Wednesday, April 15, 2009
14 April 2009 – Salalah, Oman. This is a place where we never would have expected to be able to visit. In fact we had heard of Oman but never heard of Salalah. Oman is on the Indian Ocean just south of the Straits of Hormuz. It runs along the coast between there and the Gulf of Aden and is an absolute monarchy. The current King, Sheik Qaboos (pronounced Caboose) has led a renaissance since 1970 when he overthrew his backward, reclusive father in a bloodless coup. The country was very backward compared to its neighbors in the 1960s. People were leaving the country in droves and the remaining ones, having seen what was going on in neighboring states, were clamoring for the King to do something to help the people. Communist rebels had sprung up aided by South Yemen. Most of the people, being Muslim, did not support the communists and instead supported Qaboos, who had been educated in England, to take over. You can see the results everywhere and the people still talk of being in the midst of a renaissance.
It is a sandy, dusty, fairly arid place, but with surprisingly big patches of green. You will see banana plantations and guava and papaya trees. They have a monsoon every summer that comes in from the Indian Ocean giving them 3-4 months of gentle rain. They have some oil and natural gas that they are now exploiting. One of the things that makes them special, and has since ancient times, is that they are almost alone in their production of frankincense. It is the dried resin of a tree that grows only here and to a much smaller extent in Yemen and Somalia. They tap the trees and collect the dried sap which looks like large brown sugar crystals. This is the stuff that they burn during ceremonies at church. In ancient times it was highly prized for its ability to cover up other odors and made the local Arabs rich. It is still used for that purpose but is also an ingredient in perfumes. Here is a picture of one of the trees.
Our tour stopped outside the King's Palace for a photo op. Clyde waited for an audience but Sheik Qaboos did not show. The great panoramic shot at the head of this post is courtesty of friend and table-mate Bob Williams.
We took a tour and one of the stops was a souk (shopping area) where many of the stores were selling frankincense and perfumes. Each of them had a pot outside with a lump of burning charcoal and a lump of frankincense sending up clouds of fumes into the still morning air. It was pretty intense with perhaps 15 of these things working in a small area. Clyde enjoyed looking at the curved Arab knives and meeting Ashok the Indian merchant.
We stopped at the King’s Palace where we were able to photograph the exterior. Clyde waited by the door for a while hoping for an audience but Sheik Qaboos was not available.
They have an extensive archeological excavation underway along the coast where the original city lays buried under sand. We visited the great museum they have established there and saw artifacts they have uncovered there, some of which date back to the Bronze, Iron and Stone (10th century BC) Ages.
On the way back to the ship someone on the bus spotted a herd of camels along the shore. A shout went up asking for a photo op. The guide and the driver conferred. The bus stopped, then turned into an open field clunking over some rocks, made it to a dirt road, crossed the main highway and then went down another dirt road in pursuit of the camels. We stopped about 50 yards from them and they were moving slowly away. We got off the bus in hot pursuit and got a few pics. Never went off-roading in a full-sized air-conditioned motor coach before.
Here is a picture of clyde with our guide (Mohammed of course.)
We were staying in Salalah tonight pretty late to optimize our run through Pirate Alley. We will be headed south along the coast of South Yemen into the Gulf of Aden then turning towards the Red Sea and passing between Somalia and Yemen. We have had anti-pirate drills and the Captain has been consulting with the Royal Navy to help insure a safe passage. Our timing for this could have been better considering recent piratical events ;-)