A Travellerspoint blog

Salalah, Oman

Salalah is the second largest town in the Sultanate of Oman is known as the “perfume capital of Arabia”.

A group of 3 ladies and myself organised a private tour of the region in a modern air conditioned 4WD to see the Soup (market), Job’s Tomb, frankincense and the blow holes. It worked out to cover two tours at about half the price of the ship’s single excursion – but who needs morning tea?

Al-Husn Soup is said to be the best place to buy genuine frankincense. Most shops were closed as Friday is their day for prayer. I was daubed with so many locally made perfumes – I must have stunk. Although the ladies with me all liked the perfume on my left arm – I wonder want it was!

There was also an amazing range of knives and swords; I was even shown a large flick knife – all very cheap; but I’m sure customs might not like any purchase.

All that can be seen of the Sultan Qaboos Palace is the wall with its huge door.

A visit to Job’s Tomb situated on an isolated hilltop overlooking Salalah is just over 30km away. In religious terms the tomb is probably the most important site in the region to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The guide explained the family tree (shown on the wall in Arabic) starting with Adam and the association to these three religions. Based on the size of the grave you would surmise he was at least 8 to 9 feet tall.

Weaver-bird nests in the surrounding trees are everywhere. I beautiful yellow bird.

Back to Salalah then onto Mughsail, some 48km to the west on a spectacular bay ending in sheer cliffs where the mountains reach to the Yemeni border. Camels grazing on the plains wonder aimlessly across the road. Flocks of flamingos in the marshes. The local blowholes unfortunately were not blowing.

Up into the mountains we found the Boswelia sacra – the Frankincense tree. Frankincense is an aromatic resin obtained from the Boswelia tree by scraping the bark and allowing the exuded resins to bleed out and harden. Although the frankincense I acquire, now fixed to the top of my camera, had not yet hardened and I could feel the oil from the resin. Frankincense has been traded on the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa for more than 5000 years.
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Since leaving Salalah, the ship headed into the Gulf of Aden during which time all passenger communications has been disabled until the Red Sea on the 6th April – “in accordance with guidance provided by the authorities” whoever they might be. I’m assuming this has to do with the recent pirate activity in this zone.

“This area at present is considered a High Risk Area due to the presence of Somali Nationals harassing shipping passing through the Gulf of Aden” – I’ll call them pirates. It’s a distance of 409nm and is known by the nickname “Pirate Alley”.

The ship is travelling at full speed and their staff has closed the small rear lowest deck on level 5 (used by the staff). There is barbed wire along the back and both stairwells to level 6 are also closed and barbed; fire hoses fixed to the back railings on level 5 and 6. All windows closed and the staff had shifts through both nights on guard.


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Posted by dpedler 23:30 Archived in Oman Comments (0)

“Day at Sea”

A typical day at sea is very busy with a huge range of activities – mainly aimed at the predominate older guests. Today there are 31 activities between 8:30 and 17:15. An example for 14:30 time slot is the four activities: all about perfume; art class; wine tasting; and a lecture.

I’m attending all five lectures for the day which are presented by experts in the field. Today they are: “Yemen: From San’a to Socotra” by a retired rock tapper; “Incense, Silk & Spice: the Ancient Trade Routes” by a retired British Ambassador; “The Search for the Source of the Nile”; “Freeing the Emperor Theodore’s Hostages”; and port lecture on Aden.

There is also different movies during the day (today “The Mist”) and 4 movies on my cabin TV. But no time for that, I can watch movies when I return…

This gives me very little time to type my diary and sorting my pictures. Even less time to read. On top of that I like to attend stretching class and follow on with some karate kata to help stay fit.

Of course I still need to eat. The meals are plentiful and very enjoyable. Breakfast can be huge with cereals, English, pancakes, fruit and made to order omelettes. I enjoy the omelette, toast, bacon and some baked beans. I’m being spoilt.

Lunch can be 4 courses at the restaurant; a BBQ outside on the back desk; or as I prefer a made to order salad roll from the Lido buffet.

