The Yemeni side of Salalah

Skye is up at half past six to see if there are any interesting birds in the area: the early bird gets the… bird, I suppose. And an invitation for a strange breakfast. While in India a couple of years back some local farmers cooked him up some wheat for breakfast, this time, a bunch of young Filipinos are grilling mussels on the beach and invite him to join in! Skye respectfully declines, hankering more for a coffee than a morning mollusk.

At breakfast Sandra smuggles a plate of goodies for sandwiches to use up the leftover bread that we did not eat in Shuwaymiyah. Free lunch, yay! We first go back east to visit the Taqah Castle. It’s very nicely renovated, organized around a well and an oven pit. There are rooms for fishing gear, a prison, a guard room and nicely furnished chambers for the local governor (the Wali) and his familly. We also climb up to the watchtower on the hill and have a nice view over the surrounding plain.

Climbing up to the Taqah watchtower
Climbing up to the Taqah watchtower

Next stop is back to the Arabian Villas to return our camping equipment. This time we get to meet the big boss: Mussallem #1, the same guy who was featured in the Lonely Planet magazine. Then we drive westward along the dramatic Sultan Qaboos road, along banana groves and leave Salalah to visit the blowholes of Mughsail. The sea is too calm for the blowholes to blow, nevertheless, it’s a beautiful spot with rugged rocks and the blue and turquoise Arabian Sea, and we watch some locals fishing off the rocks.

Visiting Mughsail just west of Salalah
Visiting Mughsail just west of Salalah

We then climb into the mountains via a large wadi with frankincense trees, finally reaching a plateau 1000m above sea level, very bare aside from a few yucca trees. Our Lonely Planet suggests a detour off the beaten tracks, and we turn off the main road to Fizayah, glad to have a 4×4 as we inch our way back down to sea level on a rough track. The slope is covered with all sorts of trees, including a particularly lovely miniature baobab-like tree with delicate pink flowers: adenium arabicum.

Flowering arabicus arabicum
Flowering adenium arabicum

The track leads to a breathtaking succession of white sandy beaches. They are almost deserted but for one where a group of tourists are having a lavish buffet lunch set up for them while they lounge under parasols. Indeed this is our concern at the moment: there is no shade anywhere, and we don’t want to bake while eating our sandwiches. We reach the end of the track at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, and since there is no tree or overhanging rock for shelter, we decide to improvise a tailgate party and sit in the back shaded by the open hatch for a meal with a view!

Tailgate lunch!
Tailgate lunch!

We turn around and crawl back up to the plateau and decide to press on west, direction Yemen. The situation is dangerous in Yemen, and we have to sit 10 minutes at a military checkpoint for them to verify our passports before getting the green light to continue our journey. We press on another 15km or so to visit a couple of viewpoints near a small village. We gaze down into a deep sinkhole, the only ones in the area aside some grazing cows who look much like ours (i.e. they are unhumped ones) but note that they are much smaller, almost toy cows. No wonder, there is very little to graze, although this place must somehow have a bit more water than elsewhere as exceptionally there are some real trees growing here.

We then continue to the “Sea Overlooking Viewpoint”, walk up to the parapet and look down. It’s an absolutely terrifying one-kilometer-high cliff plunging right down to the sea, jelly-legs guaranteed! A man is hanging out in the shade with three small children he lets wander around, Sandra on the other hand is freaking out seeing Ryo leaning over the wall.

It's a kilometer to the bottom!
It’s a kilometer to the bottom!

We are still 80 km from Sarfait at the Yemeni border but it’s not a very safe road and as we don’t want to be kidnapped by Yemeni guerillas we turn back to Salalah to visit the Frankincense Museum. It’s a lovely exhibition with a lot of precious artifacts very well presented. Ryo particularly enjoys the maritime part of the Museum with many large wooden models of different Arabian boats.

Back at the hotel, we decide to hit the surf. The water is really warm and it’s fun to crash through the waves. A couple of locals with their young boy settles not far from us and the lady takes off her veil and black robe: underneath she wears Pakistani-like clothing, and both her and her husband (in jeans and t-shirt) plunge into the sea fully dressed.

Sunset swim in the surf
Sunset swim in the surf

We the pursue with our evening tradition of pool for Ryo, and poolside bar for Skye and Sandra. Ryo heads there before us (after promising to stay in the shallow end until we are there to supervise) around sunset and the pool attendant tells Ryo something he does not understand. When Skye arrives Ryo asks him what the guy was asking: Skye doesn’t recognize the word and reassures Ryo it couldn’t have been English! The attendant then comes over, realizes Skye is the dad and explains that he had told Ryo in Arabic to get out of the pool as Muslims are not allowed to stay in the water after dark: he had thought Ryo was a local!

The guy for the rental car did not show up to pick up the car, but we have to eat so we leave the keys with the reception, and decide to check out the Silk Road restaurant in the neighbouring upscale Rotana resort. It is a huge luxury hotel with lots of people coming for dinner at the restaurants there. Luckily for our budget there are no free tables before nine, and there is a dress code so we leave without regret (a bit too posh) happily return to the little fish restaurant we visited the first day. We enjoy our mezze and fish dish and tonight we are the only westerners, the other guests are Omani couples or families using the family rooms inside the restaurant. All restaurants have family rooms because Muslim women are not allowed to eat with men in public, so the family can hole up in a cubicle, which (presumably) also has the advantage that the women can remove their veil to eat!

Back at the hotel we pack everything up and settle down for… a 3 hour sleep, as our shuttle to the airport is at 2:30, a really early start indeed!

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