Day 76 Mar 20 (Salalah, Oman)

Yet another country. We were awakened by Cruse Director Bruce at 7:34 AM. There was a change in procedure to go ashore. Instead of delivering our shore passes to our room as advertised yesterday we will pick them up on the way out.

I had arranged to have breakfast delivered to my room. Well, that's not true...exactly. The bad karma started last night. Fortunately all's well that ends well...right? This is a bit of a story so grab a Snickers.

I had forgotten to set my alarm last night. I had also forgotten to put the time I wanted breakfast delivered on the menu card we hang on the door (by 2 AM) the night before. Well, sometime during the night I woke up and somehow remembered that I hadn't set the alarm. So I turned the light on and set it. One problem taken care of. Later I woke and realized that I had not put a time on my breakfast order. I thought of waking up enough to call the room service people to tell them the time but didn't want to wake up that much so I just went back to sleep. So Bruce's wake-up announcement was a good thing. I just called after his announcement and told them to bring breakfast at 8 AM.

It would be nice if that was the end of the trouble for the day but not so fast.... The next thing was that I had a slight brain fade and just walked through security, picking up my green card on the way, and was about to start down the gangplank to the pier when I realized I had no tour tag. Therefore I would not be welcomed on the tour bus and in fact didn't know which bus to board anyway! Duh! So I turned around and checked back in through security. Turned in my green card - barely used. And reported to the Queen's Lounge for my tour assignment.

The day was back on track. Not so fast.... We were on the bus and heading up the road to explore Oman. After a few minutes our guide, I think he said his name was Halan, started reading the list he had of what places we would see. Not so fast Halan, that isn't the right list! Stop the bus and turn around. Back to the ship for the correct list. In fact, it was more complex because at least one couple had been put on the wrong bus and thought the list was correct. I was sent from the back of the bus to make our position clear to Halan (can't imagine why I was chosen...) While I was on my way forward, the bus (still motoring down the highway at the moment - the wrong way) lurched. In regaining my balance my knee whacked some poor guy's elbow. The karma just won't stop.

So we went back to the ship and Halan got the correct list. Off we went to our first stop, one of two palaces maintained here by the Sultan of Oman. He also has a little shack in the neighborhood he calls a house. All of this in a town which isn't the capital of Oman. That honor goes to Muscat (no jokes, that is the name, really. Look it up.). But the Sultan lives here in Salalah. So, we stop at the palace for a photo op. No entry, just quick photos of the outside. I could live there. Nice. Incidentally, the Sultan is much loved by his people according to our guide. He drives into town without a security escort and often picks up townspeople who may be walking and gives them a ride and if he discovers they need something he will help. My kind of Sultan!

Next we go to the Souk (that's market to you non-Arabic speakers). Not much as souks go but they did have some stuff to sell. We had 20 minutes to shop. Some of the serious shoppers in the group seemed to think that was inadequate but after brief grumbling they got after it. Well, we reboard the bus in the prescribed amount of time and...not so thought the karma thing was finished didn't you? Well, not quite. Fate (or perhaps I should use the word kismet since we're in an Arab country) was not quite finished with us. One of us didn't show up. I have no idea what happened because we never found out. We waited for 25 minutes and Halan made several calls on his cell phone. Finally we left. There were no more buses and the souk had been searched a couple of times. We were understandably concerned but Halan decided to continue the tour. We were now about an hour behind schedule. He was quite upset even though neither of the problems had been his fault. (Well, maybe the wrong schedule was his fault. I don't really know for sure but gave him the benefit of the doubt. For that matter I suppose he may have miscounted heads at some point and perhaps no one was missing....) The truth is that Halan didn't speak english all that well. His accent was so thick it was hard to understand. We asked him a number of questions his answers clearly indicated that he didn't really understand us too well either. Rather than ask for clarification of the question when he didn't understand he would answer what he thought we were asking. This happened often and we were learning to use simpler words and be persistent. So, there may well have been a language problem when he was picking up his tour list. The good news is that this was the end of the bad karma.

