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!

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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

Where I try to not think PCSing and it doesn’t work

Omani winters: what’s not to love?

We only have about seven months left in Oman. I try to not think about leaving, but it’s hard not to. People ask about our upcoming PCS frequently, and when I’m bored I google Namibia.

One thing that I’ve discovered through my Namibia google searches is the thing that is travel blogging. Like, quitting your job, doing a ton of sponsored posts, filling your blog with ads and affiliate links, and traveling the world with almost zero personal expenditures. And, dude, travel blogging is popular! I’m kind of on-the-fence about it. I thought travel blogging was, uh, traveling and then writing about it, but this is a whole new level of bonkers, the main goal of which appears to be giving everyone FOMO. On the other hand, some of them do actually have some useful information. But it’s funny how many blogs have the “Perfect 2-Week Namibia Itinerary!” and none of them are the same. How can travel be that fun when you have to monetize everything? I guess it is basically your job. But I am a creature of habit and I like having someplace to come home to, rather than being gone for months on end. I also enjoy not having an agenda or being beholden to anyone or anything when we travel.  While it’s fun to share our adventures to random places, this will definitely never be a “travel blog.” I’ll leave that to the bleach-blonde ladies with $300 sunhats and their handsome beaus.

Now that the weather is consistently good, we went camping at Fins Beach a few weeks ago. The spot we wanted was taken, so we picked a rocky area along the coast with no one nearby. In hindsight, we probably should have kept driving to find somewhere better. There was garbage everywhere, and both of us spent at least 30 minutes picking up trash and broken glass while Athena ran around eating everything she could get her mouth on. M chased after her yelling “Don’t eat that!” She did not listen (and then literally vomited sand and ash when we got home. Fun times). It was just kind of one of those camping trips where stuff kept going wrong: we forgot a cork screw, M kept falling on the rocks, Athena kept running off into the night chasing god-knows –what, etc.  Oh, and after putting M to bed I saw one of the biggest and ugliest spiders I’d ever seen, right next to our tent. Nate came over and threw a rock at the spider, killing it. We figured out that it was a camel spider, and then we spent  20 minutes googling camel spiders under the stars and comparing notes. The next morning, once we were in the car on our way back to Muscat, I was just relieved that no one stepped on glass, got sliced by the rocks, or bitten by a spider.

Campsite amongst the rocks and shrubs

But look at that view!

Athena looking sheepish after I found her eating something she shouldn’t

Athena surveying all the missed snacking opportunities

The coast and Athena after sunrise

We’ve taken a break from our weekend adventuring to go to holiday parties, host game nights, go to National Day celebrations, and a number of other events. December has been crazy busy so far, and it will get even busier shortly with a string of guests through the end of January. I’m also training for the 2019 Muscat half marathon, and my mornings are spent hitting the pavement before sunrise. Every time I go for a run and I’m tired and wishing I was still in bed, I look at the ocean and make myself relish the opportunity to run in such a beautiful place. In Windhoek, I don’t know where I’m going to run. It’s rated critical for crime and running outside isn’t advised. So I’m making extra effort to cherish my runs here in Muscat.

Muscat views during an early-morning run

I’m *really* going to miss this

We went to Salalah last week to escape the craziness, and we did absolutely nothing adventurous there. We ate ourselves silly every morning and then I went to the beach, pool, or gym, while M went to the Kid’s Club. At night we’d put M to bed and then go downstairs to sit by the pool and have cocktails. One evening we went to the souk, which was the most underwhelming souk experience I’ve ever had. Over half of the souk area has been torn down and the remaining booths all sell nothing but frankincense and incense burners. I came away empty-handed. We stayed at the Anatara (which offers per diem rates during the off-season) and one thing I was very surprised by was that their pastry chef was amazing. Usually baked goods in countries without a strong baking tradition range from mediocre to bad. But the pastries and baked goods at the Anatara were excellent. It took every ounce of my self-control to not eat the entire tray of cinnamon rolls each morning.

