Muscat, Oman

Oh man, Oman. Following the second NCD Alliance Global Forum on NCDs this month, a colleague and I flew from Dubai to Muscat for a few days holiday. What commenced was one of the most exceptional travel experiences in a part of the world to which I can't wait to return.

We were working with only 3.5 days, though one could easily spend two weeks there, especially to venture further North and further South. We received some great recommendations for these areas, but unfortunately could not manage on this trip. Advance warning - Oman is not a cheap country to visit, but it can be done affordably. I especially recommend a four-wheel-drive car. We rented a basic vehicle that allowed us to do a great deal, but which isn't allowed on the mountains. Either is better than a private tour. It's easy to navigate (SIM cards can be purchased for the equivalent of $1 for GPS navigation) because all the road signs are in English and Arabic.

Our first afternoon, we went to the Muscat souq and a nearby restaurant for dinner. We then went to Al Alam palace, which is lit up beautifully at night. The next day, we followed the directions of a brochure we picked up, taking stops along the way to Wadi Shab. This included the Bimah sinkhole and an old fishing village. You could easily spend the entire day at the Wadi though, with its multiple swimming holes and the majestic waterfall at the end. I found myself a little paranoid about leaving our things when we began the swimming portion of the trip. Luckily, a local guy that just happened to be an off-duty policeman introduced himself and showed us the way to the waterfall, assuring us that our things would be fine if we left them. He was right. We dined in town that evening and drove by the mosque that night, only to return to it the next morning for its open tour hours from 8-11am. 

What a mosque. I still know very little about Islam and was lucky to have traveled with a colleague who received a better education on religion in public school than I did. We toured and she told me about the five pillars of Islam and why there is a garden as lavish as we saw on the grounds. From there, we drove to a viewpoint about an hour outside of Muscat and then sought out a beach nearby. When we found one, we foolishly drove our little car onto the beach, got stuck and then got saved by the wonderful Omani people. Two men hooked a second vehicle up to ours and navigated it to safety. While they were eager for us to stay on the beach and enjoy it, disaster averted, we nervously left and went to one with a more straightforward parking situation, where we lazed in the breeze for a bit. We had a lovely traditional meal that night in town, after a quick visit to the Corniche.

Our final day, realizing the mountains were definitely off limits to us, we drove to Nizwa for the morning live animal market at the souq. I should have known how heartbreaking this would feel, given I don't eat meat and love animals. It was difficult to watch men size up the various creatures, tied to short ropes. But it was also fascinating, and authentic. Again, this colleague, who grew up more familiar with farming 'culture', helped me swallow my discomfort. We then went to Nizwa fort. However, the shame about the Friday markets is that, afterward, everything shuts down, both in Nizwa and the surrounding areas. Not quite sure what to do, we went back toward Muscat, stopping at this beautiful abandoned village on the way home. Our final night, we returned to the Muscat souq to spend our remaining rials. I gotta say, I have a true appreciation for their pashmina scarves, even if they don't originate from Oman per say.

In short, I highly recommend Muscat, and imagine there's much to see all over Oman. Here's a bit of a glimpse at our trip.