Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Camels, goats, farms, forts and Socceroos

Wow  what a weekend we had a week ago now.  Thankfully it was announced a couple of days ago that this weekend is a long one - four days, yay we can relax!

Last Wednesday night we went to our Arabic lessons and then set out for the wilds of the interior - in this case a village called Adam, around 230 kilometers from Muscat.  So after stopping for dinner, a map and well a GPS (hey going out of town gave gadget guy an opportunity) a couple of very tired people arrived an Adam, to be met by Sultan (who you may remember as the guy that shepherded us through our first days here).

Adam is his home town and on the weekends he lives in a house across the road from his parents and sister (one of many siblings) with his wife, son and youngest brother.  The house is quite large and we were escorted upstairs to the guest room where we quickly unpacked and after saying the obligatory greetings collapsed into bed and sleep.

Sultan's house has two front doors one for men and the other for women.  The men's door opens directly into a rather large Majlis - that's entertainment room to you.  The walls are fully lined with sofa's and they have one of the biggest flat screen tv's on offer.  The women's room is off to the side of the entrance and is a bit smaller (a fraction of the size) and has a smaller tv and lacks the gigantic sofa.

Over the weekend I met the male half of Sultan's family and Katrina met some of the male side and the women.

Katrina inspecting the waters
Anyway on Thursday the three of us set out for a tour of Adam. It is a farming village, village being a misnomer really, but there are date farms everywhere. A large part of the reason for this is the long established Fallaj - or aqueduct system.  The system is fed from acquifers and has been in use in one form or another for around 4000 years I am told.

On our journey through Adam we stopped at the clock that controls the Fallaj.  Well sundial really, the day is broken up into half hour blocks and each farm is allocated a watering time, which lasts for 2 hours. As the sun approaches the correct mark a little man jumps on his bicycle and pedals off to start the water flowing. He knows when to leave because the men stand around discussing just where to put the palm strand so that he can get to the farm at the same time as the sundial says go.

Fallaj control system
Funnily enough the men standing around the sundial were related to Sultan.  So after a bit of a chat we all went back to their place for Omani coffee, fresh season dates and fruit.  Then after that it was lunch and funnily enough yet more fresh dates.  It's the beginning of the season and the dates are rather nice.
Harvesting dates, about 20metres up

Sultan's family owns 4 farms and I got to go to two of them.  Katrina unfortunately gave up the ghost with a continuation of a bug that laid her low the week before.

One of the sights of Adam is the walled village that the current Sultan of Oman's grandfather was born in.  It is an impressive sight rising out of the surrounding date palms. Unfortunately it is showing severe signs of wear, but is under repair by the Heritage department and will I presume be open to the public when finished. It will be well worth the visit then, but as it was under renovation and the signs said no entry..........

I also went to the mosque that built itself - but you can read about that in a separate post.

And then we collected Katrina and headed out to the largest of the family farms. At which time Katrina saw her first wild camels.  I had seen another couple walking down the street earlier in the day when Katrina was collapsing.

Makes roos seem like less of a road hazard
The farm was interesting it had a bit of everything - more dates, goats, sheep, cattle, bees....  Katrina really likes Omani honey.  But boy is honey expensive in this part of the world.
Katrina and farm friends

Anyway after that we had the obligatory night view of Adam from a nearby hillside.  And then dinner and a grateful collapse into bed.

Only to get up at 6 so we could be on the road to Nizwa by 7 for the goat and cattle market.  That was great, bustling, noisy, colourful and well busy.  The grins on peoples faces as they left with their purchases was just great.  From the goat market we headed off into the souk, where Katrina bought a traditional woven basket, the obligatory camel (our collection is building now!) and some local Halwa.

Nizwa goat market
And then somehow or another we ended up at the entrance to Nizwa Fort, which was the centre of government a couple of centuries ago.  Don't know why they insist on calling them forts, somehow castle seems more appropriate.  So we went on in and spent some time roaming around checking out the exhibits. Cannon to the left of us, cannon to the right,  lots of stairs to climb and things to see.

Katrina was not happy going up and down the stairs to the central keep, because they'd removed the wooden coverings over the numerous pitfalls and replaced them with perspex covers and underfloor lighting. I was none too concerned and thought the soundtracks with splintering noises loud crashing and so on was just great.

Nizwa from atop the fort
And then it was time to leave the fort and head for home.  I had work to do and still the Socceroos match to go.  And yes Brooke we did wear the hats and scarfs.  We waved the little flags and I tied the big flag to the side of the big stadium stand.  I was told by one of the locals that the flag got some air time on the telecast!