So fancy at the Anantara

Vacation ingredients: sunshine, sand and water

Salalah sunset

Literally every stall was selling “incense and perfumes”

M eyeing the frankincense

Life is good and easy right now. I’m relishing these moments while the weather is nice, things are calm and quiet, and it feels like Oman is our oyster. Soon we’ll be PCSing and life will be hectic, with a whirlwind 7 weeks in the US before arriving in Windhoek. Then who knows how long it’s going to take to feel settled. To find our favorite restaurants and stores, be able to drive around and not get lost, find easy weekend getaway spots, make friends (the real kind, that you can talk to about everything, not just what your kids are doing), get our stuff and put everything away, find the good dog-walking routes, etc. I’m dreading that shit. I was talking with a close friend about our PCS, and when I told her our departure date she stuck out her lower lip and gave me the saddest face. And it hit me: we are going to leave Oman and all our friends. And it’s really going to suck. I will probably be a sobbing mess.

See? There you go. I’m trying so hard to not thing about leaving, but it’s always there, in the background. Even when I try to avoid it, sometimes that’s what I turn to.

On that depressing note, we are about to head out on a family walk with M and Athena. It’s in the 70’s and maybe I’ll even wear a long sleeved shirt and make M put on some pants. Oman, we are not done with you yet!

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.

 

I’m not complaining about the weather!

The Omani flag flying high at Jabrin Castle

Things here have been busy. We had our first visitors over Thanksgiving, took our first local vacation, got scuba certified, and I’m training for my first real race since 2014. We’re also putting up Christmas decorations, going to parties, and I’m baking a lot of cookies. There is so much to blog about and just not enough time.

First things first, the weather here is currently perfect. Around mid-November it was like a switch flipped and the weather got awesome. It’s in the 60s in the morning, and by mid day it’s actually comfortable to be outside in the sun. We drive to work with the windows rolled down and I leave the kitchen door open when I’m cooking. During my morning runs, even the ones that last for over an hour, I don’t get hot. It’s a fricking miracle. When we first got here everyone told us that the weather in the winter would make the terrible heat worth it, and they were totally 100% right. This is currently my climate paradise and it’s amazing.

In my last blog post I was whining about how our stuff wasn’t here yet. The following week it arrived, and never in my life have I been so excited to see our stuff. I actually clapped when they unpacked my sari stamp block mirror that we had made in Dhaka. I unpacked and put away almost everything within about three weeks, and we got rid of a lot of stuff. There are clothing donation bins all over our neighborhood, and we probably donated a few hundred pounds of clothes and shoes. We don’t have tons of storage space, so I turned off the water to two of our four showers and they are now perfect for storing large plastic boxes. With our books on the shelves, stuff put away, and pictures and art on the walls, and our house finally feels like home.

Sunrise in Muscat

I’m training for a half marathon and so far it’s going well. My weekly milage is building, slowly but surely, and I have stayed injury-free (knock on wood). While waking up at the crack of dawn kind of sucks, I love running here now that the weather is perfect. Running along the ocean, watching the sun rise over the mountains and hearing only the sound of the waves and my own breathing is amazing every time. I will never take this for granted and if I ever do, someone please punch me.

Bimmah sinkhole

Some friends from Dhaka came to visit over Thanksgiving and it was so much fun. They only stayed for three days, but we packed as many Oman highlights as we could into the long weekend and everyone had a great time. We spent most of the first day at our favorite beach and then we went to Thanksgiving dinner. The next day we woke up bright and early and drove to Bimmah Sinkhole, followed by Wadi Shab, and on their last day here we drove to Nizwa and then checked out Jabrin Castle.  Oman is such an incredible and beautiful country (and there’s still so much we haven’t even seen yet!), and showing visitors and friends our favorite parts is so much fun. Seeing the wonder and amazement reflected on someone’s face and knowing that they are just as fascinated as you are is pretty cool.

The sun setting over the Wadi Shab entrance (and freeway)

There’s still so much more to say, but I have to get back to baking Christmas cookies!

