23 October 2004

Wedding Anniversary in Oman

The sea is slowly turning from turquoise to grey, the sun is setting behind the mountains somewhere, a lazy breeze is fanning the palm trees. Yes, we got away for the weekend.

Stuart had a voucher for a night at a Hyatt hotel, so we took the opportunity to drive over to Oman. Muscat is the capital of a geographically large but otherwise pretty empty sultanate on the Indian Ocean. It is about 4 hours drive east of Dubai on very unused and well-maintained roads. It's a long drive, but only occasionally boring. The terrain is more varied than we expected, ranging from rusty desert sand to craggy mountains, with fertile stretches of banana and date farms lining the road between dusty villages. After Hatta, which we had visited earlier this year with Anna, we quickly arrived at the Omani border post. Or rather the first of many. We had already picked up our exit stamp in Hatta. Although it's another 60km to the border from there,t the customs people had obviously preferred the pleasant surroundings of the Hatta Fort Hotel to the huts at the actual border. At he first Omani post we were waved through, only to be stopped at the second one, where we spend a futile half-hour filling in badly-designed visa forms and purchasing extra car insurance to cover us for driving in Oman. The place was so non-busy that the insurance salesman had gone to sleep on his sofa and Stuart had to wake him up!

After that rigmarole we had to stop at the third border post down the road to open our boot and show our luggage. It is illegal to carry alcohol into Oman from the UAE, so we were glad we hadn't stashed a bottle of champagne for the celebrations. After this we thought we were home free, but as it turned out there was one more stop, where a slouchy looking guy took back the slip of paper the luggage searcher had stamped for us that the visa guy had handed us what seemed hours ago at the first stop.


Oman's Roundabouts are Many and Imaginatively Decorated

Oman looks very like the UAE, except it has real clouds! In the 1970's Oman had only 10km of tarmac road (probably just enough to circumfence the palace), but that had changed a lot. What little oil money they have goes into creating a well-educated population, public services and hospitals. This means that unlike Dubai a lot of the workers here are actually locals, since the sultanate can't afford expensive expat labour.

Oman has a long history as a trading nation whose influence used to stretch as far as India, Pakistan, Zanzibar and Estern Africa. The Portugese arrived here in the 17th century worried about their own trade routes to India, and kept Oman subdued for about 200 years. Apart from a few forts their impact here seems to have been negligible. Local architecture, culture and arts are fiercely Arabian, and adherence to local style is required when seeking planning permission for local buildings.

Anyway, I am rattling on. The sun has set, there is a lone swimmer in the pool and we are getting ready for dinner. A good first wedding anniversary.


The Views Were Pretty Good

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