I arrived in Salalah mid-evening on a Thursday night so that I could see Salalah in two days, but then I decided to take in easy for Friday morning catch up on email, write and rest. After a restful evening at the Hilton Salalah, I woke up again ready for a beach day, but again the weather was not going to cooperate. The riyah wind was sweeping through town on the same storm that Brice was seeing now in Bahrain and that Sulaiman had warned me about in Muscat. This made it hard to be active outside on my trip to Salalah in two days. I also fit in another visit to the gym, which felt good to get back on track, now two days in a row.
Here’s a view from my balcony which shows how hard the wind is blowing – and no, it’s not that cold out.
I had some tea and a few pieces of fruit that the Hilton had welcomed me with the previous night, but didn’t want to fill up because I had planned to meet Reggie (the Filipino man I met on the flight to Salalah the previous evening) for dinner at 6PM on Ittin mountain. I had arranged with my taxi driver from the previous day as well to take me to the Haffa Suq at 3PM, and then drive me up the mountain. We had negotiated 15 OMR for my first outing on my trip to Salalah in two days.
Mohammed Mohammed (the driver) picked me up right on time and gave me a quick city tour since the Salalah suq was of course closed until 4PM (which I had already accounted for in my strategy, but he was not aware that I knew this). He drove me by a bunch of fruit stalls and asked if I wanted to have a coconut or some bananas (which I declined, because I don’t actually like coconut water and I had just eaten a banana). To which he replied something to the effect of “Who doesn’t like coconut water?” Which is, incidentally, exactly the way I feel when people want me to buy frankincense (which I hate) – “Who doesn’t like frankincense?” Sorry, me.
Then he drove me around the Sultan Qaboos Palace (the one in Salalah, not to be confused with the other gargantuan one in Muscat) and the mosque, which were actually nice to see, and finally dropped me off around the suq at 330PM. He said he would wait around and get me when I was ready (which I tried to pre-arrange at 530PM). I wandered around in an increasingly unpleasant dusty, sandy, wind which pretty much efficiently found every orifice in my body in short order (so glad I had taken a shower right before I left). I walked down to the beach and enjoyed the Arabian and Indian Ocean confluence, and also enjoyed watching other tourists trying to enjoy it as well.
The beach was right next to the palace, and every so often a guard would shout at the young men who were positioned along the guard gate to move off of it. There were several Chinese tourists taking selfies as well. The water was beautiful despite the whitecaps and roughness from the inhospitable weather, and I was already enjoying my brief visit to Salalah in two days.
The driver probably thought I was an idiot, and here and there he would pop in and say hello as I literally walked around doing nothing but killing time (which was actually my plan). My secret plan was to scope out the suq while it was closed so I could most efficiently figure out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to buy.
Once the suq opened, I started investigated further, and then came back to the main square for a break.
Mohammed found me and I guess he decided that I needed help, so he pulled me back in to the suq and asked me what I wanted to buy. I told him that I wanted to buy the keffiyas (the Omani hats), so he took me to a few shops and I examined the hats, determining that they were all machine made and probably not made in Oman. I explained a few times what I was looking for and he finally got it, and then he started asking around in Arabic for exactly what I wanted. It turned out to be extremely helpful.
I ended up buying two for 9 OMR from a Bangladeshi who *swore* they were 100% handmade in Salalah, and Mohammed agreed. Mohammed also helped negotiate for me. He did way more than I wanted or needed him to and the method was heavy handed and sloppy, but the outcome was great.
He pressed me to buy some frankincense, because, “Who doesn’t love frankincense?” See previous paragraph for my answer. I did eventually pick some up the next day at the hotel simply to bring back and show people what it was, because you can’t see Salalah in two days without buying frankincense.
Then, I sat down for some tea at the restaurant. Mohammed joined me, and talked to some other people around us. A guy behind me asked me caught my attention and said something like “Trump good!”, after which he flashed a thumbs up sign. I later learned (and this is kind of hilarious) that the word drump in Arabic means the water tank on the top of a house. So a lot of the Omanis pronounced Trump like drump because of this coincidence, which confused me in the beginning but then made me smile.
