Going South to Florida: Cities and a Cave

This is the second of two posts on our road trip to North Carolina and Tennessee in late spring 2022. You can find the first one here.

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.

It was an easy drive from Corbin Kentucky south to Nashville where we arrived in plenty of time to meet our New York friend Nancy off the plane. I had been to Nashville once before in the late 1990s when I was invited to give a talk to the computer group of the Society of Biblical Literature as part of the the SBL annual conference. This huge conference took place in the Opryland Hotel next door to the self-styled Grand Ole Opry, the home of country music. It all seemed rather incongruous with so many, mostly male, clerics of many denominations wandering around.

Country Music

But this time we were there to enjoy ourselves. We had got tickets for a show at the Opry and were staying in a hotel nearby. All three of us knew nothing about country music and so we decided we need to be educated and spent our first morning at the Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville. This is housed in a huge modern building of three floors.

Country Music Hall of Fame

Country Music Hall of Fame

The Hall is very impressive. There are displays for many artists including their history, their clothes and their instruments and, for a few, their huge cars as well. The whole is arranged chronologically starting with the origins of country music in the Southern Appalachians, where Bristol Tennessee which we had visited a few days earlier, claims to be its birthplace, right up to its convergence with rock and roll. It seemed like an alternative culture and was all very new to us until we reached the rock and roll era. Right at the beginning there was a special exhibition on singer and songwriter Bill Anderson who was 84 at the time of our visit.

Our education was completed at the evening show at the Grand Ole Opry. It was divided into two sections of 45 minutes each with four artists or groups. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Bill Anderson was appearing in our show. He was not the oldest performer.

Nashville Sightseeing

There’s a lot more to Nashville than just “Music City”. It has a full-size replica of the Athens Parthenon temple complete with a frieze modelled on the Elgin Marbles. In contrast with the original Parthenon it’s not on a hill but is surrounded by a wide expanse of lush green lawn.

Nashville Parthenon

Nashville Parthenon

There’s a bit of an art exhibition inside but the interior is dominated by a huge gold statue of Athena – the Athens Parthenon once housed such a statue.

Athena in Nashville Parthenon

Athena in Nashville Parthenon

Outside five live-size suffragette statues are marching towards it and the distinctive tower of Vanderbilt University is nearby.

We also visited the Tennessee State Museum where entry is free. This is another big modern building. It covers the history of the state going back to the First Peoples at the end of the Ice Age right up to the present day. There are large curved screens showing video clips and plenty of well-designed information boards. There’s also plenty of information about Andrew Jackson who lived just outside Nashville and was the seventh US President serving in 1829-1837. In terms of information and design it’s one of the best museums I have ever been in. As we were leaving another visitor was heard to say “What a waste of tax dollars”. Right by the entrance there’s a long list of donors on the wall. People give very generously to support cultural heritage in the USA and you find these donor lists in every museum, art gallery and concert hall.

Andrew Jackson’s house called The Hermitage. It’s a nicely designed house and has a flower garden which is rather unusual in the USA. The Hermitage was a plantation where Jackson owned plenty of slaves. We learned that the best known of these was Alfred who became a tenant after emancipation and lived out his life in a small log cabin on the plantation. He is buried there, reportedly at the age of 98.

Alfred's cabin, The Hermitage

Alfred’s cabin, The Hermitage

Belle Meade is another plantation house on the edge of Nashville. As is normal in the USA we were taken round the house in a tour group where a guide spoke far more about the owners of the house than about the house itself. In the early 19th century the then owner began breeding thoroughbred racehorses one of which travelled to England and won several races including the Epsom Derby in 1881. I would have liked to have had more time to study the pictures some of which were of their horses in England. I think I saw Ripon on one of them. Belle Meade is now a winery and our tour finished with some free samples.

Belle Meade Mansion, Nashville

Belle Meade Mansion, Nashville

Dinner at the Caney Fork River Valley Grille in Nashville was almost another sight-seeing opportunity. A stuffed bear and heads of moose and other wildlife looked down on us as we ate a real southern meal.

Inside Caney Fork River Valley Grille, Nashville

Inside Caney Fork River Valley Grille, Nashville

Mammoth Cave

On the middle one of our three days in Nashville we drove the 100 miles back north into Kentucky to visit Mammoth Cave. It is the world’s longest known cave system and some of it has not been fully explored.

You have to take a guided tour to visit the cave. When we were there in late May there was a choice of ten tours ranging in time from one hour to up to six hours. We selected the two-hour Domes and Dripstones tour which is in the middle of the range.

Three busloads of us were taken to a door in the side of a wooded mountain. Once inside, on this tour you first go down 280 stairs before walking along passageways and up and down more stairs. The walkways are relatively easy underfoot and there are plenty of handrails. We did not have to bend down at all. There was a stop in the middle where we could sit on benches and were given a talk by a park ranger. Two other rangers accompanied us, one of whom was always at the back. Eventually we emerged through a door in the side of another mountain and buses took us back to the visitor centre.

Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave

This was quite an experience. It’s a much longer trip than we have ever done in a cave before. The geology is particularly good on his tour with plenty of stalactites and stalagmites, but it can become rather claustrophobic. Two hours was about enough but I wouldn’t have missed it. The park website gives details of all the tours and you can book them in advance as we did.


After taking Nancy to the airport in Nashville we drove south to Chattanooga and enjoyed a meal at a Greek restaurant next to our hotel. Years ago we had stayed in Chattanooga on the way back from a trip to the north-west and ate in one of the restaurants in the Choo Choo complex downtown. There was no time to see more of the city then. This time we had two nights.

Chattanooga Choo Choo
Chattanooga Choo Choo

Rock City

Chattanooga is mostly laid out on one side of the Tennessee River. Lookout Mountain rises to 560m on the other side of the river and is a popular tourist attraction. You can drive up to Rock City where there is a trail which winds round and through some interesting rock formations. We had to squeeze through narrow gaps between large rocks.

Inside Rock City

Inside Rock City

At one point there is a swing bridge which I finally crossed – there’s a way round if you don’t fancy it. On a clear day seven states can be seen from Lover’s Leap at the top. The way out take you through the Hall of the Mountain King which houses some large illuminated grottos.

Grotto, Rock City

Grotto, Hall of the Mountain King, Rock City

Tennessee River

For the evening we had booked a trip on the river boat Southern Belle. Getting to it was something of an effort. It was easy to take the free trolley from where we had parked by the Choo Choo but then we heard and then found a music festival taking place by the river. We had to walk through it to get to the boat.

The trip was very pleasant. We got a sense of the width of the river which flows north for some way to join the Ohio River which in turn joins the Mississippi at the southern tip of Illinois. The water we were seeing reaches the sea at New Orleans. In Chattanooga people were out on the river in boats of various sizes including the occasional paddle-boarder.

Tennessee River, Chattanooga

Incline Railway

The Incline Railway is another route up Lookout Mountain. Before leaving the next day we took a trip on this one mile funicular railway which in places is very steep indeed. There’s another excellent view from the top looking north over the river.

Incline Railway, Chattanooga
Incline Railway, Chattanooga

Going Home

We had 1.5 days to do the 580 miles back to our house. Apart from a night in a motel in southern Georgia we stopped only twice. The first time was to visit the (Martin Luther) King Center in Atlanta. It was a Sunday and the main visitor centre was closed but the house where he was born which is now a bookshop was open. We could see the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was a pastor and were a able to wander round the Center’s grounds. We were the only white people there.

Martin Luther King Center
Martin Luther King Center

Our other stop was brief. Adcocks is a large shop, more like a warehouse, just off I-75 in Tifton Georgia. It sells pecan nuts which must be grown locally. We have stopped there before to stock up on these nuts. It’s several years since we were last there. This time we found that more of the nuts were encased in sugary confections but we did manage to buy some plain ones.

We arrive homed at 8pm to find a blue tarpaulin over the roof and a large skip in the drive. The roofing company had kept to the time we had arranged with them. Five Mexicans arrived at 8am the next day and the job was finished by 2pm. You need to have all kinds of permits for building work like this in our area but the roofing company had dealt with all the paperwork as well.

Roof work on our house
Roof work on our house


The last time we had done a road trip in the US was several years before Covid. Not much had changed except that we found that we needed to book our accommodation in advance rather than just turning up. This is surely because hotels are all online now and they can control their prices depending on availability.

We chose an airbnb in North Carolina mostly because we wanted to be away from the very popular places there and because we planned to stay for four nights. All the other hotels and motels were easy to book on booking.com or on the IHG website where we get points towards another stay and where our favourite the Holiday Inn Express provides a good breakfast. There are clusters of hotels, restaurants and petrol stations around all major exits on the interstate roads.

Food is never a problem in the USA. There are plenty of restaurants with reasonable prices. Only rarely have we needed to end up with the meal of last resort in McDonalds, but at least you know what you are getting there. We do take a electric kettle with us as hotel rooms provide only a filter or pod coffee machine. For a picnic grocery stores are open until 9pm or later seven days a week. You often find a refrigerator in a hotel room but we also have a coolbox which plugs into a power socket in the car.

We rejoined the AAA and collected free maps and those of their guide books which were still available in paper form from their office in Lakeland. Our satnav has maps of North America and is useful for locating hotels and determining distances. Driving is very easy. There are (usually) good advance warnings for exits on the main roads and the backroads are often very empty. When you cross into another state on a main road there is almost always a Welcome Center which has staff on hand to answer questions as well as free maps and leaflets, picnic tables, clean toilets and often now free wifi. The Florida one even has free orange juice.

