A month ago I said goodbye to good friends in Athens and made my way to the airport where I didn’t have to pay for my second piece of luggage! Yay!! A nice short hop to Istanbul and the busiest airport I have been to in a LONG time! Ataturk Airport is massive, and on a Thursday evening, a complete gong show. I got to my gate as fast as humanly possible and just sat there reading until my flight to Muscat, via Bahrain, an hour or so later.
The meal on board was fantastic, I’m a huge fan of airplane food even at the worst of times – I remember that I had hummus and some sort of chocolate cake . . . the menu(!) that I have in my scrapbook could tell me the details. The wine was terrible (it often is), and I settled down to watch a movie and try to sleep a bit. The stopover in Bahrain was completely uneventful, but our takeoff again was quite fun. By this time, the plane had cleared out considerably, and I had a row to myself. Taking advantage of the fact the plane was stopped, I stretched out across the row and had a little nap. Either the stewardesses didn’t see me, or saw me and saw that I still had my seatbelt on and left me alone, but I pretty much slept through takeoff in a horizontal position – good times!
The flight to Muscat was quick, and once there, I breezed through immigration in mere minutes, if it even took that long. Collecting my bags, I went to check in for my next flight (free luggage again!!) before finding a very comfortable couch and drooling all over it for an hour or so.
I arrived in Salalah earlier than expected, thereby completing the Easiest Journey Anyone Has Ever Had To The Middle East, as far as I can tell. Every ex-pat I’ve told my story to is dumbfounded at the smoothness of my trip. Newest coworkers and roommates Nick and Nina from Sub Aqua Dive Center picked me up at the airport and we drove to our ginormous house in North Aquad. This place is massive, with 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a huge living room and a well-appointed kitchen. My room can definitely be best described as a boudoir: I have a chandelier and several layers of curtains on each window. The main room is probably my favourite, with hypnotizing wall paper, two chandeliers and couches all the way around.
Next up was a tour of the dive centre and office, which is located 3 minutes away in Raysut at the Hilton resort. The tank and equipment rooms are really nicely laid out, with a big bathtub for washing gear in. The office is next to the bar (very handy for after 6pm on long days!), and has a view of the beach and the grounds of the hotel. We can eat in the staff canteen three times a day if we feel up to eating that much curry. The food is actually really good and there is usually a nice mix of meat, fish and veggie options. Recently they have started serving salad with dinner and the other day I had super good fish and chips for lunch!
Life so far has been a strange contrast between busy and boring. Work has been busy, but there isn’t much to do here. It’s a big city, but so far as I can tell, not much social activity that could involve a Western woman. Evenings are generally spent watching movies (I think I’ve seen more films in the past month than in the last 4 years combined) or occasionally going out for dinner. The days are full of work, which involves equal parts driving and diving. The sites that we dive most commonly are located near Mirbat, a town which is around 80km away. Past Mirbat is a 4WD track that goes to beautiful sandy beaches. There seems to be innumerable little bays and sandy patches that you are more than welcome to visit if you can get there. We have a company pick up and a Land Cruiser to get us and the divers there. Days off are either spent at home or at the Hilton if I can’t use a company car for the day. There are some beautiful landscapes surrounding Salalah and Mirbat, but the thought of adding another few hours of driving to my weekly total does not fill me with joy . . . Hopefully as the season goes on I’ll get used to the long distances and feel like venturing out on my own time. There are sand dunes a few hours away, and I’m definitely planning to traverse a few, preferably on the back of a camel.
From the few that I’ve met, Omani’s are generally happy, helpful and kind. Locals seem to be quite welcoming and accepting of my Western-ness, while appreciative that most (if not all) Westerner’s make a concerted effort to cover up when in public (shoulders and knees at a minimum). Covering up, even in the 30+ degree heat, is easy to do, as one mostly moves from an air conditioned car to a frigid, and I do mean arctic, shop. The A/C seems to be cranked up to ‘freezing’ in most places, so having the long and sometimes extra layers are not a bother. At night, the temperature falls to the mid-20s, which is quite comfortable in jeans and a shirt. I would really like to meet more local people, and try to learn about Omani culture and traditions. I feel very detached from the local community, like I’m just moving around in a bubble, making practically no meaningful contact. This will be probably the biggest hurdle I will face here – my sense of isolation because of my culture, which is so different from that of the country, the region, the city I now find myself in. I know I was spoiled on Amorgos, to have landed in such a welcoming village where everyone knew everyone, and stepping into the square was like stepping into your best friend’s living room. The only place I’ve encountered like that here so far is the Oasis Club, a local bar (perhaps the only bar not located in a hotel!) where all the expats go on Thursdays to chat and catch up. Dinner there is definitely the highlight of my week.
Overall, it’s only been a month. The longer I’m here, the more I will discover. I’m still excited to see what secrets this part of the world has to offer, and seeing camels everyday reminds me that I’m in a place most people only get to dream about.