When were last in Dubai and Oman, back in 2003, we were told that the Musandam Peninsula, an enclave in the north of Oman, was wonderful. We always planned to come back and see it, so we’re about to head there. We’re flying to Dubai, and will then head to Ras Al Khaimah, another of the United Arab Emirates, which we haven’t visited before. We’ll then continue on to Muscat by boat, and back to Dubai by bus, if all goes to plan.
Monday 11th February Addis Ababa – Dubai – Ras Al Khaimah (RAK)
We have a reasonably good breakfast in the restaurant that was closed last night. There seem to be a fair few African Union Conference delegates left over. Murray gets some photos from our bedroom through the strange widely spaced bars and walks the grounds which are also the park, for photos and iconic shots with the Ghion name. We buy souvenirs in the hotel for the grandkids to run down our excess Birr, which are not exchangeable without an official receipt, and the ATM’s we got the money from either have no paper, no ink, or magic fading ink, like all receipts in Ethiopia (amazing the printing disappeared in the three weeks we’ve been here).
We wait in the lobby for the 10am hotel shuttle to get to the airport in plenty of time for our 3pm flight. The trip is quite short, but we get some parting shots of the traffic, the metro where we had to sort out getting home to the Global Hotel, and the large public assembly area beside the main road. We are very early for booking-in, but at least we manage to find seats at the end of the arrivals area, and Wi-fi, which might be conference-related, as there was none at the hotel. Through immigration and security, we shop around for something to spend our remaining Birr on, settle on a meal at a restaurant, and end up with one solitary note which we forget to put in the charity bin. While we are walking around the departure gates, we see airport or charity staff taking quite a few hours to count and sort a massive pile of notes from the charity bin. The flight gives us some better photos than we managed on the incoming flight – all the way to the coast of Somaliland, but beyond here we encounter a blanket of cloud.
We arrive in Dubai after a 4-hour flight, on which Dianne watched Bohemian Rhapsody, and are quickly through immigration and customs. We know there is a cheap shuttle to RAK (A$8 each), but it doesn’t go for another two hours, and gets us there well after midnight, assuming we can work out how to book it and find it at the large airport. We decide to hang the expense, and take a taxi from the general rank, but somehow we’re put into a flash all-black car rather than a marked taxi. We try to make sure it really is a taxi, but the Pakistani driver says he has a meter and it should be OK. However, his meter is an IPad app, and we have had trouble with these before, so we get him to stop while we confirm the fare. He tells us it will only be $20 or so more than a normal taxi fare (which we researched as about A$75) but it turns out it will be about 400 UAE Dirhams, or $A153, which is a hell of a lot, even for 84 km, and much more than Lonely Planet led us to believe. We are in an awkward place to get out and walk back to the terminal with our bags, and we can’t be sure how up-to-date the Lonely Planet information is, or what the real price for an ordinary taxi should be, so cop it, but not sweet, telling the taxi driver we have been conned into a Tesla, when all we wanted was a taxi. Tell him we don’t trust an IPad taxi meter as far as we can throw it. He maintains the Tesla is only marginally more expensive than a standard taxi, and that everyone uses IPad taxi-meters. The journey passes in relative silence. The Tesla is very quiet, and reasonably smooth, although the cruise control is jerky, and we sit on the speed limit of 120 kph on the 4 to 6 lane highway most of the way. Dianne is following our progress on maps.me, while our driver has a display as big as a TV screen beside him with the route on it. They both seem to correspond, so we are in good shape. It is dark, and a lot of the route is through the desert, but there are also sections that are built up, and we see a lot of big mosques, malls, car dealerships famous-name fast food outlets and high rise buildings. About 15 km short of RAK, we turn toward the sea and pick up a main road close to the shore, but with scrub and sand hills on the sea-side of the road.
We have the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel (A$105 per night) marked on the map. It’s in the CBD area, not the beach, which is why it is so cheap, but they have a free shuttle to their beach hotel where we can use all the facilities including the pool. We are deposited at the hotel, with the final bill on the IPad 371 UAE dirhams (A$143) so our driver’s estimate was OK, but the basis of it is still suspect, as IPad taxi-meter scams are known elsewhere, and no self-respecting Pakistani driver living in Dubai would be able to resist using one on mug tourists. We pay up, without a tip, putting it down to the “It’s only money” account.
At the hotel, we are expected, and are upgraded from a King Bed to a King Suite, with a lounge room, bowl of fruit, and warm welcome cookies. The room is excellent! We are in the room by 9.40pm, and we decide against having a meal at the hotel, or going out, making our evening meal the freebies.
Tuesday 12th February RAK ( Ras al Khaimah)
We wake to light rain, a strong wind out of the south west, and a medium grade dust storm – we can’t see the nearby Hajar Mountains which are supposed to be attractive, and can barely make out the high rise buildings two blocks away. What we can see looks pretty raw. Between the high-rise buildings are lots of empty blocks. Looks like a lot of low-rise buildings have been demolished, and are slowly being replaced with high-rise. RAK looks like it is trying to emulate Dubai, but it still has a LONG way to go.
We decide to forego breakfast, and take the 10.45am free shuttle to the Double Tree Hilton Resort on the Marjan Island beach. This about 30 km southwest down the coast, and is one of many man-made islands, peninsulas and lagoons. We go via the CBD before taking a route around the wetland which runs off the harbor. We pass the main mosque, the artificial snow-clad mountains of Ice Land, some massive old-style apartment buildings, and arrive at the resort at about 11.20am local time.
It is overcast, raining and blowing. There is no one in the large pool complex, and the outdoor furniture is under tarpaulins. The beach, which looks pretty good for a non-surf beach, is deserted, and there is no one out boating or swimming, even though the wind is blowing off the beach and the water is pretty smooth. We walk around, trying not to get too wet, then duck back into the main complex where a very large restaurant is being prepared for lunch. We ask about availability of food and are directed to the bar where they have snacks. It is pretty crowded with people, guests and ring-ins like us, killing time because it is too miserable outside, or waiting for shuttles to the mall, but we manage to get seats at a vacant low table. Dianne orders a pina colada, Murray a cappuccino, and we share a wonderful meze plate, for 134 Dirhams, or $A51, not bad value for 2 big plates of really good snacks and drinks, but after Ethiopia, a reminder we are back in the first world. Because of the crowding, we share our table with two German couples with enough English for a conversation. There are lots of German package tourists here. The hotel and its facilities are very attractive, and it would have been nice to spend the day here in good weather.
We walk across the road to a park with green artificial turf, and a sea-wall where we take photos of the rough, uninviting sea, and back towards the hotel, where we catch the first shuttle that comes along, and head back to the city by the same route, getting pictures of rough surf at a beach; whitecaps out at sea; the Ice Land mountains; multi-lane roads with plenty of traffic; mosques; and high rise buildings.
We are on the top of our building taking photos all around by 1.50pm, and out for a long walk by 3.15pm. The walk takes us along the waterfront at the end of the harbor where we look at a mall that is still being tenanted, then along the west side of the harbor, past twin high rises, and onto the bridge over the southern arm of the harbor which leads to the wetlands.
Across the harbour, there is a massive power station complex, with large gas turbine stacks, and complex heat exchanger ducting. The power station looks too big for just RAK, even if they have heaps of air conditioned buildings, and is possibly connected to the Omani Musandam Peninsula. On the start of the bridge we can see a large commercial fruit and veg market, on the top of the bridge we take photos back to the city, and over the bridge we get to the markets of the Old City, complete with traditional wind towers. Walk through some of the streets which have been bypassed by modernization, and cleaning. We find an old fort in the back streets, and a large concentration of mosques, just in time for the call to prayer. Lots of men appear from all directions, all heading to a mosque. We walk down along the wharf which leads toward the active part of the commercial harbour, where there a number of oil rig service vessels, and take photos of fibreglass dhows moored along the wharf. Across the far side is a large floating dock which must double as a crane barge, with the massive lower frame of a large crane.
We walk back on the other side of the bridge where we take photos of the wetlands, the massive mall, and high-rise cluster on the far side of the water. The weather has cleared, and from the top of the bridge we get good photos of the main mosque and CBD towers with the afternoon sun on them. On this side of the bridge, between the main road and the water, there is a massive parking area, which seems totally out of keeping with the area, as there is nothing of note near it. The only clue to it is a billboard to designate the various parking areas for “The Audience”, presumably with Zayed, the current chief of the Emirates, as this is “The Year of Zayed”. It must be a pretty big audience, with parking for hundreds of cars. At the first roundabout, where we want to cross the road to head home, the traffic is pretty intense, and we have to wait for a break in the traffic, which takes a long time. We pass a McDonalds, and walk home via one of the main streets to see what else is available in the way of food for dinner.
Back at the hotel, we have a rest then Murray goes upstairs to take late afternoon photos of the city, and the sun setting into the ocean with a fiery red sky around it. We leave it too late for dinner at the hotel, and walk into town, take a punt on a local version of a fast food restaurant with a lot of local patrons, all men. We must be a bit of a novelty, because they go out of their way to make us welcome and explain the menu. We end up ordering chicken kebabs, chips and eggplant, and were surprised when it came with salad and lots of flat bread -a lot more than we could eat, but pretty cheap by UAE standards. We walk home in the dark, on the same side of the road as the hotel, which is a lot safer, as there are still a lot of cars about.
Wednesday 13th February RAK ( Ras al Khaimah) to Khasab (Oman)
RAK is 35kms from the border of the Musandam Peninsular, and there are no public buses on the Musandam peninsular, so once again we’re forced to use an expensive taxi, which we’ve organized through the Diwan Alamir Hotel where we will be staying.
