Thursday, 27 December 2012

An Alternative Christmas

 It really didn't feel like Christmas.  The people I spoke to agreed - "It's the weather," they said, "It's not the right weather, it's all sunny and warm."  Well, it wasn't the weather.  The weather was perfectly presentable as far as Christmas weather went.  Was it being in an Islamic country?  Well no.  Christmas decorations appeared for sale in the shops in November (really?  That early in a non-Christian country? Really?)  There were even Christmas trees dotted around the place.  There was a big one in the Sabco Commercial Centre (a bastion of bloke-ness Omani style - it even has it's own souq) and who should be seated in front of it?  Father Christmas!  Ye Gods and Little Fishes!

No, it was the lack of boys.  My boys.  I've done Christmas with just one of them.  That was fine.  But with none at all, I couldn't quite get the hang of it.  I couldn't get revved up at all.  I was getting quite pathetic, so David decided that we had to do something completely different. The desert perhaps?  Spend Christmas eve in a tent in the desert, stars twinkling overhead, camels doing what camels do, the whole desert Omani thing.  "Nope"  I said "I need to be able to talk to the boys on Christmas Day - we can't do that in the desert."  That fixed that.  Not to be deterred (possibly the thought of being stuck at home with a totally pathetic, damp wife on Christmas Day was his motivation) he booked us into The Sahab hotel on the top of Al Jabal Al Akhtar, one of the highest points in Oman.  "We'll wake up early, have a quick breakfast and be off!).  Right.  Those of you who read David's Dribblings will have read the great Christmas plug saga and know that we didn't wake up early, we didn't have a quick breakfast and we certainly didn't dash off.  We did however, spend a lovely couple of hours eating bacon and eggs and chatting with Rufus (for whom it wasn't quite Christmas) and BJ (for whom it was almost all over, bar the dishes), along with several assorted family members spread across Melbourne.  Lovely.

We arrived at the hotel with plenty of time to spare before sunset.  In fact, in plenty of time for a beer in the garden.  Beer in the garden is not unheard of in Oman, but in a dry hotel it is alittle unusual to say the least.  You can only get in the garden.  A lovely young (non Islamic) lass pops it on your table for you and it was rather nice after the drive up the mountain on a lovely new mountain road with concrete barriers hiding the precipitous drops rather than trees. I've decided I rather like naked mountains, you can see what you're getting yourself into before you get into it!

Just before we started the climb.  All dark and big and looming.

The trouble you can get into even after you see it.
This was sitting at the police check point just so you knew......
On the way up!

Oooooo look toy houses (that are already most of the way up)
And yes, sunset was rather nice
Lovely village with some terracing
Just to put terracing in perspective
After a simply scrumptious breakfast, that came after sleeping until the sun came up!!!!! (Note to those who don't realise...the sun now comes up after 7:00am, David's alarm goes of at 5:15)  We set off for the three villages walk.  An easy walk the map said, just four kilometres, it will take around two hours one way.  Right!  The hotel offered a free pickup service from along the route - you would've thought that might have told us didn't.  We did, however, get the phone number (phew).

So this easy little walk started well.  We were following painted markers.  It all looked lovely.  There were cute stone houses.

A cute stone house with an even cuter door.  The doors in Oman are awesome!
We wandered through the first village, hibernating pomegranate trees with their Christmas decorations of dried pomegranates everywhere, magnificent views on the other side of nice, study fences.  Then the goat track went up...wait goat track?  Yes look at the painted thingy!  Okay goat track... and went down, up and down, down, get the picture.  A friendly (!!) Bangladeshi fell into step with us just in time to help me down some quick ikky bits.  Ahhh, that's why he was helping, copping a feel of the western ladies tits hey?  Luckily I remembered the arabic word for finished and he knew it to.  Otherwise there was going to be a husband dealing with the 'guide.' ***

David with our 'handy' guide before I discovered how handy he was.
Then things started getting interesting. Those of you who know me well, will know that I have a little phobia - falling.  Mmmmm goat tracks on a mountain...falling...who'da thought? Never mind, the courage got screwed to that place where courage gets screwed to and I soldiered, slowly, on.  David was frightfully helpful, he'd quite kindly fall down the parts that were tricky so I knew when exactly to be extra careful.  Have I told you how much I love my husband.  Anyway it was all worthwhile.  We came out (or should I say down, over, across etc) in the terraces of the second village.  Here was high country idylle, Omani style.

