We’re Off to Oman
It’s curious how one can travel in a singular direction, with no expectation of revisiting an area and then, without planning to, find oneself back, if not exactly where one started, at least close enough that it bears remarking. So it is for Bernard and me, as we set out for a two week drive in Oman.
Where is Oman, you may ask. If you did you’d be echoing exactly my question some nine months ago when we decided on this trip. Well, it’s 35 miles across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran, where we were 4 years ago when driving from Istanbul to Calcutta. And it’s just a hop, skip and jump out the Gulf of Aden and over the Arabian Sea from Djibouti (and Ethiopia), where we were nearly 5 years ago. In case you’re not 100% sure about the Strait of Hormuz, that’s the squeezy narrow neck between Iran and the northernmost region of Oman, called Musandam, which creates the aneurysm known as the Persian Gulf.
OK, geography lesson over. Now, of course, comes the next question: Why go? It’s stunningly beautiful for one. It’s got an intricate culture for two. And the food is….you’ll have to read on.
If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, an Oman wadi by any other name would be as beautiful. In this country which is, yes, mainly desert (except for some really high mountains), and where as a result, yes, there’s very little fresh water, the existence of limpid aquamarine pools at the base of crystal waterfalls is an absolute miracle. It’s also fabulously refreshing.
Oman’s location and topography are responsible for its culture, which is quite unique. Its long coastline drew in sea traders from Persia (now Iran) and Sindh (now Pakistan). Many of them settled in Oman, as wandering sailors do. While the interior was ruled by an imam, the coastal region was ruled by a sultan. By the 4th century, Omani traders had gone to China. It was among the first in the region to convert to Islam, doing so during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. They also were the first Arab nation to establish an embassy in the U.S.
These influences have given Omani a national identity unlike any other Gulf State. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who’s been in the big chair since 1970, may be the last of the Al Said dynasty which has ruled since 1749, since he has no children. We’ll be in-country for his 75th birthday on Nov. 18. Did I hear someone say our invitation is waiting for us on the dashboard of our car? …. which in turn is waiting for us in Muscat, Oman’s capital. I plan to use Bernard’s birthday on Nov. 5 as a warm-up for the undoubtedly lavish celebrations to come.
Omani cuisine shows its Iranian and Pakistani influences, using saffron, cloves, ginger, cardamom and other eastern spices. It’s less spicy than much Arab food, cooked with lots of marinades and herbs. In Muscat I expect we’ll find interesting options. Outside the ‘big’ city, it’ll be simpler fare, which I love, because what’s better than eating rice in a place where really knows how to cook it.
Although this is a driving trip and as such we are committed to covering the miles, there’ll still be plenty of time to indulge in this…
…as long as one of us doesn’t do too bad a job at that other thing.
We reach Muscat November 1. I’ll report as soon as I’ve dried off from that delightful dip in a waiting oasis.