W1702 – Salalah Souq

In my last post, W1702 – Pirate precautions, I described the additional security measures being taken on board ship as we sailed through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, areas where Somali pirates have operated.

During this phase of our voyage, we spent a day in the port of Salalah in Oman. Here Carol and I had booked a shore tour which was a transfer to a souq, or Arabic market.

Salalah is the second largest city in the Sultanate of Oman, and the largest city and traditional capital of Dhofar Province. Dhofar reached the peak of it’s prosperity in the 13th century thanks to the incense trade. Later it decayed, and in the 19th century it was absorbed by the Sultanate of Muscat. Between 1932 and 1970, Salalah was the capital of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman under Said bin Taimur. After the latter’s death, his son Qaboos bin Said decided to move the capital of Oman to Muscat, the largest city in Oman. The Sultan had traditionally lived in Salalah, however Qaboos bin Said has lived in Muscat since he ascended to the throne in 1970, and only makes visits to Salalah.

Salalah is one of only two places in the Arabian peninsula (besides Yemen) that experiences a monsoon season called Khareef (“autumn” in Arabic). This lasts from July to September, and during this time the brown landscape of Salalah and its surroundings is completely transformed to a beautiful and lush green, and both locals and tourists flock to the city. The Khareef also allows many fruit and vegetables to be grown in the area.

As usual I was up on deck early to watch us sail into the port, and as we approached the coast the sky was very hazy, but I could still just make out all the buildings on the low ground, with the steep hills behind.

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As the pilot boat approached it still seemed odd to see it underneath all the razor wire currently below our deck rail:

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As we sailed into the commercial harbour it was very much about things being all lined up:

– A warship with it’s crew lined up on the aft deck:

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– The local boats lined up against the quay:

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– The 4×4 cars on the quayside lined up waiting to take some of our passengers on tour:

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– Even the fish in the harbour were lined up in a shoal!

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Later Carol and I boarded our coach for our tour which provided a transfer to the local souq. The coach was rather old and tired, and the windows rather dirty, so I didn’t try to take any photographs on the way. We did have a local guide, who talked about the country and the local area, and also explained that we would actually have three things to see in our two hours of free time, the souq, a beach, and the grounds of the Sultan’s palace. Being a Muslim country, we were of course asked not to take our clothes off on the beach, but he thought we might like to take a paddle to cool off.

It took around half an hour to drive around the port and through the town to the drop-off point between the souq and the beach.

Carol and I decided to head for the souq first. We had been hoping that it would be a general souq for both locals and tourists selling a wide variety of products, but it was soon very evident that thus was just a tourist souq, with stall after stall selling identical products – we wondered how they could all possibly make a living competing with so many others selling identical things. The other problem once again was the degree of hassle you got once you walked anywhere near a stall, which made us just put our heads down and walk on by fast, rather than daring to stop and take a longer look at what was on offer. Many of our fellow passengers were doing the same, and it is surprising they don’t twig and back off when so many potential customers are walking on by fast this way.

We basically whisked though the souq in about 10 minutes flat, and emerging the other side looked at each other and wondered what we were going to do for the next hour and fifty minutes! It was fortunate that there was also the Sultan’s Palace and the beach to visit.

We entered the grounds of the Sultan’s Palace through a small door inset into huge carved wooden doors in a large and imposing gateway. Once inside, it was like stepping into another world, it was so calm and peaceful after the noise and bustle of the souq, and you can see how instantly relaxed and happy Carol was to be there:

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Everywhere was immaculately clean and neat, and all the buildings looked so sharp and crisp in the bright sunlight:

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A combination of gardeners and sprinklers were hard at work watering the gardens, which looked remarkably lush considering the high temperatures and lack of rainfall at this time of year:

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Just two things looked out of place in this sea of perfection – two of the clocks on the clocktower showed slightly different times, and some of the trees had rather a lean!

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We spent the best part of an hour walking around and relaxing in the Palace grounds before heading on to see the beach. This proved to be a lovely wide empty beach, with a surf crashing in. To one side there was a very substantial fence which extended out into the sea, this separated the public beach from that in front of the Sultan’s Palace. Carol went to paddle her feet at the water’s edge, while I was content to take more photographs:

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After her paddle, Carol walked over to the fence to lean on it as she replaced her shoes, and I took this photograph through it of the Sultan’s beach beyond. Quickly I became aware of shouting, and looked up to see an armed guard gesturing us vigorously to move away from the fence! This we quickly did, and we thought it prudent to leave the beach area before we got into further trouble. I did snatch one last view of the Palace area as we passed by though:

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We then decided to fill the time remaining by returning to the souq for another wander around, and this time I took some photographs as we did so:

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In the days before we reached Salalah there has been much banter at our dinner table about how many camels I might manage to barter Carol for at the souq as she is a blonde western lady. On April 1st the Cruise Director offered tours of the ship’s dairy to see the cows that supply the milk on board ship, and I speculated that I could keep the camels there, although I was a little apprehensive about persuading the camels to go up the ship’s gangplank. In the end the only camels I saw at the souq were these, and I didn’t think they would make a good return for Carol so she was safe!

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Almost all the passengers ended up either sat in a café on the edge of the souq, or like us sat under some trees nearby seeking rest and shade – basically the tour was too long for what there was to see and do. Finally at last it was time to re-board our coach for the return journey to our waiting ship.

On the way back I decided to take some snaps through the dirty window of the coach, just to capture some impressions of what the part of Salalah we drove through was like. Initially we passed a large area in which our local guide told us they grow many different types of fruit and vegetables:

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Next we passed an area of housing, before coming to an area where hotels and shops are being built on the edge of the city to help build the tourist industry. Our guide pointed out that while Dubai generates roughly 80% of it’s income from tourism and 20% from oil, in Oman it is roughly the other way around. With the fall in oil prices this has been a problem for Oman, and he told us that the Sultan is directing the country to invest heavily in building up the infrastructure for tourism to help combat this:

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As we approached the docks, I was surprised and interested to see an area of open water in this mainly dry region:

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Returning to our ship, we were once again glad to get back to our cabins for a much needed shower and rest. Later that day we set sail for our next port of call, Safaga in Egypt, which we would reach after four days at sea.

I had booked shore tours in almost all the ports and countries we are visiting on this epic cruise long before we sailed from Southampton, but due to my uncertainties over security, I had not booked any in Oman and Egypt. As it turned out, Oman was fine, and we both felt very safe on tour that day. However Egypt remained another story, and whether of not I even decide to leave the ship in the Egyptian ports we are due to visit is likely to be the subject of my next post.

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