We are reclining on cushions spread beneath a palm frond roof. One end of it is supported by a twisted olive tree with shaggy bark, leaning precariously towards us. There is a day’s heat humming up through the rugs on the concrete floor; birds are tweeting-in the evening and crickets are striking up across the mountainside. A breath of a breeze rattles dry leaves. I’m writing this in Bait Bimmah, a collection of stone huts in the floor of a valley in the Hajar mountains. It offers dinner, b&b for those of us prepared to do the knuckle-whitening drive over the narrow dirt track along the canyons.
So, Oman then. It’s our second day here and first impressions are of a laid back sort of place. Quiet, friendly, and immaculately clean. There is not a scrap of rubbish anywhere and apparently there is a law that cars have to be kept free of dirt (true!). Most of Oman (82%) is desert and though we are into autumn here now, it is on the warm side. Like 38 in the celcius.
We arrived at the airport at about 6.30pm two days ago, and braced ourselves for a two hour scrum to get our tourist visa, go through immigration and pick up our bags. The whole process took roughly fifteen minutes. It was far and away the easiest international airport experience I have ever had. And there was our taxi waiting for us, with a tall, strikingly good looking Omani driver in ankle-length dishdasha and white embroidered cap.
Muscat has many of the attributes of a modern western city. Busy freeways, gleaming new cars, neon everywhere, KFC, Burger King, the orange glare of street lights. But also the slim pillars of minarets, and the domes of their mosques, picked out in white floodlights.
Our hotel could have been anywhere, with much marble and white leather furniture. But the guy at reception could not have been friendlier or more welcoming, and recommended a cafe down the street for supper. “Beirut” has no pretensions, but fresh, plentiful Lebanese food and the juice of just about any fruit you can name. Once you have eaten well in a new place, it feels like it’s all going to work out.
So, let’s start this Oman blog with a day in Muscat…