Oman I

Finally satisfied in the land of sand

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Oman has been one of the better countries to have cycled in, do I dare to say one of the best? If I say this than it might indicate that all of Oman is fantastic, and that is however not completely true. I have only been there 3 weeks, the longest I could stay on a free visa -Arabs, friendly folk- would have give me another free week at the airport-, but, travel goes on…

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Come to think of it, I can reassuringly say that Oman is definitely one of he better countries to cycle in: it is entirely safe, it is cheap if you camp, and you can camp everywhere. It is of a splendid beauty, roads are safe to cycle on, and at last, man do not approach you sexually only assure themselves you are without problems in their empty desert landscapes.

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Forethought’s of feelings

At times I got the feeling I was already in India -perhaps of the many Indian workers- while staying at Couch Surf address Francesca I felt eerily at ease, the almost unnoticed smell of flowers penetrating through the open windows, the wind indicating spring would come soon, and the atmosphere of a touchable beauty. India would come soon, is close, yet not to compare with Oman. Oman is quiet, clean and safe.

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This might look boring: quiet, clean and safe. Let me verify, after more than a week of cycling, camping and no bathing, you will inevitably start to smell. But oh, what a heavenly knowledge it is to cycle and to put your tent where ever you want it. To be honest, little choice is left because Oman is not cheap.

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Explanation Detour

Oman is bordering United Arab Emirates and in the land of splendid I arrived by ferry from Iran. My initial plan was to cross Pakistan, a most logic direction but attaining a Pakistan visa became very difficult so I decided to head to lands where I have not been yet. Pakistan is of a not to imaginable beauty, so are the people, but having been there a couple of times, and spend a year in a fairy-tale valley in the far North, the choice for a detour was not too difficult.

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At first, entering the busy highway along the coast, is boring. Not to say very unattractive. I see no ocean although I am right next to it. This is the road coming from Hatta and here life seems to happen. I got a free map at the border crossing and soon I am having a good look at it as to plan anything to get away from here.

See, Happy Me

I am hosted at football club Asalam as I could not find a place to camp and my hosts, a few well groomed Arabs are at my service. I feel Oman is rather a more real country than it’s close neighbor, it feels the Omani are more leaning towards their other neighbor, the Yemenis. Men can be surprisingly, wildly attractive, their trimmed beards extremely sharp cut where the neckline is free of hair grow. Often they have a nubble of longer hair in the neck and dressed in a stiffened dishdasha with a little tassel dangling down from the neckline, they are admiring. Although their posture while driving a car is less, it seems like they are half sleeping, lying down like a lazy shepherd. And the only shepherds I have seen were women…

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Modern Day Slaves

There are a lot of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Philippine workers. Along the road I get most contact with the Indian and Bangladeshi though contact is not the best chosen word. Those people are here only for work and regarded as very low class citizens. I notice I feel very much pity with them, and even come to a point where I see them as plain slaves. Slaves of the Arab world to built there lands. Not that Oman has such ego as United Arab Emirates, the Sultan of Oman, a man loved and cherished by every one, is a very moderate man. By seeing a huge cruise ship in the harbor of Muscat, I assume it is a ship with under-dressed Russians boarding for shopping in the artificial bazaar. It seems no less than the private ship of the Sultan himself. Yet, the city is built in a very tasteful manner where high rise buildings are forbidden. But all is built by new style slaves. And by passing those poor dark man, always dressed in blue overalls, I sometimes wave at them. As I feel a kind of bound, both plodding our way through a warm country, although I might enjoy it a lot more. Their reaction is always one of complete surprise, and overly joy.

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Having said this though, I am taking care as where to erect my camp. The first few days are along the busy route and there’s not an easily found spot which is hidden enough. There always seems to walk Indians somewhere, and not that the news from India about gang-rapes is making me nervous -news which is reaching us so often nowadays- I just want to camp unnoticed. The route along the coast is heavy built as well, and one day I knock on a door of an Arabian football club. An other night I hide in an empty wadi, to get out of it with not less than 7 punctures spread over wheel, tent and air mattress.