Before playing on your terrace it's important to have a chat and organise before you  jump....
...down to the next terrace.....
A mountain of extremes
We will definitely be back in summer, if only to see the pomegranates in leaf and fruit.  Apparently this is where they grow the best pomegranates in the country.  It's also where the roses are grown and the the essence distilled............mmmmmmm roses........mmmmmmm.  We kept on trundling down and across the mountain and eventually arrived in the third village.  I was feeling rather tired, dripping with sweat, and very pleased with myself.  The end was in sight.  We just had to go to the final village (yes, I know, the three village walk has four villages sigh) along next to the road.  It must be this way.  There were four of us at this stage, a lovely, young Canadian couple had caught up to us and we walked on together chatting.  Not paying much attention.  Look, steps this must be right it's going down.  "Hey guys, there aren't any markers and the roads up there"  "But it must be right, we'll see you at the end"  Walking, walking, down the steps, the many, many steps (you can see where this is going can't you?)  "Errrr" came a voice from below "this isn't the right way"  Back we went, up the many, many, many, many steps - did I say there were steps? Up?  Right, now up to the road. Up. To. The. Road. Up, in the steep sense of up.  The the real road and path.  Goodness gracious! What a surprise!  It's going up!!!!

There were moments during this part that I was sure that I had made a very bad mistake.  My left knee agreed.  Loudly and painfully. "You're 54 you stupid woman!  What are you doing?!"  I ignored it and my back, which had been in spasm for the last few days wisely kept quiet and doing its getting Katrina up the road job.  We got to the top and there was flatness.  Stoney, hot and windy flatness.  Who cares?  I was dripping wet and sweat finally got to do its job.

A mountain within a mountain
This view meant that I knew my knee was not lying when it said I'd gone a long way.  From the hotel I could only see the other side of this little beastie!  We got to the final village and rang the nice people at the hotel.  Five to ten minutes they said.  Less than ten minutes later the very, very lovely Omani picked us up and took us back to the hotel.  I got as far as the restaurant and David suggested lunch.  Yay!  I'd been thinking very fondly of orange fizzy drink and there it was.  Aaaaaaaaah.

Another lovely surprise was a little FB chat with my sister while I ate and I staggered off to the beautiful deluxe room to get my togs on.  The my knee had its little treat.  A walk in the cold pool.  It was ecstatic!  The rest of me was not at all impressed!  So, once the knee was almost back to normal knee size I hopped into the warm pool.  Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh.

So all in all a very nice Christmas and Boxing Day.  Whether either of us will be able to move tomorrow is still to be discovered.  I have to say though, whether you are religious or not, Christmas without family is a little odd and I don't think I'm prepared to get used to it.

***The incident of the handy man was duly reported after I thought about it and started worrying  about other women coming through.  The hotel owner was horrified and insisted that a report be made to the police.  He took us to the police and explained the situation - thank goodness, our Arabic is nowhere near that.  The upshot is that a local file will be opened, no courts involved.  When they find the fellow (they have a copy of his photo), he and his sponsor will be called into the police station for "hard words."   The hotel also has a copy of the photo and they are going to keep an eye out and deliver him to the police.  There is a zero tolerance policy here and the result will probably be his sponsor sending him home, but no negative publicity for what is a very beautiful hotel in a very beautiful place.  This is the outcome that we wanted which is very pleasing.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Just some random images

A stationary Button

Button was on the head board of the day bed, completely still for 20 minutes.  I wonder what she was looking at?  No prizes for guessing...................................

Yup, a bird
I have no idea what kind of bird this is.  Possibly some sort of dove.  It had just had a bit of a bath in a puddle and was drying it's feathers on our wall. Since we have reflective stuff on our windows, it was completely unaware of the killing machine only a few feet away.  I shall call it the Oblivious Bird!  We have a lot of birds visit the garden.  Luckily the local cats are not interested.