We walk to the new mall down on the water, have a fair breakfast at Tim Horton’s, with a good coffee, and are picked up at 11am by our expensive (45 OR or A$165!) taxi, with a driver in the local white robe known as a thawb or dishdasha. We travel north-east through the city, roughly parallel to the coast, on a multi-lane road, getting fairly clear views of the bare, rugged mountains close to the coast, and vague shapes of the mountains further back. There are major industrial plants before the border, and heavy truck traffic. The border crossing is located where the mountains come very close to the coast, and high security fencing goes far enough up the mountain to get to where only mountain goats would be comfortable. It is known as Al Darah on the UAE side and Tibat on the Oman side. We are shepherded through UAE Customs and Immigration with a minimum of fuss, paying 60 UAE dirhams (A$23) exit tax. There are other travelers exiting, one an Australian travelling solo.
A$1 = 0.27 Omani Rial
1 OR = A$3.68
At the Omani side, our visas (A$36-bought over internet) are ok, and we transit without problems, with the whole exercise taking only about half an hour. It is 42kms from the border to Khasab. Just after the border there is a large petro-chemical plant, and some heavy electric transmission heading into the interior of Oman. There is more security fencing on this side, and an interesting wide, but very steep road cut into the mountain, all the way to the top. It is probably for army tanks.
The road in Musandam (Oman) is tarred, and pretty good, running along the coast with the mountains very barren, steep, and close, and in places the road has been moved further toward the sea to avoid falling rocks. There are good beaches and a fair surf, possibly due to the heavy weather in the last few days. Where ravines (wadis?) come down to the coast, the mountains recede, and we can see palm trees on the flat valley bottom. Dry water courses cross under the highway, and there are small villages and towns, fairly clean and tidy, with mainly large rendered masonry houses, and a few high-rises.
At Bukha, a fairly large town, we see a large mosque, well out of proportion to the town. There are also a couple of forts, possibly dating back to a historic Portuguese presence. At nearly every wadi, there is a beach and a fishing village with 200-metre cliffs close behind. We climb 200-metres over a headland, past the tidy town of Harf Ghabi to get our first view of the Musandam Peninsula stretching away toward the north, and shortly after, the bay and harbor of Khasab.
In the town proper, we circle around to get off the highway to reach our hotel, which is at the start of the town, fronting onto the highway. We book into the Diwan Alamir hotel (A$110 per night with breakfast-incredible value in comparison with the other over-priced hotels in the town). Get a balcony room facing the harbor, with the highway and a wide expanse of bare, uninteresting consolidated gravel between us and the water. To the left we can see the commercial harbor with a catamaran ferry, similar to the one we hope to take to Muscat, commercial dhows, and a cruising yacht. Further right is the dhow harbor, used for tourist trips to the peninsular, and a dhow building yard. Out at sea are very large timber dhows, with very high freeboard, probably for the cross-gulf trade with Iran. There are bare, high cliffs right down to the coast on both sides of the bay, there are two creeks running in, and the flat valley extends for many kilometers behind the city, large enough for a commercial airport, and an air force base.
Our first expedition towards the city takes us past Khasab Fort, which looks pretty good, so we divert to it, finding the price right at 1 OR for the two of us. The building is quite low, with walls less than 6-metres, and central and corner towers maybe 10-metres. Construction is mainly field-stone and mortar, some of it rendered. There a couple of traditional wooden dhows outside the fort, and it is surrounded by palm trees, making it look very picturesque. By chance we get some good photos of green parrots nesting in voids in the outer wall.
In the courtyard of the fort are an additional three dhows of different designs, the older ones being double ended, the newer with transom stern for use with outboard, or inboard motors. In the courtyard are historic items, such as a clay oven, a hand-mill for grinding grain, and an example of a “house-of-the-lock”, built half-underground, with heavy stone walls and a rubble roof supported by large timbers. The idea behind the design of the house is security of grain and other supplies left in large pots when the family has moved seasonally to other pastures or the sea. The enormous pots are put in before the roof is built, and they are then too large to be removed through the narrow doorway. In the courtyard there is also a well with an interesting counterweighted bucket system for drawing water. We look at the kitchens then climb up to the walls for internal and external photos. The photo of the north western corner tower includes by chance one of the green parrots in flight.
The tower has a very interesting construction, with a centre column supporting radial timber beams and a masonry roof. Access to the roof is by a set of stairs and a rather difficult giant step from the top of the stairs through an aperture above floor/roof level. From the roof we get good 360 degree views up the valley to the rows of blue hills, over the city, to the cliffs on either side of the city, and out to the port and the harbor entrance. Also get good views of the tower in the centre of the courtyard, with its crenellated roof, and spiral ramp for handicapped access to the museum on the first floor. After descending carefully from the roof, we check out the rooms in the living sections of the fort, which have contemporary displays of lifestyles; armaments; women’s dress and jewellery; men’s accessories; traditional medicines; a school scene, which is very realistic, with a master and male and female students; and a poster about the origins of Islam in Oman. In the museum in the centre tower are a number of well-done presentations on nautical traditions and fishing practices agriculture and water management; wild animals; geology; traditional tools and weapons; architecture. All-in-all, this is a remarkably well-presented museum, and cheap at twice the price. After the museum, we take photos of shore birds and head back to the hotel for a break, then head out for a look at the LuLu Hypermarket, but realise that if we want to book a ferry today we’ll have to go now, as we think the office closes at 4pm.
We have twelve days before we fly home, and the only things we have booked are the last two nights in Dubai, as what we do next is dependent upon whether we get ferry tickets. We have researched, and know that there is a ferry twice a week, on Tuesday and Saturday, which goes from Khasab to Muscat (well, as far as Shinas, then a bus meets it and takes you about 200 km to Muscat). The ferry doesn’t go if there is bad weather. If we can get tickets on the ferry, we will go to Muscat, which is also in Oman, and then get a bus back to Dubai (UAE). We can’t get to Muscat by bus or taxi as the checkpoints over the mountains aren’t open to tourists, and it would be very complicated anyway, as the two sections of Oman are separated by the UAE on the East coast. Not to mention the “roads” are 4WD tracks.
We backtrack to the ferry depot, just along the highway from our hotel, but a fair way when you walk it in the heat. We pass a service station with a restaurant and shop on the way, but save a visit for later, and get to the ferry headquarters in plenty of time, but the place looks closed up. Murray has a look at the terminal building, but does no good, while Dianne tries the office door, which is closed, but not locked. The staff are present, but they don’t want to help us. Dianne prevails and we go through the hoops of reserving and paying for a ticket. Fortunately, although we don’t have our passports with us, we do have photos of them on the I-phone, which is sufficient. They won’t take cash, but accept a credit card payment. At 18 OR (A$66) each, this is pretty reasonable, and hopefully, more scenic than flying. In the office, they have a very good contour map of Oman, and we take a photo. On the way back, we check out the service station and the restaurant, buy some supplies and figure we could eat hamburgers or falafels at the restaurant for a reasonable price.
Back at the hotel we take a few photos of the town and the nautical scene from our balcony then head out to check out the fancy hotel we can see across the port area, and one of the two creeks. The hotel is not all that easy to access, as we have to go around the end of the first creek, past the fort then across a reclaimed wasteland. The hotel looks pretty flash from the gates but, with no one to stop us, we walk through as if we own the place, check out the swimming pool and find reception and the restaurant. The hotel is low-rise rendered construction, in earth colours, with pretty gardens, and the restaurant, while not yet open, has very reasonable prices, so we put it in the list of possibles even though it is a long way from our hotel. On the way out we take photos of a lilac roller on the gate post.
We walk back towards the city and LuLu’s Hypermarket, set in a massive car park between the two creeks. It has been a while since we have been in a large supermarket, but this one is ridiculous. The whole of Musandam has a population of about 18,000, and they could all shop at once. We are pleased to see they have ready-to-eat food, and settle on a whole roast chicken, and chips purchased by weight, plus some dessert items, possibly for breakfast. We walk in the car park back along the creek, checking out the moored runabouts, and deciding which ones look like smugglers’ boats (Lonely Planet says these boats are smuggling goods to Iran, which is 55km across the Strait of Hormuz.) The car park ends in a steep slope, and we decide not to take the risk, so walk to a set of steps then back to the creek where we find a concrete platform to sit and eat our chicken and chips. We finish the meal, pack up the residue for later, take some late evening photos of LuLu’s, some mosques and the blue mountains beyond the city, then head back to our hotel by our now-familiar route around the end of the creek, and through the back streets of the city.
At reception, we book a full day dhow cruise for 20 OR each and a 4WD tour for 30 OR each, to rack up a total of 145 OR (A$534) including out 45 OR taxi from RAK, to be paid in cash, eventually. Dianne does some family history research, looking for information about the new second cousin’s unknown father, gets involved, and only manages about three hours sleep.
Thursday 14th February Khasab (Oman)
We wake to clear skies with a bit of haze – a good day for a cruise. After an adequate breakfast we are picked up early for our 9.30 pickup, and are down at the dock just after 9.00am. There are a lot of dhows (the traditional wooden fishing vessels) in the tourist boat harbor, most of them brown fiberglass, possibly over a wooden base, as the one being built in the traditional upright position on shore is of wooden construction. In the harbor there were lots of strings of what looked like jellyfish with a brown dot in the middle. These are exactly the same as the ones we saw in Indonesia two years ago (and had never seen before then.) When we researched them it seemed they were phylum chordata, subphylum urochordata, class thaliacea – pelagic tunicates! They are actually an animal in their own right, and not eggs of something else. If not these, the other possibility is comb jellies (ctenophora).
The other passengers arrive: A French family with two teenage girls; an Englishman about 45, who is an Australian Navy contractor; and us. The skipper is an Indian who has been here for six years while his wife and two children, including an 11 year old boy, are in Mumbai; the crewman is a young local. When we get under way, the sea is glassy and blue, the sky is blue and cloudless, and we get good views of the catamaran ferry and the cruising yacht at the port, and the fleet of commercial dhows anchored out in the bay. We hug the coast to the east, can see beaches with camping facilities set up, and a boat coming out from the beach to meet us. On board is a young French couple who have spent the night in a tent on the beach, and are not all that impressed with the standard of comfort.