Sadly the Socceroos couldn't get the business done, but then fortunately neither could the Omani's. A nil all score was the result and probably fair.  At kick off it was around 41 degrees and by games end still in the high thirties.  Not so bad for us in the stands, but playing international soccer?

 And just because you didn't ask the GPS has maps for the entire Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco.  

Sunday, 3 June 2012

(with apologies to AC DC) For those about to shop Dubai salutes you!

Our first out of country jaunt! We flitted off to Dubai for the weekend.  Love the concept that in a few hours of driving, or one of flying you can be in another country. Bit of a change from good old Australia.  Set off with good intentions of being cultural and throwing in some shopping, but we accidentally bought some stuff on arrival at the Mall of the Emirates - which was to have been the jump off point for our touristy stuff.
Daytime from the hotel balcony

So instead of seing Dubai we saw the inside of one of the biggest malls in the world.  Despite spending close to eight hours in the mall there were whole areas that we just did not get to!  Scary stuff. And we did spend up a bit, came with one half empty suitcase betwen us went home with two full suitcases. Mostly my stuff, a new suit, shirts......... all at 80% off the ticketed price and at that price the good quality natural fabric clothes were more than competetive with the not so nice chain store stuff. 
Winter fun in the Mall of the Emirates

Pure cotton shirts, wool/cashmere suit.. and Katrina bought yards and yards of fabric for future sewing.  And that folks was pretty much the extent of our shopping.  The men at the shop sewed up the trouser cuffs for me and the suit was ready to go two hours after purchase - not too shabby.

Although the following day (Friday to you) I went to the 1200+store Dubai Mall to visit a rather large book store.  My, my Emirates has a ski slope (which we ate dinner looking out over), Dubai has a waterfall, an aquarium and a thoroughly modernised (and sanitised) Souk precinct. Much prefer a real Souk, but it seemed to be a hit with the tourists. And the water wall seemed to be a hit with everyone.
Fishiness at Dubai Mall

While I was visiting a second mall Katrina went to a meeting of the Dubai knitters group. Can't keep a good craftie down! Although what you'd knit to wear in the desert is beyond me. 

The nearest analog I can think of for Dubai is Singapore. Both thoroughly modern cities, trying to milk remaiming vestiges of their culture for tourism, but in a race to claim the tourists shopping dollar. 
What happens when architects are let out to play unsupervised!

The cityscape is amazing. Someone let the architects loose and said I want my building to look different to any other.  That is apart from the ones where the instruction was clearly "I want my building to look like the empire state, or the Chrysler building, or, or, or.

The worlds tallest building lives in Dubai, more than 800 metres.  I briefly thought about trying to go to the observation deck, but it was booked out til 10pm and that's after my bedtime your honour. Another visit perhaps.

Night from the balcony - what's wrong with the building on the right?
So I just had to make do with our 35th floor hotel balcony, with views of the marina and back towards town. Very pleasant it was sitting out there sipping vastly overpriced wine. Stuff we'd not pay $20 for at home at twice (and a bit) the price. But then as westernised as Dubai is, it is still a Muslim country.  

Unlike Oman Dubai has cast off much of what uniquely identifies it as an Arabic country. Sure there are still people in traditional dress, but they are more than vastly outnumbered by those in Western clothing. Mosques dot the city scape, with their minarets climbing above the surrounding houses. That is in the housing precincts, but in the huge swathes of commercial tower buildings everything around them is obscured. Like Muscat the call to prayer is broadcast in the streets and malls and there are prayer rooms readily accessible for use by shoppers.

The only bad point to our visit involved (as ever it seems) our new bank.  Because we don't have a credit card and the Visa Debit card can't be used online - or it seems as a real credit card substitute we had to pay for our room up front and room service as we went.  That would not have been a problem if the card had worked in ATM's! So while we could EFTPOS and shop we could not replenish our cash which quickly ran out and we would have been in strife if Katrina hadn't brought an Australian debit card with her. See if you can riddle who our bank is - How Sad when Banks Crash.
Where were you when the cash ran dry in Dubai?

And then all too soon we were at the airport and on our way home again. To be met the following day by the arrival of our Socceroo supporter pack for Friday night. Kindly put together and mailed by Brooke.  Revenge is in the offing I say! For those of you who know our quirks the Smurfette and Leek confetti was amusing, but revenge worthy!