Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make an announcement.
I have found my Middle East version of paradise, and it is Oman.
Oman is the most beautiful country I have seen yet in the Middle East. It has rough mountains, a pristine, clean and blue ocean, beautiful infrastructure, and a modest but open-minded culture. I almost felt like I was in a tropical paradise in comparison to Kuwait! How did we find ourselves in Oman, may you ask, so shortly after winter break in Jordan? Sean and I attended the 2012 NESA (Near East South Asia) Educator’s Conference. It was the last weekend in January and took place in Oman. We thought a midwinter pick-me-up was in order, especially after the deep emotional crash that I had shortly after my family left me. Oh the ups and downs of international life! (Or is this just adult life?)
Let’s get started with the photographs, shall we? I’ve got quite a stock in store for you—I thought I’d just combine all the photos in one blog. It was quite a busy weekend!
We arrived in Oman at around 1 in the morning because our plane left Kuwait at about 10pm. We then arrived at our hotel at 2am, passed out, woke up at 6:30am, and attend the first full day of the conference. Upon returning to our hotel, we were met with a beautiful sunset that we had to get outside to embrace and explore. We picked a perfect hotel, the “Naseem Hotel” on the corniche in Mutrah. Oman’s capital, Muscat, is not one big town, it’s actually made up of four or five smaller areas separated by hills and mountains. Mutrah is the “old souq” area that is nestled between cliffs in it’s own little bay. It was the perfect location for our type of vacationing; we don’t like seven-star retreats with Starbucks on every corner. We loved being in the thick of the Omani culture and close to the landscape, squished between the mountains, crumbling fortresses, and Indian Ocean!
A minaret in Mutrah around sunset.
We had heard lots of good things about the Mutrah souq, and we weren’t dissappointed. For those of you who do not know, a “souq” is similar to a “bazaar”, in the grand scheme of things. It’s a series of shops that sell everything you can possibly imagine. A souq is comprised of aisles and aisles of winding walkways. You may find one aisle selling only spices, another aisle selling gold jewelery, and another aisle selling knock off soccer jerseys. We normally head to the souq whenever we get hungry—it is a sure bet for delicious, cheap, authentic food, in whatever country you’re visiting!
The view of Mutrah from opposite the bay. We took a little stroll as the sun was setting after our marathon first day in Oman. Don’t you love the mountains in the background?!
After a bit of exploring (and Sean still in his collared shirt—can you imagine how we stood out!?) we decided on a definitely unique restaurant for dinner. The only thing I am starting to get tired of on our vacation to other Middle Eastern countries are the staples that we eat every day in Kuwait. Hummus, flat bread, kebabs, fattoush, and chai make up 1 out of my 7 weekly meals. This restaurant was no different, except for the fact that I felt like I was in a bad Disney film from the 70’s. Christmas lights were strung up everywhere, it was all open air, there were trees growing between the tables with bird houses in them, our table was a giant tree stump, there was a small dried up fountain in the center of the restaurant, and a cat kept sitting under my chair hoping for a handout. Regardless, our bill came to something like the equivalent of $4.00 …and yes, it was delicious!
In the souq, I got sucked in to yet another beautiful store of tapestries, rugs, scarves, and colorful odds and ends. I am so in love with the Arabesque style of carpets and fabrics, I could spend hundreds…
After the souq, we retired for the night. The next day we went to the conference which ran from 9-3. In terms of the conference, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Sean went to a conference on using methods of inquiry in the social studies classroom, and I went to a seminar on strategies for English Language Learners. It was at The American International School of Muscat (TAISM), and I fell completely in love. It was a beautiful campus, the people who worked there were amazing, and there was such positive feelings in the entire school.
After the second day we spent some time with a couple who worked at TAISM. We saw their apartments, played some bean bag toss, and enjoyed a few tasty beverages that are much more acceptable in Oman than Kuwait : ) Afterwards, we went to the “Muscat Festival”, which is a cultural event that happens once a year in Oman. I found out about it online, and thought it’d be worth visiting—what a surprise it was!
To begin, it took place in a rose garden with a large pond in the center, which had hourly fountain displays. This fountain display *almost* rivaled the one in Dubai—it was synchronized to music, had a light display, and was overall very, very awesome.
The cultural aspects of the festival, however, was much more interesting than the fountains. It was a living village! There was a huge traditional village (Think Old World Wisconsin) where real people reenacted aspects of traditional Omani culture. In the above picture you see a healing ceremony where a song was sung/chanted for the sick person (being supported in the center of the photo).
