On our last day in Muscat, we hired a driver to take us around because we were short on time. We initially met Amir through a man at the souk who sold my friend a beautiful, decorative wooden door. Amir passed us along to his brother, Talal. Both were super friendly, helpful and most importantly, safe drivers which was a nice change from the crazy and unpredictable taxi drivers in Dubai. In Muscat, taxi drivers are Omani which gives you a good opportunity to learn about the local culture, unlike in Dubai where you would never, ever catch an Emirati driving a taxi.
Neither of them would give us any idea how much we should pay. “Just pay what you think, don’t worry.” I have discovered since living here how much I love a printed price tag. I don’t like the uncertain feeling you get when you have no idea how much something is worth, and you’re trying to buy it from someone who wants to get as much money out of you as possible. The guys in the souk can sniff out my weakness in price haggling in 1/2 a second (even when I think I’m being really firm). Their persistence plus my inability to convert currencies in my head quickly equals one flustered experience. In the case of the driver, we really wanted to pay what was fair, but he refused to engage in any discussion at all, which was equally as frustrating! In the end, I think Talal was happy with what we paid, but who knows.
Our first stop was the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Like the mosque in Abu Dhabi, it is grand and ornate, complete with an enormous, hand-knotted carpet and sparkly chandeliers. It definitely has a different vibe than the Abu Dhabi mosque though, and it was interesting to see this different perspective.
I debated if I should even include the interior shots because the lighting and quality of the pictures are so poor and really do a disservice to how pretty it actually is. I decided to keep them, just to give you an idea of what it looks like.
We really wanted to go to Nizwa, but didn’t have enough time before we had to catch our flight. Instead, we went to see a nicely restored fort in Nakhal, about one hour outside of Muscat.
I’m a sucker for these pretty views from windows, contrasted with the shadowy interior of the fort:
By the time we finished in Nakhal, it was about lunch time and we had a bit of time before catching our flight. We asked Talal to take us to an authentic Omani or Arabic restaurant. He took us to a place in Muscat where you sat in little rooms on the floor and ate communally with your hands.
My friend (Chelsea) and I asked Talal to order for all of us and then tentatively waited for him to show us what to do when the food arrived. He said we were welcome to use silverware, but that food tastes a lot better when eaten with your hands. When in Rome…. so we ate with our hands. Out came a little salad without one utensil in sight. Oh boy, here we go. I’ve eaten food with my hands before, but only when aided by some type of bread to help pick up the food (Ethiopian style, for example) so I was a bit uncomfortable. I remembered reading that you shouldn’t eat anything with your left hand, as Muslims consider that hand dirty (because, well, that hand is reserved for unclean things related to bodily hygiene.) I was just telling my friend the night before how I never, ever use my left hand for eating. Pff. Nope. Not me. That’s one thing I don’t have to worry about. As I munched on a cucumber at lunch, Chelsea was sending me some rather awkward looking signals. Me: “Huh? What? Why are you grumbling?” As it turned out, guess which hand my cucumber was in? You guessed it! Ugh!
The meal was rice, lamb on the bone and some type of little salsa, all spread out on the floor on a piece of plastic wrap. (yes, this is my Tex-Mex interpretation of the little sauce, but it truly was like a Mexican salsa – tomato based with a bit of heat.) Talal poured some salsa on the rice, covered it up with more rice, tore a bit of lamb off and then somehow, without dropping one morsel of rice, managed to get the whole thing in his mouth without looking obscene.
I tried, and failed, bite after bite, to gracefully get the rice in my mouth. I was too busy wrapped up in my own self-consciousness to notice how Chelsea fared, but by the little trail of evidence on our side of the plastic, I don’t think she did much better than I. (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Chels! 🙂 )
I can’t say I enjoyed every bite. The food was tasty, but there were too many other things going on (like rice dribbling down my chin) for me to truly enjoy it. We really appreciated Talal’s hospitality though and it was a fun (and funny) experience. He even paid for our meal which we thought was super generous and kind.
After that, it was back to the airport and back to reality. The trip came full circle as the Sultan bid as farewell at our gate, just as he had greeted us at the hotel.
We loved Oman and I look forward to our next visit there.