Hiking up Sa’al Mountain

View of the sunset on the hike back to the car

On a cooler-than-usual Friday we finally hiked up Sa’al Mountain! We’ve been meaning to tackle this hike for some time, but it’s not long enough to make a full day of it and it’s too long (and tiring, in my opinion) to do during the week after work or after you’ve already gone on some other adventure.

This is a rewarding, but challenging hike. OmanTripper, my favorite blog for exploring Oman, has a good post about it. Basically, you hike about 2 kilometers up, the first half of which is a dirt path and the second half is about 600 cement stairs, and then you hike back down. It’s unrelenting and the dirt path is steep and slippery. But the view from the top is stunning, and it’s one of the best places near Muscat to watch the sunset!

The view from the parking lot as you’re starting the hike

Getting closer to the stairs!

The starting point for the hike is about 45 minutes from Muscat, towards Nizwa. If you type “Sa’al Stairs” into Google Maps or Waze it will put you near the hike starting point. I wish I had dropped a pin at the hike starting point for exact GPS coordinates, but you’ll eventually end up on a dirt road and when you reach what looks like a parking lot, you’ve reached the hike start point! It’s a dirt path leading up initially, and you can actually see the steps curving up along the side of the mountain.

This dude was carrying a walkman blaring Ace of Base.

A village below the mountain

The only flat chunk of the path on the whole hike

The ascent, until we reached the part where the stairs ended, took us about 45 minutes with frequent breaks. Then it’s about another five minutes to reach the satellite dishes at the very peak. You’d think the hike down would be a lot faster, but it’s not because you need to be so careful where you put your feet. Nate slipped and fell once, and I definitely skidded along on the loose rocks several times.

The sun setting over the towns and mountains

We went all the way to the satellite dish at the very top!

This hike is a popular place for exercising. We were passed by several groups of men basically racing to see who could get to the top fastest. I wish we’d discovered the trail sooner because I would have loved to hike it regularly during the winter. Better late than never.

Definitely bring plenty of water on this hike. Also make sure you bring a headlamp or flashlight if you’re starting the hike less than 90 minutes before the sun sets! The hiking trail is in the shade in the morning, and in the sun during the afternoon. I think it’s best if you take it slow and steady, and enjoy the beautiful panoramic views!

Lights started popping up as the sun sank lower. Not a bad way to end a lovely hike!

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Clean-up scuba diving at Bandar Al Khairan

It’s time to get this fishing net out of the ocean!

Last month, EuroDivers led a day of no-cost scuba diving at Bandar Al Khairan to clean up some popular dive and snorkel sites, and it was awesome. As I was reading through the April EuroDivers planner, I saw “FREE DIVES” and I signed up immediately. It meant taking the day off work, but would you rather sit in your office all day or go scuba diving for free to help the environment? The answer is obvious.

I was able to recruit one friend to come with me, and we piled into the dive boat at Marina Bandar Al Rowdha at 8 am, along with six other divers and two dive leaders, to make the short trip to Bandar Al Khairan. We reached the dive site, where we were given scissors, knives, and mesh bags, and then the real work began! Our goal was simple: remove as much garbage and nets from the ocean as we could before we got low on air or had been underwater for 60 minutes.

Nets and ropes

Working on cutting the net apart

The team found an enormous fishing net underwater, resting on the reef, and we got to work cutting it into segments and carefully removing it from the coral. We were intentionally over-weighted because we knew we’d be spending most of the time at shallow depths. When you aren’t very deep and your air tank is less than half full, staying at the bottom can be a challenge. So, maintaining a neutral buoyancy in this case was a little challenging.  We had to hover over the spiky coral and sea urchins, taking shallow enough breathes that we wasn’t moving up and down constantly, while hacking at this fishing net and dissecting it away from the coral. It was like doing hovering underwater coral surgery.

We filled up the mesh bags with garbage, large segments of fishing nets, ropes, plastic bottles, and anything else we could find. Once the bags were full, we took them to the surface and handed them off to the boat captain, who would empty them out and give them back. Then we’d go back down to pick up even more. It was challenging, tiring, and rewarding work!

Yes, that’s a shoe.

Our maximum depth was about 8 or 9 meters for each dive, and each dive was about an hour, and everyone was making multiple trips to the surface to drop off the garbage. After my last trip up, I descended where I thought I saw bubbles (which means other divers are below you). But the current was so strong, it had pulled me away from everyone else and when I got to the bottom, all I could find was a sting ray. I watched the ray glide away and then I ascended.

