After that you drive through a kind of no-man's land for 5 - 10 mins before finally driving past an Omani immigration booth, handing in your passports, getting out of the car, going into a fairly swish building, queueing up to get your passports back, queueing up to pay for a visa, filling out some forms, queueing up again to have the forms and passports checked and finally being able to leave. But, hey, not so easy ... there was the issue of the Omani insurance that, though it had been paid for when buying the car, was not evident on the card we had. So we couldn't get past the immigration exit booth and had to go back to immigration to repay insurance that had already been paid! During our initial stint inside the building the other woman in our group was questioned about where her husband was (he was standing next to her) and K was looked upon with suspicion and questioned about why HE wasn't working in UAE. The implication here was that as a man he should be working. Never mind that he is actually working, just not in UAE and not for a UAE organisation. Also it seems that a woman on her own shouldn't be travelling. She should be accompanied by her husband. We were left wondering if these moral judgements made us unworthy travellers in Oman and why on earth the bureacracy couldn't get the insurance right. None of this was consistent with the stories we'd heard about how lovely and friendly the Omani people were.
An hour later, after passing a lone mosque set in the mountains, we found ourselves in Sohar. We'd heard about the beaches there and decided to check them out. Our drive took us through some narrow back streets that were really interesting for us. The housing was very basic brick huts, some with ornate doorways. Groups of men and youths were sitting in doorways (it was a holiday). We didn't see many women, but a few colourfully dressed girls were about. We got the impression that we were reasonably interesting for the locals too as they were all waving and saying hello as we drove by. Had no westerner gone this way before?
The sea seemed to be undervalued. A few old houses backed onto it, but none made use of the views. The sand was littered with debris; soft drink cans and papers. We found a relatively clean area and had a picnic lunch (making sure not to add to the debris!!). After lunch I ventured down to the water and was shocked to find that the 'lumps' I'd seen from the distance, and assumed to be jellyfish, were actually goat pelts. They were mainly skin and fur with the odd hoof. One goat consisted of just a pelt and a head. I quickly remembered that it was Eid. At this time of year the locals sacrifice an animal in memory of Ibrahim's sacrificial offering of his son to God. Along the highway out of Sohar towards Muscat there were goat carcasses strewn here and there. Although I knew about the practice, it was difficult being confronted with it in this way.
Things picked up once we hit Muscat. It is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful city with many forts, magnificent mosques and an array of interesting buildings, old and new. There was no confronting evidence of sacrifical practices. We indulged ourselves well beyond any kind of sensible budget and stayed at the Grand Hyatt. Wow! It was sensational; a feast for the eyes. Every interior, every exterior view was magnificently opulent. From our room we had a view over the beautiful gardens and pools out to the Indian ocean.
Muscat is set in a valley with the white houses and buildings nestled against a magnificent rugged mountain backdrop. The roadsides are green and planted with colourful flowers again contrasting with the red / brown of the mountains and the white of the buildings. There were no signs of rubbish. Everything was kempt and picture perfect. Later we drove through some of the less salubrious parts of town. They were interesting in their own right. The older areas had narrow streets with fairly shabby housing. All of the housing seemed to have air-con and satellite dishes though. Some of the areas in, around and just out of the city have magnificent views of housing, mountains, bay and / or ocean. It is picture post-card perfect in all directions.
We visited a wonderful village. Goats and chickens were wandering freely in the sand, scrub and laneways. A few locals were sitting about or getting on with their day to day lives. Wooden boats rested on the sand attesting to the importance of fishing in this village.
Everywhere we went was either sensational to look at or remarkably interesting. I'd happily go back to do some exploring. I'd even give Sohar another look in, but not at Eid! The return across the border went reasonably quickly and without frustration.