Friday, March 11, 2016

Mid-East: Blog # 7 - Muscat, Oman

March 9, 2016

From our perspective, there is a large, philosophical problem in the Gulf states area. Many "locals" do not have to work. These nationals are subsidized by the government. If they do want to work, there is usually a "plum" government job with a large income waiting for them. Where is the incentive to work hard - do a good job? Large villas are available at little or cost.

Average income is $25,000. Misleading - Many menial jobs pay $3000 to $5000/month. Housekeeper may earn $2000/year. Wife costs same as a camel - $12,000 to $15,000/year!

 The Sultan is loved. Why not! The nationals get a "free ride" and the Ex-pats have jobs and a better living then if they were in their home country.

Love That Sultan

The Sultan's picture is everywhere. There are many rumors going back and forth. Is the 75 year-old sultan married? How is his health? Is he gay? (A bad situation for him given the Moslem dictates). Any children or siblings? who will be his successor?

There is a high priority not only in Oman but throughout the entire Gulf States area - Maintain national identity. Intermarriage between ex-pats and locals is forbidden.

Oman has a rich culture and history. as part of it's national identity, even the architectural designs are tightly controlled. Most building have the same "look" and the heights are restricted. Sky scrappers do not exist. There is so much space that it is not necessary to build many tall buildings.


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We had an opportunity to visit the royal palace. Apparently, anyone can have an audience with the sultan should there be a grievance or just a wish to say "hello." Most likely, there is a long waiting list...

Palace In Background - Royals In Front!

We happened to be driving by the harbor and  got a glimpse at the Sultan's boat.
Although There Is No Police Presence On Land, There Were Harbor Police In Small Boats In The Area Of The Sultan's Boat.

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Throughout our travels in Oman, it was startling to see high in the mountains or even at sea level 11th -13th century lookout towers and forts. Although we were told otherwise, some of the designs looked like they were from the crusader era.

Model Fort Seen In Local Museum

We had a very different perspective of Moslem/Islam art and history. While visiting museums in the past, we would  concentrate on European and western civilization history and culture. (We also like East Asian culture and history. Although small, the local Muscat cultural museum was packed with all sorts of historical clothing, pottery, weapons and artwork. We came away with a better appreciation of this area's history. 

Many of our readers will remember "Cows on parade."

How About Goats On Parade?
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Everywhere we go, people comment to us that we are so lucky to be in Oman (and this area in general) at this time. Apparently, the heat and humidity is so unbearable that the Gulf States (if possible) close down. If a contract permits, Ex-Pats will return home. Locals will not leave their home. The super wealthy will travel to cooler climates until the October time frame. We have a sense that the summer here will be a combination of our Death Valley with the Southeast Asian humidity thrown in for good measure. 

Besides the forthcoming heat (in about a month), we hear many complaints about the traffic. Not to worry. Oman (and particularly the Muscat area) is quickly and aggressively preparing for the future. Expansive freeway systems are being built. Putting aside the cost, with so much vacant land, it is easy to plan and to build without interrupting the goings on with the townships,

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It seems that > 90% of the vehicles are white. They show dirt and dust less than other colored vehicles. Also, cars are usually washed every week.

Women are involved with politics. Oman emphasizes its "mandate" of equal rights. Women can vote. However, the so-called "voting is (only) at the local level. Oman is proud that it has the first mid-east woman ambassador which happens to be to USA.

The American Cup just finished up. This was a significant event for the area with the race being here in Oman. Great Britain won the race.

There is no work on Fridays and Saturdays. (Sunday starts the work week). There is no crime. It's safe for women to walk the streets at 3:00 AM. The area is clean - no graffiti.

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All souks are the same - all souks are not the same.

Muscat's main souk does what all souks do - sell merchandise. However, in this case, although colorful and exotic, the Muscat souk was somewhat touristy. Store keepers were standing outside a doorway and tried to entice passerby's into buying some sort of trinkets, local clothing, spices or even a tour of the area. Nevertheless, there were interesting situations:

Souk Entrance

One Of The Many Walkways

Michelin Chef Doing A Photo shoot

Couples Holding Hands

Is This "Motel" or Mohammad, The Tailor?

