Monthly Archives: November 2012

Happy Birthday to you…

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Aston Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday to you,

Porsche in Purple

Squashed tomatoes and stew,

I bought you an Aston Martin,

And a purple Porsche too!

Now I would if I could but sadly, the finances are a little tight so I had to make do with a book on birds and a hastily constructed hand-made card. Sounds a little familiar?  Just remember, you get what you give in this world!

All excited we set forth to partake in a little twitching (bird spotting to the uninitiated). I spotted loads of birds, some flying and some not.  Then I was bored. The family troupe were cajoled onto the beach to watch the fisherman haul in their daily catch. Unusually, the clever use of 4×4 vehicles did the donkey work hauling in the nets and as they did so, those less able to afford fresh fish scavenged for tiddlers, quickly releasing them and stealing them away in their plastic (heavy gauge) shopping bags.  The task was extraordinarily dangerous as the fisherman cared not for the scavengers and the vehicles lurched backwards with heavy nets in tow and accelerated forwards to pick up more net before it all had time to slip away. Quite clearly, one or two tiny fish had more importance than the lives of those who hurriedly shook them loose to fill their carrier bags. It was beyond our comprehension and we marvelled at the fact that no one was killed in the melee.

Risking life and limb for a fish

Believe me, those trucks did not hang about and woe betide anyone who got in the way of a fisherman and his catch.

As we frolicked in the surf and enjoyed the winter sunshine, the fishy haul emerged and the frantic race to secure the catch began with all available hands sealing the top of the trawl net. More vehicles homed in from along the vast sandy beach, enormous chiller boxes strapped to their cargo decks. By the skin of her teeth, a toddler missed being run down by one of these vehicles and a furious father remonstrated with the moving vehicle, gesticulating and claiming beach rights as a tourist. We wondered who has such a right? The fisherman who have probably fished this beach for generations or the much needed tourists who spill out of the coffee bars to lounge on the beaches inappropriately dressed, displaying scant regard for the Islamic way of life by exposing those body parts that should not be seeing the light of day and certainly not on a public beach, but I digress.

The fisherman’s nets were bubbling with frantic fish who in their panic would propel themselves at anything and everything trying to escape. The water boiled with movement and we began to identify those species we knew – Rays to be sure, a Puffa fish, Sherri and a baby turtle initially caught the eye. Quickly the turtle was released, as was the Puffa fish. The rest was destined to become someone’s dinner.

The frantic catch

Rays were unceremoniously thrown from the trawl net into another net and the into a chiller box aback a waiting vehicle. Other fish were thrown from man to man and then into boxes depending on their species and/or size and weight. Still the scavengers worked in the background and faltered not in their task, ignoring the vociferous and threatening objections of the fisherman whose hands were now tied with their haul.

A Ray is despatched to another net

The arduous task continued and we weighed up the cost in terms of human labour, time and vehicle usage and considered that the whole affair seemed hardly worth it – apart from the scavengers who had now snuck away with their fishy booty.  We retired to a nearby cafe for drinks and a muffin, to plan a celebratory meal in honour of what we had witnessed and the birthday occasion of the day. It seemed only fitting therefore that we partake of the delights of the ocean and cook up some lovely Indian Mackerel

The glassy-eyed fella was my favourite!

Mackerel pasty with a dollop of mayonnaise. Clever eh?

As for the birdwatching; I said I saw Bonelli’s Eagle and claimed the twitcher of the family was just too slow to catch sight of it. Whose to say I didn’t?

As for spotting rare animals – we recently came to realise that the cat I spent half the night throwing stones at whilst camping on the beach in Dhofar (on our Salalah adventure) was actually Gordon’s Wildcat! A very shy inhabitant who hunts at night. Being the forerunner to the domestic cat, I thought it was just another stray moggy and did not photograph it or afford it the respect it deserved.

Next week we are attempting the Wahiba Desert crossing. A three day extravaganza of sand, sand dunes, sand storms, sand in me sandwiches, camel spiders, scorpions and precarious driving conditions. we hope and we pray that the blessing has worked and we will not have to suffer the torment of  “ARE WE THERE YET?”

Insha’Allah

P.S. If you like the photos then look at my other blog at http://www.imageximage.wordpress.com/ and remember to click the link to ‘older entries’ at the bottom left of that page.

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Shhh!

