When people heard we were going to Oman, they asked if we were also going to Petra. I had to explain that we were going to the country of Oman, a Sultanate actually, and not Amman, Jordan.
And often the next question was "And where is that?" As soon as I said "Next to Saudia Arabia in the Middle East," the question that followed was "Why would you want to go there?" Or "The Middle East? Aren't you scared?"
Once I explained about the beauty of the country with a gorgeous coastline flanked by the 9000 foot Hajar mountains, canyons, green oases, forts and castles, a rich history that included Portuguese occupation for over 150 years, its political stability and Middle Eastern tribal culture, people were somewhat more understanding but still a little dubious.
With only five days under my belt in the Sultanate of Oman, I want those skeptics to know that this is a country with whom the United States has a very close relationship. At the same time, it is a country that would have many Americans raise their eyebrows because we are traveling deep within a Muslim culture that is so foreign to our Western belief systems and to our Western ways of living. But there is nothing to worry about here. The people are so gracious, respectful, and happy to see us.
Although this is not the first Muslim country I've been to, I'm learning more about Islam, so that I have a better understanding for the way Muslims live their lives. Like Buddhism in Bhutan, Islam in Oman is inculcated into the fabric of everyday life. I still have major issues about the role of women, but Oman is more progressive in that regard. Their beloved leader Sultan Qaboos (who has a much longer name but shortened, so I don't have get off the bed to look it up) has only the interest of his people in mind. During his 40 year reign, he has made major improvements around the oil and gas reserves, roads, education, technology, and health care. While there are substantial natural resources here, Qaboos recognizes that these are finite and is preparing the country for this inevitability.
After driving across the border from crazy Dubai into peaceful Oman, we spent our first afternoon cruising the beautiful fjords along the Musandam coast in a Dhow, a traditional wooden Omani boat. What struck me most was how the geography reminded me of the rocky mountains of the Eastern coast of Greenland, without the snow and ice, of course. From afar we were able to see the white washed houses in the small villages tucked deep within the fjords. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to go ashore because of Muslim customs in these conservative villages, but I was able to capture a photo from the boat. The scenery was gorgeous, and after a short swim in the Oman Sea, we were delighted by playful dolphins who followed the Dhow at top speed all the way back to the harbor.
The capital city of Muscat was our home for three nights where we explored the frankincense scented Muttrah Souk, the Grand Mosque, the Sultan's Palace, and homes that have been converted into small museums. We walked for miles in narrow alleyways that snaked deep into unique neighborhoods giving us a good view and an opportunity to talk to the locals. Many hours were spent shopping in the Souk looking for traditional old Omani silver jewelry and ancient daggers called khanjars that are enclosed in highly decorated sheathes of carved silver and gold.
This morning the 13 of us plus our wonderful guide piled into five Toyota 4X4s, and we are now heading south along the Omani coast with the steep Hajar mountains by our side. Details to come.
The adventure continues.