One thing to note: the water is warm enough that it’s possible to wear a shorty instead of a full wetsuit. I opted for the full, which, in hindsight, was a smart choice. I spent a lot of time kneeling in the sand, and several of the other divers wearing shortys cut up their knees and elbows. The full wetsuit zipped up in the front, I just unzipped it after I put on my BCD and there was enough water circulation that I didn’t overheat, even though it was physically strenuous work.

If you like the idea of scuba diving for free to help the environment, you’re in luck: EuroDivers is planning to do clean-up dives once a month. They are during the work week and you need to be Open Water scuba qualified. Contact EuroDivers at eurodivemuscat@gmail for more info.

A red-toothed trigger fish and Arabian butterfly fishes

A juvenile yellowbar angelfish

It looked like they were having a meeting!

A trip to the Oman Aquarium

The coral reef exhibit at the Oman Aquarium

Recently the Mall of Muscat opened in Seeb, and it contains the Oman Aquarium, which is supposedly the largest aquarium in the Middle East.

A few weeks after its opening, M and I decided to go check it out! It’s nice to have something new indoors to do close to Muscat, especially with the heat of the summer months upon us.

So many sharks!

In a nutshell: I’m glad we went, but it’s not worth visiting more than once.

The aquarium does a good job of showing the indigenous fish and creatures that you’ll see in different habitats in Oman. You’ll see a lot of the same animals in the exhibits that you’ll see in the mangrove swamps, reefs, and wadis throughout the country.

Sea life in a traditional Omani village

Getting up close and personal with turtles (in what may have been a Daymaniyat Islands exhibit? I don’t know. There were no signs)

Black-tipped reef sharks and sting rays in another interesting, but un-explained, exhibit

There’s also a neat shallow reef area with sea cucumbers and starfish, were you can put your hands in and touch everything. There was even a hand washing station next to it. It reminded me of that scene from “Finding Dory.” “Hands! Hands!”

The penguin exhibit was also pretty cool, and M was really excited about it. He also loved the few jellyfish exhibits. They even had the same jellyfish we saw in Musandam!

Penguins!

There’s a really cool huge under-the-sea exhibit with lots of fish and sharks, plus a few rays and turtles. There were several different viewpoints into the exhibit, and each offered something different. The huge eagle ray preferred to just relax in the sandy area in one particular spot, and we spent a lot of time standing there watching him relax next to a leopard shark.

A huge eagle ray!

Brought to you by Bank Muscat

Unfortunately a lot of the sea life didn’t look very healthy. Aside from sea anemones, there was no live coral. The eels were lying there on their sides, barely opening their mouths. The yellowbar angelfish were grey rather than blue. There were dead fish lying at the bottom of some of the exhibits.

Healthy, happy yellowbar angelfish the waters of Musandam

 

This is what eels are supposed to look like

I was looking forward to finally figuring out the names of a lot of the fish and other things we see while snorkeling and diving, but there were hardly any signs or informational panels.

Lastly, the cost. It is expensive. For something that you can easily see in 45 minutes, the price tag is painful. It’s 8.5 OMR ($22) and 6.5 OMR ($17) for children ages 3 and up.

A note on logistics: go early. The aquarium opens at 10 am every day but Friday (I think, I could be wrong) and I’d recommend getting to the mall by 9:45. You’ll have time to get a good parking spot and find the aquarium entrance on the 1st floor.

Unfortunately I just wasn’t impressed by this aquarium. Given that it’s Oman’s first major aquarium, I thought it would rival the Dubai aquarium in the Dubai Mall. It doesn’t. Not by a long shot. Maybe they’re still sorting out the kinks, putting the signs up, and getting everything sorted out. I’ll give the aquarium the benefit of doubt and say that it’ll probably be better in the future. Insha’Allah, as they say!

The tunnel is supposed to resemble a mangrove swamp (I think. Once again, no signs.)

Snapshots: Snorkeling at the Daymaniyat Islands

A turtle coming up for air

First, another administrative note: I created a Facebook page for the blog! “Like” it or not, either is fine by me. There I’ll be sharing photos, videos, and opinions (of which I have many) that might not make it onto the blog otherwise. There’s a link to it on the right side-bar, above the “tags,” probably not too far from this text. Moving on to the good stuff….

