Friday, February 6, 2009

The long and winding road that leads to your door...

A solitary camel in the morning light regarded us through long lashes as Colleen and I got back on the road from the Al-Hadd Sea Turtle Reserve. I wondered how the men were dealing with the kids. I needn't have worried; both kids were sound asleep after their late night, and Mike and Pat were relaxing with coffee by the sea.

Breakfast was memorable in that even though every care was taken to give us a delightful outdoor experience, the flies were so unbelievably thick I ended up breaking bites of toast off a piece sandwiched between two plates, sneaking them out and hustling them into my mouth before they could get covered with the buzzing black insects. Not appetizing at all.

I will eat a lot of things, but I'd like to keep flies off that list of edibles, deliberate or non.

The rest of the resort was idyllic, simple and warm, and I would have liked to spend the day lazing in the breezes off the water. It was time to head home, however. Any lazing would have to be performed in the car.

The drive home to Dubai was, indeed long, but we still had a good time. We bought nearly USD$75 worth of junk food at a petrol station. Colleen asked if the price had been correct. It had, it conspired, and the clerk got the idea that Pat would probably beat Colleen for spending so much. He came out of the store to make apologetic gestures to the (supposedly) angry husband, hopefully placate him, and save Colleen's hide. We drove away and found the whole thing very funny. Some slept, some chatted, even Thomas sat and looked at a book, and we all ate too many processed pre-packaged foods.

When we couldn't take any more of that we stopped and I managed to buy some fruit using only Arabic. All the other buyers were ancient Arabs, with the one young man wheeling and dealing. The seller pitied me when I didn't dicker the price and gave me back extra change. Flushed with success, I couldn't help myself and bought two whole rotisserie chickens from outside of the restaurant next door. The machine rotating the chickens was on the verge of being lifted off the ground by what must have been years of accumulated drippings that had run down and solidified.

It tasted delicious anyway.

Again, we had the "no napkins" issue, (there were some sort of thin waxy papers given us, not quite enough to contain chicken or wipe anything up) but we did our best and were a little greasy. Travel can be like that. Nothing like trying to divvy up two whole chickens in a moving vehicle to make you feel alive.

We had very much wanted to stop at the ancient city of Qualhat, and the Tomb of Bibi Miriam, the oldest archaeological site in Oman. Both Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta stopped there on their travels. Who were we not to do the same?

In the late 13th century Marco Polo wrote

"This city has a good port, much frequented by merchant ships from India...since it is a centre from which spices and other goods are carried to inland cities and towns. Many fine Arab horses are the great gain of the merchants."

In 1330 AD Ibn Battuta wrote

" The city of Qalhat is on the coast. It has good markets, and one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. The walls of the mosque are covered with blue ceramic tiles. It stands on a hill beside the harbour...a lofty situation from which it commands a view of the sea and the anchorage. This mosque was built by an important woman named Bibi Maryam. The people here are merchants , and they bring many goods from India. When a ship arrives the people are very happy ".

Now, thanks to an earthquake, the Portuguese, and time itself, only the tomb and a water cistern stand, though you can easily tell where the city's fortified stone walls were, and why the king would come there to be well guarded and situated in times of war. It was a lonely place, though we enjoyed exploring.

None of us went down into the tomb.

We drove back through the mountains, past the sea, past the tiny villages and children playing, old men out on the stoops, veiled women walking in groups.

By the time we were back in Muscat there was a traffic jam. Such a difference from being the only car on the road. In the restroom, which had a dipper for getting your water to splash on after going, as opposed to the sprayer, (Toilet paper? Are you kidding?) Mike cut his hand rather badly, and we all had visions of sepsis. Apparently his immunity is quite good, and as far as we know, nothing came of it beyond the need for a band-aid.

Mercedes sporting the proper Oman flair.

It was dark when we made it back to the multiple crossing stations for the border. On the UAE side, while all of us were walking back to get in the car after getting the token once-over by the authorities, Pat made a joke about "the three people still hiding in our car." Mike and I lit into him for it, also mentioning in passing that he probably shouldn't joke about bombs at the airport either.

Ah well. It's almost funny when he shakes his fist at other drivers and yells "Abu Dhabi!" (An Egyptian friend of ours once commented that the Abu Dhabi license plates on our cars put the fear of God into other drivers; apparently Abu Dhabi residents are worthy of such fear behind the wheel). It would be funny if he didn't shake his fist, but this is a land where one national was so enraged at a British woman for flipping him the bird after he honked at the taxi that was letting her out (one ends up in jail if one uses such a gesture here) that he drove up on the sidewalk in his Hummer, ran her over, then backed over her as well.

Yes, she is quite dead.

Pat was quite good-natured about our fretful schoolings on proper Middle East behavior, and also managed to keep out of jail while here. An excellent guest.

It was dark when the unmistakable lights of Dubai came into view. They were a shock to the system after being away in an older, slower, quieter culture. For just a moment, I didn't like Dubai. I liked the open roads, the solitary camel, the quiet beaches and being the only white faces...

When the bill came for our delivered dinner, that was another shock. We'd forgotten how much things cost.

However, home is home, and we were happy to be back in our bright little house once more.


dorothy said...

We are studying the Middle Ages and Marco Polo right now - I will have the oldest 5 read your blog as school tommorow.

Jolie-Anne said...

I'm really enjoying reading your blog regarding your time in the Middle East. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences.

Cousin Jolie-Anne