Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bahla, Oman

The Omanis are threatening to overtake the Colombians as the most generous and welcoming people I have traveled amongst.  No one has invited me on to a TV or radio show yet, as happened in Colombia, nor to overnight in their home, but otherwise I have been showered with a hospitality on such as a scale as I've only encountered in Colombia. It wasn't such a surprise in Colombia, as bicycling is the country's number one sport. That's not the case in Oman.  The only cyclists I've seen are Indian and Pakistani workers on clunkers.   Though the Omanis may not have any connection to the bicycle,  their Bedouin/nomadic heritage enables them to relate to such a means of travel.  In their harsh environment, where survival is no simple matter, it is in their nature to feel concern for one another.

One well-to-do Omani, who had stopped his car and flagged me down to ask if he could be of any assistance, said it was the duty of every Omani to look out for visitors to their country.  He asked me several times if I needed anything.  In another country if I had been out in the desert, as we were here, I might have asked if he had any water, but I was well stocked and knew I need not be concerned about stocking up with a little extra, what with water tanks so common.  He lived in Muscat, the capital, where I was headed.  He gave me his card, which identified him as the CEO of an oil company, and told me to look him up if I needed any help.   Before he was on his way, he asked if his Pakistani driver could take a photo of the two of us.

My solar panels were strapped to my handlebar bag charging my iPad.  My earphones were plugged into it, as I was listening to an audible book on the history of Paris-Roubaix by the prolific English cycle journalist Les Woodland. He's written quite a few books on The Tour de France.  He likes searching out the graves of cycling luminaries, just as I do, and mentioned a couple that I didn't know about.  I will try to include them on my wanderings about France this summer.  Top priority goes to the grave of Tour winner Octave Lapize, who was killed in World War I when the plane he was piloting was shot down by the Germans.

The CEO wasn't the first driver to stop to have a word with me.  The day before an Indian, who was the general manager for a marble mining company, invited me to his nearby office for a cup of tea.  We were joined by two his his staff and his Omani chief officer.  The Omani was dressed in the typical blindingly white robe, while the Indian and his Indian assistants were dressed Western style.  The Omani pointed out a tassel on his robe that was unique to Oman.  Each of the Arabic counties has such an identifying feature.  When I mentioned how much I enjoyed rice and dahl when I biked across India, he wanted to order me some.  They too were insistent about doing anything they could for me.

Earlier in the day when I was taking advantage of the WIFI in a small one-person computer store, the young owner presented me with half of an egg and cheese sandwich and some French fries in a take out Styrofoam container that had been his lunch.  He wanted to do more for me than filling my water bottle and letting me use his WIFI.  Such is the way here.  At a small roadside restaurant the Indian owner refused payment for my lunch, a feature of Colombia.  I'll be in Oman for two more weeks.  I don't expect the goodwill to diminish.  It almost seems as if word is out that there is an American bicycling around their country and to help him in any way your can.  I am a site not many have seen.  Most are incredulous that I'm doing such a thing.  

People were particularly shocked when I took a fifteen-mile shortcut on a rough dirt road that few would even drive. It was soft and wash-boarded for long stretches, keeping my speed at around five miles per hour.  I had the road all to myself other than two vehicles, neither of which surprisingly stopped. I would have been glad if they had to confirm I was heading to where I wanted to be going. There had been a couple of intersections, but I stuck with the line of telephone poles.  It was tough going, but my thought was full of reveries of similar rough stretches I had ridden in Bolivia and Cambodia and Iceland and Patagonia and  Africa and how satisfying each of them had been, making this equally so.

One of the reasons I was drawn to the shortcut was because it was at the end of the day and I knew I would have a dead quiet camp site.  And I did on a sandy patch of a mostly rocky dry stream bed.  I had no concerns of water during the night, as no rain is expected until at least June.

My route through the interior has taken me past two of Oman's five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  One was the hilltop cemeteries dating to 2,000 and 3,000 B.C. outside of the small town of Bat.  The cemeteries are marked by mounds of rocks with some 200 people buried beneath each.  

Oman is a country of old forts.  The most pre-eminent in Bahla dates to the 12th century and is the lone fort in the country given World Heritage status. 

Oman is unique in being the only country that has had a World Heritage Site de-certified. When the Sultan reduced the size of its Oryx Sanctuary, UNESCO de-listed it.  The oryx at one time faced extinction.  Only a breeding system in the US saved it.  This antelope-like animal is a symbol of the country.  When the breeding stock was re-introduced to the country, there was no concern with poachers, as the people took a genuine interest in safeguarding them.  Thus the government didn't feel the need to have such a vast area solely devoted to them and allowed mining interests to share their domain.  


dworker said...

An excellent, imaginative journey, George. I too was worried a bit about your going there. I mean, it just had not occurred to me.
carry on

Bill Burns said...

The Oryx is managed, at least in part, on the White Sands Missle Range in New Mexico, nowadays. I ran across a couple hunters who had taken one in a permitted hunt about three years ago while on my way home from Las Cruces. Beautiful animal, that's for sure.