We follow the barren shoreline with steep cliffs in between beaches. Off to the left there is a large quarry on a 600-metre high mountain. While we are passing there is a mining blast and a large cloud of dust rises. Further to the right there is a sandy beach with a large loading ramp projecting into the water, a stranded barge and heaps of what looks like coarsely crushed rock on the land behind the beach. We also notice tall security fences around much of the bay, and wonder what is so valuable that it needs security in such a remote location. In such a stony landscape, theft of crushed rock seems unlikely, particularly from inland. An aerial view from Google Earth shows the fence and strange geometric patterns on the ground, indicating it is some sort of defense establishment.
We continue to the east, crossing to the east side of the deep fjord now running north to south, and lose sight of the line of cliffs running away to the north toward the end of the Musandam Peninsula. With no breeze, the water is still smooth, but not glassy as we head into more protected water. We note the presence of many strings of jellyfish, and pass our first fishing village, far to the south in a deep cove, with about 18 houses.
Close to the east bank, we see our first humpback dolphin, and get a distant photo, followed by a closer shot of two dolphins surfacing. There are a lot of the jellyfish strings here, but aren’t told if these interest the dolphins. The dolphins have long, narrow snouts, and a pronounced hump back, with a relatively small dorsal fin. We are joined by another dhow in what will become a routine dolphin hunting exercise involving whistling, slapping the hull of the boat, and increasing the boat speed to where it produces a quarter wave big enough to interest a surfing dolphin, and not long after have our first dolphin riding the quarter wave. The water is smooth and we can clearly see how long and skinny the snout is. We get a variety of shots, above and below the water, but, with running from side to side, and jostling for position, no photo is perfect. It is interesting that the dolphins prefer the quarter wave, maybe the bow rakes so far back it doesn’t push enough water for a satisfactory bow wave.
As we progress down the fjord, the mountains get higher, steeper and closer to the water, but remain as barren as ever. The highest mountain in this area is 715 metres. The geology of the mountains is there for all to see, with no greenery or soil to obscure it. A lot of the strata are heavily folded and distorted, indicating this has been a pretty active seismic area in the past. The fjord turns to the east, with lower terrain close and some savagely sharp mountains further east, probably along Gulf of Oman coast. We pass an anchored fishing skiff, near where a sea wall has been built up to provide some level ground above the high tide mark. This is typical of places where fishermen store their nets and gear. Far across the water there is another fishing village with 17 white painted, probably rendered stone buildings, and a host of smaller buildings with dry stone walls. On the side of the 300-metre mountain behind it we can see electricity poles across the slope. As we head toward Telegraph Island, we get closer to the village, and can see boats, fishing nets, and some new-looking houses among the old dry-stone huts.
We stop in the lee of Telegraph Island, (formerly Elphinstone Island, before the telegraph arrived in 1864) in almost no breeze, for a look and a discussion of its historical role. There are wide stone steps up from the landing, a couple of functional buildings on the island, and what look like the stone foundations of some more substantial buildings. There is a tiny mushroom island nearby with flags and bunting, and on the far shore due north of the island is a substantial village on level ground at the end of a shallow bay. To the east of here is a very narrow peninsular separating the Gulf of Oman from the Persian (Arabian) Gulf. There is another village at the closest point of this peninsular to Telegraph Island. The peninsular is only 700-metres wide here, and about 70-metres high, so this could be the logical route for the cable coming from Bombay in 1864, and continuing on to Basra in Iraq. There is no mention of the cable route, but a contemporary map shows the cable entering a fjord on the Gulf of Oman side, and exiting through the Elphinstone Inlet.
After visiting Telegraph Island without landing, we carry on a short distance to the larger Sham Island, where we see another stash of fishing equipment on a raised platform. It’s now about 11am, and we anchor in the lee of the island near a beach on a rocky shore where there is another tour dhow with tourists swimming. Most of the keener tourists go in for a swim, but, in spite of the water being clean, they don’t see a lot, and most are shivering when they get out. We carry on towards the east, then anchor next to another tourist dhow off the southern shore, where our team goes in and reports back that there is a fair bit to see. Dianne winds herself to brave the chilly water, and does a 15 minute swim, and sees a bit – some coral, some fish, especially near the drop-off, but nothing exciting, but definitely better than it looked from the boat.
The boat provides a pretty good lunch of fish and rice etc, then we carry on towards the eastern end of the Elphinstone Channel before returning along the northern shore. Stop for our third swim of the day, but once again we don’t go in. There is not a lot of variety in the scenery on the trip, which is basically a day out on the water with dolphin viewing and lots of swimming, which doesn’t appeal when it is quite chilly both in an out of the water, which was a surprise to us. We weren’t expecting it to be so cool, even though it is winter here.
We see a few villages, but it is not in our itinerary to go too close to them. The northern shore has some good colour in the rocks and a lot of contortions in the rock strata, and the highest mountains in the area are 700+ metres. The light is better for photos and we get some spectacular scenery shots. The water is still pretty smooth, and we see a lot of dark patches due to schools of fish, some of which are being chased by larger predators.
We manage to call up another school of dolphins and get some good photos, now we know how the system works. We fall into company of other dhows and make our way back toward Khasab, pushing into a strengthening breeze, which is getting pretty chilly, so we are in our warmest gear. The sun is in the west now, so we get good light on different parts of the peninsula, and improve on some of the morning photos. We are back at the dock by 4pm, and are met by our taxi for a quick trip back to the hotel. We are too tired to go out looking for food, so have our chicken and leftovers from last night’s LuLu meal.
Friday 15th February Khasab (Oman)
We have another breakfast at the hotel, take photos of some very large barges which are now standing off the big quarry across the bay, and wait for our 4WD tour vehicle to turn up at 10 AM for our A$220, half-day “mountain safari”. Our driver is an Indian, who has been here for twenty two years, and has a family back in Kerala, and goes home every June and July.
We pass through the city, which stretches a long way up the valley, going past the 3 kilometer long air strip and out into flat, dry country with high, steep mountains rising abruptly from the plain. The valley splits into several branches, and we keep to the eastern side, taking a turnoff from the highway onto a minor road heading due east. We are approaching the end of a valley when we see a road climbing steeply to a pass in the mountains. This takes us to a lookout with great views over an arm of the fjord which leads to the Gulf of Oman, and is probably the route the cable from Bombay took. It iscalled Khor (meaning rocky inlet or creek) an Najd. The road continues in a series of switchbacks down to a large parking area with vehicles and boats on trailers at the water’s edge, but there are no houses or huts. We take photos and head back toward our main objective, the highest mountain, Jebel Harim (2,087 metres).
On the way back down to the valley bottom we pass a large active oil drilling rig in a large compound with the infrastructure needed to support it. We turn off onto a track which takes us to a farm house at the edge of the plain, and stop to inspect a genuine, original secure store house, like the one in the fort. It is old and musty, and not in current use, but it still has the narrow door and pottery containers too big to fit through the door.
We pass villages near the road which don’t have many houses, but all the houses are large and relatively new. They are constructed of rendered masonry, very rectangular, with flat roofs and mostly painted a brownish yellow. The houses are widely spaced on the flat, rocky plain, with no formal streets. Some of the houses and the attached compounds are large and quite fancy.
We head back towards the city, then take a turn to the left, towards the high mountains. The road runs beside a dry river bed on a plain of coarse gravel, and close to where the plain meets the mountain are scattered properties – some just houses, others compounds with farm equipment and fences, pretty scruffy as a working farm is, rather than like Pitt Street farms. The wide river bed turns into a ravine, and we see a large, red sign with white writing in English and Arabic, setting out the rules for using the road. Vehicles must be 4WD, there are no services and visa holders cannot use the border crossing on this road. The road climbs away from the ravine and up the side of the mountain, requiring low range and 4WD. We are soon surrounded by steep, bare rock mountains, but we get good views back down the valley. We are following the general route of the new high voltage electricity line. It has substantial, but not particularly high orange and white painted pylons, spaced at surprisingly short distances considering the terrain, and the wires are well marked with large orange balls. They must do a fair bit of helicopter flying around here.
The road is quite rough, but our driver seems quite happy to drive one-handed, with his phone in the other hand, and his attention who-knows-where. After a long climb, we stop in a ravine where there is a causeway across the bare rock bed of a seasonal stream, and we are able to get out of the car for a walk-around, and take photos of the ravine and the mountains below. Further on we see the first signs of habitation for a while; a couple of caves which have been walled off as animal shelters, just before the village of As Sayh.
The village is in a flat bottomed basin between the mountains, at 1140 metres altitude, with the arable land divided into small plots by fences. Some plots are ploughed, some have green crops, others are fallow. All the houses, farm buildings and even the cemetery are on the mountain slopes to preserve flat land for farming. Beyond the valley looms the bulk of Jebel Harim, with two radar domes on the peak. We stop at a high point of the road in the village for photos and possible souvenir buying, and continue to near the end of the flat land before climbing up the side of the mountain. From the road we can look across the end of the valley to where inclined stone walls have been built to divert water from a watercourse and the slope of the mountain into a large water cistern.
We climb up to a level area below the main mountain and turn off onto a side road past a small lake and barren fields and drive toward the edge of the escarpment. We proceed on foot with the guide leading the way over a level sheet of exposed grey limestone. The guide has a bottle of water with him, and pours some on the rocks, revealing the white outlines of shell fossils on the grey limestone. There are hundreds of them, mostly conical shells, but there are other types, including coral fossils and leaf types. There is a strange machine-cut slot full of water and some garbage amongst the fossils. Murray walks on to where he can see down to the green valley for photos of landscape and unusual plants.