Driving gives you a sense of the vastness of the USA. There’s so much to see and information about it is all now easily found online. It’s just a wonderful country for a holiday.

Picture gallery: Going South to Florida: Cities and a Cave

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Going North from Florida: Trees, Mountains and Rivers

This is the first of two posts on our road trip to North Carolina and Tennessee in late spring 2022.

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.

Earlier in 2022 we had a letter from the insurance company for our villa in Florida saying that they would only renew our policy in September if we had a new roof. This was not entirely news to us as we had seen on Facebook that many home owners nearby were also getting a new roof.

Many houses in the USA like ours have synthetic tiles on their roofs. The house walls would not be strong enough to support stone tiles or slate as we have in the UK.

Our rentals have been booked solid for most of this year but there was a 4-night gap in May and a 3-night one two weeks later in June. We wanted to be there for the new roof and realised that we could take road trip during these two weeks. We’ve had our Subaru Forester in Florida since June 2005. It’s been to Alaska, Mexico, Newfoundland and California and it’s still going strong.

Our trusty Subaru - 80,000 miles since 2005

Our trusty Subaru – 80,000 miles since 2005

We arrived on a Thursday evening towards the end of May. Martin had arranged for representatives from two roofing companies to come the day after and we signed up one on the Saturday after choosing the colour for the roof. We made sure that they knew of our timetable and they said that they could start the work on the Monday two weeks later after the 10am checkout time for the guests.

US National Parks Service

The National Parks Service is one of the wonderful things in the USA. Do take a look at their website to see the range of places and how well they (and their visitors) are cared for and how much information they provide. We have visited many of the parks in the past. You always get a good map at the entrance showing hiking trails and things to look out for. The larger parks have a visitor center where there’s a video and a museum and where park rangers are on hand to answer more questions.

For the princely sum of $80 an America the Beautiful pass allows a carload of up to four people to visit any of the parks for 12 months – a vehicle is needed to drive round most of them. This is a real bargain as the larger sites such as the Grand Canyon charge $35 for up to seven consecutive days. If you do go to the Grand Canyon it’s worth knowing that there are several other large parks in Arizona and Utah which you can take in on a loop from Phoenix or Salt Lake City.

Congaree National Park and Columbia

With an overnight stop at the Holiday Inn Express in Orangeburg it took us 1.5 days to drive the 450 miles from our house to Congaree National Park in South Carolina. Congaree is one of the newer parks. To quote its website: “Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.” In simple terms it’s a huge and diverse ancient forest in swampy land. One of the trees is called a loblolly pine. The word loblolly was originally used for a kind of porridge or stew and came to mean a swamp.

Reflections in Congaree National Park

Reflections in Congaree National Park

We did the entire 2.6 mile boardwalk which allows you to see the variety in the vegetation.

Boardwalk at Congaree National Park

On the boardwalk at Congaree National Park

We just saw one small alligator on a lake in the distance.

Not long after we set off from home we realised that the only entertainment we had in the car was the radio where reception is variable and where the choice of programmes in the Deep South is not great unless you want to listen to religious programmes and music. Our American car is so old that it just has a CD player as well as the radio. A quick search on google turned up Scratch N Spin in Columbia the state capital of South Carolina. Our satnav took us to this huge store of second-hand CDs where we made some purchases. We could have been in there hours but we needed to move on.

There was just time for a quick drive round Columbia. I went there several times when I lived in the USA. I was a co-investigator on the Model Editions Project which was exploring ways of creating electronic documentary editions. The Principal Investigator was based at the University of South Carolina and hosted meetings there. Columbia has a long and varied history. The Confederate Flag was finally removed from the State House in 2015.

Blue Ridge Mountains

We stayed four nights at Silverstone Loft an airbnb studio a few miles west of Boone in North Carolina and close to Tennessee. Our room was a well-equipped large studio with attached bathroom. We had stocked up in Walmart before we got there and previous guests had left plenty of condiments etc in the kitchen.

The Loft is out in the country below the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is a 470-mile road which runs along the crest of the Appalachians from Rock Fish Virginia to Cherokee North Carolina. Parts of it are at an altitude of over 3000 ft and it connects with the 105-mile Skyline Drive in Virginia to make a superb drive (on a nice day) with stunning views. All along there are lay-bys, picnic areas and signposts for hiking trails.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

We had been to much of it before but it was good to have a proper base and could choose our activities depending on the weather which, sadly, was not as kind to us as we would have liked. We drove up to the Parkway on our first morning at the Loft but it was shrouded in fog and so we retreated back to the Loft to read. The Parkway a twisty road and, by American standards, not all that wide.

It was foggy at the top again on the next day so again we retreated and this time went to Mountain City which is the first town in Tennessee. This is very typical small town America except that some of the buildings have beautifully painted murals on the outside. The detail in this one celebrating Clarence “Tom” Ashley was amazing. We were definitely at the start of country and folk music land.

Mural in Mountain City

Mural in Mountain City

This town has a lovely white church but it was not easy to get a good photo of it because of the overhead electric cables which blight many small and poorer towns in the USA.

I think it was on that day that we had a visit from a friend of the owner of the Loft who was away. When we said we lived in Yorkshire she immediately started talking about All Creatures Great and Small which is very popular among PBS viewers in the US. When we said we had seen it being filmed near us she rushed off to tell all her friends.

We had more luck on our third day there. Using the excellent map of the Parkway which shows all the stopping places and points of interest identified by the nearest milepost we drove some way to Linville Falls which is actually several waterfalls. There was plenty of water in the Falls.

Linville Falls

Linville Falls

We did the hike to the farthest one. Back at the visitor centre I felt good when an American lady whom we had briefly met on the way told me that I had inspired her to go to the end of the trail.

On the way back to the loft we stopped at Moses Cone Manor which is a privately owned house and estate on the Parkway and is open to the public. The Manor houses a craft shop with some rather expensive crafts made by local artists. There are plenty of hiking trails starting from here but it was raining again by then. The rain had stopped when we got further north. We tried another hike but the trail was overgrown, but we did manage some photos of the Blue Ridge Mountains and of Grandfather Mountain which is at almost 6000 ft.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Blue Ridge Mountains

Google identified a Greek restaurant in Boone for our last night at the Loft. We reluctantly got ready to leave there the next morning for further north where we would have hopes of better weather.

North towards Kentucky

We dipped briefly into Virginia to visit Natural Tunnel State Park. This tunnel is 850 ft long and has been carved naturally out of limestone. The main point of interest is that a railroad was built through it in the 1890s. It is still used occasionally for freight trains.

Natural Tunnel railroad

Natural Tunnel Railroad

There’s a chairlift down to the tunnel. We were almost the only people walking down on a good trail. It took less than 10 minutes and no more than 15 minutes to walk up again. You can walk around just a little at the bottom, but it’s really only an unusual photo-op.

The State Park has some pleasant areas around the top of the chairlift including a large grassy area surrounding a kind of wooden blockhouse which was closed when we were there.

Hometowns in Tennessee

Martin grew up in Bristol. On our way to the Natural Tunnel we drove through Bristol which is part in Tennessee and part in Virginia. It advertises itself as “A Good Place to Live” on a large illuminated sign which straddles the main street.

Bristol a Good Place to Live

Bristol a Good Place to Live

There’s a historical sign claiming that it was settled in 1765. There are at least 25 places called Bristol in the US and three in Canada. The one in Florida is up on the panhandle west of Tallahassee. It had a population of 918 in 2020.

Not to be outdone I wanted to drive on to Harrogate, Tennessee. This town is very close to Cumberland Gap where Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky meet. According to wikipedia there are only two towns called Harrogate outside the UK: this one which had a population of 4400 in 2020 and one in South Australia not far from Adelaide – we might have gone there if there hadn’t been such a bad storm when we were in Adelaide in 2016. Harrogate Tennessee has a rather ugly post office building but the town is enhanced by the beautifully laid out campus of Lincoln Memorial University.

Harrogate, Tennessee

Harrogate, Tennessee

Cumberland River and Falls

After a brief look at Cumberland Gap we drove up the fast and empty Interstate 75 to Corbin Kentucky where we had booked a room for two nights at the Holiday Inn Express. Like many motel areas in the US this was at the edge of a town just off an interstate exit and surrounded by fast food outlets. A little walk took us to a better restaurant for dinner. Everybody else seemed to be driving the very short distance for food.

We also seemed to be the only foreigners in the hotel. As it does everywhere else the Holiday Inn Express provides breakfast in the US but at Corbin breakfast was mostly very sweet buns. Many of the other guests looked like they had eaten a lot of them. The US has the highest rate of diabetes in the developed world.

The next day was Memorial Day which is a major public holiday in the US. We chose to visit Cumberland Falls which is a big tourist attraction on the Cumberland River and of course found it very crowded. Because of all the recent rain the Falls were quite spectacular.

Cumberland Falls

Cumberland Falls

You can walk down to a good viewpoint and further along on to a beach which was scattered with debris.

A heron was living dangerously rather near the Falls.

Heron by Cumberland Falls

Heron by Cumberland Falls

There are other trails near the Falls and Martin took the one to Eagle Falls on the other side of the river for an hour or so.

In search of some peace and quiet we drove south to Big South Fork and Bandy Creek back in Tennessee. There was a friendly visitor centre and a nice shady picnic area. By then it was a bit late to do a long hike – in any case we were in bear country – but there’s a short walk to a spectacular viewpoint over the Big South Fork Cumberland River.