Where's my wife?

Great colors!

Want an Omani cap? They come in assorted colors!

There Must Be Something To Buy?!?!

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Our next day started with getting up at 4 AM, breakfast at 5 AM and we were on the road by 5:30 AM. The schedule for this very full day was to visit a place where animals are auctioned off followed by walking through a different type of souk. Then, it was off to see a fort and finally, finishing the day with an "off road" experience.

The animal auction was "controlled chaos." 

Animal owners were screaming loudly to the onlookers what they claimed was a fare price for a goat, a cow or bull. 

The perspective buyers screamed back even more loudly at what they knew should be a lower price. 

The animals were pulled, yanked, pushed and kicked to keep them moving around a center part of a pavilion. 

The frightened animals defecated where they could. 

Suckling baby goats were pulled from their mother.

A bull got out of control and almost simultaneously charged the crowd and then tried to mount a cow. 

Children watched their fathers negotiate a deal. 

The older folks seemed to look at everything going on as a form of entertainment. 

 An Old Man's Entertainment

There were not many women at this auction. Of the few women that were present, they were not young.

Wife Making Sure Husband Makes Good Deals

A few tourists tried not to be too conspicuous as they shot as many pictures as possible before "the show" ended. 

 Child Taking It all In - and the photographer!

Exchanging Money

 Deciding On What To Bid

 Grandfather Teaching Grandson

Maybe The Children Would Much Rather Be Playing Soccer!?!

 Trying To Sell a Cow - Not Happy With Offer

Leaving With a Purchase

What a Deal!

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On To The Souk


People Watcher

"Let's See What Aalam Has For Sale Today"

"Why Aalam? I heard That Bahz Is Discounting His Veggies!"

"I Thought This Place Was Trader Joe's"

More Social Than Buying

What's In That Bag?

Too Many Markets - Not Enough Time

The Market Ran Out Of Hummus

Anyone Need A Jug or Vase?

Check Out This Guy's Waistband!

Lots Of Old Rifles And Knives To Sell

"Okay. I'll Throw In The Belt..."

"I Like This One better!"

Not Exactly Whole Foods

Standing In Line To Buy Sweets
Notice That There are No Women Buying Food

"Do You Have Any Cucumbers?"

Everyone has cell phones

Men's Restroom

Woman's Restroom Sign

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Main Gate

Lookout Tower

Model Of Fort and Surrounding Village

Other Forts

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Off Roading: The Saga!

We had an "off road" opportunity - that would take us in a heavy-duty 4 X 4 vehicles up from sea level to 10,000 feet and than work our way down to the mountain valley, find our way out through a canyon and down to sea level and back to our hotel.

As we were heading up the mountain, the local guide mentioned that many parts of the road had been washed out from recent torrential rain storms and that he wasn't sure if the roads had been repaired and/or if we would be able to get down the mountain via the valley below.

At 10,000 Feet - Goal Is To Reach Road Below
 Notice Evidence Of Glaciation - Quite A Surprise

No Railings At Roadside

Road Okay At This Point

There Were Two Extra Vehicles - One In Case A Vehicle Died - The Other Should There Be A Medical Emergency!

Except For The Curves, Not Too Bad

This Area Was Under The Ocean At One Time

Road Getting A Bit Rough for our convoy.

Yes, The Vehicles Needed To Navigate Down A 45 Degree Road

We Came Across An Oasis

Vehicles Could Barely Navigate Around Curved Mountain Wall

Road Washed Out

Where's The Pavement?

Blockage Ahead

Everyone (Drivers, Guide And US) Needed A Rest

More Rocks To Navigate


No Fish In This Pond

A Village!
The only food available is: goat milk, perhaps goat meat and dates

Two Hours After The ETA For Getting Down - We Made It!

Up at 4:00 AM - Hotel arrival was close to 8:00 PM. This was a long and tiring day!

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