This was a traditional birthday party. I forget what age they do this for, but this event is done only once in a child’s life.
Again, the traditional birthday party. What an interesting experience…
This woman was spinning textiles like purses and other decorative items. What she wears on her face is called a “niqab” (at least in Kuwait that is what it is called), and this is one of the more traditional, old-fashioned styles that some women still wear to this day.
This was particularly interesting; this man was weaving rope! Talk about a laborious process!
These women were all selling assortments of things from homemade yogurt, to tassles, to lotions and blankets. I loved the color that was present in every aspect of their being, something that is VERY absent in Kuwait culture.
This was my favorite part of the cultural village. You could purchase (for pennies) authentic traditional Omani food!
I bought a fried donut-type thing, but they were making everything from sandwiches to desserts, all while sitting in the same place! It was quite amazing to me.
This man was building BY HAND, WITHOUT ANY POWER TOOLS WHATSOEVER, a model boat. It was amazing—he wasn’t even using nails! He was fitting everything together by the wood alone!
I was in complete awe at this point.
This was, well, something that I would prefer not to taste again. It is an Omani dessert called “halawi”, which means “sweet” in Arabic. It was a gooey, syrupy, pudding-like substance that tasted like a combination between maple syrup, marshmallows, and salt. No thank you!
On the other hand, the cotton candy we Americans guzzle down looks just as unsettling and unhealthy as the halawi… We loved this picture because of all the COLOR there is in Oman! Look at all the flowers! Also note how many men were in traditional dress; I think this is because it was the “cultural festival”, so it is only natural to wear the clothes of your heritage.
The next morning, we had the entire day to explore around Mutrah. Our plane left at 7pm, so we were itching to play in the sun! We saw this gorgeous door on an old building in need of renovation.
Breakfast in Oman…
A Middle Eastern breakfast burrito! Pita bread, egg, tomato, lettuce, and spicy mayo. For something like 45 cents… YUM!
A picture is worth a thousand words…
My ‘other’ favorite part about Oman—THE HIKING! This country has some of the best hiking, camping, snorkeling, and ocean kayaking in the Middle East. We took on a short hike that we heard had beautiful views overlooking the Mutrah coast and the mountain range of Muscat, and we weren’t disappointed! I was in complete heaven, getting to scramble over rocks and clamber up for better views!
Here we are, a quarter of the way up. Can you see the “incense burner” in the background? This was quite the strange statue in Oman, but it’s apparently the signature image many people think of when they imagine Muscat… below us is a recreational park, Riyam Park, which is where the trail head began. Oh yeah, did I mention that Sean dislocated his knee two weeks prior to our trip? He was playing basketball and dislocated it pretty badly—we had quite the adventure figuring out which hospital to go to in Kuwait! (Note to self: The Royal Hayat Hospital is a maternity hospital… they WILL laugh at you if wheel a man in with a bum knee…)
The bay you see behind me is Mutrah, where our hotel was, and where our hike took us back to. If you are ever in Oman, google “Mutrah Hike”, and this is it!
I. Am. So. Not. Kidding. Oman. Is. My. Paradise.
Can you see me? Left of the incense burner? This was the highest point at our hike, the summit!
My husband is such a trooper! You can see the Mutrah bay allllllllll the way down below us.
As we descended, we found ourselves in a wadi (a dry riverbed) that ended up having beautifully green valley walls. What paradise!
Oh, and water! Green, murky water! It was an oasis compared to Kuwait ; )
It was a very cool experience to hike out through the wadi. Because their rainy season was ending there was lots of colorful pools to skip and hop around.
This was Sean’s favorite part of the hike—this lizard shot. Again, what beautiful color there is in Oman.
Can you spy the fort in the background? It was built by the Portuguese in the 1400’s during their occupation of Oman.
No matter where you are in the Middle East, your feline friends will follow. Which reminds me of a Robert Frost parody Sean and I invented in Oman…
Two paths diverged in a souq
I took the one with less cats
And that has made all the difference.
After our hike, we rested our tired bones, sore knees, and sunburnt skin with a meal of smoothies, french fries, and cribbage. Not to mention a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL view. Shortly after this we hopped in a taxi for the airport, to return to Kuwait refreshed, relaxed, and with a new love affair with Oman.
What’s next on the AlohaKuwait? We travel to Sri Lanka in March! Until then, who knows what adventures are around the corner in this rippling sand dune we call life… Best wishes and love to you all!