When we get back in the vehicle we turn back towards home, which surprised us a bit as we can see the road continuing on, and we were expecting to continue up closer to the peak, but it does look like there is a military installation and telecommunication towers there, and we wouldn’t see much more from there so, in spite of not getting to the top of the mountain, or as far up as we can before we run into security fences around the radar station, we have had a pretty good look at the mountains, and are not too disappointed.
Coming downhill, Murray gets some better shots with the camera held outside the window, as the yellowish dashboard reflects onto the windscreen, and now being on the downhill side of the car, gets a much better look into the valleys, and in particular, a much better look at the water supply complex for the village. Looking down, rather than up, we notice more terraced fields and farmhouses scattered around the mountains. As we get closer to the bottom we get a better look into the ravine beyond where the road leaves it.
Closer to the city, we see a very large collection of whole and damaged vehicles, in a police compound, near a large collection of Police buildings. We drive past the rock-fill wall of a large but almost empty water storage dam which takes up most of the valley bottom. A few minutes from the outskirts of the city we see a commuter suburb of very flash new houses.
We are dropped off about 12.30pm and take it easy for a couple of hours before we go out looking for lunch. Take a photo of the radar domes on Jebel Harim from near the hotel, and the western limestone cliffs while walking through a previously un-visited section of the city. We also take photos of three high-performance three-wheelers lined up together, and the back street area, including a surprisingly flash public toilet.
We happen upon a local restaurant which is open for very late lunch, and sit at a table in the main section rather than on pillows and carpets in the semi-private attached room where we can see other (male) customers, men and boys in Friday white dishdashas. We order one fish, one rice, one chicken-rice, and a salad, plus two sodas. The meal is pretty good, and we retire to the hotel to recover from it.
We head out of the hotel at about 5.30pm for a walk in the cool of the evening, going through the back streets to the main road, and follow it towards where we passed a street with restaurants on our morning tour. We see views from the city to the cliffs and distant mountains. When you know what you are looking for, things like the radar domes are easily located, even 25 km away. We walk past the modern styled mosque; a fort-like building with crenellated walls; palm groves on either side of the road; the massive Police Headquarters; and the main Mosque. We turn back toward the coast and see a small market, but don’t see much in the way of food options. Making our way past market gardens and palm groves, on a narrow road between stone walls, we pass a mosque built like a castle, then thread our way through a maze of passages in an up-market area before finding the eastern creek. The Lulu Hypermarket is close to here so we settle on another LuLu evening meal of salad, cold chips, crème caramel, local bread and bananas before heading home on a well-known path across the wasteland near the Fort, beating another couple from the hotel who take the long way.
Saturday 16th February Khasab (Oman) – Muscat (Oman)
We take morning photos of the ferry from our balcony, reassured that is here. We set off early to be sure of getting to the terminal before 11.00am, as instructed, for a 1pm departure. We already have tickets, so go straight to the departure area to have our bags X-rayed and checked in, but find we need boarding passes which are issued at the office, so leave our bags at the check-in and go to the office where we got our tickets. This time we have our proper passports, and come away with boarding passes. We complete check-in and wait to board after the vehicles are on. The passengers board up a separate ramp to the top deck of the ferry, and are sorted into classes. We are allowed to go into the middle class, with seats next to the large and clean window. Forward of us is the first class, with AC and views out the front, aft is the general lounge, with fixed tables and seats and the snack bar. There is a deck at the stern looking down on the vehicle deck, and extending along the sides for glass-free views.
Leaving the dock, we get closer views of the creeks and the dhow harbor then head north along the part of the coast which we saw from the dhow two days ago. Unfortunately the day is overcast, and a haze makes the mountains 25 km away barely visible. There is not a lot of wind, but the sea looks very grey. The main reason we came to Musandam was to see the fabulous coastline, and it is looking pretty bleak.
We get a view down the Elphinstone Inlet, and pass fairly close to the big quarry on the west side of the peninsula. We get a better view of it in spite of the haze. There is a tug and one of the large barges near the shore. As the ferry passes, there is a blast and a large cloud of dust rises toward the top of the 715 metre mountain. The mountains get lower further north, but the shoreline stays as vertical cliffs, with the odd inlet with a beach and a small village. We pass a large, low island with vertical cliffs and a headland with a radio mast on it. On other parts of the island, there is another radio mast and a group of new medium height buildings which are part of a defense post. There are also many lower radio masts. As we round the end of the island we see a larger village on the lee side of the island. Ahead is the narrow peninsula with a small rock off the end of it which is our first major turning point in rounding the whole peninsula. It is only 25 minutes since we left the wharf, but then it is also only 25 kilometres from the wharf to this point.
As we turn east we notice a lot of disturbance in the water due to tidal currents and a small increase in wind-induced wave action. The weather has become increasingly hazy, but we can see the convoluted nature of the coastline. The ferry passes between some of the outlying islands and the coast, before making a turn to follow the Gulf of Oman side of the peninsula at 1.42pm. We follow the coast on the camera till 3pm, when we run out of mountains and enter an area of mass anchoring of oil tankers. The ferry progresses down the east side of the Musandam Peninsula past rows of blue mountain ranges, hard to see or photograph in the haze and against the westerly sun. It is 80 km from the last turn when the ferry leaves Omani territory and is off the UAE part of the coast.
There is a sea breeze making waves, the windows get covered in spray and they close access to the open deck so our next photo is leaving the ferry at 4.18pm. We locate the bus, and Dianne secures a front seat while Murray recovers the bags from the baggage trailer. We had thought this was a special bus just for the boat passengers, but it now appears it is a normal bus, and we have to wait three quarters of an hour or so before we are on our way to Muscat, or a bus terminal reasonably close to it. We take progress photos, including the mosque in Shinas: where we landed; the multi-lane highway; flat land with palm trees leading to blue mountains; market gardens; and commercial areas. By 5.20pm we cross under multiple high tension electricity grids and see a large industrial area down at the coast. Along the highway, there are large high rise buildings mixed with low-rise commercial areas, virtually a continuous “strip”. At 5.30pm we stop to pick up passengers and have a toilet and snack break, which is supposed to be short, so we don’t go looking for food as we don’t want to be left behind, but it ends up that we would have had plenty of time. There is a very large mosque close by, and we manage some photos of it against the sunset. We have another stop at a chaotic bus station, and spend a lot of time getting badly parked cars and buses to move and let our bus through.
Closer to Muscat we call in at the new airport, which is pretty flash, and get some bright, but not particularly clear photos as it’s now 8.30pm and completely dark. We are following our progress on Maps.me, and can see us getting closer to Muscat. The driver has told us he would put us onto the right bus when it was time to get out. Various passengers request stops, but we are blindsided when the bus stops by the side of the highway in a suburban area where there is no obvious bus connection. We are told to get off and take the Number 1 bus to the Ruwi depot! It takes a while to get our bags out, and by then it has become plain that there is, indeed, a bus stop further along from where we have been dropped. We stand by the road, looking forlorn with all our luggage, tempted by taxis which stop. Some people use the taxis, but we hang in, and lo and behold, a No 1 bus turns up and stops for us. The fare is cheap at 0.3 OR (A$1.10), there is room for everyone’s baggage, and we are going to a depot where we can make a connection to a No 4 bus to take us to Mutrah and our hotel. This is important as we have a hotel booking, and hope it will still be there when we arrive. It turns out that our driver’s strategy was exactly correct, as there is no easy connection from the long distance bus depot to the town system. The No1 Bus driver is very friendly, as is an Egyptian man in the front seat playing Egyptian opera. At the Ruwi depot, we ask around and check the notices, to determine that the right bus is the No 4, cheap at 0.2 OR. We ask the driver to tell us when we get close to the Naseem Hotel, and he seems to understand. We have it on maps.me so we are confident, and when the bus reaches the harbor we are ready, and request a stop when we see the big “Naseem Hotel” sign, and get out right in front of the hotel. We stayed in this hotel when we were here in 2003, and loved the location, and it still seemed like the best budget choice (A$81 per night) this time. Mutrah is very touristy, and is the main port area, with a fish market and a corniche which is over 4kms long, and the mountains towering just behind it, which makes it very attractive.
The hotel has our reservation, and we surrender the passports and check in. The hotel is nothing flash, but it does have a 24 hour front desk and internet. The room has a window in the wall at right angles to the view, so we can see a bit toward the sea or the mountains. It is now about 9.30pm and we go out into the street to stretch the legs, and get a meal, ending up with a fair KFC meal, a couple of night photos of the harbor, the hotel and the illuminated fort over the town.
Sunday 17th February Mutrah, Muscat (Oman)
We are awake at 5 AM, courtesy of the mosque next door, and take photos out of our hotel room of the surrounding buildings; the mountains behind the city; a half-black half-brown crow-type bird; and the new fish markets across the main road at the edge of the harbour. We come down to the reception at 9.30am, where we talk briefly to an American called David, then go out to catch the bus for the Grand Mosque, which closes for visitors at 11am. David arrives at the bus stop and after explaining about the 11am deadline, he decides to come with us. We take more photos of the area while waiting for the bus.
We reverse last night’s bus trip – No 4 to Ruwi, then No 1 to the mosque. We pass a very large mosque which we think might be what we want, but the bus driver tells us to hang in, as it is not the right one. Other passengers in the bus guess where we are going, and tell us when to get off, in the nicest possible way. We have to walk from the stop to a pedestrian bridge and another half kilometer, so get a chance to talk to David, who we have a lot in common with. He mentions his husband, and that they have been together since 1986, and live on Park Avenue, New York.
