Oh, man! We’re in Oman

Had a bit of a lie-in this morning, until 8.00am in fact, because we weren’t due to arrive in Muscat, Oman until 12:00 noon. Oman would be our 83rd country visited.  😊

We went out onto our balcony and noticed that, despite a latitude that was only just outside the Tropics, it was cooler than we’d expected, and a brisk breeze was blowing.  We quickly washed and got ourselves ready, then went up to the Ocean View self-service restaurant for our breakfast.  Afterwards, we decided to explore the Constellation some more, so we went right up to Deck 11, the topmost deck, where we found lots of little hidden nooks with tables and chairs, where passengers could sit out and enjoy the views and the sunshine.  At the Rooftop Terrace, a large open-air plasma TV screen was showing a wildlife documentary depicting corals and colourful fish, but the few members of the ‘audience’ dotted here and there on sun loungers were reading or napping, and largely ignoring it.  Apparently, films are shown here under the stars; I would imagine that would be quite pleasant, although it might be difficult to hear over the sounds of the sea.

At 10:15am we decided to go along to the morning trivia quiz in the Rendez-Vous lounge, and I took along some kumihimo to do while I was waiting.  The quiz-mistress was a vivacious girl called Gigi who was from Montenegro, and she had 15 questions for us.

We didn’t really do very well, only scoring nine points.  This was probably because some of the questions were based around American TV shows and celebrities, who we hadn’t heard of.  It passed the time pleasantly enough however.

We then decided to go for a coffee and watched the looming land in the distance; it looked fairly rugged and mountainous.  Indeed, Oman has a lot of mountains and fjords, especially around the Khasab area, and is known as the “Norway of the Middle East”.

At around 11.00am we reached our pilot station and awaited our turn to make it into our berth.  Then at midday we were alongside and moored up.  We would remain here until eight o’clock tonight.

The Port of Sultan Qaboos in the capital of Muscat looked to be a busy place, with vehicles going to and fro and a couple of ships moored up opposite.  When I say “ships” however, they were more like mega-yachts, probably only holding a couple of hundred passengers.  That is if, indeed, they were passenger vessels and not some private luxury yachts; Oman is, after all, a very rich place.

At noon we ate a light lunch and went up to the Rooftop Terrace to look around.  We could hear an imam wailing from a nearby mosque, and a few seconds later another one joined in the discordant sound.  Then we returned to our cabin, gathered camera, cruise cards, money, immigration cards and made our way to the Celebrity Lounge to await the call for our excursion, which happened almost straight away.

Disembarking the Constellation, we walked across the tarmac to the waiting nearby buses; we were allocated bus # 5.  Our guide introduced himself as Sayid, and wore the customary long white Arab robe, called a dishdasha, as well as the round embroidered hat called a kuma.  He also showed us how to tie the traditional Arab turban, called a msarr, and explained a little about the Muslim religion, saying that it was good if you were a man, but not so good if you were a woman, for which he apologised.  😊

Our bus made its way through the busy streets and Sayid explained how Oman had been built as it is today starting in the early 1970s, when the OPEC nations got together and decided on a minimum price for oil.  Since then, the evidence of wealth can be seen all over the UAE and its neighbouring countries.

Our first stop today was at another mosque, but we were not going inside this afternoon as it was only open to the public in the morning.  The mosque was opened in 2006 and took six years to build.  It contained five minarets which represented the five pillars of Islam.

Despite me wearing appropriate dress then, it seemed that a lot of the others on our bus hadn’t bothered.  There were lots of immaculate green lawns and beautiful topiary and colourful flower-beds outside the mosque, and the air was heavy with their scent.

Just then, we noticed some police cars pull up outside in the road, where our bus was parked.  The policemen got out and started telling the bus drivers to move along!  So our bus took off and, once everyone was back with Sayid at the allocated time, he had to use his mobile phone to call our driver and ask him to come back.  After a few minutes bus #5 reappeared, and we all piled back on.  Once we were on the road again, Sayid came round with bottles of cold mineral water for us.

