We hit the breakfast buffet and fill up at the coffee pot, but our waiter kindly brings us each a cup of Nespresso without us asking: do we look that Swiss? We check out and Skye eases the car down the steep road to the plain without burning the brakes, so we don’t need to avail ourselves of the numerous escape lanes (which appear well-used). Skye thinks it is pretty cool that the Tour of Oman cycling race actually climbed this road in February (Vincenzo Nibali won, for the record).
Our first stop is Jabreen Castle, just west of Nizwa. From the outside, the castle looks like any other Omani fort, but inside it’s quirky with all sorts of nooks and crannies and little passages that interconnect rooms on different levels, so you’re always a bit surprised where you pop out. The rooms are much more ornate than what we usually see in forts, and even the ceilings are painted. The provided audio guide really brings the castle to life, and helps understand how the castle was defended and how the Imam led his life with his family and entourage.
Our next stop is Balah fort, just a few kilometers up the road. It’s enormous, and isn’t decorated so it seems empty compared to the almost cozy atmosphere at Jabreen. However like Jabreen it’s also a maze of rooms and corridors on different levels, and part of the building is constructed in a style similar to the Yemeni mudbrick skyscrapers. The main hall is very high with two gigantic arches, and is very impressive, like Moria in the Lord of the Rings!
We then head to Al Hamra to visit the palm oasis fringing the old town. Here again it’s Yemeni-style mudbrick constructions, but unlike the fort the houses are falling into ruins and it looks like with one good rain they will just wash away. It’s a pity as they are very beautiful houses, but mud isn’t eternal, I suppose.
Next we climb halfway up the mountain to the quaint village of Misfat Al Abreen. It looks over a gorge festooned with palms and terraced gardens thanks to their cascading falaj irrigation system. We eat a hodge-podge lunch of left-over flatbread, crackers, dates from Salalah, and bananas from the breakfast buffet, before wandering through the pretty village.
It’s time to head back to Nizwa and Skye chooses to take the scenic back route. It’s much more relaxing than the main highway, driving through a cool and pleasant palm oasis then following the foot of the Jebel and some smaller chocolate-colored mountains. We make a short stop at Tanuf to see their famous falaj (up to 10m high in places) and the ruined mudbrick village. A few Omani families are there too, preparing for an al fresco picnic.
Since we need a picnic for lunch tomorrow and we don’t know if shops will be open on Friday (the Muslim Sunday), we decide to head to the big new shopping mall being constructed on the outskirts of Nizwa. There is a brand new Carrefour (big French supermarket chain), and we are curious to see what it sells Omani-style! We end up with our classic pita and hummus supply, but also with a dishdasha for Ryo and for his two brand-new cousins Alexandre and Brady. Not wanting to be left out Skye caves in for a pyjama dishdasha for lounging about the house!
After our shopping binge, we drive in circles for a while to try to get out of the mall parking lot… and it would seem that the exit hasn’t been built yet! We end up off-roading it through gravel and over kerbs with other Omanis, glad of our 4×4!
We finally check into our hotel, the Al Diyar, on the main drag. It’s not particularly charming (unless you like plastic potted palms) but we have a gigantic room and there is a nice pool where Ryo is happy to plunge after a hot day. We sample some of the munchies we bought in Carrefour, and the Indian Mix is super-spicy making us regret (again) not having a good beer to wash it down.
Skye and Ryo decide to wear their dishdashas for dinner at the hotel. They get funny looks but it’s just so much easier to get dressed by simply throwing a sheet over your head! The food is simple but copious, and not expensive at all (about $12 for the entire meal for the 3 of us). We head to our room early because tomorrow morning we need to get up in good time to visit the famous Friday livestock market and haggle for a goat!