Oman. A country on the Arabian Peninsula. Deserts and beaches. It smells a bit of adventure. A visit is called for. So is a drive in the desert.
From the holiday base in neighboring Dubai, it is possible take a trip to Oman.
On the map it looks like a quick trip. But when you look closely, there are several hours of driving to the border and from there to Oman’s capital Muscat. You should set aside approximately a 7 hour drive depending on the route you choose.
The Sultanate of Oman is an Arab, Muslim country on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered to the north western to the United Arab Emirates, western Saudi Arabia, the southwest to Yemen and shares maritime borders with Iran and Pakistan.
It has 4,441,448 inhabitants (2016). Additionally, the country is visited by a growing number of tourists, who stay at the capital Muscat (second best city in the world to visit according to Lonely Planet 2012) or the northern part of the country to practice outdoor sports. Jeep Safari, read Nissan- or Toyota-safari in the desert and picnic in an oasis, Wadi, are also popular.
Another side to the desert
Early morning, it is still quite cool. We, our friend, Henrik and I, drive by car from the city of Dubai out into the desert and head south-east. Far from a spectacular desert landscape as in the tourist brochures; here it is gray-brown, dirty sand with bushes and shrubs and a forrest of power pylons and power lines. Not exactly idyllic.
For once, not 1000 photo stops. The first part of the trip is visually unsightly, albeit an experience full of impressions from a completely different nature than the European.
From here we head into the mountains, which from a distance in the mist looks magical, serrated and dark. More closely they look more like piles of gravel, more interesting than beautiful. But mountains are mountains and always exciting when you come from a country without any mountains at all (Denmark).
By the border
We reach a small border crossing. It is open and local cars drive straight through it. Not us. We are stopped and asked to choose a different route. No explanation (perhaps inability to present visas). 180 degree turn, return, new route. O.k., so we got to see some more of the country.
After a half hour drive we get to a very large border, Khatmat Malahah, with five checkpoints. Passports are checked and we are motioned forward.
At checkpoint number three there is no-one at the control booth, so we drive past it. So far so good. But at post number four, we are asked to turn back; we must go back and find a passport office.
The passport office is in a small oblong container-like yellowish building a little away from the road. On the door is posted a cardboard sign with Passport written on it and a sign showing that photography is prohibited.
From the brilliant sunlight outside, we enter a semi-dark room, only illuminated by natural light from a single window and the light from a row of bare neon tubes.
The brown walls have no decorations apart some some worn bulletins in Arabic.
The narrow, oblong room is divided by a desk with glass with small holes for the exchange of documents – and credit cards. Behind the counter glass, there are three men dressed in uniforms and traditional white dress. Apart form us five others, all men, probably local truckers, are waiting for clearance.
So far on the whole trip, in all cars, in control posts and in the passport office, I have only seen men. I am glad, that I am in the company of two of those …
There is busy traffic back and forth behind the glass pane, while the documents are being processed thoroughly and quickly without any kind of conversation with us tourists.
In 10 minutes we are ready to go. However, first we must pass the last two checkpoints, before we are in Oman.
Neat and tidy
From the border we drive towards Muscat. A flat, yellow-brown landscape dotted with low-rise buildings in white and yellow colors. Here and there are patches of green. In the distant background glimpses of the mountain tops in the Hajjar mountain range.
Oman’s highest point is 3,028 meters, the mountain Jebel Shams 240 km outside Muscat; a popular area, which we did not have time to visit this time.
Fairly quickly the landscape changes. The two lane highway becomes a three lane highway with a lush median strip with green grass and flowers of all colors.
The road is perfectly straight and as clean as if it has been vacuumed.
The long straight highway is interrupted at intervals by very large roundabouts with monuments and sculptures.
A small rest is in order. Humans and Maserati’s get hungry. We stop for fuel; gasoline and nuts, water and ice cream with pistachio and pecans …
A trip to the restroom anyone? We are looking for the toilet, but it is hiding.
The gas station attendant is helpful. On gas station grounds there is a tiny mosque and behind it there are facilities for Ladies and Gentlemen.
We drive on and finally we see water and city. The satellite navigation guides us in the right direction and – after a few detours – we find the hotel.
Actually the navigation gets us to the hotel on the first attempt, but we overlook it and drive around for a bit. How could it happen? The hotel is hiding behind a mall facade; you have to put your head far back to spot the sign on the very top of the building.
Our friend booked the hotel, Coral Muscat, according to the criteria: New, clean, wifi and fitness centre. The last two are also personal hotel criteria, especially wifi as bodyweight training can take place anywhere.
On the minus side. The hotel is just off a highway junction and a couple of kilometers away from the city center, so you do not just step out the hotel door and onto the corniche, promenade. The coveted pool was in maintenance, meaning that the pool was empty for three (or more) days.
On the plus side: The hotel is super nice and modern. The staff is friendly and helpful and speaks English, French and Arabic. The rooms are tiptop, the restaurant is nice and the roof terrace on two floors are very nice with elegant booths for private companies.
We live in a great apartment suite with a living room, kitchen and toilet and two huge bedrooms with bathrooms.
The fitness center is light, modern and well equipped. There is not a lot of equipment or machines, but there is more than enough for a complete workout for most travellers:
Floor space, free weights,balls, step benches albeit small, treadmills and other cardio machines, Kinesis, advanced and super versatile cable system for countless exercises, and a Technogym multi-gym machine.
Normally I am not crazy about multi machines, but this is a an o.k. version with a pulley system, which allows you to train chest, back and shoulders (arms) in an efficient way, with one or both arms. You can also work your legs; quads and hamstrings.
Here we work out both days.
Man also has to eat.
Since we are a little outside of the city center, away from the restaurant area – and the two nearest options are Burger King and KFC – we go into the hotel restaurant; it is small, light, open and minimalistic.
There is an a la carte menu and a three-course dinner menu, which we choose:
Shrimp cocktail, chicken and panacotta. As for the entree, we expect the usual:
A glass with small shrimp mixed with sauce. As a pleasant surprise – after a longer wait – in comes dishes with five, crunchy, fresh, delicious prawns with sauce on the side. Possibly the best shrimp cocktail ever.
The main course today is fried chicken with french fries. While breaded chicken and fries are far from healthy, this is fresh and tasty, with the fries served in a paper cone on a separate rack and with a tray of tiny Heinz ketchup bottles on the side. Rather neat.
The roof terrace bar … I accidentally said to the men. To their great disappointment as they discovered, that you (obviously) cannot buy alcoholic beverages, but only mocktails – cocktails without alcohol – and coffee and tea and snacks.
I was, however, very pleased with my non-alcoholic mojito. I like mocktails.
After a long day on the road from Dubai to Muscat, here we are; well installed and ready for a much needed night’s sleep in our big, lovely, duvet-covered beds.
Goodnight. – Goodnight.