Salalah airport was almost empty. We had no trouble with customs or our visas. We simply walked through, but when tried to collect the car Gary had reserved, we ran into trouble. Hertz was nowhere to be found. The only phone we had was Gary’s Blackberry from work, but when we tried to connect, we realized we didn’t know how to make an international call. I sat down on a bench as Gary worked his way through the issues, only to see a dime-sized spider crawl up the chair. That ended my sitting
Eventually, we had one of the other car companies contact the hotel who sent a bus for us. I was ready to crash when we reached our hotel room but after Gary connected to the Internet, he discovered our car was in Muscat. Up we went and back to the airport where a man met us with a small, economy car. Our four wheel drive would take several days to reach us.
This time leaving the airport, I was a little rested and better able to look around. As in Dubai, the streets were wide with large, highly decorated street lamps, and the center and the sides were filled with green plants. Traffic is controlled by large roundabouts. The centers of the roundabouts are decorated with something of interest in the area. The roundabout we turned on was located near the army cavalry base and a beautiful statue of three Arabian horses stood in the center. On the roundabout leading out of town is a beautiful small oasis with statues of deer and a castle in the center. The road leads to an ancient fortress/castle called Taqah.
Most of the buildings in the town are built with concrete building blocks and plaster. They are multi-level with living quarters on the top and stores on the ground floors. Downtown are some very tall buildings but even the private homes are large and multi-storied. Extended families…grandparents, children, aunts and uncles often live together. Family is very important, not only in Oman but in all of the Arab culture.
When a young Omani man or woman reaches eighteen years of age, the Sultan gives them an acre of land to build a home. Government loans are given to them at reduced rates to build and often, when there is a good year, the Sultan forgives the loans.
Most of the homes have fences around their property and gates. Marble steps, elaborate plaster decorations and sometimes ironwork are used around the windows. But I was struck by the fact that no wood was used, either for the building or the decoration of the exteriors. Wood is a luxury commodity here and saved for beautiful carvings or furniture.
As we came closer to the hotel, I saw that there was a green belt…a strip of land about a mile inland from the beach that was filled with huge palm and leafy banana trees. I always assumed bananas grew in tall trees but the plants here are only 7-10 feet high and the wide ruffled leaves grow up from the bottom. There is a very thin stock in the center. I'm nost sure how the stocks can even handle the weight of a large bunches of bananas.
The whole green belt was filled with banana, date and coconut plantations. The plantations all had simple to elaborate fences built around them. Palms, dates and bananas grow naturally in the area so the fence indicates that the tress belong to someone and are being cultivated. It’s illegal to take food or plants from a fenced in area. So it’s not unusual to see six or seven palm trees out in the middle of nowhere with a simple metal fence around it.
Outside each plantation are small palm frond covered huts where men sell the small Oman bananas called milk bananas. Milk bananas are smaller than the larger, longer bananas from the Philippines and have a slightly tangier taste. Coconuts are also sold at the stands, green ones with the tops cut off and straws inserted for drinking and ripe ones that are peeled for eating. When in season, you can also find mangos and papayas at some of the stands.
Another scent greeted us as we returned to the hotel. A damp mustiness. The room was clean and modern, but the humidity here in Salalah is high, sometimes at 70%. As I tried to settle down, I noticed a small sign that asked guests to keep the air on at all times since it combats the humidity and prevents mold from forming on the walls and furnishings. The humidity attacks all of the metal, window, bed and door frames, faucets. Everything.
Oman is located on the south east edge of the Arabian Peninsula. It's a long country that runs along the the peninsula and the Arabain Sea. Salalah is on the southern tip, right on the coast and faces due south. About ten miles inland is the long Dhofar mountain range. The entire south of Oman is known as the Dhofar region.
Beyond the Dhofar mountains are the vast deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. In the days gone past, caravans loaded with frankincense, crossed the desert, climbed the mountains and dropped down into Salalah where the frankincense was loaded onto ships and sent around the world. Even then the Omani’s were known for their hospitality and cultural diversity.
Now days, travelers come for the monsoons or Kareef season. Surrounded by desert lands, the three months of the Kareef… June, July and August, are popular with travelers from all over the Gulf States. They come to enjoy the damp, humid weather, the green land and the streams that pop up everywhere
Kareef season had passed by the time we arrived, but a tropical storm was on its way. I was about to experience the Dhofar weather in full measure!