Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 24 2013

Middle East trip, part 9

After another late start (there is definitely a loose standard here for “on time”, which I can completely agree with), we set off south and east this morning from Muscat in the two cars. After days of sitting in cars, Arabian music is starting to grow on me, though I can’t understand much, and much of it still sounds the same. Ahmed said that most all of the workers we saw along the way, and there are not a few as most of Oman seems to be under construction or newly built, are not actually Omani but Indian, Pakistani, etc. Omanis tend to be traders and fishermen, he said. His family is a combination of both; his father’s family are fishing people, while his mother comes from traders.

After a few hours, we came to a large dam and reservoir, where a few other visitors, most Saudi Arabians, stood looking at the great expanse of water, while Indian workers hustled into a spurt of gardening as a police car pulled up.

Our next stop, down the coast, was a sinkhole that was apparently caused by an ancient meteor strike. Stream water filled the bottom with a deep blue pool, and small fish flitted around. I missed what might have been another good shot because I’m still uneasy photographing people here too closely, and both of our hosts seem wary of such pursuits. It’s unfortunate, as the light and people of Oman seem quite photogenic. There are Western tourists here and there, but they seem disinterested in normal life.

Further still down the coast, we stopped at the foot of a valley, bridged by the highway. We took small boats across the shore and hiked up the gorge between high stony cliffs, passing a group of young men struggling with camping equipment, including a generator. Western tourists passed the other way occasionally, all dressed in swimming attire, and we eventually came upon the reason why; the river was dammed and filled the gorge upstream with gorgeous green depths. Some of us elected to climb further up the valley, walking along the edges of old irrigation canals. It was a beautiful scene as the sun sank in the sky and the moon came out.

Later, we drove on down the town of Sur, from which both Salim and Ahmed hail. It was dark when we stopped at the house of Salim’s relatives. We had dinner on the carpeted floor, eating rice and chicken and other things with our hands, drinking tea and being sprayed with various perfumes and oils by our hosts. The perfume thing must work; by far the worst-smelling people I’ve come across here are the Western tourists.

The women, as has become usual here, disappeared into the women’s quarters for a bit before we left for the hotel on the other side of Sur’s new bridge. Salim argued with the desk clerks over the price, saying that he was personally acquainted with many of their more famous guests. It seems that the face game, practiced so widely back home, is alive and well here as well, and it has become somewhat of a battle between Chenbl and Salim, who are both masters at the game. It’s fun to watch them try to outfox each other over each meal or expense.

After settling in at the hotel, we headed out to the coast for a look at some sea turtles. It used to be that one could drive out, camp on the beach, and witness dozens of sea turtles coming up onto the beach to lay eggs, but it’s now a restricted conservation area, and only by booking months in advance can one secure a spot for the nighttime tours. Unless you’re us, in which case you can slip in at the back of one of the tours with a wink at the guide. We walked out a long, rocky road to the beach in darkness, muttering to each other. “There’s only one turtle tonight,” the guide said, adding that cameras and photography were strictly forbidden, flash or no. When I asked why, the guide said, “Of course flashless cameras don’t hurt the turtles, but then someone with a flash on their camera will see you taking shots, and they’ll start, so we just ban them all.”

We waited a bit for the signal, and then crept up to the mother turtle, who was edging her way back to the sea after failing to find the site satisfactory for some reason I cannot fathom. After the waves carried her away, we spotted some baby turtles making their way over the sand dunes towards the ocean, and the guides kept us from stepping on them until they too made it into the water. The sight of the turtles disappearing into the wet black void was rather stirring, at least until a strange noise nearby alerted me to the fact that Salim had snuck a baby turtle onto Chenbl’s hand, surprising him. It fell off and wandered to the sea as well.

posted by Poagao at 12:28 pm  

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