Last cruise we had a most pleasant and enjoyable stop in the capital of Oman, Muscat, so we were looking forward to our morning in the Sultanate here in Salalah.
Oman is a country of ~ 3million (with 500000 expats who do work) that is rapidly modernizing from the undeveloped desert nation it was in the 1970s to a relatively wealthy, socially advanced, state.
It is situated on the Arabian Peninsula with Yemen to the South West and Saudi Arabia and UAE to the North and East. Oman has been in conflict in the past with Yemen but right now relations are good.
Our guide, Said, (that is he collecting the tour vouchers at the start of our day) gives credit to the Sultan of Oman (Sultan Qaboos) (and his wisdom) for all the progress that is so plain to see.
In the 1970s there were few schools in the entire country (and those were reserved for the wealthy). Today schools number in the thousands and education is universal and free up to University level for Omanis.
Similarly, there were few, if any, decent hospitals. Today there is an extensive hospital and clinic system and again care is available free to all Gulf State residents. There is also a more sophisticated pay-for-service private medical set-up
Each Omani is entitled to land for a home as a right. It’s free. You must save to build your home on the land provided and single family homes are widely in evidence.
Said has been the beneficiary of this enlightened benevolence – he has had a University education graduating as a teacher with a BA. He teaches at a school about 15 miles outside Salalah - now on Summer break. He also was provided the opportunity to go to London for three months to polish up on his English skills so he can be successful in his second career – as a tour guide.
We hopped on our bright yellow bus for the tour we had chosen today – essentially Salalah ‘lite’.
No heavy duty archeology, history or culture but rather a drive - around to see the major sights with some time in the Souk to satisfy those with a need for shopping. This plan worked out exceptionally well for all concerned.
The drive from the port provided evidence for all the progress we had been led to expect. We passed through a busy container port into the Industrial area with its newish gas-fired power plant, cement factory and much excavation and construction. Then through the usual area of commercial buildings supporting the port (shippers, import-export) and housing industry (electric fittings, furniture, tile, brick etc) past new hotels like the Hilton that front on the ocean and finally into the city.
Salalah is a small town – population <200,000 so we criss-crossed it as we went from place to place.
As befits a very conservative Muslim country we started off at a mosque. It was Saturday and not time for prayers but we were not invited inside but rather milled around outside taking pictures.
It appears that those with money build a mosque with their own funds and this was one such example. We passed a number of others. The decoration is beautifully done with exquisite, detailed and meticulous mosaic tile work (I wish I’d got these guys to do my bathroom instead of the bozos we hired)
Merle got a photo with Said; I got a photo with random passers by.
From here we drove to the camels footprints. These are not ordinary footprints (as Said indicates)
But rather a permanent record in the rock of this camel – a gift from the deity to the supplicant Prophet Salah (?sp?) – immortalized in stone. His cave dwelling (now dangerous) is close at hand.
From this site of spiritual credulity we went on to one of commercial incredulity – the Souk.
As usual there were many stalls selling textile products of varying description – Arab dress items, Pashminas etc.
This gentleman, from whom Merle purchased some beautiful scarves, was proud of the skill and handiwork of Oman involved in their manufacture until Merle pointed out the “made in China” labels at which point the price settled to a realistic level
Salalah is famous as a site for high quality frankincense. The weather allows the trees to grow optimally apparently. Like with rubber trees the workers scarify the treetrunk, sap flows then after a week or two hardens in the sun and eventually produces a white crystalline material. This is sorted by a highly technical method
Then sold for use as a medication, in perfume and more extensively as a fragrant incense used to make the houses, mosques and even your clothes smell right.
The souk in Salalah is a place where contrast between Mid East and West can be seen as quite stark!
Locals were settling down to an early lunch at the diner
But I was more interested in the nearby ocean and lovely sand beach – looked good for body surfing…..
But the authorities tried to persuade you otherwise……
Salalah has a very fortunate location – it is a desert area on the edge of the mountains but has enough rain to support substantial agriculture.
The big crops (beside frankincense) are Coconut palms, bananas, papaya and corn.
We stopped at a roadside fruit market where we had the opportunity to slake our thirst with coconut (warm and not great)
And try the local bananas – sweet, different and delicious.
Finally we headed off to a photo op at the Sultans Palace.
The Sultan (who sadly for succession purposes has no children or siblings) seems to be extremely wealthy with palaces hither and yon (three in Salalah alone). He was originally from here but rules from Muscat (which is capital city of Oman).
Adjacent to his palace large buildings house a staff who manage his logistics, finances and possessions. He has constructed beautiful villas for these employees in a complex close at hand where they and their families live for free.
Finally we got the answer all of us wanted – where does all this wealth and largesse originate and, no surprise, its not from herbs, veggies or spices. No, its from oil. Oman apparently is oil rich and Sultan Qaboos has more than his share.
But if you are interested - there are places available to come and live.....