Sunday, March 28, 2010

Huh, please don't you rock my boat (part 1 of 2)

Having house guests gives us the perfect excuse to go out and do special things, and Mike's sister Cathy had the idea for all of us to take a dhow cruise through Khor Sham in Oman.

Perfect. We had been quoted a price online, but with a friendly phone call and my trotting out a few phrases in Urdu to the nice Pakistani tour operator, we got a substantial discount and I was a happy camper. On the appointed day, at 6 am sharp the driver arrived to pick us up. Unfortunately, trying to find the other passengers in Dubai meant that we didn't actually leave the city until 8. Our niece was ill into the fortunately large enough plastic bag I'd brought, which made for a more exciting ride. At least she had good aim and felt much better afterwards.

One long drive through 6 of the 7 emirates and a border crossing later, we were winding along the long road to Khasab, Oman. The geography had changed dramatically from desert to mountains and cliffs overlooking the Arabian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, the blue waters ranging from turquoise to cerulean, cobalt to ultramarine depending on the depth and the light. The graceful curves of our Dhow waited for us in the harbor, full of comfortable red cushions and German tourists.

Arabic tea

We'd chosen our snorkel gear and boarded, welcomed with tea, sugary and piping hot, and, as the Dhow set out, the sight of smugglers sitting atop contraband, bumping along the waves in many fast little boats, headed for Iran.

Narrating, our guide spoke in German for most of the guests and then came over to us and repeat what he'd said in English for our sakes. The Germans were entranced by the "Die Schmuggler! Schmuggler!" pointing and grinning. There was something bold and rakish and even romantic about all those young men risking their lives. Soon we were sailing through the fjord between high mountains and their staggering geology, watching the scenery and waters flow past, the air salty and warm and the winds cool and pleasant, the laughter easy between our family members. Except for Thomas who threw up on the dock before heading out. This was becoming a theme. Which was worrisome, as we were going to be at sea for many hours. The mountains (jebel in Arabic) vividly demonstrate their layers of rock, and how over time it has been pushed up to create folds, ripples and waves in the mountainside,

even turning sideways so that the flat planes of the uppermost layer of rock were exposed creating enormous smooth bare rock faces. There were goats and acacia trees, and stone house villages with a population of 50 and no roads, just boats, perched on the edge of the water.

In the water were lots of pale things about 5" long that we thought were jellyfish, bobbing quietly, with a red nucleus offset to one side of a basically cylindrical body. Then we saw them in long chains as well, and wondered if they were some sort of sea creature egg. Whatever they were, there were a lot of them!

The Dhow, our magnificent craft built as they have been for hundreds of years, but now with the welcome addition of a engine, neared our first destination, Telegraph Island.

Dhow and Telegraph Island

Telegraph Island, a tiny and lonely spot, was a British outpost set up to guard the underwater cable from 1865-1868 that was laid at the bend of the Strait of Hormuz (see map, below) to connect Great Britain with Persia and India. Most of the guards, we were told, ended up losing their minds from the monotony of the place, and thus, according to legend, the phrase "going around the bend" was coined.

Our guide, Anid, told us gleefully, that we would truly know we had gone 'round the bend when the first of us went ahead and jumped in with the jellyfish to go swimming. We all looked down at the water, full of lovely yellow and black striped fish and at all those bobbing jellyfish-like things. There was a definite lack of disembarkment. I asked Anid, were those jellyfish? I figured they couldn't possibly be; there was another Dhow anchored nearby and I had seen a few people from there in the water.

He bobbed his head sideways in the way of Indians, Pakistani, and Sri Lankens. "I have never seen them before," he said, "but he," indicating the dhow captain with his chin, "says they are safe."

Well, I wasn't going to sit onboard and look at those beautiful turquoise waters, so now asking if it was deep enough to dive, I did just that off the side.