One of my favorite things to do in Oman is to go snorkeling at the Daymaniyat Islands. It’s the one thing we always try to do with our guests, and I usually schedule it for during the week because there are less people. Plus I get to take a day off work! We almost always go with Daymaniyat Shells, which is a wonderful, environmentally-conscious company run by Leah and Fahad. The boat leaves from Al Mouj marina at 8 am and we’re usually back by 1:30 or 2 pm, sometimes a little later. They provide all equipment, towels, snacks, beverages, etc, so all you need to bring is sunscreen and your camera!

The Daymaniyat Islands are a government-protected turtle breeding area, and humans are only allowed on the islands from November 1 through April 30 because the turtle breeding and hatching season is finished by then. You are basically guaranteed to see turtles whenever you go snorkeling, in addition to lots of fish, beautiful coral, and maybe some sharks and rays. My favorite snorkeling area is Three Sisters Bay. The coral there is stunning, especially at low tide!

Turtles having a snack

Turtle close-up!

This guy was in super shallow water and the tide kept pushing me really close to him. He didn’t seem to mind!

There are lots of beautiful fish in addition to turtles! This was the first time I’d ever seen this kind of fish and they were probably foot long at least. According to Google these are black spotted sweetlips.

A large, territorial flute fish

A school of black-finned melon butterfly fish

A Sohal surgeonfish, which you will see EVERYWHERE in the reefs here

Are those tuna? Or sharks? The jury is still out.

A very large honeycomb moray. If you go to Fahal Island you’ll see these everywhere.

Clownfish! Did you know that clownfish are hermaphrodites? They start as males and later turn into females. Gives a whole new level of crazy to “Finding Nemo.”

Boats docked by one of the many islands in January, when people are allowed on the islands.

Clear blue water

Along the beach on one of the islands

Let’s go to the fair! I mean, the Muscat Festival.

Omani women preparing traditional foods and coffee at the Muscat Festival

The Muscat Festival is back in town! It runs until February 9 in Al Amerat and Naseem Park (near Seeb).  We’ve only been to the Al Amerat location and it’s a lot of fun. It’s basically Oman’s county fair, and there are rides, animals, performances, vendors, fireworks, and everything else you could hope for.

There are essentially four parts to it: the heritage village (which is where we spend most of our time), the rides, the performance stages, and the exhibitor booths. The heritage village has camels, goats, Omani street food, traditional music and dancing, donkey rides, etc and is the most fun to explore. The rides are over-priced and not really suitable for toddlers.

One thing that threw me for a loop: each seated performance venue has one entrance for men and one for families. So if you’re a woman, don’t use the men-only entrance, and if you’re a dude with a family, use the family entrance. And if you’re a woman without a family, still use the family entrance (because why would you go out in public without your family?). There are also separate booths for men and women to buy entrance tickets. The lines on the women-only were nonexistent, so Nate waited with M while I bought our tickets. The tickets were super-cheap, by the way: only 200 baisa (about 50 cents) for adults and 100 baisa for kids.

There’s fried dough balls dipped in honey or chocolate, Omani crepe things, samosas and other yummy food, plus a food stand (with seating) selling biryani, corn on the cob, Omani food and shawarma in the heritage village. I think the food options there are definitely the best.

If you haven’t been yet, make sure you find time to visit the Muscat Festival by the end of the weekend!

A traditional music performance in the heritage village. The guy with the white beard is balancing a sword on his finger!

Chilling out in a traditional Omani tent

Bedouin women selling their wares. And goats.

Camels! M got to pet the one wearing the muzzle.

Every country seems to have its own version of the ubiquitous group circle dance

The men aren’t the only ones who get to dress up and perform!

There are several performance stages; this is the main one.

Mosquitoes, a half marathon, a trip to the vet and other Muscat happenings

This photo has nothing to do with anything in this blog post. I just think it’s pretty.

I’m not sure how much my readers get out of my random posts about our life here in Oman, but they are my favorites to go back and read later, full of little details and anecdotes that I’ll otherwise forget.

