When the alarm went off at 7am, we were already on the dock in Salalah, the second city of Oman, and its port in the deep south. We were excited to be spending the day here and we were out on tour. Salalah has been inhabited since very, very ancient times. The old city along the sea, which is in ruins, is a UNESCO world heritage site. The Queen of Sheba, alive in Solomon’s time, came from this region and her palace can be seen. The prophet Job is said to be buried here, certainly there is a tomb believed to be his. The city’s fame is as a result of it’s position at the crossroads of ancient trade routes used to bring spice, silks and frankincense to the Mediterranean and beyond. Frankincense is the most famous product of the region. It is harvested from the sap of the frankincense tree, which becomes crystalline as it hardens. There are many frankincense trees here, giving Salalah the name, Land of Frankincense. This alone made it hugely exciting for me because I really love the smell of frankincense, the incense of old churches….. I definitely wanted to buy it in as many forms as possible.
After breakfast, we met up with our tour group and disembarked. Our guide was a very earnest young Omani, immaculate in his white robes and head-dress. The ship was berthed in a pretty ugly, if massive, container port, about 10km outside Salalah itself. The surrounding country is stark and harsh, rock desert, backed by long ridges of mountains, close to the shore. The hinterland here is called The Empty Zone, and for good reason. One thing that makes Salalah unique in Oman is that it is subject to the monsoon, which comes in July and August and turns the desert green. There is a beauty to it even in the dry season, stark rock cliffs contrasting to the blue of the sea. It reminded me of the Sinai desert back in the 1980s before it got built up, and also Baja California on the Sea of Cortez.
Our first stop was a beautiful beach backed by weirdly weathered cliffs and caves which contain blow holes at high states of the tide. Sadly, we were not there to see them blow! However, we enjoyed the walk along the almost deserted beach. Beaches here are often designated “foreign” or “Omani” in order to not offend anyone’s sensibilities. The coast looked spectacular, much more so than Dubai. Natural white sand, clear, very warm sea, and those mountains adding interest behind…..
We saw lots of camels along the way. As I mentioned before they all belong to someone, as do the cows and goats we also saw. Camels are used for many purposes in Oman including for meat and for milk. Camel milk is very popular apparently.
Our second stop was at Sheikh Qaboos (the King of Oman)’s palace. He was born in Salalah, as was his mother, and he has spent a lot of time at the palace here. It was very evident from our guide, how very highly esteemed the King is. He has literally transformed the country in the last 50 years, turning it from a very run down, primitive place, to a modern thriving country that offers a compassionate lifestyle to all. Very impressive. We could only see the palace from the outside unfortunately but like everywhere else here, it was immaculate. It was so noticeable that Oman is incredibly clean. We didn’t see a single piece of litter all day.
Next we visited the Museum. This was on the edge of the UNESCO site and extremely modern and interactive. One of the halls dealt with the maritime history of Oman, the cultural tradition of seafaring and dhow building. The other hall showed archaeological items found dating from 6000 years BC through to modern times. Of course the frankincense trade was heavily featured. Omanis use frankincense not only for incense and scent, but also for medicinal purposes, in creams and medicines and drinks. We enjoyed our visit, and found some local geese there too by the creek.
Finally, we visited the souk, the main one of the area. Only half of it was there because the government are demolishing it as they open a huge new souk. Anyway, this was the best part of the day for me. Soooo many frankincense and perfume stalls……. It was impossible to know where to buy and what to choose. I kept dabbing perfumed oils and spraying perfume – until I could actually no longer smell it at all. Even Bob had to be sprayed! Finally, I bought several bottles of frankincense perfume, a burner and a kilo of frankincense crystals. I’m going to take them to Cyprus when we go out in the summer. It’ll be lovely to burn it out there.
We got back to the ship at about 130. It had been boiling all morning. So hot. We were glad to strip off in the cool of the cabin and get our swimming things on under coverups. Went up to the buffet and had a big plate of sushi and sashimi. Then out to the aft pool for lots of swimming and sunbathing. It was so hot, we had to keep getting in the water. The hottest day we’ve had so far.
The ship sailed at about 430. We are following the secured shipping lane now and will make a super fast passage up towards Aqaba over the next 48 hours or so. The ship will be travelling at around 23kn which is definitely faster than usual. Apparently she could do 27 if necessary.
Tonight we ate with our table companions, a very jovial evening as usual. Afterwards Bob and I went to the theatre show which was a pop opera quartet of British ladies called Aida. They were very good without being spectacular, but very enjoyable. We always enjoy the live shows.