From outside, the mosque looks no more impressive than a lot we have seen, but we take off our shoes and go and have a look. This mosque was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign. Construction started in 1994 and was finished in 2001. The first building we enter is a large rectangular room with Arabic patterned walls, large carved doors, and a timber beamed ceiling. It has a red carpet with double blue stripes at one-metre centres. The building is OK, but nothing special, and we wonder “is that all it is?” However we get our shoes and carry on, following the crowd, and get to an impressive marble courtyard with an arched gallery surrounding it. We drop our shoes again and enter the main room of the mosque, which is more impressive, with four large fluted columns supporting a square-to-dome transition. The transition and the dome are intricately detailed in the Arabic style, but in fairly muted colours. There is an enormous chandelier hanging from the dome, and an Arabic-patterned, multi-coloured Persian carpet covering the entire floor. This carpet weighs 21 tonnes, and took six hundred women four years to weave. A feature of one of the walls is an intricately patterned tiled alcove, in the style of mosques in the Stans and Iran. Outside we take photos of the multiple marble arches and minarets, and the gates and long marble path leading toward the park and distant mountains. The mosque is impressive in the quality of construction and finish, but does not compare as a spectacle with older mosques we have seen in Iran, the Stans, Syria, the Stans and Turkey. We have some fun remembering where we left our shoes, as there are dozens of different places, but David finds his, and points us in the right direction. It is now 11am, so we walk through attractive gardens, and exit the way we came, back to the main road, forgetting to find the toilet.
Back at Ruwi Depot, we go to the office and are able to book our seats on the Tuesday early morning bus to Dubai for A$20 each. We also confirm where the bus station is located, which turns out to be not far from we were put out of our long distance bus. We bid David goodbye, and arrange to meet for drinks at the Marina Hotel tonight, but without a fixed time. We get the No 4 bus almost to the end of the line, and on the way help out a French couple looking for a hotel near the harbour. We check maps.me, find their hotel is a kilometre back from the harbour, and tell them where to get out. The lady is effusively thankful in the French manner. We stay on the bus, well past our hotel, and almost to the end of the line, and get out in the Old Muscat area. Start looking for food, as we haven’t had breakfast. We find a restaurant, and the menu looks OK, but we check if they have a toilet. They say no, but indicate there is a public toilet down the street near the Sultan’s Palace. It is pretty hot as we walk down the street, find the toilet, but it is of the automated type and is out of action. We enter the Palace grounds, still looking for a toilet – find a sign, but it is pointing to the faulty one. We get a bit side-tracked looking around here, taking photos of the fairly ordinary Palace, and the attractive gardens, and various buildings, then walk back toward our original restaurant, but decide to try the lower-key one next door, and they manage to find us a toilet in the dark basement. With our basic needs sorted, we turn to the matter of food and have a breakfast /lunch of fish, which is pretty good. There is an expat family we have seen in a bus who are also eating in the restaurant. It turns out he is a British diplomat in Hyderabad, she is a woman of probably Chinese heritage, and they have two boys.
After lunch, we walk towards the far side of the Palace and down towards the water, getting photos of the fort and the back of the Palace. At the waterfront, we take photos of another fort across the water and a third to the north, and across to the marine Museum, with a full-sized commercial dhow on the wharf. We walk closer to the museum, then cut back to pass through the tunnel under the fort, and back to the main road, heading for Mutrah, staying close to the waterfront where possible. We come to the historic Muscat Gate and museum. It is too late for the museum, but we are able to climb the stairs to get views from the top, including the remains of the old city wall, and out to sea. Closer to Mutrah, we see the large egg-cup shaped Al Riyam Park Monument, a nice park and an upmarket beach front suburb. We get waterfront photos, a close-up of the Riyam Park Monument, and a Socotra shag-on-a-rock (otherwise known as a Socotra cormorant). We consider waiting for a bus, but press on, past the fun park, along the waterfront and detour to what looks like a commercial area to get a shopkeeper interested in selling us a cold Coke, as we’re very hot and bothered by now. We keep walking to the next headland, which has a parking area and a bus stop, and decide we’re not walking any further, so hang in for a No.4 bus.
We are back home at 4pm, exhausted, and end up having a sleep. We get some sunset photos from the room, but are pretty disorganized, and head out at 7pm, when it is already dark, to the Marina Hotel bar. The hotel doesn’t look all that flash, but we are directed upstairs to the bar, which has an outside balcony. Unfortunately, David isn’t there, and if you want to drink alcohol, you can’t do it on the balcony, and anyway, the balcony doesn’t face the sunset, so we give it a miss, but take some photos of the harbor, cruise ships lit up, the fish markets, the Corniche, the illuminated Fort, and the Riyam Park Monument. We consider eating at the hamburger place nearby, but instead walk the corniche, then cut in through the Mutrah souk, which is a traditional Arab market with lots of shops selling Omani and Indian artefacts, antiques, textiles, hardware and lots of jewellery. It’s very easy to get lost in here! It’s pretty active, but we don’t need anything, and eventually wend our way out to the Corniche, where we walk more to take photos of the illuminated forts, the colourful tiled dome and minaret of the local mosque, and the harbor lights. We find a touristy outdoor restaurant and have very good if expensive large fruit juices and ordinary but adequate shawarmas. There is a large cruise ship in, and the corniche is crowded with LOTS of tourists.
Back at the hotel, we leave a note for David, after a lengthy discussion with the front desk which doesn’t yield David’s room number or surname, and retire shattered.
Monday 18th February Mutrah, Muscat (Oman)
We are both very weary after our big day yesterday, and don’t go out till nearly 11am. We are given a very nice note from David, who had come back to the hotel late, and was going to the airport at 3.45am for an early flight.
We visit the fish market, which also incorporated fruit and veg, and was fairly upmarket, having only been completed a year or so ago. The fish are the usual and unusual types you find everywhere. Some are just plain weird. We take some photos in the market and a lot more out on the wharf, including one of a goliath heron looking out of place perched precariously on a tilted buoy. We have been a bit disappointed with Mutrah this visit. Last time we LOVED it, with the curve of all the white buildings, and the authentic fish market. This time there is a lot of neon interspersed with the white buildings, and the fish market is new and shiny.
Back in the main street, we settle for a surprisingly good meal from a modern restaurant called “City Burger”. Having now seen the major sights, we are looking for somewhere to walk, so headed inland and circle around behind the souk and shopping area on the Corniche. It is quite interesting, and we end up at a steeply inclined wall up to one of the defensive towers. It has a large amount of rubbish around it, even though it has been recently restored. From here we descend to the back of the souk, trying to avoid going through it, but finding it difficult.
We go back to the hotel to rest and pack for tomorrow’s early start, as we’ve decided we will spend the remainder of our time in Dubai. We use 19,100 Etihad points to book the Monaco Hotel in the Deira district, not far from The Creek, for two nights.
We come out at 6pm to take photos of the illuminated fort and get a closer look at it. We walk past the tourist strip then cut in to find a street that runs behind the fort, and another which runs past the bottom of the long staircase which leads up to the fort entrance. The sign says the fort is closed at 4.30pm, but the lights are on for the stairs, and two men are coming down, so we climb up for a view, not expecting the gate to be open. There is someone in the office, but he takes no notice of us, so we enter, hoping we will not be locked in. The museum section is closed, but we are able to roam all over the many levels of the fort, taking photos of the city, the harbor, cruise ships and the well-lit steps and levels of the fort. We don’t stay long in case we find the gates locked, and manage to get down the stairs without incident.
For a change we try an upstairs Indian restaurant, which has a pretty drab interior, and food that is not memorable, and we return to the hotel for an early night, after arranging a 5.15am taxi to the bus station.
Tuesday 19th February Mutrah, Muscat (Oman) – Dubai (UAE)
We are up before the alarm and are downstairs with our gear by 5am. The man at the desk makes a call and our taxi man arrives 5 minutes later – could have been sleeping in the car park. We have a quick trip, but halfway there we get a phone call. It is from the hotel front desk man, who says we still have the room key, and could we please give it to the driver who will return it. There is almost no traffic and we arrive quite early at the bus station. We ask at the front gate, and are directed to a portable building and told the bus number to wait for. The portable building is actually a waiting room, with seats, an office and a toilet. We leave the big bags outside and Murray keeps a watch for the bus. A bus is parked in a bay, and another one turns up, but the driver insists he is not going to Dubai. Eventually, the right one turns up, and Dianne does her usual urging for the front seat, but there is something special about it, and we get the second one back, on the non-driver side.
By 6.25am we are at the airport, reversing the course we took days ago, and get some clearer photos just before sunrise. The sun is rising as we make our first pickup of the day at a monster roundabout with a large arched clock tower in it. There is a massive traffic jam of vehicles coming into the city, and it takes a long time to get around the circle and into the bus station, and more time getting out of the chaos of the bus station and back around the roundabout. We are repeating our bus route from Shinas to Muscat, but in the opposite direction, and in daylight, so get better photos of roughly the same points of interest. We turn off the expressway to call into more bus depots, so get a closer look at some of the medium sized towns, and turn off after Shinas onto a highway heading west over flat, barren land with acacia trees and mountains on the horizon. The road passes through a check point where it cuts through a salient of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) territory, before we meet a full border crossing entering Dubai, in the UAE proper. Dianne manages to get rid of a Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend magazine which has an article which could prove too rich for the puritanical UAE, and this turns out to have been a very good move. There is a two and a half hour gap in the photo record from the first check point to well inside the UAE for reasons which will become apparent.
