Since our last blog, a more visual record than a commentary on our activities here in Oman, Joy and I have been busy hosting colleagues from Qatari Cognition days, doing a bit of touring and making decisions about our time in Oman.
We are now in the process of deciding what to do and where to go come the end of January. There are possibilities but they are, at present, merely possibilities than probabilities. If nothing comes up immediately we will make use of our Irish citizenship and head to the UK for a stint of relief teaching until the summer break.
In the meantime, in Oman over the UAE National day break our friends, Neville and Colin, from our time in Qatar, drove down from Abu Dhabi to explore the Dhakaliya region of Oman and, briefly, Peter and Lorraine Rocha, with their son, Johannes, from Otahuhu days dropped in on their way back from visiting Muscat and coastal Oman to Al Ain.
With Neville and Colin we explored Jabreen Castle, the Al Hoota cave complex, revisited the living museum at Al Hamra, attempted a drive up Jabel Shams and enjoyed, as you can see on the video, watching the local men perform traditional songs and dances in the Nizwa Fort courtyard.
Joy and I had attempted a visit to Jabreen Castle several weeks before only to find it closed so this time we were all greatly pleased to discover the doors wide open and the custodian ready to take our money and let us in to tour the complex.
The Castle is a fortified mansion house set in the middle of a wadi and date palms while giving the inhabitants a panoramic view of the gravel plains that make up the desert in the Bahla area. It was built by Ya’ruba Imam Bil’ arub bin Sultan in 1688 as a fortress residence for the Imam as well as a college of Islamic studies.
The castle has a second floor stable for the Imam’s favourite horse, dungeons, secret passages, false floors and escape routes as well as the Imam’s tomb.
The castle was besieged by the Imam’s brother, Saif bin Sultan, in 1692 and was largely ignored until 1822-24 when it was used as a headquarters during the civil war. It is now a popular tourist site.
The village of Al Hamra has a semi occupied mud-brick traditional village that appears to be undergoing a planned restoration to give visitors an indication of how the village would have looked and felt like when it housed a population of over 17,000. The working museum, Bait Assfah, there is one of the high points of a visit to Oman. It is a 400 year old three storey mud brick house in which the owners have recreated the activities of traditional Omani family life with demonstrations of extracting oil from horse radish bulbs, weaving, bread making and coffee roasting, grinding and preparation well explained by an enthusiastic young guide and her school aged nephews.
From there we headed up the gorge to the Wadi Nakhr Gorge and Jebel Shams. Jebel Shams is the highest point in Oman at 3000 metres. To reach the peak entails a drive up a switchback road that winds its way up and around the mountain side and along ridges that, for an experienced driver of the route, would be a doddle but, for me, was a tense exercise in willing the van up the mountainside as my vertigo kept kicking in each time my peripheral vision picked up the drop off down the mountainside. I decided 2/3rds of the way up that I was pushing my luck driving any further so turned back to await the chance to get to the top with some one more knowledgeable of the road driving us up.
We had read of a rock covered with neolithic carvings on the outskirts of Al Hamra so, on the way home, we went looking for it.
If it hadn’t been for Neville’s sighting of a sign pointing into the scrub and across a wadi to Hasat bin Sult we would have missed finding it. We headed off in the direction the sin indicated and found the rock, identified by a sign saying it was an historic site, sitting below the cliff face. We prowled around the rock for several minutes looking for the carvings of men, women and children done by our neolithic ancestors the guide book had described. Uncertain of what we were looking for, or where-abouts on the rock they were we failed to recognise the carvings but did discover a scratched drawing of a man on a horse near the base of the rock.
Neville and Colin survived the return to Abu Dhabi on the Sunday, apparently avoiding being hit by cars practising such safe driving techniques as overtaking on corners and competing for the passing the greatest number of cars and trucks on a straight competition that seems to be regarded as a necessary qualification on the road.