(After dinner I asked the front desk if we had found the missing tourist. They didn't know about the situation but assured me that everyone had checked back in or they would have been notified about it. They have port agents in every port and would have to leave the missing person's passport with the agent if someone didn't return to the ship. Not their first rodeo. I'm sure someone else would follow up until the missing person materialized or we would make the news.)

Anyway, we left the souk. Next stop was the tomb of Muhamed bin Ali (or maybe it was Ali bin Muhamed...I can't be sure, so many new and unusual names ....). Who might he be you ask? OK, pay close attention. His great grandmother was the Prophet Muhamed's daughter. That is how it was explained to us by Halan. I guess that makes him Prophet Muhamed's great grandson if the relationship words translate correctly. I wouldn't bet the farm on this, but I am pretty sure I could bet that he was related to the Prophet.

We next went to Mirbat. This is a small town which had old Dhofari-style homes. (That is what the tour brochure says. Wish I'd taken it with me.) Unfortunately, Halan didn't say this or we didn't understand it and many were confused when we stopped as to what we were supposed to be seeing/photographing. I'll have to look at my pics and video to see if I have any good shots of Dhofari-style houses.

After Mirbat we went to Sumhumram (also called Khor Ravi for those who can't pronounce Sumhumram...LOL). This is the location of some ruins of an old town which was the center of trade when frankincense was an extremely popular item. Remember the three wise guys? Gold, frankincense and myrrh ring a bell? This was a major player in the frankincense trade. The stuff grows on trees here (in the foothills). Well actually, it is the sap of the Boswellia tree. You nick the bark and it oozes out (during the rainy season I'm told). This ruined town is also the place where the Queen of Sheba was supposed to hang out during that period. There is some controversy about that being true but hey. Marfa has its lights, Khor Ravi has its Queen. I haven't heard of too many cruise ships docking in Marfa but that isn't Oman's fault. Where there is money to be made on tourism total certainty about accuracy of "facts" isn't a high priority. To their credit, I didn't see the Queen mentioned on any of the signage at the archeological site.

Next stop, Taqah for a photo op at the fishing village. Then on to Ayn Razat. This was described as a spring by our guide and we tried to tell him it should be called an oasis. I mean we were in the desert weren't we? Well, as it turns out, Ayn Razat was not in the desert. It is in the foothills of the nearby Qara mountains. It is truly a spring (or more accurately several springs) which flow out of the sides of the foothills and form a nice stream in which children and adults swim and splash about despite a sign warning of snails which carry some nasty disease or something. I videotaped the sign but didn't read all of it. I wasn't going in the water and figured I could read it later. My best guess is that this is an artesian spring similar to the one at Balmorhea, TX where I did my SCUBA qualification dives in October. That one produces a million gallons a day. It just bubbles up out of the sand. I tried briefly to see if our guide knew how much water came from the springs here but he didn't seem to.

Along the road during our travels we saw many camels. These appear to be wild but we are told they all belong to someone. I asked Halan how they knew who owned the camels and he asked me how I knew my children. Hmmm. He then admitted they made marks on the camel's neck behind the ears to identify them but said owners recognized their camels without difficulty for the most part. They have beauty contests for camels! Did you know that? They also have races. A good racing camel recently sold for 4.5 million dollars! I have no idea what the cute ones go for. Or perhaps "cute camel" is an oxymoron. Well anyway, we stopped for camel pictures while on our way to the springs. Halan actually went up to a small group and put his hands on the hind quarters of a young camel. I couldn't tell if he had a prior relationship with the camel. ... Just kidding!

We were about 2 hours late returning to the ship. Still plenty of time before sailing but Halan gave us more than the required time. I know he was concerned that people would blame him for the delay. I gave him a larger than usual tip because he put up with us (some of us are less understanding when things go wrong and lash out at whoever is around rather than blaming the responsible parties - none of you do that right?).

The show tonight after dinner was great. The group was called Black Tie. It was two brothers who sang and their wives (that is handy for cruise ship entertainers) who played the piano and cello. The older brother had sung opera and both had excellent voices. I'm truly amazed at the variety of acts we have seen.

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