Typically dinner is a 5 course in nice small portions. Although it’s 6 course for the formal dinners. Very enjoyable.

And there is a multitude of live entertainment in the evenings. Last night it was a French theme for the show and dinner. The show finished with the Can-Can – great stuff.

Posted by dpedler 23:15 Tagged cruises Comments (0)

Muscat, Oman

Day 5, 1 April 2009

Today the ship arrived in Muscat, the capital of Oman. The first thing that hits you as the ship nears the port is the striking volcanic mountains and the huge incense burner on the side of the port’s entrance (in Mutrah – just a few kilometres along from old Muscat). There are old Portuguese forts from the 16th century around the edge of the city.

A small group of us took a taxi to see the sites.

It’s the architecture and the money that stands out as we tour the city – of course very Arabian. All the buildings are white, flat roof with very decorative edges; except for the Sultan’s palace and many of the mosques.

The major roads are perfect – but don’t break the law as even travelling through a red light and you will loose your car for 2 weeks and spend a few nights with local establishment.

Very little old – with all the money used to replace with new. Throughout the city you see McDonalds, Subway and KFC – a sign of the modern times in this modern city.
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The Grand Mosque (Al-Ghubrah) is the largest in the region and has a huge 2 tonne chandelier (sic) in the centre and many smaller ones around the edge. It took six years to build and has a single Persian carpet 70m x 60m (making it the largest carpet in the world) taking 600 women four years to weave. Truly spectacular – another you need to look at my pictures (will upload when I can).
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A quick stop at the Al Buston Palace Hotel – consistently voted the best hotel in the region. See the pictures to get a feel for it.

The people respect public modesty and cover their heads, arms and legs when in company. The male outfit is all the same and normally white with a few slight colour versions for different jobs.

The roundabouts throughout the city are all decorated – incense burners, one with a ship and water flowing under it, art – all very beautiful (more pictures).

The seaside Sultan Al Alam Palace of His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said is huge as it stands between steep rocky hills.
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The picture of the Sultan is seen through-out the city, as is his name on many of the government buildings – eg Sultan Qaboos Stadium.

They only let you see what they want you to see. Everything is covered, eg power transformers are hidden behind walls, air conditioners are all covered.

The taxi tour went for almost three hours.

A quick visit to the famous Souq at Mutrah – it was just before 1pm when all the shops and stalls close ready for prayer. Still very interesting to see and smell the environment - perfumes, silver, a little gold, myrrh and frankincense – lots and lots of frankincense. And yes, it’s believed the three wise men came from this region.

The common perfume is not a smell that appeals to me and as such I didn’t buy any gifts of it (as I thought I might).

All the Internet cafés closed too, but I found a hotel and a friendly manager with Internet and was able to finally send my first spam and upload a few pictures.

Travel behind the major roads, along the narrow alleys and it is less pristine, and more of what I’d expect – that lived in look and feel.

All in all a lovely city with friendly people well worth a visit.

Posted by dpedler 22:57 Archived in Oman Comments (0)

Porbandar

At this very small coastal town in northern India it is an exciting day for the people as they only receive a cruise ship about once a year. They spent the previous day cleaning the dock and had a fanfare awaiting our arrival. Girls in ruby red sarongs place a red dot on our fore heads, give as a yellow flower laye (sic) and a brochure of the area.

Porbandar is a small town of a few hundred thousand all extremely poor. The town has some industry (cement and chemical works) and fishing. The rotting smells from the fish are so vile it is beyond description.

Near the port you see fish and prawns in large trays on the back of trikes (sic) (three wheeled motor bikes). Kept with a little ice/water but still in the very hot sun – in the high 30s today.
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The town’s only claim for fame is the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. A room with a swat sticker (sic) (the Indian sign for God and nothing to do this the Nazi movement) indicating where he was born in 1869.