I long for You lekke band

‘Can I meet you in your hotel?’ ask a Tunisian guy who spotted me staying in a cheap Chinese run hotel, just after I said ‘yes’ to his previous question ‘are you married?’ The horny bastard perhaps think I am a Russian hooker, and my reply is, astonishingly, plain friendly. Something I regret when I come to think of it, eating a good meal in a Pakistani restaurant, in a private cabinet on the floor which smells of stinky male feet. Only once or twice am I approached by an Arab, who would stop me in my track, asking to meet on his day off. At first I give the new man in this new country a chance, but it turns out man are the same every where. And not that I blame hem, seeing a lone female on a bicycle is strange. I decided not to be stopped in my tracks anymore.

Familiar View

The route along the coast is very boring. And as I came here without a plan and a map just given to me, I need to set out a route quickly as cycling here is not giving me any energy. The only beauty I see are the many shiny, deep colored domes of the mosques brightly against a deep blue ocean sky. There’s lot of plastic and dirt, some dead goats too. Quite a lot of large agricultural grounds, surrounded by walls, attended by Indians. The difference between poor and rich is big and the connections with Yemen and even Pakistan noticeable: the drive-by service where men in cars honk to get the attention of the attended and have their order consumed in their car.

Endles Heaven

There are many cars. Many thorny bushes too. I have troubles finding a spot to camp, but of course, always succeed.

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My Turn Inland

From As Suwayq, 200 kilometer from the border, I turn inland. I know what that means and won’t leave the only open supermarket on a Friday unvisited. Any chance for food must be taken, something I strangely neglected when I was cycling with Darryl. In the supermarket I am greeted warmly by Arab women in hijab where Arab men seems to be a little afraid of me, and will go out of my way. I see very few women in general, most are hidden behind the high walls surrounding their houses. Finally, the country opens up to me, and if you can, turn inland sooner! It seems I am utterly spoiled because after a few days of uninspired cycling, I feel back where I belong. Donkeys and camels dropped dead next to the road, perhaps they were knocked to dead by speeding cars. Arab drivers seems to drive their jeeps and preferable Lexus car in a position I would normally use for sleeping, a few do notice me however. Some assure themselves I have enough water, and when I take a break to watch the vast emptiness surrounding me, they make sure I am all right. The very few who follow me, slow down and keep an eye on me, are harmless. I feel safe in this country.

Finally, Emptiness!

The experience I have is that Arab men appear to be very respectful towards me -I am afraid this doesn’t count for the maids from the Philippines-. Another positive effect of such a strict ruled country is that there is hardly any crime, thus I am not at all worried that foreign workers might see me as an easy target, all alone in the desert or camping as a lunatic under the thorny bushes. Would somebody do something to me, they would be deported at once, if not put in prison for many, many years. Yet, I choose my camp spots carefully. Once I wander off into a wadi 5 kilometers onward -a wadi, I imagine, is a crack between the earth where water will flow through after rain- but I return when I realize I am too far off to be heard, might something happen.

Instead I erect my tent under a light pole, it turns out. Not the best spot to be unseen from the road.

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Couch needed

It’s difficult to be on a certain date at your Couch Surf hostess. I even change the route so it will take me longer to get there: I thought it better to get off the highway when I check the view in my rear mirror, seeing a shiny big jeep swirling behind me trying to avoid hitting me. He misses me at a hair. Cycling here is no fun, on these highways, neither the safest with these young drivers. Turning onto a minor road I am soon followed by another young driver in yet another big shiny jeep. He drives behind me for about an hour, in a most friendly manner, only willing to talk. He stops and he talks, he wait and he comes behind me, to talk. He can’t believe me when I say I am heading to Muscat to stay for free with some one I don’t know. ‘Are you sure?’ he asks me.

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Oman is an expensive country, mostly with tourists who can afford to spend money on a jeep with driver. One such driver advise me to camp next a beach resort in order to use the toilet facilities ‘that’s only 10 rial (€20) to use the toilet’ he says. He immediately turn to his well paying guests if I answer the beach is my toilet, and that’s for free!

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The openness of strangers

Meeting with Franscesca, the Couch Surf hostess, is a welcoming experience. Her hospitality shows that people all over the world, for whatever reason, will always invite strangers to their home. The Arabs might be suspected about me, there are always different ways of welcoming strangers. This is one of them. Being with Franscesca, in her house, even having the key of it, feels like a student house. We are making strolls on the beach, smiling to guys with pearl white teeth, discussing men in general and the lack of women rights in particular.

