A busy, varied and interesting day
21.02.2018 - 21.02.2018
Wandering bleary-eyed onto the balcony at 07:30 this morning, we are amazed to see that all the sunbeds around the pool are still free. There is not a single 'reserved towel' to be seen. How very refreshing.
We also discover that we have a much larger balcony than most of the other rooms. I really like the design of the hotel, with lots of angles and variety of architecture, rather than just a square block. Our balcony is covered, but it seems not all of them are. So far we are very impressed with this hotel, despite not being keen on large resorts.
Breakfast is an elaborate affair, with an enormous choice of dishes: cereal, breads and conserves, salads, fruits, Middle Eastern and Continental selections, Indian cuisine, waffle machine, sandwich toaster and a number of chefs on hand to cook eggs how you like them or fry pancakes amongst other things.
The hotel has 308 rooms and caters to guests of all nationalities. We hear English, German, French, Italian, Czech, Russian, Swedish, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, American and Icelandic spoken during our stay. Package tours are available directly from Prague and a couple of different German airports; I guess the rest are independent travellers like us.
We have no time to enjoy the many facilities of the hotel this morning, however, as we are off to explore Salalah and the surrounding area. We meet with Issa, our local guide, in the reception at 08:30.
On the way we see a huge herd of camels just ambling along the side of the road. As they do.
Sultan Qaboos Mosque
This is the baby sister of the Grand Mosque in Muscat, constructed in 2008 using the Sultan's own money.
The mosque is not on the same grand scale as the its big brother, but still very impressive, with a capacity of 3200 men and 800 women.
Having studied photography in Melbourne, Issa is very keen that I should get some good pictures and not only does he suggest the best positions to be in, he also poses willingly for photographs. I like him already.
Having been told yesterday that the Grand Mosque is the only one in Oman to allow non-Muslins inside, we are pleasantly surprised to go inside this one today. But first, shoes must come off.
The chandelier is a poor cousin of the glorious one we saw yesterday. It is still impressive though, or at least would have been if we had visited this mosque first.
The carpet, although just one single piece, is not hand made like the one in Muscat.
Renovations are taking place, with the ceiling being painted using an elaborate hoist.
Most of the time we have the place to ourselves, but just as we are leaving a large tour bus arrives. I am so glad we are on a private tour.
The streets around Al Haffa are lined with roadside stalls selling fresh fruit. Oman being predominately desert and mountains, fresh tropical fruits such as bananas and coconut are mostly imported. Only here in the Dhofar region is fruit grown commercially, and the area is famous for its fresh produce.
There are a number of different types of bananas in Oman – green ones for cooking, finger-bananas for milk and the sweet yellow ones for eating.
The main reason for stopping here, however, is to have a refreshing coconut drink. The Dhofar region is the only place on the Arabian peninsula where coconuts are grown, so they are a bit of a celebrity here.
The hairy variety are used for cooking and making oil, whereas the smooth-skinned coconuts are the ones that produce the water for drinking.
Once we have finished the lovely juice inside, the stallholder cuts the coconut open for us and scoops out the flesh.
I love coconut milk, but the jelly-like texture of the flesh makes my stomach turn.
Khawr Ad Dahariz
We make a short detour down to a little lagoon known for its birding. As soon as he was given our names for guiding us for the couple of days we are here, Issa googled us to see what he could find. Being the only Grete Howard in the world with that specific spelling, combined with the fact that I have a very high presence on the internet (Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, 500px, Pinterest, and of course this blog amongst others), I was easy to find. His results revealed that I am interested in bird photography so he even brought along a gorgeous bird book for me to peruse.
Large flocks (AKA stands or flamboyances) of flamingos are often seen in the shallow waters here, but today there are only a few and they are a considerable distance away.
The flamingos may be a disappointment, but this Water Pipit more than makes up for it. A new species to us, it takes our life list ever-nearer to the magic 1000 mark (now standing at 927).
Museum of the Frankincense Land
Sadly, this wonderful museum does not allow photography inside. I will try and describe some of the displays without sounding like a guide book.
A topographic map of the Dhofar region (the area around Salalah) shows the the low-lying coastal area, mountains that surround the city and the desert that stretches over large parts of the Arabian peninsula. There is also a selction of samples of the various coloured sands found in this area.
Frankincense trees in the grounds of the museum.
The growth of human habitation in the area is shown in a chronological display from early stone age to present time, including examples of coins and jewellery.
The courtyard of the museum
Trade between Oman and the rest of the world is described including replicas of ships used and maps detailing the routes taken.