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As-salamu alaykum (السلام عليكم)

It’s all a little quiet here, warm and sunny and bumbling along very nicely thank you. As there is not too much excitement in our world today, we thought we would give you a further insight into the delights of living and working here. Today’s weather:

Time 1300 HOURS 1600 HOURS 1900 HOURS 2200 HOURS 0100 HOURS
TUE
0400 HOURS 0700 HOURS
Weather Conditions Sunny Sunny Clear Sky Clear Sky Clear Sky Clear Sky Sunny
Temperature (°C) 35°C 33°C 28°C 25°C 24°C 22°C 24°C

Honestly, does it get any better than this?

As previously mentioned, there are so many good things to say about Oman. There are so few disappointing features we might as well get them out of the way first.

Driving is a challenging experience and the only option is be on the defensive – ALWAYS! What causes a society that is so mild mannered, polite and courteous, respectful and tolerant to become lunatics once behind the wheel is incomprehensible. 4,177 road accidents in Oman for the first six months of this year with 539 deaths and goodness knows how many injured.

This is what’s coming to town the 2013 5.0 litre V8 monster machine – lord help us!

Don’t worry, we however drive very safely. It’s the others you have to keep an eye out for!

A high disposable income, cheap petrol, cars with 5 and 6 litre engines as well as a lack of  basic driving skills are the proverbial recipe for disaster. Queue jumping, driving down the wrong side of the road to avoid the queue, driving along the footpath to avoid the queue, stopping whenever and wherever you feel like to load/unload passengers and cargo, TALKING ON THE MOBILE PHONE whilst driving, driving with no hands, reading whilst driving, kids running amok in the car, inappropriate accelerating/braking, EVERY bad habit is on display here, day in and day out. STOP IT NOW!

I shall make myself available to the government should they wish to benefit from my vast knowledge and experience of safer driving.

RUBBISH!! There’s far too much of it. It’s consumerism at its ugliest. The plastic mountain is growing, polystyrene everywhere with an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude, all make for messy surroundings. Who is to blame here? The indigenous population or the large ex-pat community? Whoever it is, TAKE YOUR TRASH HOME AND BIN IT!

So very, very wasteful

Of course, the producers are also at fault for this type of packaging but if no one wants to speak up, then who is gonna stop ’em?

To be honest, that’s it really. The latter of the two even appears as a definite ‘like’ in the following rant and rave…

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL…

Where does one start? FISH:

Slippery little critters, ain’t they?

This is the stuff that dreams are made of; to catch, to look at, to cook, to eat and even to sing to whilst playing the ukulele in the bath. (Man’s gotta have a hobby!) There are so many weird and wonderful delights to be had; fresh fish on the counter, fish straight out of the sea, fish pre-packaged by weight and jumbo bags of the frozen beauties. Dried fish piled high on market stalls being dive-bombed by a million teeny-weeny flies. The smell…nature’s finest!

The very tasty ‘Sultan Ibrahim’ (fish) awaits his/her fate – and some olive oil, a little garlic and a sprinkle of seasoning…

Football – Not keen myself but if you want to go see the national team play another country in the World Cup qualifiers it will only cost you £3. Bargain, even though it might be Oman vs. Japan it’s still a little bit of sporting history in the making and all for the price of a pint.

Who likes flat-pack furniture? Not you? Why not? The trouble is usually the assembly part of the equation but Oman has a solution for this. Once purchased, some nice men from the Indian sub-continent come along in a van, unload and put it in the room where you want it to go (that’s novel for a start), unpack it, take away the packaging AND put it all together for you. Amazing! Now why didn’t we think of that?

Pharmaceuticals – None of this trapesing along to the quack for a prescription. You want it, you go buy it at the chemist. Prescription drugs over the counter. Dose yourself sky-high with antibiotics and who cares about mutating bacteria. “I’m alright Jack”, says me with a sniffly nose and a bag full of Penicillin under me sweaty armpit.

Plastic bags – As previously mentioned, one downside to this is the huge plastic mountain building somewhere, probably in the desert. These are incredibly strong carrier bags that you could safely carry a car engine in. The gauge of plastic must be an inch thick and there is NO prospect of it ever tearing, the handle ever snapping or the contents falling out of the bottom. It is tough and it is very, very strong. Unfortunately, it will probably take a millennia to degrade and even then there’ll be tiny little bits floating on the wind. Someone, somewhere really needs to see the bigger picture and learn from our mistakes.

Spices and Niceies – So much of it, by variation and by quantity. No little glass phials of herbs and spices. They come by the giant bag full, sack full, or mega jar full. It’s acceptable to use one or two BULBS (not to be confused with the tiny cloves) of fresh garlic in almost all of your cooking. Do we stink? You bet your life we do!