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Bite the Bullet

Canadian born Francesca tells me how to leave Muscat, giving me detailed directions on how to get out without going through the city. The first 30 kilometer, or so, is via the highway overlooking Muscat, a truly beautiful city. Like a fairy tale town cut out of a moon like landscape. ‘Bite the bullet’ is what she said and seeing the road sliding steeply up the hill, I think: ‘Okay, let’s do that! Go for it.’ It’s about 10 kilometers and it takes me 1.5 hour. I am exhausted. Hungry too. A huge fish and biryani on the other side is awaiting me. But oh… I regard my condition as not too good. Later on, trying to find a camp in Yiti, I stumble again on such a steep uphill. I decide not to go for it as it is evening already. Being in the heart of Muscat I try my chances on the grounds of a huge Hilton kind of hotel. First I try their helicopter platform. Then their garden but end up unseen just outside their ground in a dirty patch between palm trees and a camel camp. The next morning, early at 7 o’clock, I cycle out of the city over a not too impressive hump, sweat is pouring out of my pores. I have to get off the bicycle and push it. My hair is drenched in sweat and I feel like a lazy couch potato… it must be the humidity and heat starting to roar it tail.

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Once in nature I feel where I belong, I even talk to the goats who watch me from a higher level. ‘You don’t even try to dress up like us,’ is what they seem to think when I make the sounds like they do. A laugh is draped around my cheeks. Also when I pass the workers, happily waving back to my unexpected friendliness. Perhaps my craziness. A smile is around my lips when I am helped in the supermarket by girls way too overdressed, smelling heavily of perfume and smiling rotting teeth at me. Another smile for the men on motorbikes emptying the waste bins on the highway. Lovely smiling when a speckless dressed man stop his big jeep next to me, his black bearded face in a friendly smile telling me: ‘Have a nice day in Oman, insh’allah. Do you need anything?’

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Oman: from 18th of February to 20th of March 2014

13 responses to “Oman I

  1. Hey Dutchy!

    Always great to read your words and be inspired by your passion to explore the world in your own way and own your own terms.

    Be safe, and may your journey continued to be filled with joy, laughter and love along the way.

    Cheers,

    Dean  

    Dean Jacobs PO Box 911 Fremont, NE 68026

    (M) 402-719-7083

    http://www.deanjacobs.org   Connecting people to cultures, history and the natural wonders of the world. 

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    • Hi Dean,

      Great to hear some news from you! Are you getting inspired by me? The elephant by the mouse ; )

      How are you these days? Where are you?

      Anyway, I wish you the same amount of happiness and joy!

      Cindy

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  2. Great blog Cindy! We used to live in Oman and know that steep hill to Yitti well – wonderful descent on a bike though. So glad you enjoyed the country, it’s my favourite place in the world.

    Enjoy India and stay safe. When you get a moment, you should definitely enter your details on the database of long distance cycle journeys: http://www.thenextchallenge.org/ldcj

    Laura (cycling UK to Australia; now in Cambodia)

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    • Hi Laura,

      I am truly loving Oman. What a great place!

      Let me try to get to your database and you’ll see me there.

      Thanks for your compliment : )

      How is cycling on SE Asia? Isn’t it filled with tourists (unlike Oman)?

      Enjoy, Cindy

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      • There are lots of tourists in the top honeypot sites but surprisingly easy to avoid the crowds! We saw hardly any non-Vietnamese people in the Mekong Delta. Thailand might be different, we’ll find out soon.

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      • Good to know. I have not a clue where I shall go after India. I am almost landlocked. Only Myanmar is a possibility but have been there and would like to see new lands. Enjoy the ride : )

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      • Highly recommend South Korea and Japan, it’s where we were before Vietnam. Love your women’s bit on the blog by the way – will try your tape suggestion as the humidity is mega here

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  3. Hi Cindy!
    Love the blog. You are an inspiration! Consider touring Alaska, we would love to host you.
    Dave
    Anchorage, Alaska

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