My public health and Oman worlds are finally colliding! Given the lack of vector-borne diseases here, I thought the “Beware of schistosomiasis” signs at the wadis in Salalah were all I’d get.  But last month a few cases of locally transmitted non-imported dengue were reported around Muscat. Now the Ministry of Health is going house-to-house distributing information on how to eliminate breeding sites and decrease the number of mosquitoes. They are also fogging and spraying around town, including in our neighborhood. One morning I stepped outside at 5:15 am to go for a run to find a cloud of chemicals sitting in our carport. My half-asleep first thought was, “Huh. I’ve never gotten to run through fog like this before! Good thing E [my running buddy] has a head-lamp.” Then I took a breath a realized it was not the nice kind of fog. Another time I was running by a construction site and I had to go through another thick chemical cloud. Luckily the other side of the street wasn’t as bad. Who knows how many years I’ve shaved off my lifespan by inhaling all those chemicals. But hey, at least all my mosquito knowledge is coming in handy!

Speaking of running, I ran my second Muscat Half Marathon a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it sucked more than any race has ever sucked before in my life. I had a super-strong training cycle, full of intervals, tempo runs and long runs at my fastest paces yet. But the temperature on race day was unseasonably high and there were only hydration stations on the half marathon course, plus I went in with tired legs. I drank all the water I was carrying in probably the first 7 miles, and I was hot and exhausted. I didn’t do myself any favors by snorkeling for 2 hours and then hikingthe Muttrah Geotrek on Wednesday, with which I followed up by hiking Wadi Shab on Thursday, the day before the race. All that activity right before the race might have been a poor choice, but I don’t regret it. My sister was visiting and I’d much rather do all those fun things (which were perfect, by the way. The snorkeling at Daymaniyat Islands has never been better and we had the crystal blue waters of Wadi Shab to ourselves. I was literally the first person into Bimmah Sinkhole that morning!) and have a sub-par race than to skip those things and potentially PR. A race is a just a run, of which there will be many more, but experiencing Oman with my sister and her fiancé only happens once.

Sunrise over the start of the Muscat Marathon races this year

Was a day spent in these waters worth a disappointing race? Definitely!

When my sister was visiting, we went to Desert Nights in the Wahiba Sands. Everyone said that Desert Nights is the best way to experience the desert in Oman, aside from actual camping, and this is 10000% correct. It’s also the most expensive glamping option available, but it is definitely worth it. I didn’t like 1000 Nights. I drafted a blog post about why it sucked, but I have yet to publish it. 1000 Nights wasn’t particularly bad, but a lot of factors came together and it was a less-than-pleasant experience. Did we have fun there with our friends? Yes. Would I stay there again? Nope. Desert Nights, on the other hand, gets an enthusiastic two thumbs up!

Sunset over the Wahiba Sands

Sunrise over the Wahiba Sands, 11 hours later

We’ve recently had our first real experience with veterinary care in Oman, and overall it was very positive and inexpensive. We’ve been lucky with Athena over the past few years because she hasn’t had any serious health problems. Somehow she made it through Dhaka without a single issue, which was great because there was like one qualified veterinarian in the whole country. Anyways, lately she’s been coughing, hacking and vomiting a lot. Like, puking at least once a day, sometimes more. We had dewormed her and we started giving her chicken and rice, in hopes that a bland diet would help. It didn’t. We took her to vet and they did a physical, ran a blood panel, and prescribed a week of gastric-acid decreasing medicine and some prescription dog food. His diagnosis was that she’s an old dog with a sensitive stomach who might be allergic to chicken. Sure enough, ever since then she’s stopped coughing and hacking and she hasn’t vomited once. Oh, and the whole bill, prescriptions and everything, was less than $200. Whew!

Things are also falling into line for our Windhoek PCS. Trainings are scheduled, home leave is getting sorted, M has preschool lined up, and Athena has her 2-month long boarding reservation in the books. I know that no matter how much we square away now, there’s always going to be a final rush to get everything done. But the idea is that the more we deal with now, piece by piece, the less we’ll be slammed at the end and we can still take our last weekends here to enjoy Oman. Time will tell on how that pans out. Until then, more adventures await!

The Muttrah Geotrek

Hike the old trading trail through the mountains behind Muttrah

If you want to go on a moderately easy hike with amazing views without even having to leave Muscat, this is the hike for you! The hike starts at Riyam Park and finishes near the Muttrah Souk, and the whole thing takes less than 3 hours.

See the faint path running diagonally up the side of the mountain? That is the start of the trail.