There are major civil works happening at the border, possibly because they need more parking to account for the time it takes to get through. After immigration checks we are divided into male and female groups, and put through a rigorous manual check of all our persons and property. This could be because the X-Ray machine, which is all they use at the airport, is not working; it could be they are looking for specific items; or it could be sheer bloody-mindedness. Murray is one of the last to be checked, and is hoping for a quick transit, as his demographic is generally considered harmless, even by repressive regimes. He is quickly disabused, and everything is checked, including our large medical kit. Unfortunately we have included everything we thought might be useful in the wilds of Ethiopia, including a course of strong pain-killers prescribed when he was having knee problems, and which we thought would be handy if the hernia played up. Tramadol, for which the prescription details are on the chemist’s label, must be on some sort of hit list, and Murray is taken to an office for interview, and details are taken at length, including photographing the outside packaging on every surface, then the same for the tablets themselves. Then the twenty or so page report is printed off, and Murray has to sign it (although he can’t read a word), then put his thumbprint on it. This takes forever as the officer involved is involved with two lengthy phone conversations, on two different phones – suspect one conversation is a domestic with his wife, and the other is with another official. Officials keep coming and going, and there is some sort of argument with some of them as well. Dianne arrives from her interrogation, which also involved some problems – let’s just say that what may be in common use with couples in Australia is considered pornographic in Dubai. Her interrogation was a combination of embarrassment and humour with the female official. We then proceed upstairs to the big boss, in his long white dishdasha and dressing-gown cord head band. He is excessively polite, offers tea or coffee, explains that they will have to confiscate the Tramadol, but if he really needs it, Murray can get it at any pharmacy in Dubai with a doctor’s prescription. Everyone involved is unable to grasp the fact that in Australia the only way you can get a prescription label, with the doctor’s name on it, is with a prescription! After signing another set of documents written in Arabic (with less pages this time), and leaving another thumb print on it, and having the passport scanned, we are allowed to get back on the bus with all our gear except the Tramadol. Luckily we are not the last back on the bus, as an Indian man, who works in Dubai, and normally flies, has been pinged with pills in a labelled, but not official pill bottle, and he is not far behind us.
Back on the bus at 1.45 PM, some 2 ¼ hours late, we are not lynched, but are doubtless cursed roundly. After we settle down, Murray gets the camera out and continues the photo record. There are some pretty fancy houses along the road, all, for some reason, built on high mounds. It certainly doesn’t look like a flood-prone area, but we are in a wadi. The road passes a notably sharp peak with a steep spiral road to a tower on the top, and follows a long wadi through mountains that are rugged, but not particularly high compared with what we have seen on this trip. We cross a 4-lane highway running north-south along the border and closely followed by two lines of electricity towers.
Leaving the mountains, the road enters a desert area, with red sand hills stretching to the horizon. In places the sand hills are quite high, and there are multiple fences on either side of the highway, submerged in sand in some places, hanging in space in others. In some places, there are many trees planted, seemingly at random, but surely irrigated in some way.
We enter our first urban area, and take photos of mosques, one a massive, multi-domed affair, still under construction, and 15 minutes later we are passing the Dubai airport. We call into the first one of the terminals, not expecting to get off here, as the last stop on the bus route is Abu Hail metro, but we notice on maps.me that we are also at the Rashidiya Metro station, the last station on the Red Line, the same line we need to reach the Monaco Hotel, so we take what we hope is a good decision, and make a hurried exit. After finding a much-needed loo we sort ourselves out, thinking we have lost our long-term water bottle cover in the hurried exit, but find it safely stowed.
A$1 = 2.58 AED (Arab Emirate Dirham)
1 Dirham = 39c Australian
We have plenty of UAE dirhams left from our first visit, so are able to buy cards for travel, just need to know which card we need. Finally settle on a 25 Dirham standard silver multi-trip card with 19 Dirham stored on it. Looking at the map, our hotel is on this side of Dubai Creek and it is a toss-up which station we exit on, but decide on Al Rigga, only five stations away, and use up 3 Dirham of our ticket. Al Rashidiya is the end of the line, so we have no problems getting a seat in the car with luggage storage, next to the women-only compartment. Once we find out which way to walk after exiting the metro, we have a relatively short walk to our Monaco Hotel. Find we are expected, and set up in the room with some views of the derelict building next door and the skyline. The hotel is much better than we were expecting after reading some old reviews.
We go out for a meal at Al Safadi Lebanese Grill, back near the metro station, and rated 295 out of 10,280 on Trip Advisor. We sit outside, have a non-memorable meal which costs plenty, then find a supermarket for some breakfast items before taking a long walk down to the dhow moorings on Dubai Creek via some interesting ways to cross the busy roads. We take photos of the creek, brightly lit buildings, and the big monument and fountain at the major intersection on Abu Bakir al Siddique Road, then wend our weary way home after a long day.
Wednesday 20th February Dubai – the more Easterly section
We’ve been to Dubai in 2003, so this trip we want to revisit The Creek, which we thought was the most interesting part of the city, and see what is new since we were last here. Today’s objectives are to see the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Creek.
Before we leave the room, we take a photo in the room of a newspaper wrapping on the exit light above the door, then go upstairs to take what photos we can of the skyline from the roof. We then get the Metro to the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station, which is a LONG walk from the tower and mall, via moving footpaths on a closed walkway high above the traffic. We take photos of the traffic, the walkway and the tower from the walkway, with mixed success. We arrive in the mall at a surprisingly high level; take mall photos, including the multi-level Aquarium in the middle of the shopping centre. Get to see it from above, then take the escalators to the bottom to take photos and look at the price schedule. You can see quite a few fish etc from outside for free, but if you want the full Explorer Experience, which includes the tunnel, underwater zoo, behind the scenes tour, and boat and simulator it will set you back 195 AED each (or A$75). We opt for the free view.
Dubai Mall is enormous, and has more than 1,200 shops. We check out the displays at domed atriums where passageways intersect, including the model of a giant tower to be erected at the Creek. It seems to have little in the way of functions, other than being tall, but, what the hell… We check out the Souk, with camel sculptures and an Arabic theme, then walk out through the ground-level entrance to get a glimpse of the tower and the general ground-level surroundings before going back through the Souk to see the genuine dinosaur skeleton, and find the exit to the lake side of the mall, where the Burj Khalifi building is situated. Burj Khalifi, opened in 2010, is the world’s tallest building, and has two observation decks on the 124th and 148th floors. Our literature says there is quite often a haze around, making the views not so good, so it’s easy to make the decision not to go up, saving the A$48 each for the lower level, and A$135 each for the higher one.
We have another hamburger breakfast then go back outside to the lake, just in time to see the last minute or so of the hourly five-minute water fountain show which is choreographed to music. Outside, the sun is shining on the giant green lake, surrounded by high and low rise buildings and a small green park. We walk clockwise around the lake, taking lots of photos of the tower, the lake, the surroundings, and other nearby high rise buildings. We follow the lake as far clockwise as we can, then find an unexpected narrow arm leading off it, and a flash hotel. We walk through the entrance plaza, which has fountains and pools, a bit like a mosque, and observe a drama where an elderly Western woman has fallen and hit her head, and hotel staff are helping her and calling an ambulance.
Outside in the streets, we have a long term goal of reaching a ferry wharf on the new canal that has been cut through the desert sand to link the end of Dubai Creek to the Gulf. In an executive decision, later regretted, Murray decides we should find the shortest route to the canal and walk along it toward the nearest ferry wharf. On the way we find tram tracks and pass a tram stop, but don’t know enough about it, so carry on through a residential area to intersect the canal. Everything down by the canal is pretty new and raw and there is still a lot of empty land and construction sites. This area is called “Business Bay”. We are entertained by groups of expat workers peeling the remains of protective plastic which has been left too long in the sun off kilometres of new grey powder coated aluminium railings along the canal. The first ferry stop we come to has a notice saying that service has been suspended till a future date, which is a bit of a setback, as we are in the middle of nowhere. There are a lot of impressive buildings, complete or under constructions on both sides of the canal, and the area is obviously on the way to becoming a commercial hub, but has a long way to go. Meanwhile there are kilometres of paved walkway leading to nowhere in particular. We persevere and keep walking, but reference to the map and a look at the scale indicates we have kilometers to go to the closest Metro station. The paving and handrails end where there is a maze of bridges over the canal. We can see we have to do something, so head inland to find a solution. We find wide roads and heavy traffic, and nowhere to cross. We are close to a hotel and by chance there is a taxi just arriving, so we flag it down. We tell the driver where we want to go, but follow our progress on maps.me, and are alarmed when we cross the canal, and hope he understands where we want to go. Apparently across the canal is the only option from where we were picked up, and we circle back to pick up the road to the Creek metro station. We tell our driver to keep driving past the station down to the water at the Al Jadaf ferry stop, and pay him whatever he asks. Turns out to be $A8, very reasonable.
There is a marine station at the water, but no ferry service operating at present. On the far side off the road there is a boatyard with the largest dhow Murray has ever seen under construction. We take photos of the dhow, and other boats in the yard and moored in the canal.
The Metro station is well back from the water, and there are massive pylons beyond the metro station, which looks like a stranded space ship. The pylons have more steel than concrete, judging by the number and size of the steel reinforcing bars. The Creek station is working, and we take the metro back as far as Al Ghubaiba station, which is close to The Creek and an ethnic village.
We decide against the ethnic village, and walk to The Creek, then along it, seeing some traditional buildings on the way. We walk past a ferry terminal for the same line we tried earlier, and it seems to be operating, but on a limited timetable. We walk past a line of restaurants along the water, but decide against eating.
We decide to take an abra (traditional wooden boat) ferry across the water to our side of the creek, and line up for a seat on a low, raised deckhouse facing outwards. Murray gets to sit beside the skipper, who sits well below deck level with just his head poking out. He controls the direction with a lever, and steers with a small wheel. He is short on change, and we never do get the 3 AED change back from a 5. There is a lot to see on the creek, and we take a lot of photos, particularly of dhows on the eastern side, some of which are derelict and used for storing junk, while others look active. We were expecting to just go across The Creek, so are pleasantly surprised when we go a fair way down as well, as it is in the direction of our hotel. We leave the abra at a busy passenger loading station, walk a short distance and stop at a wharf-side restaurant for excellent fruit juices. Walking further along the wharf, we come to an area where moored large commercial dhows are being loaded. The main freight seems to be LG appliances –hundreds of fridges, washing machines, hair dryers, and mystery items bagged and boxed. These are all items normally containerised, so we wonder where, within the range of dhows, they would be going. Dianne asks workers sitting around, but can’t find one who speaks English. This is unusual, as most expat workers are Indian or Pakistani and a lot speak English. By this stage she is determined to find out where they are going, so asks at least a half-dozen groups along the way. Someone finally says they are from Iran, and it becomes obvious that they are embargo-busting. Later we google this, and it is a well-known secret that these dhows are taking all these appliances to Iran, and have been for a long time. Much later, in April 2019 we see a video news item in Australia about one of these dhows listing, with the fridges etc all falling in to the sea. The journalist says the cargo was bound for South Korea??? Someone had obviously believed what they were told, rather than checking their facts.