Big South Fork Cumberland River

Big South Fork Cumberland River

It’s areas like this which make us like the USA so much. These trees must be spectacular in autumn. We hadn’t really left enough time for this area but earmarked it as somewhere to go back to. The drive to it went through some attractive parts of rural Kentucky and Tennessee.

Google found us a better place for dinner back in Corbin which turned out to be a bigger town than we expected.

Then it was time to move to the big city in Tennessee – Going South to Florida: Cities and a Cave

Picture gallery: Going North from Florida: Trees, Mountains and Rivers

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Oman 6: Practicalities and Impressions

Arranging the trip

Before this year we knew little about Oman and had never seriously considered going there. When our planned trip to Sri Lanka was postponed yet again the wonderful Experience Travel Group (ETG) who had organised it suggested that we might like to go to Oman. Some initial research showed that it matched several of our interests: mountain scenery, heritage, and Islamic civilisation and architecture.

ETG specialise in private tours but we had only once done this before as just the two of us. This was when we wanted to travel overland from Luang Prabang to Hanoi in spring 2010. A google search turned up a post about this journey from ETG. We followed this up and were very well looked after in a five-day journey with a driver and guide. ETG kept in touch with us after this and we turned to them for Sri Lanka which is one of their specialisations.

We normally make all our own arrangements for a holiday and try to rent a car wherever possible. Booking hotels on our own would have been fine for Oman but even Martin would not have attempted to drive some of the mountain roads. We would have been in a serious pickle on our own when the flight from Khasab to Muscat was cancelled. And we are not getting any younger.

Researching the Trip

We did our initial research using the Rough Guide to Oman and the Lonely Planet Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula, plus of course the Internet. I needed to remember that vowels are rarely written in the Arabic script. They appear in all the English versions of place names but the spelling is not consistent. This means that you have to be quite careful when searching for specific places in an index or online. This was no problem for Martin as he studied Arabic at university and can read the script.

There were several iterations with Becky and Holly at ETG as we settled on an itinerary. Some visitors to Oman just base themselves in and around Muscat. We had read about Musandam in the north and knew that the easiest way to get there was by road from Dubai. We also wondered about Salalah and in the end decided that we should see that area as well. It was really worth doing all of it.


The hotels we stayed at were all high quality, better than what we would tend to organise on our own. In Khasab the Atana Musandam Resort is right by the water and close enough to walk to the big Lulu supermarket. The location of the Sahab Resort on the Saiq Plateau was superb. We knew what to expect at the Antique Inn in Nizwa and enjoyed the experience. The desert tent at Thousand Nights Camp was 5-star. Turtle Beach Resort was fine and the Crowne Plaza in Muscat was everything you can expect from this hotel group plus the lovely view over the beach to the sunset.

The Salalah Rotana Resort would be an excellent choice for a package beach holiday. It’s beautifully laid out and our room was fine, except that we couldn’t turn the temperature warmer on the air conditioning. This hotel is 13 miles from Salalah. As we discussed with ETG later we might have preferred to be in the town. We could have asked them to change the hotel for us when we were planning the trip and just didn’t do this.


Except for the Antique Inn which served mostly Omani food, the food in all the hotels was a mixture of European, Middle Eastern and some South Asian. It was served as a buffet except at the Sahab Resort where there were very few guests. The most extensive buffet was at the Crowne Plaza which is a big hotel with plenty of guests.

We ate lunch at local restaurants when we were travelling with Saqer. He seemed to know every restaurant owner. When it got near lunchtime he would just phone ahead to a restaurant and food appeared very quickly when we got there. It was mostly houmous, chicken, dal, rice and flatbreads which was fine for us. At Sur we were treated at a smarter restaurant by the sea where we had a large fish for the three of us washed down with mango juice.

The one meal we had on our own outside the hotels was at a well-known restaurant in Muttrah. It was a good location but I did not feel that the food was anything special.

The Lulu hypermarkets are huge, equal to any large hypermarket in the UK. They are spotlessly clean and very well stocked. We were able to find sandwiches for lunch there when we needed to as well as a few snacks.


As we rarely have alcohol it did not bother us that wine and beer are not easily available in Oman. Juice, sparkling and still water, tea and coffee were readily available as well as fizzy drinks. The water in the hotels is drinkable and there were tea-making facilities in some of our hotel rooms. We tried the local Omani coffee a few times. It’s more like Greek coffee but not so sweet and is usually served with dates.

Currency and Shopping

The thing you have to remember when shopping in Oman is that the Omani rial is one of the few currencies which is worth more than the UK pound. One rial was worth about £2 or US$2.50 when we were there. You need to double the price number to see what it will cost you in pounds.

Most places took credit cards with a chip and pin or contactless payment and there are plenty of ATMs.

We didn’t do much shopping, but bought a few little souvenirs in the souqs, plus some books in Nizwa. We were never hassled to buy as happens in many other countries and haggling, if there was any, was very polite. Buying dates in Lulu to bring home was interesting as there were so many varieties to choose from. The information board in the date market in Nizwa would have been a big help here.

Phone and Internet

Everyone was using a mobile phone and there seemed to be a signal everywhere. The Internet worked well in all the hotels we stayed in. We even had the internet at the desert camp in the restaurant and communal areas.


Oman has coped with covid very well. There is a very high rate of vaccination and we needed to show proof of our recent vaccinations to enter Oman. Most people were wearing masks indoors and this was enforced by watchful restaurant staff in several places.


We have been to several Muslim countries and seen just about everything from high rise buildings and crazy traffic in Dubai to simple houses, local markets and dodgy electricity in some poorer countries. We did not really know what to expect in Oman.

When Sultan Qaboos came to power in 1970 Oman had 10km of paved roads. He set about modernising the country using oil revenues. He concentrated on developing infrastructure and transport – there is now a network of good paved roads and two very modern airports. Very many buildings are named after him. But he also believed in investing in people. English is now a second official language. University education is free and we were told that the state pays for very bright students to go to university in Germany. Healthcare is also free and excellent.

Everywhere was clean. There was no rubbish lying around. All the goats and camels wandering around must belong to someone without apparently any worry about theft.

His Majesty, as they refer to him, also sought to maintain and showcase Omani culture. All the women and many of the men wear the traditional dress. All new buildings are in the traditional Omani style – the Royal Opera House in Muscat is a wonderful example of this. There are no high rise buildings. We were extremely impressed with the presentation and depth of detail on the information boards in the museums we visited.

Visitors are expected to observe the rather conservative dress code. Apart from at obvious tourist hotels, shorts and sleeveless tops are frowned on. The Grand Mosque in Muscat is the only one which non-Muslims can enter. Women need to cover their heads and legs there.

Apart from weekenders from Dubai in Khasab, we did not see very many other tourists. The Crowne Plaza at Muscat was fairly busy. There were other tourists at Nizwa and some at the desert camp. There were many more for the turtle tours but they weren’t staying in our hotel. There were few or no other people at the other sites we visited. The hotel in Salalah was catering to package tours but was not full at all. This was perhaps because it was the end of the season. It was hot enough when we were there but temperatures reach 38C or more in summer and there is little or no shade.

We were not seriously affected by Ramadan which began towards the end of our visit but this might be another reason why there were not so many tourists.

Visitors to Oman will see plenty of people from other Asian countries working there. The hotels we stayed at were staffed mainly by Indians. Some of the items for sale in the souqs appeared to have come from India. And much of the menial construction work was being carried out by Bangladeshis who were not liked by one of our guides.

Sultan Qaboos died in January 2020 leaving no obvious heir. Oman was just emerging from Covid when we were there. What happens to the country now remains to be seen, but it would be a great shame if it decided to turn itself into another Dubai. Omanis are proud of their heritage and their country. It would be a great pity if this is lost in the pursuit of greater wealth.

All in all I would highly recommend a visit to Oman. It ranks highly on my list of favourite countries. You will be very well looked after and see a variety of interesting things.

As for our plans, the trip to Sri Lanka has been rebooked for next spring. This will be our fifth attempt to get there. Let’s hope bombs, covid and political upheaval are all gone by then and that we will finally see this country. We know we will be well taken care of by ETG.

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Oman Part 5: Salalah and the South

This is the fifth of six posts on our visit to Oman in March-April 2022.

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.


Salalah is in the very south of Oman, not too far from the border with Yemen. We took the 90 minute flight from Oman on a very new and clean Omanair plane. The modern airport terminal at Muscat was completed in 2018. It is very well designed, spotlessly clean and with plenty of lifts caters well for passengers with a lot of luggage or have mobility issues. It has room for far more passengers than we saw when we were there. We were given a snack and drink on the short domestic flight.

Our guide for the south met us off the plane and it was immediately clear that we were in a very different part of Oman. While we could see the mountains in the distance, it was much greener than the areas we had been to in the north. We had read that Salalah has a very different climate from the rest of Oman with a rainy season called the khareef from June to August.

Coconut palm

Coconut palm

We were taken first to a coconut plantation and vegetable market which was teeming with all kinds of produce some of which we did not recognise. There was a large pile of coconuts and plenty more scattered around.

Coconuts, Salalah

Want to buy a coconut?


Salalah has been a major centre for the export of frankincense since ancient times. The Museum of the Frankincense World is another modern building in the traditional Omani style. True to its name a frankincense tree is growing in the centre of the courtyard. It looked much more healthy than the rather ragged one Saqer had shown us on the way back to Muscat.

Museum of the Frankincense Land,

Museum of the Frankincense Land, Salalah

As its name indicates this museum is not just about frankincense. It shows how, beginning in ancient times, Salalah became a large centre of trade for frankincense. There are displays of boats and Omani seafaring in one main room. Another room has a collection of ancient artefacts including a some with hieroglyphs. All, including a map of trade routes, is well-documented on large information boards in both English and Arabic.