When you pull into the parking lot at Riyam park, look at the mountains surrounding you, and you’ll see a rock path leading up the mountain. To start the hike, walk back towards the houses directly behind the car park area. It feels like you’re walking into someone’s back yard, but soon you’ll see stone steps leading up and the trail is pretty easy to find from there.

The beginning of the path

The initial climb up the stone stairs and stone path is probably the most strenuous part of the hike. The rocks can be slippery from wear and if you’re scared of heights it can be a little hairy. But it really isn’t too bad. My seven-year old nephew easily completed it.

A particularly easy section along the mountain ridge

Don’t lose sight of the flags marking the path

There are a few spots where the path continues straight, but you are supposed to turn, so keep a look-out for that. In the winter months there can also be pools of water in the path, and making your way around those can be interesting. The last time we did the hike there was far more water and greenery than expected due to a few rainy weeks in the months prior.

When there’s water, it’s fun to figure out the best way to get around it!

Look at the vegetation cascading down the rocks!

For this part of Oman, that is a *lot* of greenery

There are yellow, white and red painted trail markers, and in some cases red arrows, pointing you in the right direction. You’ll get stunning views of Riyam Park and the coast, plus a great bird’s-eye view of the Sultan’s yachts (yes, that’s plural).

Riyam Park

See those boats that look like cruise ships? Those are the Sultan’s yachts. He’s a lucky dude.

The trail ends in a cemetery and from here you follow the road straight to the Muttrah corniche. You can easily visit the Mutrah fort on your walk back to the car, which is definitely a worthwhile detour.

Muttrah Fort on a rare cloudy day

What to wear in Oman

Winter is coming, and so are the visitors! I don’t know why I didn’t do this before, since all visitors have questions about what to wear in Oman.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about clothing in the Middle East, so I’ll start with this: you will not get in trouble for dressing a certain way unless it is grossly inappropriate. Ladies do not need to wear an abaya (a long baggy shapeless cloak, essentially) or cover their heads. Omanis are truly some of the nicest people on the planet, and they will not be mean or rude to you because of how you dress. You may get stared at mercilessly by some expat men, but Omanis will not treat you poorly.

However, this is a more conservative culture than, for instance, the US or Europe, and it’s nice to be respectful of cultural norms. And that oftentimes means showing less skin than you’re used to.

Here is a table showing what to wear based on location and/or activity, in order from least to most conservative:

The minimum that you can  wear when you’re (at)… Men Women
Fancy hotel swimming pools or on a private boat Banana hammock Bikini
Deserted public beaches with no other people within eye sight Swim shorts (shirt optional) Swimsuit
Exercising outside (i.e. going for a run) Shorts and a top Shorts and a tank top
Wadi hiking* Shorts, quick-dry t-shirt and shoes you can hike and swim in Shorts, quick-dry t-shirt and shoes you can hike and swim in (not a bikini)
Nice restaurants in Muscat Pants, close-toed shoes, shirt (no shorts and no sandals) Whatever you would wear to a nice restaurant anywhere else in the world (FINALLY! More rules for the men than the women!)
Public beaches where there are other people Swim shorts (shirt optional) Capris and a quick-dry t-shirt over a swimsuit
Out and about in greater Muscat Pants, t-shirt Cover your legs below the knee and your shoulders
Traveling outside of Muscat Pants, t-shirt Pants, cover your shoulders and elbows
Opera house Suit and tie A dress or skirt + top that goes past your knees and covers your shoulders (using a scarf to cover your shoulders also works)
Mosques Pants, t-shirt. Make sure to cover all tattoos. Cover your ankles, arms, and head

*I know several people that have split their shorts when hiking a wadi. Wear bottoms made of durable fabric that won’t rip when it catches on a rock or when you’re sliding down a boulder on your butt.

There are caveats and exceptions to almost all of these, except the opera house and mosques, but I think that if you stick to this table you’ll be set up for success. Muscat is less conservative than, for instance, Nizwa. Sometimes I’ll wear loose capris and a tank top in Muscat, but in Nizwa I always wear pants and a top that covers my elbows, even when it’s hot.

Also, ladies, please, for the love of god, don’t trounce around in a bikini unless you are at a deserted beach or a snazzy hotel swimming pool. Seriously. Do not wear a bikini at the beach in Shatti Al Qurum. This is not Dubai. Personally, even when I’m at a deserted beach, I still don’t wear a bikini because you never know who will show up and that can be uncomfortable. It’s like stumbling across topless sunbathers in the US. You’d just be like, “Woah, WTF?” I wore a bikini once when I probably shouldn’t have, and it was super awkward. I only made that mistake one time.

