Sunday, February 2, 2014
Georgia: We woke up on this fine weekday (?…ew) morning and went to the Royal Opera House. Ashley looked impeccably fly in nude platform espadrilles and red silk MC Hammer pants, whereas I had neglected to shower (see Figure One).
Ashley: (Again…like a boss)
Georgia: Ashley chatted endearingly with our ROH tour guide about her former place of employ, DC’s Kennedy Center, off of which the ROH is modeled (and of which he had never heard). After returning home to Seeb to pack, I made a mad dash to the rental company, which closed at 1pm (I arrived at 12:50pm, but had to return my car before we flew to Salalah). After accomplishing this first feat, I was dismayed to learn that none-too-surprisingly, there were no taxis (or other form of public transportation) to relay me back to the InterCon post khalas with el rental car. Fortunately, as I intrepidly embarked across the eight lane highway in search of the proverbial “taxi stand on the other side,” the Omani rental car agent who had been helping me heroically sacrificed his lunch break and offered to give me a ride. When I arrived at the InterCon, I learned that Ashley had befriended Bahrain’s oldest photographer (at least 75-years-old, he introduced himself and his camera, which he called “a Rolls Royce”). Ashley bravely ceded her real address (!?) to him, so that he might send her the photos of us that he insisted on taking.
Ashley: I gave him my work address in China. Curious to see how long it takes my photo to arrive in Beijing from Bahrain. I’m guessing 6+ weeks.
Georgia: At the Muscat airport, the check-in guys and all the people at Customs looked us up and down, laughed, and without missing a beat, gawked at us, “YOU’RE going to Salalah?” at which point Ashley and I had a serious “Oh Shit” moment, tried in desperation to buy consolation wine at Duty Free, and were cruelly refused. (They were like, “Let’s see your boarding pass. Oh no, no wine. Not for Salalah.” This is the point in the story when my brother Peter D would have emphatically exclaimed, “Oh blast.”
Ashley: But the airport guards actually laughed at us. Ha!
Georgia: Not sufficiently daunted to flee the premises altogether, we proceeded to our boarding gate, the seating area of which was dramatically bifurcated between full black abayas (Omani women), white dishdashas (Omani men) and us (hapless obrunis).
Ashley: Seeing this stark division was one of the really memorable moments of the trip, at least from a cultural perspective.
Georgia: We arrived in Salalah 1.5 hours later, the complexion of which, as an ecological palette, was remarkably brown. We soon were met by our taxi driver, whom both of us could only describe as “mousy” (randomly reminiscent of like the jovial, rotund rodent companion in Cinderella) and anyways together we headed for a beachside evening in our residence du soir, “Arabian Sea Villas.” Ash and I then walked down the beach to the Crowne Plaza for a well-earned supper of barbecue fish, wine, piña coladas, and seconds on dessert.
Ashley: It was seafood night! Perfection.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Georgia: Monday morning we met our guide, Mohammed, and headed in his 4WD towards the ambiguous border area between Oman, Saudi Arabia and Yemen known as Rub’ al Khali, or the Empty Quarter. Along the way, we stopped to look at vast spread of frankincense trees in the valley of Wadi Dawlah, to eat Snickers ice cream bars (essential) and Yemeni food (#culture). Finally we arrived in the vast beige desert. We drank and prepared Omani ginger/cardamom tea (Ash was all, “Wow, this chai is like totally mumTAZ,” I, tbh, didn’t contribute much because the enthusiastic dune-driving had made me très queasy), and as our guide set up camp and dinner, Ashley and I bounded upwards in the direction of the tallest dune in sight (Go big or go home, amirite). About 45 minutes later, barefoot, breathless, and victorious, we summited the highest peak in the Empty Quarter, and were looking out on an mesmerizing panorama of boundless, sandy loneliness as the sun began to set. Our descent more or less involved rolling down the steep slope. Upon our return to the campsite, we ate well, meditated on our fate, and elected to sleep sans tent, the wind breathing ringlets in the sand and rustling the scorpions.
Ashley: One of the things that stood out for me on the trip out to the Empty Quarter was the police inspections. We were stopped several times, and usually Georgia and I were asked to present our passports to the police even though we were only passengers in the car. Curiously—later on the in the trip when we were driving on our own, we actually had an easier time with this process… almost as though the sight of two American women driving on their own was so surprising that no one dared to stop us. In contrast, with Mohammed driving, we got stopped at every inspection point and much was made of our being Americans. Georgia had mentioned that there are fewer Americans traveling in Oman (European tourists are much more common) so these police inspections usually did take a little longer than necessary while they flipped through the whole passport book. All was done in a very friendly way, though. Definitely felt different from the police inspections I occasionally go through in the PRC.
Another interesting part of the afternoon was viewing Mohammed’s photos from a recent family wedding he had attended in Yemen. He had two albums, probably containing about 50 photos altogether, and all but 2 or 3 of those photos featured men holding Kalashnikovs. Mohammed explained that it was necessary in Yemen to BYOG. “If you don’t have a gun, they steal your car. If you have a gun, they don’t steal your car!” There was something very strange about seeing these photos, all the men dressed in their formal attire (either the dishdash for the men from Oman, or the (Georgia—I don’t know what the Yemen outfit is called…[I think it’s called a thobe or zenneh?]) for the men from Yemen) and holding an AK47. Also strange to see an entire photo album from a wedding without seeing a single picture of the bride, since the men and the women don’t intermingle at the wedding. Not that I didn’t know this already, but yeah… Yemen is a weird* [different] place.