Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ibri, Oman

Running out of water may not be a concern if my first foray into the desolate interior of Oman is any indication of how things will be down the road.  There have been small water tanks of cooled water every ten or fifteen miles along the road near small villages and at intersections.  It has been too good to be true.  When I came upon the first one I feared it might not be stocked during these milder months when the heat isn't so ferocious.  When the water came out chilled I thought it might just be from the night time cool temperatures as it was early in the morning.  But while I lingered, drinking and eating a snack, I heard the hum of a motor kicking in and then noticed an extension cord leading several hundred feet to a small cluster of buildings.

I feared this might just be the offerings of a local good Samaritan, as the structure didn't look particularly official.  But a dozen miles down the road I came upon another somewhat ramshackle and smaller tank that also dispensed refreshingly cool water.  And I came upon more every hour or so, and none that looked anything like any of the others, so it clearly wasn't a standardized government project, though the government may encourage or provide the funds for such a service.  Not a one has been dry.  If this keeps up I may not need to use my filter.

The man in charge here, the Sultan Qaboos, is much beloved and is a man who is very responsive to the needs of his people. He has an annual "Meet the People Tour" setting up camp outside of towns and letting one and all come and tell them what's on their minds.  He's been in charge since 1970 when at the age of thirty he ousted his father, who had kept Oman in the dark ages with slavery still legal, and bicycles and sun glasses banned as being too modern.  

There were few roads or schools, which the new Sultan made as his first priority.  His benevolence is reflected in his people.  From my first encounter with the Omanis at the border I have encountered nothing but a rare graciousness and kindliness.  There was no wait or fuss or charge for my visa, my easiest border crossing ever.  Nor was there any air of suspicion or wariness that is that badge of most border officials, just a most friendly welcome.  And so I have been treated by all I've encountered ever since.

My only complaint has been the difficulty of finding WIFI.  The first several towns along the coast had computer stores but no one providing WIFI until I was over sixty miles into the country at the large port city of Sohar.  Its McDonald's didn't have WIFI, but a coffee shop at a large mall a mile down the road did.  When I tried to sign on a message came up that I had to have a cell phone.  One of the employees let me use his number, to which a code was sent, that I had to enter.  He had no qualms whatsoever about obliging me.

It was another seventy miles before I came to another town with WIFI.  Though I was able to sign on, it was so slow that after fifteen minutes I had been unable to download anything.  I had left the built-up coastal corridor and its hectic four-lane divided highway and had ventured into the quiet, rugged, largely vacant mountainous interior.  At least it wasn't as harshly arid as I anticipated.  It has had a few paltry streams so far, one of which flowed across the road.  I feared leaving the coast and its beaches, I would be hard pressed to find adequate water for dousing myself. But a couple of these streams flowed with enough water that I have been able to wash my clothes and give myself a good rinse.

I climbed up onto a plateau and had stunning peaks all around me.

Small villages had small grocery stores.  I finally was able to buy some dates, one of the primary agricultural products of Oman.  They were packaged, rather than loose in the fruit and vegetable section.  I have yet to come upon an outdoor market or any street vendors.  Though the temperatures are pleasant now, just in the 80s, they might be too extreme a good part of the year for outdoor sales.  

I am as much of a curiosity as ever.  People ask to take my picture, young and old alike, though just men, as woman are hardly seen.  Men even predominate doing the shopping at the supermarket.  And the vast majority are clothed in robes that are sparkling white, as if they are washed every day keeping the woman folk plenty busy.  The few women I have seen are generally all decked out in black.

After this gentleman had a bystander take a picture of us with his phone, I had him do another with my iPad.  He directed me to a coffee shop with WIFI a mile up the road.  He was there when I arrived and paid for my orange juice.  As we sat waiting for my IPad to stop swirling and retrieve something, he asked, "Are you German or British?"

When I told him "American," he said, "Ah, America is very, very good."  So far everyone has reacted with equal enthusiasm and more than a bit of surprise.I have received more friendly toots from passing motorists than anywhere I have biked.  So far no one has pulled over and jumped out wanting to take my picture or offer me a drink or food, as happens elsewhere.  When it does here, I won't be alarmed that the person might have other motives, as I thought I would have been.

The camping has been as easy as the people have been friendly.  Last night I went down a dirt road for half a mile and had utter peace and quiet.


Laura Bentz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Bentz said...

Again, amazing landscape! I love the photos. So glad you ate blogging this!

BFDeal said...

As always, thanks for taking us along on your travels. Stay safe and keep up the stories! BF