While we are taking photos, there is a Chinese man taking videos, and looking fairly professional. A reporter or maybe a spy? We keep walking, past where the tourist dhows are getting ready for the evening dinner cruises. Most of these dhows are pretty kitsch, with a skin of timber veneer over a hull which could be anything. Some crowded tourist dhows are already out cruising. Further on we get to where a couple of super-yachts with steel or aluminium hulls and varnished moulded ply superstructure are being fitted out. Most of the way along we have the Burj Kalifah tower and other nearby high rise buildings in view, and as we get further up the creek (to coin a phrase), the large “Picture Frame” monument joins the collection. We cross the highway on the lift/bridge we used last night, cross through the same construction site, but backtrack to another bridge to cross the big road which takes us down to the fountain and back to our hotel.
Tonight we try something different, a Filipino fast-food restaurant, Pinoy Lom House with an all-you-can-eat theme, but it also has single meal options, with one meat course, one veg course and rice, served from a long line of possible dishes – much cheaper than last night, and pretty good. A lot of the customers are students and expat workers.
Thursday 21st February Dubai Marina (UAE)
We are booked into a studio apartment at Jannah Place at Dubai Marina, a fairly new artificial canal city, built along a two-mile (3 km) stretch of the Persian Gulf shoreline about 30km down the coast, but still in Dubai. In order to create the man-made marina, the developers brought the waters of the Persian Gulf into the site of Dubai marina, creating a new waterfront. There is a large central waterway, excavated from the desert and running the length of the 3 km site. Although much of this area is occupied by the marina water surface, it also includes almost 8 km of landscaped public walkways. It sounds like this is the new “place to be” so we’re going to check it out. We originally booked two nights at $A170 a night, but tried to change it a few days ago to 4 nights, but they wanted $A250 a night, possibly because they thought we were a captive market, so Dianne booked the 2 nights at Dubai Creek on Frequent flyer Points, which worked well.
We can’t check in till 2pm, so we leave our hotel fairly late, then get the Red Line Metro all the way to Jumeirah Lake Towers station, the nearest to our apartment. It is the current end-of-the-line station, but the line which will eventually extend 5 stops to Expo. Currently these stops are served by a bus shuttle. The ride costs us 7.5 Dirham off our original 19 Dirham ticket. It is now 1pm, so we look for somewhere to have breakfast/lunch. Find our hotel is on the other side of the tramway, so the best way seems to follow the line and roadway down a ramp which leads to the canal which has a many-kilometre long promenade. The canal, with lots of boats on it, looks really nice, though there is still lots of construction going on around here. From here we can go under the tram/road bridge and up the other side to our hotel. Beside the bridge we find an outdoor restaurant, called l’Artiste, in honour of Salvador Dali, and order a particularly good peperoni pizza and a wonderful fattoush salad (the best we’ve had since the ones we had in Syria). The man in-charge is Egyptian (it is very rare to meet locals working in jobs like this in the Middle East – they are all driving around in flash cars).
We get to the apartment block at 1.40pm, and are told it is not ready, and we should come back in 1 to 2 hours. Dianne says they wanted to charge us quite a lot for an early check-in, so there must be some compensation for a forced late check-in. They move the time back to 30 to 40 minutes, so we leave our bags in storage, and take a walk along the canal to the south, then under a new multi-lane bridge to the walkway on the sea side, past a massive hotel construction project, getting good views out to sea and back along the canal. At the end of the bridge we are quite close to where the beach starts, so walk down through tourist traps to have a look. The beach has a couple of hundred people on it, but it is wide and certainly not crowded. The sea is blue and green, and we can see Blue Waters Island just offshore, with a connecting bridge, a large hotel with metal trees a bit like in Singapore, and an enormous white Ferris wheel. The wheel has two horizontal arms, and one vertically downward. There are large construction cranes nearby, and we figure that the wheel is incomplete. Further to the North, we can see the Palm, an artificial island complex which looks like a palm tree from the air, but from here just looks like a large sand atoll with palm trees and some large buildings, probably hotels or resorts. The pink towers of the Atlantis Resort can be seen over the top of the other buildings. Still further north we can see the characteristic curve of the Burj al Arab, the iconic hotel built on the shore, which must be starting to feel a bit old now (it was finished in 1999) but it still looks impressive. We walk the sands and green lawns, the hotel strip along the beach, and back over the tram bridge to find our apartment. On the way we get photos of a building being constructed with the infamous aluminium cladding. The panels are covered with protective plastic with printed information on the standards to which they have been manufactured. Hopefully they will remove the plastic before it cooks onto the panels. We also get good photos of the canal from above; the tourist dhow fleet; high rise buildings; our local mosque; and our hotel.
We are in our room by 2.48pm. Find we have a pretty good studio apartment, with a kitchenette with microwave; washing machine but no dryer; a full-sized fridge; a work desk with no close power point; separate bathroom; and a balcony with a view of the canal and boats; the mosque; and a foundation excavation between us and the canal, with serious piling and reinforcing, and massive steel struts to hold back the pressure of water in the canal. The balcony has another very stiff sliding door – must be the sands of the Nile getting into it. Not too bad, enough for a working expat, with a health club and a swimming pool on the roof (but unfortunately it’s too cool to swim).
In the evening we take photos of the pool and sunset from the roof before we head out looking for some night action. All the buildings including the mosque are lit up giving us some good photos. We cross the bridge looking for a tram stop so we can catch a tram to where the monorail to the Palm starts. The traffic is pretty chaotic, and we think we can see a tram stop a hundred yards away, with what looks like a wide footpath beside the rails. It is pretty dark, and the entrance to the footpath is pretty narrow and rough as we leave the pedestrian crossing, but there is plenty of room for us and a tram, so we keep walking. A tram comes the other way, and we move over to give him plenty of room to pass us, but, instead the driver stops, flashes his lights and so we cross the tracks and walk to the station. The tram doesn’t move until we are in the terminal. We are approached by an Indian official who tells us we are up for a 1000D fine for walking on the tracks. We argue with him that there was plenty of room, and nothing to tell us not to walk where we did. We are very polite but firm, and eventually he lets us go with a warning. (Later we have a look and see that there are signs, but none visible or readable from where we saw what we thought was an entrance and walking path.) Even with the tram, the way we did it was infinitely safer than crossing the street to the station.
We were able to use our silver cards on the tram, and it was a fair haul. With the lights on in the tram, there was little use for the camera. At the Palm station, we had a short walk from the tram to a lift, then a long walk through a massive car park with inadequate signage, to the monorail terminus. We note the terminus closes in an hour, and the fare is 30 AED, so we give it a miss for tonight and return to the tram station. We walk beside the tram line (outside the fence this time) for a couple of stops to take photos of the lit-up high rise, then when it starts to get boring, take the tram back to our local beach.
The Ferris wheel, the hotel and the “supertrees” are all lit up now, and we notice that the vertical one of the three arms of the wheel has been detached, and is now hanging at an angle with the bottom end being lifted by the two construction cranes. It looks like this one is joining the line of big Ferris wheels with problems. The “supertrees”, lit up bright red look pretty good, but not a patch on the ones in Singapore. We take night photos of Blue Water Island, The Palm, with Atlantis’ towers brightly lit, and the hotel strip. Coming back to the tourist trap area, we come upon a well-executed reflecting pool with ancient trees, possibly olives. The streets all around the area are grid-locked, with food delivery scooters the only traffic moving. We decide (wisely), not to take the tram from the same station, and walk back to the apartment, getting some night photos of boats on the canal, and stopping at a Chinese take-away, Dianne waiting while Murray tries to track down an ATM. We eat back in the apartment, a pleasant change from waiting to be served in a restaurant when we are tired. The meal is tasty, and quite large, so the left-overs go into the fridge for breakfast.
Friday 22nd February Dubai Marina – The Palm – Burj Khalifa
Today’s expedition is to The Palm. We have seen it from our beach, we have seen it several times from the air, but today we see it close up and personal. After a leisurely breakfast of supermarket mini-corn flakes and drinking yoghurt we thought was milk, and Chinese leftovers for Dianne, we walk back towards the Metro station to get the tram to the Palm Monorail Terminus. On the way, without the problem of a well-lit tram and outside darkness, we get some good photos of the canal and high rise buildings, including one with an almost 90 degree clockwise twist from bottom to top. Through the perforated screens at the monorail terminal, we get a painting-like photo of the Burj al Arab hotel, and the beaches.
The Palm Jumeirah is an artificial archipelago which extends into the Persian Gulf and was created using land reclamation. Construction of the Palm Jumeirah Island began in June 2001 and the developers announced handover of the first residential units in 2006. There have been various problems with the development, but it seems to be OK now, although the only way you can appreciate that it is a palm tree is from the air. It is not at all obvious from the ground.
The monorail track is 5.4-kilometre-long, and connects the Atlantis Hotel to the mainland. We purchase our tickets, and once the monorail is out of the terminus, we get some green-tinted photos of the beach, the Burj al Arab, the distant Burj Khalifa, and the curved waterways between the “fronds” of the “palm”. In front of us is the aluminium-clad split egg of the middle station, and the pink towers of Atlantis beyond. Once through the middle station we can see the monorail track leading directly towards Atlantis then veering off to the right, and as we get closer we get good views of the resort complex and the curved waterways on either side. After the resort we pass over the adventure section with jungle raft rides, a massive water slide, swimming pools and outdoor bars.