The dome of the main prayer room of Sultan Qaboos Mosque

One of the spinnerets lurking behind the bulk of the buildins

We parked at the wrong gate, but the walk round was lovely.

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is only open to non Muslims on working days, so we took advantage of Eid to have a look.  On this visit, we neglected to discover that it was only open from 8:00am to 11:00am, the longest period between prayers.  Of course, I left my camera behind the other times I have been.  It is a must see for soooooooo many reasons, not the least of which is astonishing combination of Islamic arts from so many different countries.

The full moon
We now have a sitting area on the roof, a perfect place to snooze away a day.  At night it's rather nice too.  So nice, that the moon came to visit

So what happens when it rains in Muscat?  Well, the ground gets wet and the water runs to the sea through the wadi's and, apparently, Mutra Souq.

The Souq is covered, sort of, and the roof is a roof, sort of.  Let's just say that it didn't rain for the couple of hours that we were there, but water kept flowing.

Equality of the sexes is alive and well in Oman - the men have to worry about their hemlines as well (as my mother-in-law rather cheekily pointed out).

One of the very lovely things about Oman is that the white, or off white, houses and landscape mean that every bit of colour gleams, whether gold, silver, celebratory lights in the streets, the loops of amazing lights on the LuLu Hypermarket (it's big, there are A LOT of lights), the colours of the traditional Omani clothes.  The rain at the souq gave a glimpse underneath the black abaya that has become the most common street wear.  When I visit the hospital I get to see the older women in more traditional dress and this time it was a chance to see the younger women flash their pretties.  The abaya is worn very long and mostly Omani women walk very slowly and gently, so as not disturb their out covering.  However, when there is water up to an inch deep flowing over your sandals, the time for hoiking up the abaya had come and revealed to the world are the vibrate colours and flashing metallic braids that hide underneath.

A little bowl of fire
Audrey cunningly told us that we needed to chose a hanging lantern - that we both agreed on.  Now normally when we go to the souq together David spends a lot of time looking at guns, knives and swords and hustling me past the fabrics and bling.  This time he had to look bwhahahahahahahahahahahaha!  We found this little gem and now it hangs in the loungeroom doorway and glows merrily to itself. 


My first piece of Omani embroidery
My most exciting purchase came in a rabbit warren of a shop, filthy with dust, crowded with mountains of stuff - old, new and ancient.  There was a glass counter hidden behind some piles, protecting the guns and swords on the walls.  Inside the glass counter was stuff, just stuff and in the corner, a little wad of embroidery.  What caught my eye was the silver work on black velvet.  What the shop keeper pulled out was this.  Yes, it's all silver embroidery, slightly tarnish, although not very.  It's stitched onto white silk, backed with linen.  The embroiderers amongst you will recognise the techniques, but something caught my eye - the colours.  When I have played with metal thread embroidery the colours have usually come from the threads holding down the metal.  In this style, the silver purl is threaded with thick coloured threads which hold the coils of silver apart just a little.  It's a lovely technique and a sample just had to come home with me.  Now all I need to do is find someone to do some curatorial type framing for me.

Another place we visited quickly was a cultural arts exhibition at the Qurm City Centre - they have an exhibition space just outside the lower entrance to the Mall.  Oh dear, I know what I'm going to be doing after the T-thing is done. Learning more Arabic so I can talk to these weavers........................

Part of traditional Omani dress, and a symbol of status, is the the curved dagger, the khanjar.  The khanjar is worn pushed into the front of a belt.  The belt itself is made of leather, but mounted on the leather is a decorative, warp faced strap, woven on the cutest table loom you've ever seen.  The warp is gold or silver thread (like a Jap thread - metal wound round a thread core - they come by the tonne from India) and black mercerised cotton.  The weft is a lightly spun white cotton.  Guess what I want to learn............

The table loom for weaving the belts
Some of the finished belts
The pattern draft for the belt on the loom

And of course Bluey needs to have equal time :-)