Oh, and footwear. I could not survive here without my flipflops and Chacos. If I’m not going to work, I almost always wear my flipflops. Whenever I got to a beach or a wadi, I always wear Chacos. Lots of the beaches have sea urchins or poisonous fish you wouldn’t want to step on, and I don’t like to go in the water without shoes on. Chacos (or Keens or Tevas or any other shoe that you can swim and hike in) have been invaluable here. Although I’m getting some close-toed Chacos after nearly ripping a toenail out on a rock on our last wadi hike.

If you have any questions or comments, let me know! I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible, but it’s impossible to address every situation. Special shout out to the friends that read over the chart and provided input beforehand! If in doubt, wear loose-fitting pants and a t-shirt.

Our summer in Oman

How can you say no to water like this?!

Oman in the summer gets kind of a bad rap. It’s too hot, there’s nothing to do, it’s too hot, blah, blah, blah. Lots of expats leave during the summer, but we stuck around. We took a few vacations, but for most of the summer we were here. And you know what? It was pretty great.

Oman knows how to do a nice coastline

We spent a lot of time in the water. We explored some new beaches and returned to our old favorites, where the water was cool and the temperature wasn’t unbearable as long as you avoided the mid-day heat. M finally got used to wearing his arm floaties and now he loves being in the water. Before he liked the sand and splashing in the waves, but now he can actually swim. He’ll jump off the side of the pool and swim to whichever adult is closest, and he doesn’t freak out when he goes under water.

We also completed our Advanced Open Water scuba diving certification. Of all the times we went scuba diving this summer, the heat was truly terrible only once.

When you do more than one dive in a day, you have to spend a certain amount of time on the surface between dives, and this is called the surface interval. Standard practice is to have a 60-minute surface interval, and luckily we were diving someplace with decent snorkeling because I was about to either pass out or start vomiting, I got so hot. So I jumped in the water and snorkeled for the remaining 45 minutes of the surface interval.

I also learned early on that when it’s hot outside and you have to wear a wetsuit, the best thing to do is to put your wetsuit on and immediately jump in the water. Pull it away from your body so that water gets inside, and you’ll be so much cooler while you’re getting your BCD and everything else ready.

Air tanks and Fahal Island. We spent a lot of our summer here.

We went camping at a beautiful white sand beach near Fins towards the end of August. We arrived around 3:45 pm, and it was surprisingly pleasant out. Athena came along with us, and she immediately found a shaded spot under a rocky outcropping in the sand. She loves swimming and playing fetch, and she tired herself out running around in the water and swimming through the waves. The next morning, the minute the sun crested over the horizon it got boiling hot out. We were rushing to pack up camp by 7 am, and I think we finally left around 8:30 after we took a break to go swimming and cool off.

Athena living her best life

Campfire and the moon, with the lights of Fins in the background

Athena protecting the beach tent

In August we went on a snorkeling trip to the Daymaniat Islands and on the way there we saw whale sharks! Swimming with whale sharks is on my Oman bucket list, and finally getting the opportunity to snorkel with them was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. There’s nothing like jumping off a boat into the water when a 20-foot long shark is swimming straight at you with its mouth open. That was really something else.

A whale shark!

You’ll almost always see turtles at the Daymaniats

An enormous Arabian Angelfish

Another big thing that happened this summer was that a lot of our friends departed Muscat. In the Foreign Service, lots of jobs end in the summer, so you get lots of folks departing from June to August. It sucks and it can be really hard. Luckily, the world is a surprisingly small place and I know that we’ll see them again! It’s easy to get bogged down in how much it stinks when friends leave, but it’s also fun to meet new people and welcome folks into the community.

We did an overnight trip to Ras Al Jinz, and we took several trips up into the mountains. Then we capped the whole thing off with our trip to Salalah. All in all, it was an awesome summer, and I’m glad we stuck around. I’m glad we still have one more summer left before we have to leave next August. There are lots more fun times to be had, even though it will be hot out!