When we are allowed out of the station, we are surprised to be given free access to the resort, but soon find there is nothing but places trying to sell high-end crap, and overpriced rides and entertainment. By walking the corridors we find how far we can go before we are halted by guards. The standing wave surf pool looks pretty good, but we can’t get close enough to get a decent photo. Suspect this place is really only good if you have kids, and are prepared to spend plenty of money.
With nothing much to see in the resort, we head outside to the waterfront, where there is a wide path stretching out of sight around the curve of the sea wall, and really wide outer circle of heavy duty rip-rap boulders to protect the island, which is basically sand, from heavy weather. With not a lot to do, we start walking clockwise to where we hope to see the Burj al Arab, and possibly the towers of the city. There is excavation work going on beside the path, related to electricity and communication cabling, and repair and maintenance work on the handrails. The large stone rip-rap on the breakwater seems to be in good condition. There are rocks of many types and colours, doubtless chosen for appearance as well as mass. We pass a building which looks like a Mexican or Egyptian temple, then a large high-rise hotel under construction, and get as far as the power and water supply buildings before calling it a day. We have seen offshore islands, sailing and power boats, the Burj Khalifa tower and other associated high rises pale in the distance. We don’t get far enough around the corner to see the Burj al Arab, so head back towards the resort. We see a large ferry painted in a giraffe pattern off the resort. Back at the Atlantis resort, we take the monorail back to the city. Back in the monorail, we get photos of the water slide, which is supported by the Mexican temple we saw from outside. We also get a photo of the giant bucket on a tower tipping a flood of water onto the people below. On the way back we get better photos of the Burj al Arab, the monorail tracks and people using the beaches of the Palm. We also get a good photo of the character who places himself in the middle of the front window and won’t move out of the way after taking his photos. We try to get photos of the residential areas on the minor fronds, with some success, and the photos do show that there is a lot of sheltered water for boating or swimming within the outer circle around the whole complex. The general size and layout of the houses on the palm fronds is very similar to that on Australian canal developments. Returning to the mainland, we get some good photos of the beaches and buildings from the monorail. Back on the tram, we get good photos of the high rise in the area, including the twisted building.
We rest in the afternoon then walk out past the illuminated mosque to find the supermarket where we can change money. We are expecting some sort of deal at the checkout, but there is a separate exchange office in the supermarket, and we change a lot of our remaining Omani Rials, enough to get us out of Dubai, and walk down to the Metro station to get to the Burj Khalifa in time for one of the night shows with illumination, fountains and music. We have another long walk from the Metro to the Dubai Mall, then walk quickly through the mall to work our way out to the lake through crowds returning from the last show. The organisers apply a bit of sanity and separate the two streams, and we find ourselves on the walkway around the lake. It looks pretty crowded at the balustrade, but we find a spot with some short women, and can take photos over their heads. They graciously make room, and we get a front row view of the whole performance. There are electric boats circulating on the lake, but nothing much else is happening.
The tower is quite dark at the start, with only searchlights on each level lighting up the floors above. The light show starts on the towers, which has a series of vertical LED bars rising from the wide base level with 71 light bars to the top, with only 12 bars. The images they show are mainly cartoon images, plus some trade names in full colour. The name EMAAR features in lights and also on other buildings in the complex. Not quite what we were expecting! We take photos around the lake during breaks in the main light show, picking up what turns out to be the new Opera House on the right, a group of human-like illuminated spacemen on the left.
We can tell there are things about to happen in the lake by a darkening of the waters and the rise of fountain nozzles above the surface. The fountain has lines of nozzles all operated automatically to have jets of water rise and fall, wave in the air, and work in waves to match with the mood of the music. One music piece was western opera, the other sounded Chinese, maybe to acknowledge the Year of the Pig – pretty strange on many levels. Some of the jets climb quite high, dropping spray on the onlookers, but are dwarfed by the surrounding buildings.
After the light and fountain show, the crowd thins and the lake becomes smooth, allowing some good reflection photos. We decide to return a different way (Dianne’s idea of course) so walk as far as the Opera House, then are a bit lost, so ask a few questions, and then walk to the street in front, which also leads, after a long walk, to the front entrance of the Dubai Mall. On the way, we can see the overhead walkway to the Metro station, but there seems to no way to get to it apart from via the Dubai Mall. Murray follows a toilet sign down three flights of steps from street level without finding it, so we are very keen to find a loo, so walk into the Fashion Avenue, to the fanciest loo Murray has ever seen. We had seen this area from its other entrance, but it looked far too upmarket for us, so hadn’t gone it. This is where the locals with SERIOUS money come. From the top floor of the Avenue we sneak a few shots of the rich and fashionable relaxing in the lounges on the second floor.
It is a long haul back to the Metro and then to the hotel, on top of all the walking on the Palm, and Murray’s Baker’s Cyst has made an unwelcome return, so we are keen to call it a night, thankful that we don’t have an early start.
Saturday 23rd February Dubai Marina – Sydney Flight
We have a fairly quiet morning, packing, taking a few photos from the balcony, and leaving our packed bags at the reception while we take a walk down the side of the canal, taking photos of the highlights, including the boats in the marina, charter rates for boats, the Giraffe painted ferry from yesterday, some interesting kiosks, high rise buildings, and the interior of the new Marina Mall.
After picking up our bags, we walk to the Metro station, crossing the tram tracks and taking photos of the warning notices and savage fines for walking on the train tracks. We have just enough on our silver cards to get to the Emirates terminal, and manage to get seats and luggage space, with Dianne sitting in the ladies compartment, Murray next to the baggage but facing away from it, keeping an eye on it by the reflection. We manage to check in straight away, as we have checked in and reserved seats on the internet, and proceed straight through immigration and security, with the usual belt, boot and computer hassles. There is also a very interesting woman in a long coat, bright red trousers, jewelled sandals and an ankle bracelet. Unfortunately, in spite of the bling, she looks exactly like a small overweight man, maybe with the name Yasser, complete with moustache. In these days of terrorists dressing as women, it is a bit of a worry but who would be game enough to inform security?
We settle down at a random gate to internet and wait, then, later, Murray goes looking for our gate, finds that there are recliner chairs and charging stations there, so we make the change. While Murray is setting up the power supply, he notices we don’t have the laptop, no matter how many times we check. He undertakes a long trek back towards security, sees a security bloke who tells him he needs the police, then points out a man in a dark suit as a plain-clothes policeman. The policeman tells Murray where to go to find the police office, along a few blocks then down a lift. At the police office, Murray tells his story, and is escorted up to the security check area, where his escort hails another plain clothes man, who is told the story, and makes a phone call. The computer turns up, they photograph the passport, and Murray and the laptop are free to go. Security probably looked at the brand of the computer and didn’t want to confiscate it. Back down at the Gate, we settle down, Murray to do diary and fix photos, Dianne to take it easy on the recliners. After a while Murray goes to get rid of our excess Omani Rials, getting a fair rate and a few $US.
On the plane, we have an aisle and an inner seat, and for a long while we have two spare seats beside us, but a young woman turns up late. She has a partner somewhere else, and it looks like Dianne may have two seats, but no more. When the woman turns on her entertainment, she has no sound, so gets up and goes elsewhere, never to return. Dianne immediately occupies the three seats, and we are able to monopolise the whole row of four seats for the whole flight.
We are told by the cockpit that it should be a smooth flight, but when Murray goes to the toilet, the plane starts jumping up and dropping violently, too much for Murray to get back to his seat safely, so he spends 15 minutes wedged between the floor and ceiling. Dianne gets a few hours’ sleep while Murray watches films, then we change about and Murray gets some sleep stretched out on our three seats.
In Sydney, we go quickly through immigration, having taken an early option to use the automated system while we could, but wait a while at baggage. We had filled in the African clause on the form, so are directed through inspection, but Murray had cleaned his boots with a hotel toothbrush, so we were let through. Out in the arrivals, we have a seniors moment when Murray can’t find his Opal card in the money belt. We can’t work out where it had been lost, as we definitely used it to get to the airport at the start. It is not easy to replace a Senior’s Opal Card, so we are considering our options – maybe a taxi – when we remember the Opal card is always kept in the back of Murray’s phone cover. We arrive home in surprisingly good shape, with no residual sickness, helped by our extra two seats in our row.
Summary of Our Thoughts on Ras Al Khaimah, Oman & Dubai
The only way we would recommend Ras Al Khaimah was if all you wanted was to go to a nice resort, at the right time of the year, lay around the pool, and do nothing else. Even then, you’d have to be careful where you chose – we thought Marjan Island was quite good.
We absolutely loved Oman when we were there in 2003, which probably coloured our thinking a bit this time. The Musandam Peninsular was interesting enough, but we didn’t see anything in the mountains that we hadn’t seen before in the main area of Oman. The day trip on the dhow was interesting enough, and the dolphins WERE great, and the moon-type landscape was interesting, but overall there wasn’t a lot to see either in or out of the water in comparison with a lot of other places, especially the tropics. The sheer expense of getting there probably doesn’t warrant going there rather than the rest of Oman which has lots of variety.
Mutrah in Muscat was good, but not as wonderful as we remember it. It now receives a lot of tourists, and has been done up a bit as a result. Before it was really atmospheric, with all the white buildings along the corniche. Those buildings are still there, but there are a lot of neon signs on them, which detract from the look. Also the fish market is now a modern upmarket building, rather than the authentic one that was there. Mutrah and the rest of Muscat are still definitely worth a look, and we imagine the rest of the country is still good.
Dubai is worth a visit just to see all the whiz-bang places they have. Unless you like shopping and expensive eating and sitting around swimming pools, we wouldn’t recommend it for more than a few days.