Frankincense is a resin. It is tapped from the bark of the tree and then allowed to solidify before being burnt to release its aroma. There are different colours and grades. It is still widely used in Oman and in the souq there were plenty of people selling it.

Frankincense shop

Frankincense shop

Before leaving the Museum we were able to briefly look at the Al Baleed archaeological site next door to it. The city of Zufar was founded three thousand years ago here. It covers a very large area and it was very hot and so we did not look at it in detail.

Salalah Rotana Resort

Our sightseeing for the day was done and we were taken to the Salalah Rotana Resort which one of several hotels by a lagoon complex about 13 miles east of Salalah.

Lagoon near Salalah Rotana Resort

Lagoon near Salalah Rotana Resort

This hotel is imaginatively laid out with several different low rise buildings and we had a large room which required a golf cart to get there.

Most of the other guests seemed to be Eastern Europeans on full board package tours. We were hungry but did not want a large buffet lunch and so the restaurant manager organised some plates of meze for us.

The hotel is on the beach and is also a very short walk from the lagoon which Martin explored in the afternoon.

We went back there in the evening to eat dinner at the aptly named Island Restaurant which is reached by a short pedestrian bridge.

Sunset dinner by lagoon

Sunset dinner by lagoon – yes, we did get some food after dark

Camels and Flamingos

There was plenty of choice in the hotel breakfast buffet and we were soon ready for exploring to the east of Salalah.

We had been told that we would see more camels in the south, but not that they were everywhere, wandering around on the roads which made driving interesting. They must all belong to somebody – our guide told us that his family owned a lot of camels and many more goats.

Camels on the road

We passed camels corralled into pens. Our guide said that they were for sale. We wondered how this ship of the desert drinks and whether we would see any by or in water.

The guide also stopped the car so that we could photograph some flamingos by the sea.

Flamingos near Salalah


We stopped at Taqah which is the first real town east of Salalah. Most of it is modern and again the beach area has not been spoilt by high rise buildings. From a small ridge above the town we were able to look down towards the fort and a very unusual minaret on a mosque.

Taqah Fort and Mosque

Taqah Fort and Mosque


The archaeological site of Sumhuram is situated on a wide inlet named Khor Rori which is just east of of Taqah. It was once a major town and port and the remains of buildings there are extensive. Recent excavations date it back to the fourth century BC. Sumhuram survived for eight centuries until, as experts believe, the entrance to the inlet became impassable because of a sand bank. Among the remains is an inscription in the rare Epigraphic South Arabian script.

Some workmen were carrying out restoration at the site.

Building work, Sumhurum

Building work, Sumhuram

It is an easy walk from the site down to the water where we found some camels with their feet in the water trying to get a drink.

Camels in water, near Sumhuram

Camels in water, near Sumhuram


We moved on further east to the town of Mirbat, first to the fort which was of interest for the square windows and an unusual tower hexagonal tower. Inside we found more life size displays of Omani life and a map of trade routes from Salalah and Muscat.

Fishing is a sizeable industry in Mirbat. There’s a fish market and plenty of small boats. On a larger boat some men were mending their nets and were not bothered by me photographing them.

Mending nets, Mirbat

Mending nets, Mirbat

In the distance some birds which looked like black storks were perched on the top of the dome of a mosque.

Storks? on dome of mosque

Near Mirbat we went to see the Mausoleum of Bin Ali, a beautiful white building with onion domes. It’s dedicated to a 12th century scholar who came from the area now known as Yemen. Next to it is a cemetery with thousands of headstones many of which are just upright stones.

Mausoleum of bin Ali, Mirbat

Mausoleum of Bin Ali, Mirbat

Wadi Darbat

On the way back to the hotel we took a detour to Wadi Darbat where there is even a waterfall which had water in it in the dry season. The water tumbled into a wide river. More camels were trying to get to the river for a drink.

Martin with our guide at Wadi Darbat

Martin with our guide at Wadi Darbat

There’s a much wider expanse of water further up the wadi where at some times of the year it’s possible to go out on a boat.

Back at the hotel we ate the buffet lunch and later on took a walk along the beach where some tourists were returning from a camel ride at sunset.

Camel riders at sunset, Rotana Resort

In the evening we tried the hotel’s version of an iftar meal. Most of the other guests ate indoors but we enjoyed an outdoor meal in a pleasant temperature and with no mosquitoes or other bugs.

Ain Razat

Just east of Salalah are a number of springs which have become local tourist areas. The areas surrounding them are quite green. At Ain Razat there is a picnic area where you can walk up to a large cave for a better view over the green areas, some of which were large enough to be called fields. Some cows were wandering around there.

Cave at Ain Rabat

Cave at Ain Rabat

Mugsail Blowhole and Beach

The rest of our excursion on the last day was to the west of Salalah where the mountains soon come down to the sea. At Mugsail there are several blowholes one of which performs frequently. It was a short walk from the car park under a large overhanging rock to get to it. We were able to watch it for a while and I did manage to get some reasonable pictures among the many failed ones.

Mugsail blowhole

Mugsail blowhole

At one stage the road ran alongside the 6km Mugsail Beach is quite stunning. It was almost deserted, perhaps because it was Ramadan and perhaps also that it is near the border with Yemen. The mountains in this area are as much if not more spectacular than those we had seen west of Muscat, but we could not go any further south as it was so close to Yemen.

Our guide took us to see a very old frankincense tree which was growing out of some rocks. We were able to see the resin coming out of its bark.

Frankincense resin on old tree

Frankincense resin on old tree

Salalah Town

We did see a little of the town of Salalah on the way back to the hotel. The gold market street was quiet probably again because of Ramadan but a few of the shops were open.

Gold souq, Salalah

Gold souq, Salalah

We asked the guide to take us to a Lulu hypermarket where we bought sandwiches for lunch and managed to choose some dates to take home from the huge variety on display.

Last Night and Going Home

A few of the shops around the lagoon were open when we went there again to eat at the Island Restaurant on our last night.

Our flight on Qatar Airways to Doha the next day was scheduled to leave at 5am, which is definitely not our favourite time. We were supposed to be at the airport two hours before and the guide said his brother would come for us at 2.30. The hotel reception had assured us that somebody would be available to take us and our luggage to the hotel front at that time, but nobody answered the phone when we tried to reach them at 2.15. Eventually Martin set off walking round the deserted site and found a security guy who helped us. I spotted somebody else lying down asleep in reception.

The driver was waiting and we got to the airport which is just on the edge of Salalah in plenty of time. Like the airport at Muscat the terminal is large, modern and clean. It was almost deserted except, much to our relief, a modern coffee shop which also served French-style patisserie. There were only five flights on the departure board.

I did wonder after our experience there whether the Omanis were planning to develop the airport at Khasab but its location in a valley between high mountains would not be suitable for a big increase in air traffic.

It was just daylight when we reached Doha. The contrast between the high rise buildings in the centre and the smaller low rise buildings spreading out into the desert was stark.



As the plane descended we could see construction everywhere presumably because of the football World Cup. There was plenty of evidence of building work at the airport but we arrived at a terminal which was far too small for the number of passengers who were milling about. At least our flight to Manchester was on time as there was nowhere near enough space for all the passengers to sit down at the departure gate. The plane was full and the food on it wasn’t too great. Emirates next time, I think, if we go to this part of the world again.

Picture Gallery: Oman Part 5: Salalah and the South

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Oman Part 4: Muscat and More Mountains

This is the fourth of six posts on our visit to Oman in March-April 2022.

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.


The capital Muscat is by far the largest city in Oman. Backed by jagged mountains it sprawls along the sea front and beach in a rather pleasant way. There are no high rise buildings and plenty of the newer ones have been built in a traditional style.

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza which is on a headland at the north-eastern end of the beach. The views from our room or the pool area were magnificent.

Pool at Crowne Plaza, Muscat

Pool at Crowne Plaza, Muscat

The old commercial centre Muttrah is round the headland to the east and is easily accessible from Muscat by a fast road round the back of the headland. We spent our first full day in Muscat exploring both areas.


Ramadan, the Muslim period of fasting with no food or drink from sunrise to sunset, began in Oman on the evening of 2 April which was the day we arrived in Muscat. We had been warned that some places might be closed during this time, but this rarely affected the rest of our trip.

In fact some places were a good deal quieter than they might otherwise have been. Saqer observed Ramadan and said that he was completely used to it and that there would be no problems.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

We began our day at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque which is the largest mosque in Oman and the only one which non-Muslims are allowed to enter.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

It was my turn to wear the headdress (a shawl) which Saqer had given me over my head. I also needed to cover my arms and legs.

Ready for the Grand Mosque

The mosque was completed in 2001 and is simply stunning. The approach is on beautiful clean paving past gardens with green lawns which were being watered and tendered. The inside is intricately decorated with ornate Arabic writing as well as other elaborate motifs. I took plenty of photos of which just a few are in the picture gallery which accompanies this post.

A huge finely woven prayer carpet covers the floor in the main prayer hall. According wikipedia it measures 60 x 70 metres and took 4 years to make. Visitors are only allowed to walk on a plain blue carpet which does enable you to have close look at the main carpet.

Carpet,Grand Mosque

Carpet, Grand Mosque

The central chandelier is 14 metres tall and is said to contain over 1100 bulbs. Smaller chandeliers hang all around the edge of the prayer hall. The mihrab, a niche in the wall which indicates the direction of Mecca and thus the direction of prayer, is very tall and decorated all over with soothing colours.