The museum is quite small but very well laid out and extremely interesting. There is much more to it than I explained above, but those are the exhibits that caught my imagination the most.
Al Haffa Beach
From the museum we drive along the pristine white sands of Al Haffa beach.
Al Husn Souk
Ever since we arrived in Oman I have been intrigued by the frankincense. A completely new experience to us, which is not surprising as it only grows in a very few areas of the world: Oman, Yemen, Somalia and parts of Ethiopia. It still amazes me though, that we can have new experiences every trip, even after all the travel we have done over the years.
Frankincense comes in three different grades as you can see here.
Their uses including burning on special incense burners, something we have seen all over Oman; making perfume; a drink can be made leaving three of the best 'stones' in water for 24 hours; sweets and so on.
When we leave the market, a group of older men shout out friendly greetings from the outdoor café. As I squeeze by their table, the nearest man grabs my arm, then my waist and his hand rapidly makes its way across my tummy and further south. I shout out “la” several times (Arabic for “no”), remove his hand and walk on. The other men at the table are terribly apologetic. No real harm done, it was just another one of those 'Trump Moments' (“grab 'em by the *****”) #metoo
Prophet Ayoub's Tomb
There is a wonderful story attached to this place, and I do love a good legend: Ayoub (Job) was very ill and was suffering from a worm infestation that repulsed everyone who knew him. Because of this, he was driven from his home in Syria, having to leave everything behind: his wealth, his 12 children and one of his wives. Only his second wife stood by him.
Despite all his hardship, Ayoub never lost his faith and every day he would pray. He and his wife walked for many days and many nights until they arrived in Dhofar where we are now. Life was still hard and his wife cut off all her hair to sell so they could buy food. He still prayed like a good faithful servant. Eventually, fearful of yet again being rejected by everyone around him and feeling very tired with his illness – after all, he was 250 years old at this stage – he prayed to god for some relief.
Impressed that he had stayed faithful all through his troubles, god told him to go outside and kick the ground in a specific place. When Ayoub did so, a spring appeared from the ground and he was instructed to drink from it. His illness was immediately cured and his health restored to that of an 18-year old. He also regained his wealth and went on to have two more children.
Outside the mosque we can still see his footprint in the ground where he kicked up water, preserved by a simple stone enclosure.
Judging by the size of the footprint (some 18” or more long) and the casket in the tomb, he was a giant of a man.
In the courtyard is a mirhab facing towards Mecca, and also a prayer wall in the direction of Jerusalem.
Back in civilisation again we stop for lunch in a curry house appropriately known as The Curry, where we have a private 'family room' (where families can eat together as women are not permitted to eat in the same room as men you are related to them).
Their butter chicken is absolutely scrumptious, and there is also fish and vegetables, vegetable korma and biriyani. This really is one of the best meals so far in Oman, absolutely superb.
As I said earlier, this tree and its products is totally new to us, and I am really excited to learn all about it this afternoon.
The Boswellia sacra trees are well known for their ability to grow in unforgiving climates and soil and have been traded on the Arabian peninsula for over 1000 years.
To extract the resin, the bark of this scraggy tree is shaved, letting the juices run free and left to dry on the branch. 15 days later it is shaved again, and this is repeated once more. The third shave produces the best quality of frankincense.
Providing the tree is properly managed and not over-exploited, it should last around 100 years.
Each tree can produce between three and five kilo of resin per season. Harvesting generally starts after the khareef (rainy season). After harvesting, the resin is spread out on the ground to dry.
We stop for a photo on this pretty little beach.
As per Wikipedia, the definition of a cave is “A cave or cavern is a hollow place in the ground, especially a natural underground space large enough for a human to enter”. By that description, Marneef is not a cave in the true sense of the word, or at least not these days. Who knows what the cave was like thousands of years ago, when the hollow in the soft limestone was first carved out of the sea.
I am certainly glad of the numerous benches that offer shade from the fierce afternoon sun.
Mughsail Blow Hole
This area is famous for three things: the beach, cave and blow holes. This time of year they are not too active, but I hang around in the shade of the cave and am eventually rewarded with a performance.
The 'tourist fountain' is created when waves hit the roof of an underwater cave and squirt through a hole in the roof of the cave. The coastline here is rocky and craggy, offering some wonderful views.
From Mughsail it is time to return to Salalah and our hotel. Arriving so late last night, we didn't get a lot of sleep, so we just have a quick drink and a few snacks in the room followed by a very early night.
Yet again our thanks go to Undiscovered Destinations who have arranged this fabulous trip for us.