Friday 6 June 2008

Oman: somewhere down south

The GPS was crammed full of exciting new routes as we headed out for a few days in the south of Oman Our destination was Ras Madrakah, a small fishing village approximately two-thirds of the way down the country.

The 600km journey on route 33 whizzed past relatively quickly, punctuated briefly by a sandwich break at the turning to Masirah and the occasional tinkle stop - not easy without bushes or trees. Special open desert strategies had to be developed. A few moments after the Masriah rest, Mrs M received a phone call from a friend who knew we intended to camp. There was a storm in the Arabian Sea working its way northward from Salalah. Oh super. The sky became cloudier and the horizon hazier.

Six hours after leaving Muscat, we arrived at Ras Madrakah and headed along the beach. Heavy cloud, strong winds and a violent foaming sea suggested this was not the time to camp. The only alternative was to continue to Salalah – almost another 600km.

The planned route from Madrakah took us through the oil fields via Haytam and Marmul to Thumrayt. At least there was something to look at to break the monotony of empty desert and the sound of
Mrs M's 'Best of the Beach Boys' CD. Despite the enormous 180 litre fuel tank on the Prado, a sensible refuelling strategy earlier in the day proved wise, as (ironically) there are very few petrol stations in this part of the country.It was getting dark as we approached Thumrayt. Not long to go, we thought. The 60km stretch of road to Salalah is mostly under construction and unlit, except for the occasional line of orange boiled sweets (representing cat's eyes) in the middle of the road to assist the motorist. The GPS breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled into the Crowne Plaza car park. It had worked hard for 1200km.

We opened the car door and experienced all 84% of Salalah's humidity in
contrast to the fridge-like conditions inside the car. The hotel looked like a 1960s English seaside holiday camp - complete with pink paint and empty fountain. The check-in procedure was lengthened by discussions about additional charges on our pre-paid bill which have to be discussed with the manager tomorrow as he was off duty. We walked along musty corridors dripping with moisture to flop in our room.

We were peckish. The main restaurant looked, quite frankly, depressing with several bored staff outnumbering the four diners. The hotel bar was equally quiet, but it had something long and cold in glass. Ominously, a chap sat in a murky corner twiddling knobs and moments later, two slinky girls wearing the minimum amount of clothing to remain decent, entered the stage to sing to six customers.
The throng increased a while later when three local boys entered the bar and sat at a table within arm's reach of the girls' song sheets. Audience figures plummeted as we sneaked out during a tune.

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