Friday, February 25, 2011

The Grandiosity of The Gulf

On the 11th, two kids I study with, Chris and Katie, and I took a trip to Oman.  I was the guava bag; if you don't know what that means, ask an Egyptian.  As luck would have it, we found a flight through a new budget airline called Air Dubai, which, in accordance with its namesake, routes all of its flights through Dubai.  So, since we arrived in Dubai at 7pm on Friday with a 12 hour layover ahead of us, we decided to explore the city a bit.

This was the kind of place where 12 hours suffice.  We ate at an amazing Indian joint called Saravanaa Bhavan (which has a location in New York City) and then went to check out the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at 828 meters, and the Dubai Mall, a huge building with expensive designer shops and an olympic size ice rink.  In Dubai, everything is the biggest:  biggest building, biggest mall, biggest acrylic panel in front of a fish tank.  The city felt more like plastic than anything else.  The only Arabs we came across were shopping in the mall; most of the interactions we had were with the South Asians living there, which allowed Katie to brush some dust off of her Urdu/Hindi (it's the same language guys).

The Burj Khalifa.  Far too large to fit into a single frame.

We went back to the airport and tried sleeping on the grass outside, but were rudely awakened at 3 am by sprinklers.  Too clich√©.  Inside the airport was not quite as comfortable, but it was dry.  The next day we flew to Oman.

I'm not going to chronicle everything we did there, lest this turn into an unbearably long and boring piece, so I'll try to give an overview.  The first two nights we slept in Nizwa, a smallish town about 2 hours south west from the capital, Muscat, with a couch surfing couple.  We saw some sights around that area, and then went to Sur (on the coast, south east of Muscat), stopping for a safari through sand dunes in the Wahabi Sands.  That night we slept on the beach/in our rental car.  The next day was by far the highlight of the trip when we went to Wadis Tiwi and Shab.  They were gorgeous oases with palm trees, green freshwater pools and amazing rock structures.  Following this we returned to Muscat, had dinner at the Saravanaa Bhavan there, and met up with our second couch surfing host.  We spent a few nights in Muscat, and while there we went to a hot spring and saw one of the palaces of Sultan Qaboos (easily the best looking Arab leader).

Walking through the desert near Nizwa
At the Wahiba Sands

Our camp on the ocean

A pool in Wadi Shab leading to the cave at the end

Inside the cave at the end of Wadi Shab.  We climbed up that rope and found a path that lead to the top of the cave.  I couldn't bring my camera though for fear of soaking it.

We found a frog

The Sultan's Palace

Neanderthals crossing.
The Muscat Port

Fireworks at the Muscat Festival.  Kids got in my way, but made for a cool picture.

Oman was an amazing country not only because of its unique geographical features, but because it is an incredible mixture of cultures.  Arabs, (East?) Africans and South Asians are everywhere (despite this diversity, three white kids still stand out, even if two of them are galabiya clad.  Although I will say if I wasn't flanked by my companions I blended in pretty well).  The multinational aspect of Oman is manifested foremost in the cuisine, which is a blend of Arab and Indian/Pakistani.  In contrast to Dubai, it still felt very much like an Arab country, but was far more developed than any place in the Levant.

After a week of traveling, I returned to Syria, a day early, because that was the day my Syrian visa expired.  As a general rule, it is not advisable to take such risks with entering this country, but it worked out for me after more than a couple raised eyebrows.

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