What’s here (beaches, restaurants, our car) and what’s not (our HHE)

We’ve been in Muscat for over two months now, and at this point it seems like the honeymoon phase will never end. Oman is incredible and we still have so much to see!

Our favorite way to spend the day

We set the goal of going to the beach at least once a week, and so far we’ve been hitting our target. We’ve explored several beaches within an hour drive from Muscat and there are some really amazing ones. Our beach tent/shelter thing just arrived in the mail, as did Marlowe’s camping chair which he is very excited about, and we are slowly getting fully outfitted for our beach days. I haven’t had this much beach time since I was a kid and it is a lot of fun.

Before arriving here we’d basically stopped going to restaurants because M isn’t patient enough to sit still for that long. Personally, if I go to a restaurant and I’m sitting there enjoying a nice meal, I get annoyed if a toddler is yelling a few tables away or a shrieking child goes running past. The last thing I want to do is subject other people to something that drives me absolutely nuts. But here, everyone likes kids. If M is running around a restaurant, everyone smiles at him and reaches out to touch his blond/white hair. So we’ve slowly started to explore local restaurants and there are some great ones. Lots of restaurants have water features and, if you go outside, stray cats which are obviously a huge hit with kids.

Our car, her name is Jasmine, arrived from the US last week, and today she got an inspection, new tires, and diplomatic plates! For the first week after she arrived she was essentially just an expensive car port ornament, since we had no plates and couldn’t drive her anywhere. They checked the window tint during the inspection and Jasmine’s rear-most windows are very lightly tinted, which thankfully wasn’t an issue. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Then there was the tires… I remember when a tire blew on our SUV in Dhaka and it was an all-day fiasco. Our driver went to three different shops to get prices on tires, and we ended up spending an arm and a leg. Here I drove to a mechanic, they gave me a reasonable quote, and it was done in an hour.

Our Dhaka HHE is still not here. It’s really annoying. This is one of those things that I struggle with because we are so lucky to be getting a shipment at all on the government’s dime and what kind of spoiled brat complains about that. It is, after all, just stuff and at least it will get here eventually. I left Dhaka in July 2016 so I’ve been living without my Dhaka things for nearly a year and a half. Clearly it’s stuff that I can survive without. On the other hand, I really like most of the things I left in Dhaka and it would be great to put some pictures on the walls. It would also be nice to have more than 4 dinner plates (but why am I complaining about how many dinner plates we currently have? How awesome is it that the State Department provides a welcome kit with dinner plates and stuff to tide you over until your shipments arrive? I should be grateful we have any dinner plates at all.) Plus I want my mattress and blankets. And my Dutch oven, awesome toaster, cake pans, serving dishes and cutting boards.

While snorkeling I saw a turtle!

Rather than ending on a whiney note, I’ll leave you with this: I was on a snorkeling trip and one of the women on the boat asked if there were sharks. Our guide, an Omani, said, “You’re in the sea, of course there are sharks. But you’re in Oman, so they are very friendly.” I doubt that’s accurate, but I appreciate the sentiment!

 

VPNs and Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab

Over the past few days we’ve had a five-day weekend for Eid al-Adha. It’s been awesome. Having that long of a weekend just after arriving has been really convenient because it’s given us time to sort out lots of stuff and we’ve been able to start exploring our corner of the country.

First, and maybe most importantly, we finally got our internet installed the day before the Eid holiday began. I spent several hours the next day trying to get our VPN router set up. We purchased a router through StrongVPN so that we can use the VPN connection with our AppleTV. It worked well for us in Dhaka, and, now that it’s finally set up here, I’m happy to report that we were finally able to watch the end of the last season of Game of Thrones.

On a related note, we both fell asleep during the finale. There was so much talking. It was boring. (GoT spoiler alert, although I’m guessing that if this matters to you you’ve probably already watched it) Can someone please tell me why the hell Dany didn’t just blast the Night King with dragon fire in the 6th episode? He was right there. Ugh.