Soon after, a group of 20 something young Omani men sat down next to me, and eventually worked up the courage to engage me in conversation. It turns out they were the first Obama supporters I had met in the Middle East, and they thought Trump would be bad for the world. Then they asked me about how expensive it would be to get to the US and stay for 2 weeks, and specifically visit Las Vegas. They were shocked when I told them $2000, and not including the plane flight. I might have inadvertently dashed their hopes and dreams. But, then I told them about AirBnB and how it could help them save money and meet local Americans, and they were happy again J
They asked me about my work – and the line of questioning (on three separate occasions) goes like this:
- “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m in technology”
- “IT?” “Yes, IT”
- “Government or company?” “Company”
- “Are you a manager?” “Sure”
Apparently this was like a litmus test of sorts for classifying me.
After tea, Mohammed again asked me if I wanted to buy frankincense or at least a type of digestion cleanser they had in large bins in the suq. He gave some for me to try and it quite possibly the worst thing I had ever put it in my mouth (sorry Tarek, I know you like this stuff!). It was gummy and waxy and stuck to me teeth for the next two hours, and had a weird floral taste that kind of tasted like soap. It might have actually been frankincense (joke’s on me!).
Then, Mohammed drove me up to Ittin mountain, and as we drove further and further up the mountain, the price we had previously negotiated kept rising with the altitude. I also learned on the drive up that he was also an Obama supporter, and liked his progressiveness. He did not like Trump either. Mohammed was 33. So what I can conclude so far is that most young people (under 35) seem to like Obama and not Trump, with the exception of the young Saudi businessman Brice and I met in Bahrain (which is an anomaly I can only explain by perhaps his profession).
Reggie failed to tell me where exactly to meet him with the extremely non-specific directions of “at the restaurant with shisha on Ittin mountain”. Well, that narrowed in down to three, which took us an hour to investigate. The first one was park of Ittin Park, and it did not look that great, and nobody was there. The second one looked good, but Reggie was not there. I borrowed the manager’s Wi-Fi to try to Facebook message Reggie since of course I had not had the foresight to get his phone number. I told him where I was at “Al Madiyah” but he didn’t message me back. So, we journeyed onward for 15 more minutes through screaming wind and dust to the final restaurant identified on the hard copy map I had picked up from the Hilton that apparently had no sense of true distance. It was totally empty and clear that Reggie did not mean this one. Mohammed invited me to sit down and order tea, but I made the executive decision to return to restaurant #2, which was decidedly the best, and try to salvage the evening. As it turns out, Reggie never made it (he said he couldn’t find a taxi who was willing to drive up the mountain). But, I ended up having a nice time either way, trying to spend my Salalah in two days time wisely.
Here’s a view of the restaurant from inside, with a weird mix of Filipinos and Arabs:
The manager of the restaurant, who had graciously tethered me to his phone for Wi-Fi earlier, was Egyptian and on top of that a Professor of Mathematics. Hi name was Aly. So we reminisced about Cairo and talked about Oman and the Mohammed and Aly started talking about some business. All this while I was having a shisha and sharing a chicken sandwich and fries with Mohammed (with tea of course).
We wrapped up by 8PM and the total bill only came to 3.5 OMR, so I left a 5, thanked Aly for his hospitality and Mohammed brought me back down the mountain to the Hilton. The total fare was 25 OMR. He was skilled and I was tired.
So basically the lesson is don’t expect people you just meet on an airplane to hold to their commitments, but that good things can still come of these flake situations if you shake it off and move on. It was, however, an expensive lesson – $80 and 4 hours – though my journey to Salalah in two days was off to a semblance of a good start.
I was back at the hotel by 830PM and was actually quite hungry (having not eaten very much at the shisha place, partially to not want to make Mohammed feel uncomfortable about me paying), so I ordered some room service – a Greek salad and a mezza platter. The food at the Hilton has actually been quite delicious and reasonably priced for a resort, and the service has been impeccable. Even though everyone says that the Hilton is old and that the best hotel in town is the Rotana and the Al Baleed, the Hilton has the best service (everyone agrees on that as well).
I was feeling slightly annoyed due to the events of the day including the awful weather (but still proud of myself of turning it around for a great trip to Salalah in two days), and was glad to be going to bed early and getting a full 8 hours. The next day again would be a full one – meeting a guide at 10AM to go south towards Yemen and see all there was to see. And then fly to Qatar late night.