CONGRATULATIONS! – The response to learning of a new car purchase. If someone sees you in a new car or hears that you have purchased one, then congrats are in order. It is also customary to buy food for others in celebration of this major purchase and even offer gifts to the bloke who sold it to you in the showroom. We, of course, did none of this but then we didn’t know the rules back then. A new car comes with all sorts of import labels, stickers, paper mats, plastic covers, etc usually on or about the vehicle and it’s customary to leave these on as long as possible so as to advertise the fact that you have a new car. In fact, it is the done thing to ‘frame’ the import label and show it in the front windscreen below the rear-view mirror. Is that blocking part of your forward view? Have I mentioned road accidents?

Most of us have seen, usually on TV or on our holidays to the USA, nice chaps packing your supermarket purchases for the customer. Well, they do that here. A lovely little chap, usually from the Indian sub-continent, packs all your stuff for you whilst you stand there watching him. You observe him throwing can upon can followed by can upon eggs and then stuffing the gaps with your bread to finish off with. Is it polite to interrupt a man at his work? We watch and despair but it does save us the task of packing the stuff and that can’t be a bad thing. On a downside, they use far too many thick plastic bags and that’s downright wasteful – not to mention the environmental impact.

We have taken on the services of a chap (Indian) to clean the car and a little lady (Filipino) to clean the villa. It’s all about spreading the wealth. Clearly we would not require our car cleaned with a gritty, dirt soaked old rag and the same goes for our villa floors. At 10p an hour and £2 an hour respectively, we know we are doing our bit for the global economy and helping to keep a a family or two going in a country less fortunate than our own. We truly are philanthropists.

Time to move on – places to go, things to do.

Insha’ Allah  إن شاء الل

“Are we there yet?”

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DON’T PANIC!

We’re back. Safe, sound and all tickety-boo.

The adventure to Salalah, the land of Frankincense in the Dhofar region of Oman, was unexpectedly cut short due to a distinct lack of interesting things to do. I suspect those in the know will dispute this however, these intrepid explorers found a fair bit lacking when it came to excursions and diversions. Many of the blow holes had, well, run out of puff and were simply holes in the ground. The sink holes were no more than a depression and the caves were not really caves at all, just overhangs or total misnomers.

It was because of these matters that our anticipated 3000 kilometre journey ended up a little short, a final tally of  2,750 kilometres round trip.

The route with a diversion to Base Camp One and tours (in blue)

The adventure started with some map reading and a little research; places to go, things to do and sights to see. Car packed to the roof lining with equipment, food and water we headed into the desert for the long, featureless drive south.  Somewhere about half way we entered the Empty Quarter, so called because…

Its just so, well, empty!

If you haven’t seen it before the emptiness is quite something to behold. If you have seen it before its downright boring. We marvelled at the barren landscape and decided to camp, calling this  Base Camp One. We played eye-spy and got stuck after four goes. We exhausted the words beginning with the letter ‘S’. Can you guess what they were? (Answers at bottom of page). It was silent, absolutely silent with no sounds whatsoever. No aircraft overhead, no vehicles, no wind rustling branches, no birds or crickets, no trains, people or residential noise. Nothing! It is the first time that the experience of total silence has ever been experienced and so enjoyed.

First Base Camp – The Sound of Silence

Along the way we saw camels. We saw camels everywhere. Wild camels, tended camels, baby camels, camels in fields, camels on the road, camels tethered and loose. We even saw dead camels (presumably hit by a passing vehicle) laying beside the road.

Camel

Warning! Camel

Camels

Second Base Camp was on a secluded beach, access to which involved a perilous drive down a switchback mountain road using all four of our wheels in low ratio gear (the faint, white zig-zag in the centre of the  picture background is the road). Believing we were alone, skinny-dipping was the order of the day. Elation was short lived, being quickly replaced by surprise and then disappointment when we saw a convoy of locals heading down that same switchback road. Surprised to see low-riding two-wheel drive sports cars taking the same ‘perilous’ track that had demanded all four of our wheels and the disappointment of the invasion of our tranquillity. Not to be totally outdone, the following morning two of our party decided to use the Arabian Sea as their private bath and did bare all to take care of their ablutions. One of us remained fully clothed at all times – just in case another party of ‘low-riding’ locals ventured along. Of course, the first invaders had long gone so no indiscretions were on display to the outside world. Not until now, of course! Probably got a photo or two somewhere…

Second base Camp – note white zig-zag road, centre picture in distance above car roof

The only visitor was a Praying Mantis ( a good six inches long) who mistook our tent for some lush greenery.

He’s big, he’s very big!

Some more sights and then on to Base Camp three which was atop a mountain 1,245 metres high. Only the full moon prevented a stellar extravaganza, although the stars that we did see yet again reminded us of human insignificance.

