We reached the port of Salalah safely, at times we saw Navy ships (couldn’t see their flags) sailing along with us.
As we were waiting to go on our excursion, the destination staff set our expectations a bit lower, explaining that we should be “explorers” and to let our guides know if their English could not be understood, etc. So we weren’t expecting a great tour of Salalah.
We first were given a tourist entry permit and told to carry it with us during our time ashore. As our vehicle passed through port security, a policeman came on board and checked that everyone had a card.
We were pleasantly surprised with our day – we do tend to look at things as explorers anyway! Our guide was Mohammed and he shared a lot about Oman and also the city of Salalah. This city is a study in contrasts. As you leave the port, you see the barren and bleak landscape of the desert. They seem to be doing construction everywhere.
But then, you begin to see green, some 5 star hotels and apartment buildings. There are a lot of cars and traffic here. In the first picture below, in front of the apartment, there is a cemetery.
We visited the new Grand Mosque – and since we didn’t arrive in port until 10 and the ship wasn’t cleared until 10:30, we were unable to go inside (visits by non-Muslims can only take place between 8 – 11 AM.) But it was worth seeing from the outside. There is a school and a library inside. There was a funeral going on there. Mohammed explained that funerals here take 3 days. First, the body must be washed, then the next day everyone goes to the mosque to pray and the third day they go to the cemetery to pray and bury the person. People are buried on their side facing Mecca. The tombstones don’t usually have writing on them as they don’t go to cemeteries to honor the dead. Women have three stones and men have two. This is why the cemetery in the photo above doesn’t look like one.
We passed where tents are set up for weddings. This is a big deal here, and usually hundreds of people come. Three camels are slaughtered for the feast and many kg of rice is prepared and served. People give the groom money and the amount usually pays for 80% of the wedding. The homes are big here because usually a man has 4 – 5 wives. Mohammed is 27 and he has one wife and is looking for the second. They have many children too. Dowry for a wife is between 5 and 10,000 US dollars. If the man is wealthy he may have a separate house for each wife.
We then made a stop in the garden area where coconuts and bananas are grown – there are 20 varieties of bananas grown here, from finger sized to the size we are used to. We had coconut milk right from the coconut!
A few other facts about Oman – their main source of revenue is, of course, oil, which accounts for 70%. Gas costs 32 cents/liter here as compared to about 1.70/liter in Europe. Average income is 28,000 US dollars but of course there are extremes in wealth. Health care is completely free. They also have a health center at the border with Yemen and provide care for Yemeni people if needed. We saw huge homes and also slum like conditions. We (women) were told to dress conservatively, shirts to wrist and pants to ankle. It was hot but not as hot as it has been. Men and women wear robes and women are generally completely covered, even their faces, outside the home. They do not want to be photographed, so we honored that of course.
Boys and girls go to school together for the first 4 years, starting at age 6, then the schooling is separate until college. Women pray separately in mosques.
We stopped for a short time at the Al Husn Souq, which had shops of all kinds. Their main product is frankincense. They burn it, make perfume out of it and use it for medicinal purposes (more on that later).
After the visit to the Souk, we went to our last stop, the Al Balid Archeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage site and we visited the frankincense museum on the site. This is on the Frankincense Trail where excavation has shown the remains of the importance of the trade in ancient times. Frankincense is a gum resin extracted from the tree trunks through an incision. Legend says that flying snakes protected the trees. We didn’t see any of those! There are 4 types of frankincense and it is used for almost everything here! These posters in the museum show that.
Here is what you COULD take a picture of – the hanging handle is to help handicapped people lift off of the toilet. There was one in the ladies, Norm said there were two in the mens. Guess they need more help!
Here are a few more shots of the area – the beach was deserted (women cannot go unless they are totally covered.)
So, we were explorers, and we learned a lot and enjoyed the day. Tomorrow we have a sea day on the way to Muscat, the capital of Oman.