Every year, life becomes pale during the cold months. And every year we seem to long for a little escape – a jumpstart into what comes next.
And every year – sigh – the same question haunts us: where should we go next?
The Caribbean are too expensive and hard to reach. Everything even remotely close is too cold as well. Thus most people escape to Latin America or East Asia.
As I really needed to clear my mind at the end of last year, I finally opted for a destination somewhat unusual. I hadn’t heard of anyone traveling to Oman for a vacation before, so that’s why I want to introduce you to the pearl of the Orient.
Sara already visited Dubai while I decided to see what the Sultanate in the Gulf had to offer. Let me tell you right away: Oman is where time stands still, endless horizons are in sight and the magic of untouched nature surrounds the visitor. The scenery had more in common with a sci-fi novel setting than a region on our planet.
As an Iranian, I was also interested in visiting Oman for it’s stories of 1001 Nights, it’s leading role as home of incense and the geographical region of my own background. With a geographic area as large as Germany, only 3,9 Million people live in Oman. One third of them are the so called guest workers. The capital of Oman, Muscat, is in the north of the country and inhabits a population of about 100.000. The Sultanate of Oman is a monarchy and has been ruled by the Sultan Qaboos bin Said since the 1970s. Oman is a muslim country and member of the United Nations and the Arab League.
The states major exports are mostly petroleum and natural gas as well as copper. In the last few years, a mostly energy focused industry has been established as well. Sultan Quabus has propelled the economic and social development in the forty years he’s been reigning the country by foreseeing what a young, uprising state would need; he’s been steadily using the income of the oil profits to enhance the standard of life for the whole population without going over the edge of megalomania.
There’s very decent health-care and a good educational system. The country is safe and there are no impending conflicts with neighboring states.
From November to April – our dreaded winter seasons -, the climate is pleasant, ranging from 27 to 30°C, but during the summer, the temperature is unbearably high.
Falling in love with time
The impressive Hadschar mountains part the fruitful and mild coastline from the endless, red-shimmering dunes of the mesmerizing desert in the center of the country. The enclave Musandam in the north is lined with fjords, which is why it is also known as the “Norway of Arabia”. In the coast towns, there are still remains and traces of the proud sea-trading past, while inside the country big and tremendous fortresses had been built near the many oases for defense and safety.
I travelled to the south of Oman, to Salalah, the second largest city with a population of around 120.000, and capital of the provence Dhofar (240.000). This part of Oman is known as the Caribbean of Oman (well, they love their descriptions) as it is a tropically blooming region with lush growth of papaya, banana and coconut as well as a high density of oases and springs.
We checked in to the amazing Marriot Salalah Beach Resort. I probably would have opted for a less pompous choice if I hadn’t been traveling with my 70 year old father, who needed at least some comfort on the trip. The resort is 100 kilometers outside of the city and lies in an untouched spot right at the Indian Ocean.
Flamingos, crabs and dolphins are a daily view for the visitor, and sometimes you’ll have the stony shores and beaches all for yourself for hours and hours. 1700 kilometers of coastline compass the Gulf state and offer a beautiful diving scenery. But there’s more than water sports: architecture and culture aficionados will also find plenty of material to discover.
If you dare leave your five-star beach hotel for a change, you’ll encounter a very authentic insight into an exciting world of old traditions that have been woven into modern life. Camel trips, bull rides, the bedouin lifestyle and the idyll of a real oasis will teach you an exotic upbringing that still exists in Oman (unlike other places, where Desert Safaris are just a theater play). Besides, you’ll find Omanis to be very friendly and laid back. A visit to the Souk is not as tedious and stressful as in, say, Marrakech. I found that very surprising, as people were always ready to treat you right without harassing you for your tourist money.
And even if you don’t want to stay put, Oman is also a good country to travel around in. Because of the size of the country and how the cities and landmarks are distributed, you won’t get far without a car; the usual transport mode of the country – as expected – are 4×4 jeeps that will take you through the desert. Around 400 km from Salalah, the Rub al Kali begins. It is the largest sand desert of the world.
A journey through the desert
Next to short trips through the mountains and the occasional visit to a neighboring city, the absolute highlight of my vacation was spending New Year’s in a tent in the Rub al Kali. A surreal background of fantastic colors and endless space that will hypnotize your mind made me swoon in joy. The desert has this certain, magical power of showing you how small and little you are compared to such a natural immensity. It’s a feeling that puts our whole being, our existence as humans, back in order… and if only for a short moment. If you don’t believe me, just try for yourself. Even the most agnostic and doubting person will be elevated into a state of ultimate transcendency when confronted with the perplexing, enthralling sunset over these alien dunes.
The camp in the Rub al Kali is organized by the true sons of the desert who have been offering trips into the sand for 13 years and counting. The very simple tents have beds, and there is a shared washing house. Next to the community tent, there is also a little kitchen where a talented chef from Bangladesh prepared camel meat for us. The camel meat came with exactly no more than two other ingredients: water and salt. And guess what? It was the best thing I’d eaten in a long, long time.
At the bonfire, the bedouins told us stories from the desert, explained their lives as bedouins and elaborated on the traditions of the incence as well as on the dangers of being constantly in such a threatening climate. I then started my first day of the year with a perfect, clear sunrise that kept me warm for weeks and weeks to come in cold Berlin.
It sounds like a simple and generic formula when you think about it: exotic cultures and environments, paired with good weather, untouched nature, breathtaking views and friendly people makes for a great and enjoyable vacation. But in fact, I don’t know where you’d find this generic formula to be actually fulfilled anymore (unless you’re not leaving your vacation resort at all, in which case have fun enjoying the lame poolside). I know I’m just a tourist on a leisure trip, so my expectations shouldn’t be too high, but most destinations nowadays are either cluttered with people, outrageously expensive or simply worn out from being portrayed as something they’ve ceased to be. Turns out Oman has all the serenity I would need for a trip to take my mind off of the complicated and exhausting life in Berlin, and in many different ways than other destinations (specifically because it’s not too far away and still emerging as a tourist destination). I had no expectations – and yet the Gulf state delivered everything and more. Oman is to your mind what detox juices are to your body: a deep cleanse of toxins without any additional stress factors.
If I could, I’d immediately book my next stop to Muscat. I heard many great things about the North of the country, and I’m looking to dive deeper into the old Arabic culture, especially somewhere it’s still actively practiced.