Monday, February 16, 2015

Oman Miscellania

Where are all the camels?  In two weeks I've only come upon three of them, quite a contrast to my time in the Sinai a few years ago when stray camels were a common site.  Of those I've encountered here,  the first was semi-tame in a small preserve along the road out in the desert of Dubai.  It was being petted and fed by a few tourists.  The next was crouched, lashed down in the back of a pick-up truck in Oman.  The third was staked down in a field about fifty miles north of Muscat.  I didn't see him at first, as he was laying down.  It was dusk and I was looking for a place to camp.  I was in Oman's prime agricultural belt with small fields of shoulder-high corn.  The camel saw me before I saw him.  I only noticed him as he rose to his feet.  Camping in this field with a camel suddenly became all the more alluring.  But then a noticed a couple of field hands in the distance who had spotted me.  That made me push on until I found a more secluded spot.

I've had even less luck with seeing an oryx, no surprise, as they are much more elusive and not so common.  They are a regular site though on bus stops and also as a symbol of one of the gas station chains.

Gas stations are always a welcome site, as their wash rooms provide water for soaking my shirt and neckerchief and pouring over my head.  They provide a variety of cold drinks too.  Sodas are a bargain, going for as little as a quarter, about the same as a liter of gas at the pump.  I usually pay more for a premium drink of mango juice or strawberry milk.  Not so premium is mango Tang, though it more than serves the purpose of flavoring my water and making it palatable when it reaches a temperature that doesn't encourage me to imbibe much.  A little flavor helps me down a bottle of urine-temp fluid in no time.

Also among my reserves are a pound or so of dates.  If I keep munching them I have no worries of running low on energy.  In the old days Bedouins needed no more than dates and camel's milk to survive in the desert for days.  I'm fortunate that I haven't been in need of camel's milk, as it is said to be quite sour and can turn one's stomach.

Lately I've been filling my water bottles at mosques.  They always have a long row of faucets, so that those coming to pray can wash their hands and feet and splash some water on their face.  And nearby are usually three or four faucets attached to a tank of purified refrigerated water for drinking, often with a cup for those who prefer a receptacle to scooping a handful into their mouth.

The last two days while I've been hanging out along the coast near where the first two stages will be finishing I've scouted out sources of water.  A nice little oasis of a park across the road from a marina provided shade and water for washing and also an electric outlet.   A couple miles away a mosque provided drinking water.  Another source for drinking water was the nearby presidential palace.  The palace was grand and majestic without being ostentatious, fully in keeping with the traditional architecture that continues to predominate here.  This is an Arabic country that hasn't buckled to the skyscraper.

Beds of flowers and stretches of grass are its only exterior concession to the times.

A few miles down the coast was a second palace at Al Bustan, where stage two will finish.  It too was a stunning, sprawling monument with the stark, rugged terrain as a backdrop.

In front of it was a huge roundabout with the wooden dhow, the traditional sailing vessel of the Omanis, that noted adventurer Tim Severin used to sail to China from Oman in 1980 with a crew of Omanis--a journey of nearly 4,000 miles that took eight months.

Oman abounds with roundabouts, maybe explaining why The Tour de France organization wished to sponsor a race here.

Even as I've been largely hanging out these past two days, resting my legs and conserving energy, I have failed to attract any youth.  They are all diligently attending school.  The small goat herds out in the desert aren't even attended by young herders as is customary in similar such habits.  The goats are left to wander on their own, trusted to return to their owners for food and drink.  Just about anywhere else I have traveled I would have had young boys pestering me for a water bottle.  They see the three mounted to my bike and don't think I need them all.  They'd be positively demanding if they saw my present bike with an extra eight or nine extra bottles lashed to my panniers.  Some places boys wouldn't ask, they'd just try to grab.   There is not a hint of that here.  

I can go into a hypermarket and leave my bike unattended for fifteen minutes or more and have no concern that someone might appropriate a bottle or two.  The only two kids who have approached me only wanted to shake my hand.  From the helpful adults to the respectful kids, Oman has been a most gracious place to travel, on a par with Japan for the politeness and niceness of the people. 

I've met quite a few Omanis who have studied in Europe and the US.  They have all enjoyed their time there, but have had no desire to immigrate.  There are no significant communities of Omanis in the US, as they enjoy their country too much to want to leave, despite the blistering summer temperatures.  These seem to be a rare contented, untroubled people.  I am fortunate that the Sultan has chosen to sponsor a bike race that drew me to his country.  Many more should come.  And tomorrow the racing commences.  I am eager and ready.  I have a campsite staked out in a small arroyo behind some trees less than two miles from the hotel I stayed at two nights ago.

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