Moving on, a few days ago we went to Wadi Shab, a canyon filled with pools of water and a cave with a waterfall at the end. I was wary going into it because, as you know by now, it’s super fricking hot here and a hike, even just a 45 minute one, sounded like the worst thing ever.  But we took it slow and I survived. I looked like a boiled lobster, but I didn’t pass out or get hurt, so I’ll take it.

Start of the hike into Wadi Shab

The cave at the end was amazing. The passageway in was really narrow, probably 12 inches wide, and to get through you had to tread water and shimmy sideways. Leaving the cave, the sunlight lit up the water and it was practically neon blue. It was incredible. We left our cameras in dry bags once the swimming part started, so I didn’t get any photos of the best parts of the Wadi. Hopefully we’ll go back again soon when it isn’t so damn hot out.

We left M at home with the nanny. We weren’t sure how much of it we could do with him in the hiking backpack and we wanted to be able to explore as fully as possible our first time out. In the future, we’ll bring him with us and once we get to the beach where you have to start swimming we will take turns going to enjoy the cave while he hangs out in the shallow water.

This is the beach at the start of the swimming part of the trek. Usually there are hardly any people here.

One thing to note: we will never go to Wadi Shab over an Omani holiday weekend again. It was PACKED.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought it’d be the perfect chance to explore the wadi. There were at least a thousand people there. Pools that are usually turquoise were brown because of all the people kicking up sediment. Lesson learned!

The parking lot is usually empty!

To, in, and around Nakhal Fort

Inside the Nakhal Fort main wall

During the Eid holiday we drove to Nakhal to visit the fort and check out a near-by hot spring. We weren’t sure if the fort would be open because of the holiday, but we figured in the worst case scenario, we’d admire the fort from the outside and at least we’d know where it was for next time.

The drive took nearly three times longer than it should have. I looked at the route the night before on Google Maps and it looked really straightforward: take the expressway north and exit on highway 13, which basically takes you straight there, all in about an hour.

However, Google Maps doesn’t work for turn-by-turn navigation here. Everyone uses Waze. As we were backing out of our driveway, I typed Nakhal Fort into Waze and it had us taking this strange route that would take nearly an hour and 45 minutes. I decided we would ignore that route and take the route Google Maps had given me. We were happily driving on the expressway and our exit was coming up; long story short, we missed the exit and the next exit was in eight miles. After the exit you had to drive another 1.5 miles to a roundabout to finally turn around. So after driving 20 miles out of the way, Waze was still insisting we take the wonky route. I said, “F that, we’re taking highway 13,” and we did. Until the road was closed and we took a detour onto a road that appeared to not go all the way to Nakhal. So we pulled a U-turn, got back onto the expressway, and drove another 10 miles to the route that the Waze app wanted us to take. Instead of arriving at 10:30, we arrived around noon.

On the drive back, Waze had us take 13 straight to the expressway. There was a road closure but we took a parallel road the whole way, and imagine our shock as we drove by the exact spot where we pulled the U-turn to take the stupid Waze route. That was annoying.

Anyhow, the fort was in fact open and only cost 500 baisa (about $1.25) each. It was hotter than hell so we didn’t do that much exploring. We found a nice room with pillows and air conditioning where we ate lunch, and then we ventured out to look around a little more. We didn’t last long in the heat and M was turning beet red.

Nakhal Fort is particularly interesting because it is built on pre-Islamic ruins on a rocky mound (which was done to avoid having to construct a sound foundation) and the shape of the fort is irregular because it follows the shape of the rocks. There were lots of hallways and rooms to explore, and I think M will have more fun running around during our next visit.

Hajar Mountains and date palm plantations around Nakhal Fort

Nakhal is full of date palm plantations and we drove through them to see the hot spring, which was rumored to have a picnic area and playground equipment. Turns out the hot spring is basically a nice stream and, with the Eid holiday, the entire river bed was one big picnic area. There was zero parking and we didn’t even get out of the car.  I was a little bummed because M would have loved it, but it was ridiculously crowded. We’ll check it out more thoroughly next time.