Mihrab, Grand Mosque

Mihrab, Grand Mosque

Muttrah Souqs

After leaving the mosque we moved on to Muttrah, where the souqs are the main tourist attraction. The fish market was first. I do like eating fish and I also like visiting fish markets – we have even been to the giant one in Tokyo. Here I took pictures of yellow, red and a blue fish, all of which looked very fresh.

Blue fish, fish market, Muttrah

Blue fish, fish market, Muttrah

Nearby somebody was mending nets in a small boat tied up near the market. It was all rather quiet but this meant that we didn’t have to battle through throngs of locals and tourists in order to see anything.

The locals did not mind having their photos taken. I managed to get good ones in the fish market and in the vegetable and fruit market.

Vendor, Muttrah vegetable souq

Vendor, Muttrah vegetable souq

We bypassed the building labelled Sale of Meat, perhaps because it was Ramadan.

The tourist souqs are really the heart of Muttrah and there are many shops selling souvenirs which seemed mostly to have been imported from southeast Asia. The shopkeepers appeared to be mainly Indian or Pakistani. Martin would have had no difficulty buying one of the round hats which Omani men wear. Saqer had a different one every day and they all matched the spotless dishdashas which he changed every day.

Muttrah souq

Muttrah souq

Cultural Heritage at Bait al Bagh

Bait Al Bagh in Muttrah is part of the Bait Zubair complex, a large privately owned showcase of Omani cultural heritage. At the entrance we were greeted by two life size models of Arabian oryxes, one of which was painted in several bright colours.

Model oryx outside Bait A Bagh Museum

Model oryx outside Bait A Bagh Museum

The first thing we saw inside was a huge and detailed illustrated map of Oman showing the culture and major activities of each area.

Part of map, Bait Al Bagh Museum

Part of map, Bait Al Bagh Museum

Bait al Bagh also has a number of excellent information boards showing various aspects of daily life and dress. The main collection consists of firearms, Omani daggers, antique jewellery and the like. There are several sets of life-size models including seven dressed for a wedding ceremony.

Models at a wedding, Bait Al Bagh Museum

Models at a wedding, Bait Al Bagh Museum

I was also intrigued by a detailed painting which illustrates various methods of food preparation, all carried out by women.

After a walk round the area surrounding the Sultan’s palace in Muttrah with glances at the huge yacht moored nearby which we were told belonged to one of his relatives, our planned schedule for the day was complete, but Saqer asked us if we wanted to see the Royal Opera House in Muscat as well. We had been past this building on the way to the mosque and were keen to see the inside.

Royal Opera House, Muscat

We were not disappointed. The Opera House is built in the traditional style and with intricate carvings in the stone and wooden decoration inside.

Royal Opera House, Muscat

Royal Opera House, Muscat

The stage is huge for performances with a large cast but we were told that the front part of it can be removed for more intimate events. If there had been a performance while we were in Muscat we would definitely have tried to get tickets.

The Opera House was another initiative of Sultan Qaboos and it opened in October 2011. A glance at its web site and entry in wikipedia indicates the quality of the performances it is able to attract.

Royal Opera House, Muscat

Royal Opera House, Muscat

We were back at the hotel in time for a late lunch. Ramadan was observed to some extent but most of the other hotel guests were European and the restaurant staff appeared to be Indian. In the evening instead of having the hotel’s iftar Ramadan evening meal, we took the hotel’s shuttle bus back to Muttrah and ate on a balcony overlooking the sea at at Bait al Luban, a well-known traditional restaurant which was recommended by our guide book and by Saqer.


On our second full day we went out of Muscat first going north along the coast to Barka where there is a large fort which had apparently been closed for some time.

Barka Fort

Barka Fort

We were able to view the outside before going to another fish market which had quite a few customers. Somebody was trying to sell what looked like a sting ray. The modern town of Barka is large enough to have a Lulu supermarket where we picked up some food for lunch.

Mountain roads

From Barka we turned inland on the start of a journey to the mountains. We stopped to photograph another fort at Nakhl which had also been closed for some time. In contrast to Barka this fort is rich brown in colour and was surrounded by trees. We looked at it across a dried river bed.

Nakhl Fort

Further on we passed a road sign for a camel and a bit later on a camel walking on the road. I noticed that its front legs were hobbled.

Camel on road

Camel on road

Saqer then took us on a mountain drive in the Western Hajar through the area known as Wadi Bani Auf. This journey is described by the Rough Guide as “widely considered the most memorable off-road drive in the country”. It goes on to say “This is Oman at its most nerve-janglingly dramatic, with stupendous scenery and a rough, vertiginous track which challenges the skills of even experienced off-road drivers”. We needed to buckle up metaphorically as well as physically but it was quite an experience.

Mountain road

Mountain road

Martin is quite a fan of roads like this but even he was glad that he was not driving. Saqer obviously knew the route very well and we stopped at several viewpoints. He easily dealt with the situation when we met one truck coming in the opposite direction – I was just glad the vertiginous drop was on the other side of the road at this point.

Can we get past this truck?

Can we get past this truck?

There are some small wadis and villages in this area including one with an artificially green football pitch. We saw some students getting off their school bus (a rugged 4×4). They must have come from Balad Sayt which was the only place we saw which had a road sign.

Yes, there's a village in these mountains

Yes, there’s a village in these mountains

You can go hiking in this area although I didn’t see any proper trails. We stopped to eat our lunch at a lodge called Bait Bimah and were able to chat to the one person who was working there.

Bait Bimah travel lodge

Bait Bimah travel lodge

Saqer took Martin on another drive higher up but I felt I had had enough and just admired the scenery for the 30 minutes or so that they were gone. On the way back we had a chance to photograph the entrance to Wadi Bimah “Snake Gorge” which is a very narrow canyon.

Snake Gorge

Snake Gorge

Because of the twisty road I had rather lost my sense of direction but looking at the map after we got back I saw that we had not been far from Al Hamra which we had visited on our second day with Saqer and was just on the other side of the mountains.

Evening and Iftar

We had to say a very reluctant goodbye to Saqer when we got back to the Crowne Plaza. He was going home for a very welcome rest.

Saqer and his landcruiser

Saqer and his Landcruiser

Our last evening in Muscat was our first real chance to explore the outdoor area at the Crowne Plaza. Steps lead down to a private sandy beach where we watched the sunset and even got our feet wet. There was another magnificent sunset.

Sunset from Crowne Plaza

Sunset from Crowne Plaza

We decided to eat the hotel’s Ramadan iftar evening meal. The tables were very elegantly laid and there was even more food in the buffet than we had seen on our first night there. Much of it was Middle Eastern and Asian which we like. Plenty of the other Europeans in the hotel were trying it as well.

Someone else would come to take us to the airport on the next day for our stay at Salalah in the south of Oman. How different would it be?

Picture gallery: Oman Part 4: Muscat and More Mountains

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Oman Part 3: Desert and Sea

This is the third of six posts on our visit to Oman in March-April 2022.

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.

Heading to the Desert

Reluctantly we left Nizwa before lunch and set off for our night in the desert. We had little idea what to expect and our anticipation grew as we visited Ibra and several more villages on the way.

Ruined Villages with Omani Doors

It was interesting to see the contrast between the old and the new in these villages but sadly we saw plenty of ruins.

The old and the new

The old and the new

Large 4x4s were parked next to ruined houses, but most of the original doors in the old houses remained. In the museum in Nizwa Fort we had looked at the display board of Omani doors and as we travelled more in the country we began to see the emphasis on decorated doors made of wood or metal. Some of them had intricately carved wooden surrounds.

Omani door on ruined house

Omani door on ruined house

We also saw fortification towers within or near the villages. Somebody climbed up to the roof of a building next to one.

Steps and tower in ruined village

There were no goats wandering around and the only evidence of occupation was just very few modern houses most of which were firmly shut up. We did see a mosque in one village which looked like it was being used.

There was a big tree in the centre of one village in an area which must have once been the villagers’ meeting place. It seemed more like Greece where every village has a square with a big tree to give shade.

Tree in old village

Tree in old village

Unfortunately I did not write down the names of these places but we cannot have been very far from Muscat.

Driving into the Desert

You have to let your tyres down in order to drive on very soft ground and so we stopped to do this just on the edge of the desert in a small modern town called Bidiyah.

Letting down the tyres for the desert

Letting down the tyres for the desert

I noticed that we were opposite a large modern store which advertised itself as “Ladies Tailoring”. “Men’s Tailoring” must have been somewhere else.

As we left the town we could see sand dunes beyond a palm plantation.

Towards the desert

Towards the desert

It took about an hour to go the 35 km to the Thousand Nights Desert Camp which is in an area of the desert called Sharqiya Sands or Wahiba Sands. It was a bumpy ride, but Saqer knew the best route across the sand. For much of the journey we saw nothing but sand.

Nothing but desert and sand

Nothing but desert and sand

Thousand Nights Desert Camp

ETG had originally booked us into a different camp but we asked for a change as we would have been in a hotel room there. A night in a tent in the desert was one of our few “must-dos” in Oman and Thousand Nights fitted the bill. Our “tent” turned out to be more like a cabin but the walls were covered with Omani furnishings. There was plenty of space for a 6ft bed and there was electricity and even a kettle. The bathroom was attached at the back with the shower area open to the sky.

Our tent in Thousand Nights Camp

Our tent in Thousand Nights Camp

The tents were well spaced out but it was only a short walk on a paved path (no sinking into the sand) to the restaurant area which also had wifi. The food was very good including a grill and egg/pancake station where a chef cooked on demand.

