious homeland. Everyone here is so proud to be Omani and that is something you just can’t fake. The Sultans’ beautiful yacht nestles in the bay by night and the sun shines all day every day which makes it an ideal winter sun destination.
|Baywatch Muscat style|
|Paddling through perfume|
Well almost. When we were mooching about the souks stocking up on our perfumes from Arabia, there was a sudden and heavy rainstorm. The men rolled up their trouser legs and the ladies lifted their black robes revealing colourful dresses and shoes beneath their funereal garb as they waded through the flood. The Omanis seemed to think it was all quite funny. We were rather taken aback. I think maybe we British take the rain with us wherever we go…