Here there was a bit of confusion. Onboard they heard me say that I was getting stung. The guide had said something, and I thought he said that I should see if they would sting me. What I said was, you want me to see if they sting?! He then asked if I felt stinging or pain or something, so, reluctantly, I put the back of my hand against one of the things floating nearby.

No worries. Whatever it was, it wasn't moving, and it didn't sting. Good thing, because I was surrounded.

Soon enough, the braver souls jumped in, and then the more reticent gave it a go. I held up one of the smaller chains of the eggs, or whatever they were:

As I explained to a larger but friendly German lady, using my extremely limited Deutsch, they felt gummi, firm yet pliable.

Telegraph Island beckoned once I had my fill of fish watching, and though no one else was on it, we decided better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, so by means of extremely shallow floating over the coral surrounding the island, I got onshore and went up the old stone steps to the top of the island to look around. It was utterly silent, save for the winds, and little remained of the buildings from 150 years ago, some half walls, grasses blowing. I can see how one might lose their mind, with the heat and the sameness, day after day.

Chris, our brother in law, his daughter Allison and Bethy decided they wanted to give it a go too, so Chris and I led the girls carefully into land, but just at the end of the swim, after he had stood up, my poor brother in law lost his balance and stepped backwards, directly onto a prickly Sea Urchin, impaling his heel with several of the purple spikes. Ouch.

Chris, Bethy and Allison

The girls explored the island a little, discovering a mother goat and her two kids, but the revving of the Dhow's engine and no one else left in the water gave us the idea that perhaps it was time to move on. Chris was being incredibly stoic, having pulled three of the spikes out of his foot and not making yelping or whining noises. Impressive.

He cleaned the punctures with alcohol-based hand sanitiser, and kept on truckin'. (Should this happen to anyone else, internet research revealed that it's pretty much impossible to remove urchin spikes completely, and that you should soak the wound in vinegar to relieve the pain of the toxin and to help your body absorb the spikes.)

Onboard the ship was smelling marvelous, of barbecue, and as we bade farewell to Telegraph Island we loaded up our plates with barracuda and hummus, salad with tomatoes and rice a chicken dish and Indian curried cauliflower, while Bob Marley did his thing from the speakers.

It was about then that I noticed, next to the captain steering his dhow, a small pile of black on the floor.

Oh for Pete's sake...

my undies.

to be continued...


And on that note, let me (please) completely change the subject and wish a super happy birthday to a certain SUPER 4 year old!

Happy birthday little dude. We love you.


Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

That is a cliff hanger ending!

Happy Birthday Thomas!!!!

Mumsey said...

Happy Birthday Thomas from Nana ang Granpa Dan.
Loved the geology.

Jean said...

Happy birthday, Thomas. Continue making your parents' lives interesting.

And, did the captain fly Natalie's undies from the mast, as any good pirate would do?

Anonymous said...

The writer in you always comes out! Leaving us just then! Thanks for swimming to the island for us. Happy Birthday Thomas, sure he put red parts in your plate.I
remember him doing that!
Thanks for the great photos!
S from Seattle

camelland said...

i was once caught up but now i'm not.

did you ever find out what those jellyfish like things are?
is that a pic of 1 you're holding?

when we started diving we got a bunch of books on stuff in the water - if you wanted to send over a pic if you have one i can see if i can find it in our stuff.

Natalie said...

Goodness, dearie, I'm not caught up either. No worries! Those things I'm holding are indeed the eggs or jellyfish or whatever the heck they are...I never found out. You would be my new idol if you figure it out, because Google sure failed us this time. (Undoubtedly user error.) Cheers to you in Dubai...enjoy that weather. Should be just about perfect now. Lucky lucky!

camelland said...

sadly i didn't get to dubai - S&I's family won the spot so i'm waiting for another day.

i tried to click the pic and get a larger view but it didn't seem to work. is that just a google glitch and i should try again later? otherwise if you had a more zoomed in but still good resolution img of it you can email me i can use to compare i'd be happy to see if it's listed in our books.

i have to admit you got me curious.