It was approaching evening when we arrived and Saqer soon took us out dune-bashing, driving up and over several sand dunes to a higher point where we had a good view of the sunset.

Our Landcruiser dune bashing

Our Land Cruiser dune bashing

I found it all rather scary but he had obviously done this many times before and knew exactly where to go. It was quite windy at the top – Martin wore the Omani head-dress which we had been given when we met up with Saqer.

Sunset at the top of the dunes

Sunset at the top of the dunes

Walking in the very soft sand was a bit tough, but on reflection I wouldn’t have missed it at all. A once only experience.

The Thousand Nights Camp has a herd of Arabic Oryx including some young ones. Because of hunting this animal was extinct in the wild by 1972 but numbers have now grown through captive breeding.

Arabian oryx at Thousand Nights Camp

Arabian oryx at Thousand Nights Camp

To the Sea

Then we were off to the sea. On the way we stopped at Wadi Bani Khalid where you can walk along a short path to what I hesitate to call a lake but it was the largest amount of water we had seen since we left Musandam. It was a pleasant place, more like a mini oasis.

Wadi Bani Khalid

Wadi Bani Khalid

It was rumoured that you could swim in it the wadi. Some locals were having a picnic. Servants who appeared to be Bangladeshis brought their food in a wheelbarrow. More Bangladeshis were clearing greenery from the lake.

The scenery going down to the sea was very bare. The road wound round some mountains which are not as high as those in Jebel Akhdar but seemed to be mostly rather loose grey rock. Down near the sea we passed another camel in the back of a pickup truck and a road sign showing a pedestrian wearing a dishdasha.

Road sign pedestrian wearing a dishdasha

We reached the sea at Sur which is one of the larger cities in Oman. Saqer took us to a smart restaurant overlooking the sea where the three of us ate a large fish with accompaniments which was all washed down with mango juice.

Lunch at Sur

Lunch at Sur


Then we were out on a small boat in the bay. I was a bit hesitant at a rather nasty clamber down on to the boat but it was well worth the trip.

Sur is a centre for building dhows, the traditional boat in the Arabian gulf. We passed a number of them, also a heron on the rocky shore. There was quite a contrast between the bright blue sea and brown rocks.

Heron and colour contrasts, Sur

Heron and colour contrasts, Sur

What we did not know until we got to one area was that we were being taken to see turtles popping their heads above the water. This became a little competition between the three of us pointing and shouting “there” as the turtle heads surfaced all around us. They weren’t the easiest thing to photograph but I did manage to get the odd one.

Spot the turtles, Sur

Spot the turtle

When we got back the tide had gone out and we just stepped off the boat on to the sand.

But these turtles were just a prelude. The beaches around Ras Al Jinz and Al Hadd about 30km east of Sur are important turtle nesting areas where large green turtles come out of the sea to dig a hole with their flippers and lay their eggs at night. The prime egg-laying season is June to August, and we were warned that we might not see one. We felt it was well-worth going there. It was April Fool’s Day. Perhaps we might be lucky.

We stayed the night at the Turtle Beach Resort in a kind of motel room with Omani wall furnishings. It was by a nice beach which we didn’t really have time to explore. Our room overlooked the sea and faced a wonderful sunset.

Sunset, Turtle Beach Resort

Sunset, Turtle Beach Resort

Everything is about turtles in this part of the world and I notice that a large turtle built from local stones occupies the centre of the lawn outside the hotel.

There were two parts to the restaurant at the Turtle Beach Resort. The buffet and some tables were inside a normal restaurant style room but just across the path the second part was in reconstruction of a dhow. It was worth carrying our food across to it in order to eat there.

Restaurant, Turtle Beach Resort

Restaurant, Turtle Beach Resort

Covid regulations were very strict here. A waiter was stationed at the door to the buffet room and would not let anyone in without a mask. The hotel was not full but there were enough people staying there for them to put on a variety of food, both Asian and European, in the buffet. There were turtle-shaped loaves of bread.

Bread display, Turtle Beach Resort

Bread display, Turtle Beach Resort

Saqer came for us after dinner to take us to the turtle watching place and museum. It’s also a hotel and there were more tourists there than anywhere else we had been to so far. He got tickets for us to go in a small group – the large one must have had 70-80 people whereas we were about 20 with 2 guides. We walked some way to the beach then had to turn off all our lights while the guides looked for a turtle. It took some time to find one but we were successful. It was just covering up its eggs with its flippers and were were able to photograph it in a red light.

Turtle laying eggs

Turtle laying eggs

While we were there a baby turtle was running around trying to find the way to the sea. It ran over my foot. Eventually one of the guides picked it up and deposited it on the edge of the sea.

We were back at the hotel by 11pm after a very successful evening.

Back to Sur

We went back to Sur after the turtles. On the way there we passed a rock which looked like a tiger from one angle. Somebody had painted it.

Tiger rock on roadside near Sur

Tiger rock on roadside near Sur

After stopping for us to photograph the two towers and some boats from the bridge Saqer took us to a dhow factory where several large ones were being constructed mostly by hand.

Dhow under construction, Sur

Dhow under construction, Sur

Some of the decorations were quite intricate. Most of the dhows are now for tourists and we were told that one of them was going to be a restaurant for the football World Cup in Qatar. Model ones were for sale in the shop.

Decorative panels for dhow, Sur

Dhow decoration

We also had time to take more photos of Sur. There were plenty of dhows out to sea but not going anywhere and plenty of small modern boats which surely must now be used for fishing as well as taking tourists around the lagoon.

Tourist boats, Sur

Tourist boats, Sur

Going further north towards Muscat we stopped to overlook the ancient site of Qalhat which was once important in trade in the Indian Ocean. Very little remains and the site was closed. In the nearby modern town there were larger fishing boats where some men were mending nets.

We took a side road into Wadi Tiwi where again the contrast between the green and the desert was stark. This is a large wadi with attractive scenery and some reflections in the water.

Wadi Tiwi

Wadi Tiwi

A boy (not an Omani) was washing himself and his clothes in the rather green water.

Washing time, Wadi Tiwi

Washing time, Wadi Tiwi

We were near a small village which seemed deserted. There was a mosque which was just a small area enclosed by wire netting and covered with a roof made of palm fronds.

Mosque, Wadi Tiwi

Mosque, Wadi Tiwi

Saqer drove us further up where we could see some modern houses. Turning the Land Cruiser round on the narrow gravel road was interesting.

Above Wadi Tiwi

Above Wadi Tiwi

Lunch on that day was in the nearby town. A group of French tourists were also eating at the same restaurant. This was a very typical modern town with a jumble of electric cables, street signs and rather chaotic parking. Some of the houses had round white water tanks on their roofs with little battlements on their tops.

Modern Tiwi

Modern Tiwi

Some goats were wandering around the parking area at our next stop which was the entrance to Wadi Shab where the water meets the sea underneath the main road.

Goat, Wadi Shab

Goat, Wadi Shab

Plenty of tourists were there as well. Much of the water was covered in what looked like water lilies, but you can also take a boat across to hike some way up.

Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab

Almost everywhere we went in Oman was clean, neat and tidy, but here a graffiti artist had been at work on some concrete structures under the road.

Graffiti, Wadi Shab

Graffiti, Wadi Shab

The main road between Sur and Muscat runs quite close to the sea but we did deviate from it on gravel road closer to the sea to take pictures from a good viewpoint.

On the way to Muscat

On the way to Muscat

Our last stop on the way to Muscat was at a huge sinkhole. It’s surrounded by a nice garden. You can walk down to the bottom of it where some people were swimming. I declined and chatted to some French tourists while Martin descended to inspect the bottom.

Bimmah sinkhole

Bimmah sinkhole

The area between the main road and the sea is mostly scrub with small bushes but Saqer pointed out the only frankincense tree in this part of Oman. He also spotted a deer (quite rare in Oman) among the bushes.

Deer, near Muscat

Deer, near Muscat

We arrived at the Crowne Plaza in Muscat in time to watch a lovely sunset from our room.

Sunset from our room, Crowne Plaza, Muscat

Sunset from our room, Crowne Plaza, Muscat

This is a much larger hotel than where we had stayed before and dinner was an excellent buffet eaten by the pool.

A day of sight-seeing in the capital city awaited us.

Picture gallery: Oman Part 3: Desert and Sea

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Oman Part 2: Mountains, Villages and Nizwa

This is the second of six posts on our visit to Oman in March-April 2022.

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.

Jebel Akhdar and the Saiq Plateau

Our wonderful guide Saqer was waiting for us on some waste land on the edge of Muscat at 9.15pm after our mad 500+ km dash by road from Khasab. Our destination was the Sahab Resort and Spa which is at an altitude of about 2000m. Muscat is more or less at sea level and the road went up and up and up. The surface was good and wide enough for vehicles to pass. It was lit by bright street lights all the way. We passed through a sizeable town Saih Katenah on the plateau, arrived at our hotel about 11pm and flopped straight into bed.

Next morning we found that the hotel was right on the edge of the plateau. There was a stunning view across to mountains and down to some tiny villages some of which were not accessible by road.

View from Sahab Resort, Saiq Plateau

View from Sahab Resort and Spa

We also found that there were very few guests in the hotel and so the choice of food was not great although it was fine. We ate outside by the pool on our second night there.

Saqer gave us a lie-in and came for us at 10am. Our first stop was to see more fossils on the top of the plateau then we drove down and parked near Al Aqr the first of three villages which are close enough to each other to walk between them.

Three Saiq Plateau villages

There was water nearby and the villagers grow roses for rosewater, which is very popular in Oman, as well as fodder for animals. An elderly couple were tilling a small area and planting it up.