It must be such big news having the cruise ship in town that two news reporters interviewed me at Gandhi’s home about my feelings about the man. My reply was that this age has had two great men, Mandela and Gandhi; one present and from the past.
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It’s a strange feeling walking around the town, everyone stops and stares. Mumbai looks extremely wealthy compared to Porbandar and there seems to be a lot more beggars. The level of poverty is extreme that can be seen in my pictures.

I was wondering why everyone had bright red gums and reddish teeth. It turns out they chew a type of tobacco and beetle that gives them a high. It also removes the feeling of hunger and hence all the people are very skinny.

Posted by dpedler 22:55 Archived in India Comments (0)

Slum Tour

It’s the Slum Tour (long tour) this morning so an early start to get ready; then Des, Peter and myself are off to find a cab. If we walk out to the local gate (200m) we can catch a cab from there. Saves us around 5km to get out of the port’s compound – nothing is simple in India. Excellent advice from last night’s cabbie. He even escorted us to the gate and negotiated the fare this morning when we saw him.

The cab dropped us off at the now famous Leopold Café where the terrorists started shooting at each other and killed so many in the Café. There was a security guard and two police at the entrance. But we need to find SS Corner Store which was in the small side street.

After various taxi drivers tried unsuccessfully to convince us that the tour don’t work Sundays and we should travel with them, we waited 15 minutes for the correct 4WD to arrive to take us away.
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Des and Peter are both retirees, both from Queensland and both single. Both are extremely funny and kept the two backpacking German ladies, who also joined us for today’s tour, in stitches. I can see it’s going to be laughs all the way to England for me!

The initial drive took us past some interesting sites including the outdoor cloths washing, the famous Indian bazaar and the red light district. Police picked up girls as young as 8 years last week – the brothels are used by the locals and I have my own beliefs what should happen to these men.

Then it’s off to the Dharavi slums; the largest in India. It’s 1.75km2, has an official population of 1 million people (2.4M unofficially) and is covered by an act of law (which over time will help these people).

The tour started at the factories; then to their homes and finished at the businesses and schools. The whole area is self sufficient; meaning many people never leave the slum. The streets are all narrow and beyond words. The smells were varied and rarely pleasant – although never the raw sewerage smell I expected.

The first factory we saw handmade prints onto silk. Exiting this factory I saw an Internet Café – go figure! Checking my mobile phone and I had a full signal – that also had me puzzled.

Another example of a factory was plastic recycling. The plastics are collected, grouped and broken down into shards. Then melted and converted to a spaghetti like substance before shredded into tiny pallets for recycling.

Many factories are closed being Sunday. Others factories we saw included aluminium, recycling boxes for re-use, recycling tins for re-use (including any repairs), leathers, everything. I’m sure these people could recycle and repair anything - very skilled with their hands.

Next the homes. Very tiny, extremely dark and in some parts of the allies I had to twist to get through it’s so narrow. All buildings in the slum are two story and all are made from iron and brick.

The shops sell everything. There are schools, police, doctors, a hospital and I even saw a dentist. We saw more beggars at the cruise terminal entrance than in the slums.

The people are all proud and none minded us being their. In fact they were all very friendly and the kids always waved and said "hello". At one of the smelter factories (about a 5m x 5m room), our guide had a mobile phone and charger for one of the workers. The guide seems to know so many people here – which later became obvious to why.

I have learnt so much today; in fact in the past 24 hours. The term "slum" in India is an area where people squat on public land – not exactly what I expected. They have everything they need but in extremely poor conditions. The good news is that these conditions are gradually improving for them and they will work there way out. They all have metered power, running water and toilets. The first item these people buy for their homes is a TV, and then it’s a mobile phone.

The tour finished at the little class room where the tour operators teach the Dharavi people English, computers (yes, computers), chess and the like. I see now why our guide knew so many. They pay 50 rupees (a third of their average daily income of about $3) to do the course and when they complete the course the money is refunded. It’s brilliant and it’s helping.

We were then returned to the Leopold Café at 1:30pm to find our way back to the ship.

The ship is now heading to Porbandar in the north of India.

Posted by dpedler 22:51 Archived in India Comments (0)

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