We arrived into the town and Sayid told us we had some free time (an hour) to look around the shops, pavement cafés (no bars!!) and the indoor souk.  After using the loo, we went into the souk and looked with interest at the colourful stalls and shop fronts.  Merchants stood outside, trying to entice us into their store and showing us pashminas, scarves, bags, embroidered tops and dresses and hand-made jewellery.  I eventually bought a pair of cotton harem pants in a black and white pattern decorated with elephants, and a couple of fridge magnets.  The whole lot came to $10.00, so it worked out at just over a fiver for the trousers.  😊

Afterwards we decided to go for a cup of coffee so Trevor got some Omani rials out of a nearby ATM, and we went into a little upstairs café.  It took quite a while to come, as the place was busy, so we only had about 15 minutes to drink it.  Then it was back onto the bus for the next stop, which was the Omani heritage centre and museum.  Inside it had portraits of the various Sultans over the years, including His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id, the current sultan, who had been the country’s leader since 1970.  He is now nearly 78 years old and, according to Sayid, not in particularly good health.

We wandered around the museum, looking at the exhibits and the coin and stamp collections, and the types of traditional Arab dress for men and women, as well as a tableau of an Arab wedding, in which the groom carries the large curved ceremonial dagger, called a khanjar, in his belt.

We finished the tour off by going to the Sultan’s palace, and standing outside the distinctive blue and gold façade.  By now it was after 5.00pm and the sun hung low in the sky; I think it sets around 5.30pm this time of year.  We were only just outside of the tropics, but at some point during the evening/night, we would cross the Tropic of Cancer at 23˚ 27’ north.

We arrived back at the port around quarter to six, but instead of going back on board immediately we (along with quite a few others on our bus) walked over the road to where a large duty-free store was advertising a wifi hotspot.  It wasn’t free, however, you had to pay to connect, so we decided against it.  There was nothing we wanted to buy in the duty free so we just made our way back on board.

We got washed and changed and decided to go up to the self-service restaurant, the Ocean View, where they were having an Asian buffet.  We enjoyed a selection of Indian foods washed down with a cold beer each.  Then we went up to the Reflections lounge on Deck 11 where they were holding a “Wheel of Fortune” contest; as Gigi, the host, said there was no wheel and no fortune, but the questions were in the same style where it gave a clue (e.g. a famous person) the number of words and letters, and added extra letters in if people were stuck.  Trevor and I guess four correctly and were joint winners with two other couples, so we collected a couple of prize tokens each to trade in at the end of the cruise.

Then we went along to the Celebrity Theatre and took our ‘usual’ seat in the second row centre for tonight’s entertainment, which was a singer.

The singer was a vivacious girl called Monique Dehaney, and she hailed from the beautiful sunny island of Jamaica.  She was a great singer with lots of personality, and she got all the audience joining in with her rendition of Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song:

“Come Mister Tally Man, tally my bananas
Daylight come and me want to go home”

It was a really great show and we enjoyed it a lot.

When we came out of the show lounge, we were met with the strange phenomenon of people dancing around the ship, although we couldn’t hear any music.  It was Celebrity’s “Silent Disco” – people were issued with stereo headphones through which they could hear the music and dance to it, as well as sing along, but no-one without the headphones could hear the music.  It really was quite amusing to see people bopping away, in the bars and casino and stairways, with no apparent music.  😊

We finished the evening off by going to the Rendez-Vous Lounge and watching the resident band, the J.Beam Band, do their tribute to the Beatles.  We had intended only stopping for one or two drinks and getting an early night, but we got talking to Dave and Alison at the bar, so we stopped for a couple more.  By now I could feel an ominous thickening and tickling at the back of my throat, so it was obvious I was heading for a cold, no doubt caught from Mrs Cough-a-Lot on the flight out.

It was after midnight when we returned to cabin 6098 where we settled down after opening the balcony doors to let in the fresh sea air.

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