Agriculture, Saiq Plateau

It was interesting to walk round the villages. Sadly many of the old stone houses are no longer occupied but their intricate wooden and metal doors remain. Some workmen were attempting to rebuild one house in a rather primitive way as it would not be possible to get any large machinery there.

Construction work, Saiq Plateau

Construction work, Saiq Plateau

The walk to the second village Al Ayn was a little tough in parts. It goes down then round a spur and up to reach the village where there are more abandoned houses. It is possible to drive to it and so Saqer took the car to meet us while we enjoyed the walk.

On the trail between the villages

On the trail between the villages

The distance to the third village Al Sheragah is further and likely tougher and so Saqer walked there and back with Martin while I got into conversation with a doctor from Lancaster who was visiting his Omani family.

The Saiq Plateau is just one area within the Jebel Akhdar Massif. Jebel Akhdar means green mountain and there are areas within it which are cultivable. Below the three villages are vertiginous terraces which must once have been used to grow food.

Old Terraces by the three villages

Old terraces by the three villages

We could also see wadis in the valleys supporting green plants. The best known of these is Wadi Bani Habab where you can walk down and actually see some water and plenty of vegetation. The old village of Bani Habab is in ruins lying just above the wadi.

Old Wadi Bani Habab

The modern village lies above the wadi and is described by the Rough Guide as “uninspiring”. It did look out of place.

By the end of our stay with Saqer we decided that he must know every restaurant owner in the area he covers. Every day he would phone ahead – yes there’s a phone signal everywhere we went to – to a restaurant for lunch which usually consisted of chicken, dal, salad, rice and flatbreads which he ordered for us.

After lunch in Saih Katenah we were really introduced to the mountain roads in Jebel Akhbar with a drive up to a view point. The gravel road was just wide enough for our land cruiser. It was twisty with a sheer drop for some of the way.

On the way to Al Suwjara

At the end of the road we parked directly opposite Al Suwjara which is a village built underneath cliffs on the mountain side. There was a steep stony path down and then up to the village. People appeared to be living there.

Al Suwjara under the cliffs

Much further up on the hillside there was a goat pen which Martin managed to capture with the zoom lens on his powerful camera.

When I was writing this I discovered that there is a guest house in Al Suwjara on booking.com and some people had posted videos of the walk to it on youtube. Some locals (young males) were setting off down the path to the village just as we left.

Later in the day there was time to enjoy the wonderful sunset from the hotel gardens. A large building stood out in the distance. We were told that it belongs to the son of the Emir of Qatar.

Sunset from Sahab Resort and Spa

Birkat al Mouz and Al Hamra

Next day we visited several places lower down the Jebel Akhdar mountains. We stopped at the tourist office at the bottom of the long road up to the plateau and were served what turned out to be the usual hospitality offering of coffee and dates.

Birkat al Mouz is a large village on the edge of a huge date plantation. Like many other villages there is a tower built on a hill with a good view overlooking the date palms towards the old village which is mostly in ruins.

View from tower overlooking Birkat al Mouz

We drove through the dates past a stone wall which would interest anyone who lives in the Yorkshire Dales. It was about 5m tall and there was no mortar.

5m stone wall at Birkat al Mouz; spot the person at the end

Near Birkat al Mouz we also saw our first falaj, which is a kind of water channel for irrigation. This one named Falaj Al Khatmein has World Heritage Status. It is decorated with pebbles including its name in Arabic text and there was a tiny decorated building next to it.

Irrigation Falaj Al Khatmein

Irrigation Falaj Al Khatmein

Our next stop was at Al Hamra. Bait al Safah is a living cultural heritage museum in a house in this village. A lady who spoke fluent English described a demonstration of making Omani flatbreads and coffee.

Making Omani flatbreads

Part of the upstairs of the house was furnished. There was an excellent view from the rooftop but sadly much of the old part of the town is in ruins.

Bahla Fort and Jabreen Castle

The town of Bahla is dominated by a huge fort, visible from some way away and said to be one of the best in Oman. After another excellent lunch we tackled it on a very hot afternoon.

Bahla Fort

Bahla Fort

There was evidence of some earlier buildings inside. Steps lead you up and down to different areas. You can also climb up on to a roof for a view of the surrounding area (somebody did).

On the roof of Bahla Fort

This fort dates back to the 12th-15th centuries but it was rebuilt during the 17th century and has been renovated very recently, giving a relatively new appearance. Inside the ceilings are wooden and many of the doors have wooden surrounds.

Inside Bahla Fort

It was all spotlessly clean. Bahla Fort is really visited for its size – you could easily get lost in it going up and down the many steps. Just a few objects are on display in the interior.

Not far from Bahla, Jabreen Castle is a rather different structure being tall rather than sprawling. It dates from about 1670 and the interior is more elaborately decorated than Bahla Fort. Many of the interior rooms which surround a courtyard contain large pots, cooking implements and even furnishings.

Inside Jabreen Castle

We were intrigued by the date store where the floor consists of corrugated channels. Dates were piled up on the floor allowing their juice to collect in the channels.

Date store in Jabreen Castle

Parts of the interior have intricate decorations, some made of wood. Some of the wooden ceilings are very highly decorated. The ceiling above one staircase is decorated in Arabic writing carved in relief.

Arabic writing decoration inside Jabreen Castle


Our next overnight stop was at Nizwa which is the historic old capital of Oman. This is a much larger town and on the way into it I managed to photograph a huge mosque.

Mosque at Nizwa

In Nizwa we stayed at the Antique Inn which really lives up to its name. We wanted to experience the local way of living and had asked ETG specifically to put us there rather than in a modern hotel some way from the old town centre. The Inn is very close to the fort and the souqs (markets). We slept on a traditional mattress on the floor, but we also had a nice private bathroom and the wifi worked very well.

The sitting room at the inn is furnished with carpets and with cushions around the sides for seating. Our dinner and breakfast were mostly Omani food and were served on a rooftop terrace.

Sitting room, Antique Inn, Nizwa

Nizwa was our first experience of local souqs and we spent some time on our first evening wandering round buildings which were surprisingly modern and air-conditioned inside as well as some older market stalls which were more like those we have seen in other countries.

Spices and nuts in Nizwa souq

Even in the old part all notices and advertising are displayed in English as well as Arabic.

Old style shop, Nizwa

Old style shop, Nizwa

The Nizwa souqs are definitely not just for tourists. Plenty of locals were shopping there. In the date souq a display board showed thirty-nine kinds of dates.

Choose your date

There is a huge market in Nizwa on Fridays when locals come from miles around to sell livestock and other goods. But we were there on a Thursday. The goat market building was empty and we missed the opportunity to buy a camel. We did see two camels in a pickup truck parked outside the market area presumably ready for market day.

Camels on the way to market

There were more tourists in Nizwa Fort than we had seen elsewhere but it was not crowded.

A band was playing in one of the rooms just off the courtyard near the entrance.

Band playing inside Nizwa Fort

The present fort dates back to the late 17th century and is in a similar style to the previous ones we had seen with crenellated battlements. A huge circular tower was designed to stop undesirables from entering.

Nizwa Fort

Nizwa Fort

The displays in the museum inside the fort are excellent, being well-designed and very informative. One large and very detailed display board has a cut-out view of the tower and illustrates the gory details of the various traps for invaders.

Display board: traps for the unwary in Nizwa Fort

A “murder hole” was designed to allow rocks to be dropped and boiling date syrup to be poured down on anyone who should not be there. There are true pitfalls where invaders would fall into pits through gaps in the staircases. These have all been preserved and glassed over for tourists to see them.

Murder hole: detail from the Ancient Omani Fortification board

The museum inside the fort contains more excellent information boards including quotes from two British travellers. A British Naval lieutenant James Raymond Wellsted visited Nizwa in 1835. He was finally admitted to the fort and noted seven massive iron doors and that “a guardian behind each inquired the purport of our visit; and being told that we were servants of the Sooltan, he removed several locked bars and chains, and then we passed on.” In his Arabian Sands published in 1948 Wilfred Thesiger described the view on a clear day of the entire length of the Jebel Akhdar ridge from his camp just outside Nizwa.

Another board provides a detailed description of date palms and their uses and yet another one of trade routes on a well-illustrated map.

Decorated doors are a characteristic of Omani buildings and photos of 19 of the best ones in Nizwa are displayed on another board.

Doors of Nizwa: in Nizwa Fort Museum

The juxtaposition of old and new is very apparent in Nizwa. Several of the old buildings near the souqs and fort are in ruins. It seemed odd to see 4WDs parked next to them and within sight of much newer construction. But it was good to see that plenty of the old traditions remain and how well the display boards in the museum in the Fort promote the history and culture of the area.

We were sad to leave Nizwa but it was time to move on to the desert and then the coast.

Leaving Nizwa Fort

Picture gallery: Oman Part 2: Mountains and Villages

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Oman Part 1: Musandam and Khasab

This is the first of six posts on our visit to Oman March-April 2022

If you just want to see the pictures from this part of our trip go here.

At the time of writing this (October 2022) we have now had four failed attempts to visit Sri Lanka on a trip organised by the wonderful Experience Travel Group (ETG). After the third one ETG started talking about alternatives especially Oman. We were initially intrigued and became seriously interested when we saw that this would combine our love of stunning scenery with our interest in Islamic civilisation and architecture. ETG organise private tours and after a little to-ing and fro-ing we settled on an itinerary in Oman which neatly split into three sections, although the second one was by far the largest.