Exploring the abandoned villages of Jebel Akhdar

Oman’s Grand Canyon, Jebel Shams, on a particularly overcast day

Guests, beaches, restaurants, rain, and Ramadan preparations

Life here has been cruising along and we are enjoying the lull between our winter guests and our summer travels.

We must have done a good job of selling Oman, even before we arrived, because a lot of people came and visited! I love having visitors because I think Oman is such an incredible place and it’s so much fun showing off the country. It’s also a great excuse to try new places, like the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, 1000 Nights Desert Camp, Wadi Dham, and Misfat Al Abriyeen. We would have eventually made it to those spots, but visitors pushed up the time line and I have zero regrets. At this point, though, after six trips to Wadi Shab I’m never going back there again.

We took advantage of having visitors on a free Sunday morning to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque complex

Each tiled wall portico is different and throughout the mosque complex the themes vary

Inside the main prayer hall. That chandelier is enormous.

The only place we’ve taken every single one of our visitors to is our favorite beach, Sifat Ash Sheikh. The snorkeling off the beach there is great, and it’s getting better as the temperature climbs. The other day Nate saw a turtle! A few weeks ago, though, the ocean and beach were full of golfball sized jellyfish. We hired a local fisherman to take us to a beach maybe a 10 minute boat ride away, were there were less jellyfish both in and out of the water. Luckily they didn’t sting, but they sure did smell bad drying out on the sand in the heat.

Our favorite beach: Sifat Ash Sheikh

A passable substitute for when the normal beach is full of jellyfish

We’ve been taking Athena to the beach during the week to swim and play fetch in the waves. For some reason she will play fetch for hours in the water, but for only 5 minutes maximum on land. She’d much rather play tug. But when she’s in the water she’ll happily run back and forth, and even drop her toy when you tell her to. We took her to a cove a few weeks ago and as soon as we got there she made a bee-line for the water, spun around a few times, and plopped down. She loves the water, and it’s nice to see that she’s having as much fun here as we are.

Athena in her happy place

Lately we’ve gotten more adventurous with trying new restaurants. It’s easier here where everyone loves kids and no one glares at you when your toddler wants to get down and run around. We’ve started going regularly to a south Indian vegetarian restaurant called Saravan Bhavan, and there is a cluster of 4 booths that all share a wall. The kids stand in the booths and peer over the sides at the other kids and they keep each other entertained. Then when things go to hell we just pull out the Kindle with downloaded movies. You gotta do what you gotta do.

The best tacos in Muscat at TacoMan

Fantastic Japanese food at Tokyo Taro

Speaking of new restaurants, we’ve been hearing about the Turkish House restaurant since we arrived in August and a few weeks ago we finally decided to give it a try. Imagine our surprise when we pulled up to the location provided by Waze and we found not one, but no less than three, Turkish Houses. We decided to go to the one with blue lettering, slightly set back from the others. The food was spectacular, especially the fish. Unfortunately I have zero photos, I was so busy eating. It turned out we’d gone to the correct Turkish House. Some people have said that each restaurant is a separate Turkish House, and others have said that they all share the same main kitchen. So I have no idea what the situation is. But, if you want good Turkish food, excellent seafood, and freshly baked bread go to the blue Turkish House.

One thing here that I will never get used to is how dirty the rain is. I associate rain with fresh air and greenery, but here after it rains it looks like Mother Nature took a dump. Everything is covered in mud. The air is so dusty that when it rains, it just carries the dust and dirt down onto whatever happens to be in its path. It rained while we were driving a few weeks ago, and our car was remarkably dirty afterwards. Normally, who cares if your car is clean or not, but here it is against the law and you can get a ticket if your car is dirty. Nate had some first-hand experienced with this the other day when he got pulled over at a police checkpoint and was asked why his car wasn’t clean. He responded that he was on his way to the carwash, which given the circumstances indeed he was, and narrowly avoided getting a ticket. I think the sting over getting a ticket for a dirty car hurts more than the actual fine, which is around $25 from what I’ve heard.

That’s about it for now. We are preparing for our first Ramadan here, which I’ve heard is an interesting experience. Nate has ordered some long light-weight pants since he won’t be able to wear shorts, and some long sleeved shirts to cover up his tattoos. I’ve ordered a few more light-weight cardigans because apparently I won’t be able to have bare arms. The word on the street is that you can get a ticket if you so much as drink water in your car, even if you aren’t Muslim. So, like I said, it should indeed be an interesting month.