Someone left a fingerprint on the camera lens. Doh!

Base Camp three

1,245 metres high

Throughout the trip the obligatory sights were taken in – Job’s tomb, some really old graves with ornate headstones, abandoned villages, stunning scenery, incredible switchback roads and lots of camels.

Job buried here?

Bin Ali’s Tomb

Headstones everywhere

The Furious Road -switch-back roads

Switchbacks on the Sat. Nav.

More scenery! Khawr Ruri

More Camels!

Base Camp Four. This was, essentially a wadi, which just happened to be right next to the sea; peaceful and secluded until it was invaded by more barbecue b@*#@*ds. Three car loads of locals who ate, made a racket and left without taking any of their rubbish with them (a very, very common and disappointing feature of the countryside/coastline).

After some shell collecting we moved on to visit some more old towns with crumbling architecture and decaying infrastructure. Fishing villages barely getting by and subsistence living clearly visible.

Some more ruins (where the Queen of Sheba supposedly lived), followed by a climb into the second or third largest sinkhole in the world (depending on which guide book you read).

Queen of Sheba’s palace?

 

Photo does not do this monster sinkhole any justice – it’s a whopper!

View from inside the ‘cave’ that was no more than an overhanging rock really.

There was not much left to do but make camp.

Yes, this was Base Camp five. Rude not to really! Although wild camping is permitted almost everywhere that isn’t private property, the conditions are often unsuitable. The ground often resembles a moonscape with sharp rocks and too little level ground, animals that roam free or are herded leave a mess that attracts flies, locals use any space to barbecue or hang out or the roads are too close, noisy or dangerous. Anyway, we needed a good shower and a decent meal.

Some more camels, a souk, a quick blessing from an old fella who is the Guardian to Job’s remains, even more camels, preparations for the return journey home and some camels again. Homeward bound.

More camels

A Souk

Rid this poor child of the affliction of constantly saying, “Are we there yet?”

Hey, we saw a twister too!

Twister – No! Not the game…

Answer to quiz:  Sand, Sky, Sun, Stones

Facts:

The Empty Quarter – Rub Al Khali is the largest sand desert in the world. Bedouin tribes live on the outskirts. Summer temperatures  reach 60+ degrees C. during daytime and fall to O degrees C. at night. Sand dunes rise to over 300 metres.

Jabal Samhan – Base Camp Three – A wilderness of limestone highlands including a 1500m high escapement overlooking the foothills and plains (see photo)

Switchbacks – Called the ‘Furious Road’ due to the number of switchbacks. Blasted out of sheer rock faces and climbing to some 400 metres in just 5km with endless hairpin corners. Some 6.4 million tonnes of rock and 160,000 tonnes of asphalt went into building the road at a cost of £75 million (see photo).

Job’s Tomb – Job is famed in the Old Testament for maintaining his faith in God in spite of the sufferings sent to test him. Job (Ayoub in Arabic) is revered by Muslims as well as Jews and Christians (see photo).

Fizayah – Base Camp Two. Coastal village and home to a superb beach hemmed in by spectacular sea cliffs and dramatic limestone formations (see photo).

Frankincense – Particularly from Dhofar is generally considered the finest. Hojari frankincense is considered the best with whiter and purer tears being favoured. The local souks are full of frankincense of all grades.

Tomb of Bin Ali – a 14th Century Muslim divine from Yemen. The mausoleum stands in the middle of an extensive cemetery studded with thousands of headstones (see photo).

Murbat – Most picturesque town in Dhofar with fine old houses, distinctive carved wooden shutters (anywhere else they would have been bought up, restored and sold on to European buyers. Sadly they are falling into disrepair).

Fishing village (see photos)

Tayq Sinkhole – misleadingly signed as Tayq Cave – a vast bowl scooped out of russet-coloured uplands. According to some estimates this is the third-largest in the world at 1km long, 750 metres across and 200 metres deep. Other estimates claim it to be the second largest or one of the largest in the world!

Al Husn Souk – You’ve seen one souk you’ve seen them all! (see photo)

Khawr Ruri – An archealogical site and once the palace of the Queen of Sheba. The waters of  Wadi Darbat flow here and flamingos are a common sight. The sand on the beach is soft and the sea inviting (see photo).

Guardian of Job’s Tomb – A servant who it was hoped would cure the child of the nasty affliction of continually asking, “Are we there yet?”  by the ‘laying of hand on head’.

And finally, what would this blog be without the lovely photo to finish with?

Now that’s just downright cruel…Lol

THAT’S MORE LIKE IT!

Insha’Allah