Wadi Tawi – typical mountain scenery in Musandam

Getting there

So it was on a cold March day that we found ourselves on an Emirates A380 flight from Manchester to Dubai. Emirates are one of the best airlines we have been on and we arrived on time in the early morning in an enormous new terminal built just for A380s each of which can take over 500 people. There were over 40 immigration agents and we were landside in less than 30 minutes with all our luggage (UK airports take note). A driver was to take us through the northern part of UAE to Musandam, a part of Oman which is at the very northern tip of the Arabian peninsula close to the Straits of Hormuz.

As we sped out of Dubai on an 8-lane highway the driver asked if we wanted coffee and promised to find some. After about 40 minutes we stopped at a Starbucks which was next door to a McDonalds by the side of the road in the middle of the desert. There were some camels nearby.

Unmistakable and very welcome coffee after an overnight flight

Our journey to Khasab, which is the only real town in Musandam, was a very quick 2.5 hours with one short stop at the border to enter Oman and a few others for photos once we were near the northern tip of Oman where the road is partly built out into the sea below steep cliffs.

The road to Khasab


In Khasab we stayed at the Atana Musandam hotel which is on a man-made inlet leading out to the harbour and the sea. Our room was large and furnished in a traditional style with dark wood furniture which we were to see in many other places. All meals at the Atana are buffet style and there was plenty of choice of food. Most of the other guests appeared to be families taking a weekend break from Dubai. A very hot but short walk across some bare land opposite the hotel took us to a Lulu hypermarket which was as good if not better than any we have seen at home or in France. We had missed lunch in the hotel and found an excellent choice of sandwiches in Lulu. Everyone there was wearing a mask.

Khasab was once the centre of smuggling between Oman and Iran. Much of this has now been stopped and there is a small amount of regular trade between the two countries. Tourism, especially visitors from Dubai, is now a major source of income in Musandam.

A visit to the main sights of Khasab was on the agenda for the first full morning. We were taken first to Khasab Fort which is right in the middle of the town and was built in the 17th century. This was the first of many buildings we saw with the same type of crenellations (battlements) on the roof. It’s worth noting here that the Omanis seem to use the terms “fort” and “castle” interchangeably.

Khasab Fort

The courtyard of the fort houses some wooden battil vessels, which are one of the traditional types of small boats in this part of the world, also a traditional oven and grinding stones.

Khasab Fort courtyard

Inside a few rooms have displays of local culture complete with life-size people.

Inside Khasab Fort

Khasab Fort also contains an impressive set of display boards all in the two official languages Arabic and English. We found similar displays in other museums and forts we visited later in the trip. All were well designed and very informative.

Our morning tour then took us past the beautiful mosque in Khasab which is only open to muslims and then on to the village of Wadi Tawi a few kilometres from the town. It seemed a typical rather neglected village but within a group of boulders beyond it are several prehistoric petroglyphs of animals, houses and people. The best was of three camels.

Camel petroglyphs at Wadi Tawi

We had some additional entertainment at the petroglyphs as plenty of goats (the first of many we saw just wandering around) were as curious of us as we were of them. One young one was peeping out from behind the boulder with the camels.

Goat at Wadi Tawi

Our guide started to feed them with small branches and I had a go as well. Their teeth and mouths were surprisingly strong.

Goat feeding at Wadi Tawi

The wadi itself was typical of many in Oman with just a little green vegetation between high rocky mountains.

Our ETG itinerary for this day had a free afternoon but we had read about the trip to Jebel Harim, which at 2087m is the highest mountain in Musandam. The trip goes up a mountain track only drivable in a 4WD. We asked our guide to arrange another car for this trip and after lunch a new guide in a fairly tough vehicle arrived take us up there.

The first stop was at a popular tourist spot where tourists were taking photos of themselves by a huge Oman sign set back about 1.5m from a sheer drop a very long way down to the sea. It was quite busy there with tourists and motorbikes but our guide took some nice pictures of us avoiding the other tourists as much as possible.

We do love it – wonderful country

There was a narrow road of sorts going down to a small village by the sea. The only way out from the bottom is by sea or driving back up again. It made some roads we have driven on like the Stelvio Pass in Italy look a doddle. Martin went near enough to the edge to take a photo of this road which also appears on some tourist literature about Oman, but I was very grateful that we were coming down from the Oman sign the same way as we went up.

From the Oman sign – not our route

The drive up to Jebel Harim was on a narrow gravel road (often with a sheer drop at the side) and with plenty of bends. The scenery all around was jagged mountains which were completely dry.

The road to Jebel Harim

At about 1100m we reached a flat plain with houses, green fields and crops.

Green fields on way to Jebel Harim
Green fields on way to Jebel Harim

Some donkeys, just like the goats in the morning, were wandering around on their own. Some goats then appeared and the driver fed a banana to one of them. We did not see any humans there at all.

Then it was another 20 minutes or so up again to another flat area below the summit of Jebel Harim.

Fossil area below Jebel Harim

Further up is a military area closed to tourists but the guide took us a short walk to see fossils embedded in the dark grey rocks on the ground. Many of these were of sea creatures and quite large.

Fossils at Jebel Harim

The drive down was uneventful but I was fairly relieved when we reached the bottom. This trip turned out to be just a taster for the many mountain roads we took on our tour from Muscat.

Dhow Trip to Khor Ash Sham

For the next day ETG had arranged an all-day trip on a dhow to Khor Ash Sham which is the most accessible of many khors. These are fjords surrounded by more spectacular and very dry mountains. Our driver took us to the harbour where we had to clamber across several other dhows to reach ours. We found ourselves to be the only tourists on this boat which we were told could take just over 40 people. Two crew members looked after us as well as managing the boat. All we needed to do was lounge on the oriental cushions and carpets under the sunshade and admire the scenery and calm waters.

Our dhow and a crew member

Oman has often been described as a geologist’s paradise and it was not difficult to see why as we sailed along the khor.

Rock formations at Khor Ash Sham

We were not the only dhow out for the day. Others were already at our first stop, an inlet where you can see dolphins. We’ve seen them before but the two we saw were close and not bothered by all the dhows around them.

Tourist dhow in Khor Ash Sham

We sailed on to anchor by Telegraph Island where the British built a telegraph station in 1864 to provide cable traffic between the UK and India. The station was not operational for long but the name has stayed. Better swimmers than us swam to the island from some other dhows but we were content to watch one of the crew prepare and cook a delicious fish for us.

Fish for lunch on the dhow

We ate it together with chicken, rice, flatbread and a selection of salads.

Lunch on the dhow

The other boatman went spear fishing underwater and caught what Google Lens identified as a cuttlefish. The other boatman cleaned it up. Perhaps that was lunch for the next day’s trip.

Their lunch tomorrow?
Cuttlefish: tomorrow’s lunch?

We were at anchor by Telegraph Island for about 90 minutes. The wind got up when we were about halfway back. I avoided being seasick but the boat was not stabilised. I was glad when we rounded the headland into the harbour but overall this trip was excellent. It’s a must-do in Khasab and I would recommend the whole day one (actually about 6 hours) rather than a half-day which does not go as far as Telegraph Island. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. And when we got back the tide was at a different level and we walked straight out of the dhow on to the quay, with no clambering over other boats.

Getting to Muscat

Our time in Khasab was up and early the next day we were taken to the airport by 8am for a 10am flight to Muscat. The runway is in a valley (the only suitable valley) close to the town. The airport building, to put it bluntly, leaves a bit to be desired. The waiting area is by the checkin desks, only one of which was staffed for some of the time we were there. Plenty of locals were milling about or had taken most of the seats. Those that were still waiting to check in seemed to have more baggage than was allowed. We stood in a queue which crept along. There was no sign of the plane which was coming from Muscat. There was still no sign of it by 10am or for some time after that. We did find somewhere to sit down but I had to keep going outside as the air conditioning was very fierce inside.

After a while we started chatting with a French couple who where the only other two Europeans. At 12 noon the check in agent announced that the plane was not coming because it was too windy. Everyone was rebooked for the next day. The locals vanished very quickly, but the driver who had taken us to the airport soon turned up to take us back to the hotel. We feared that the flight might be cancelled the next day and really wanted to keep to our itinerary and get to Muscat that day. The French couple were quite desperate to get there as well as they had only one more day left in Oman.

Martin asked the driver to arrange a car to drive us the 530km to Muscat and the French couple agreed to share it with us. We could not fit all our baggage in the first car they brought but just managed it in a 4WD. I sat rather cramped in the back with the French couple with our small items on our laps. By then it was after 2pm and none of us had had anything to eat. We got the driver to take us to Lulu to grab a sandwich and we finally set off at about 2.30pm.

It turned out to be something of a mad dash through the desert, but the road surface was excellent. Some of the trip was on a dual carriageway. Musandam is separated from the rest of Oman by part of the UAE and so we had to stop twice (one exit and one entry) at each of the two border posts and buy new visas. Fortunately they were not busy and the driver knew exactly what to do there. Other than that we did not stop at all.

Our guide at Muscat was supposed to be meeting us at the airport to take us straight up into the mountains. We weren’t clear what was happening but the Khasab driver had been on the phone a lot (while driving). At about 9.15pm long after it got dark we suddenly left the motorway and came to a stop on a bit of waste land on the outskirts of Muscat to find our wonderful Muscat guide Saqer waiting for us in a Toyota Landcruiser. The first thing he did for us was to get very welcome sandwiches and drinks. Our new French friends stayed with our original driver – I hope they got to where they needed to be in Muscat.

Picture gallery: Oman Part 1: Musandam and Khasab

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