We have just taken off from Salalah and the desert is dissolving into a misty haze below us. As we clip the edge of the Empty Quarter we can make out some of the big dunes and see dead straight tracks through the sand. We drove almost a thousand kilometres on our big loop from Salalah but I’d love to come back and do the whole route through the Empty Quarter. I can understand Thesiger’s addiction to the desert and for a country which is nearly all desert there is a huge variety of things recommend it. Mountains, wadis, beaches, ancient villages, castles and forts and above all, the very nicest people you could wish for. Everyone we encountered was, without exception friendly, welcoming and helpful. Not to mention immaculately dressed. I wonder what they made of us sweaty tourists in our dusty clothes.
I don’t think I have ever felt so safe in a country. Whether looking for something to eat at a desolate truck stop, or flagging down a battered Toyota on a lonely beach road, or walking through back streets, we received nothing but smiles and courtesy. There are cultural differences of course and it would have been nice to interact with more women but we seldom had the opportunity. But somehow, for a country in the Middle East, Oman seems to have pulled off that rare trick of nurturing friendships with all of the outside world, not just the places that share its politics, religion or culture. Of course we are here as tourists and can only really have a superficial view after just two weeks. But Oman feels like a place at ease with itself and with others, which makes it a lovely place to be.
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