What do a bulldozer, camel meat, a boat ride, and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque have in common? They were all memorable parts of our Oman trip!
Salaam everyone! My name is David Kwan and I am a Junior Engineering major at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. I am studying abroad at through CIEE at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) for the Spring 2017 semester. This semester, our CIEE program has six students led by our CIEE Resident Director and Cultural Advisor, Abu Bakr.
We recently had our two trips to Oman, one to the mainland and another to Musandam, a governorate of Oman. Within the mainland, we traveled to Nizwa and Muscat, the capital of Oman. Both of these trips had their respective highlight moments, some more memorable than others (i.e., bulldozer in Musandam, but we'll get to that later).
After a taxing eight hour bus ride from AUS, we arrive in Nizwa, Oman. By this time, we are tired and more importantly, hungry. So what better to eat after a long journey than some camel mandi.
Camel tastes a lot like ox tail, but maybe a bit more gamey. It's a must-try experience while visiting the Middle East, even if it's just to say that you did it.
A portion of our first full day consisted of visiting a local cattle market and pottery souk. At the cattle market, goats and cows are paraded around a central area where potential buyers scope out the livestock. It's interesting to see the commodification of heritage as a cattle market can become a tourist attraction. I figure people are curious about differences, but maybe not as willing to embrace them given the demeanor of the tourists there.
The pottery souk was good too, and also very photogenic.
Note the cup of tea in the bottom left corner. This juxtaposition represents the evolution of humanity through our advancement of container technology. Truly breathtaking. But, more likely, this is just inconsiderate littering. Also breathtaking.
After walking around the souk for a bit, the group headed to Nizwa Fort. I'll give a brief summary of Nizwa Fort after my 5 minute Wikipedia research session. Nizwa fort was built in by the second Ya'rubi Imam, Imam Sultan Bin Saif Al Ya'rubi. It served as a stronghold against enemy forces who were after Nizwa's natural resources.
Inside the fort
Views from the fort overlooking Nizwa
We then head to the mud houses where we saw a demonstration of how Omani bread, perfumes, and medicinal creams are made.
The second half of our day in Nizwa included a small hike to a canyon view where we encountered some friendly goats and a barbeque on the beach.
Day 2 of our trip was in Muscat, the capital of Oman. One of the highlights of this trip would be the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Our resident Islamic Architecture enthusiast, Jake McGill, Bucknell University '18, enjoyed this portion of our trip saying, "The Sultan Qaboos was mosque was an extraordinary example of Islamic Architecture. After 2 months of living in the region, it has been my favorite example of Islamic art and the most appealing mosque I have had the opportunity to visit."
After a brief visit to a fish market, we spent the rest of the day with a trip to the souk, a photo-op at the Sultan's Palace, and of course, dinner.
A week later CIEE and the International Exchange Office (IXO) head to Musandam for a "relaxing" day on the water. Musandam is a governorate of Oman that is separated from the Omani mainland. This day was definitely memorable, for many reasons.
We traveled along the coast where we made occasional stops to swim, snorkel, lay out on the beach, explore caves, go banana boating, and fishing.
It really was a great, low-energy day. Then disaster struck.
We packed up and headed onto the bus to return to campus. While leaving the parking lot, the bus goes off-road and gets stuck in a soft spot in the dirt. We don't think much of it figuring there is protocol for this type of thing. The driver tries to accelerate us out of the dirt, but that doesn't work. Our team of engineers (also peer advisors) get off the bus. They scavenge rocks and planks of wood in attempt to give the tires more traction. By this time, the tires are pretty deep into the ground. Everyone else exits the bus in attempt to make the bus lighter. There are also talks of the bus exploding at this point, which is outright ridiculous.
All of this activity draws attention from the locals and we attract a crowd. One Omani man offers to tow the bus out with his SUV. The bus driver spends about 10 minutes figuring out the best way to attach the tow to the bus. Once attached, the Omani man accelerates his SUV for a good 5 seconds and ends up killing his battery. The sun is setting, people are tired, and now this man's battery dies because of us. Our group's mindset is a healthy combination of frustration, worry, and delirium. Another car comes by and jumpstarts the car. At least we now know that this Lexus SUV isn't powerful enough to pull this 20,000 lb bus.
The bus is starting to overheat and people revive talks of the bus exploding. At some point, another Omani man in a Jeep comes by and offers to get the bus out for 1000 dirhams. He says he has a special method that can get the bus out. Seems sketchy, but we're desperate at this point. It turns out his special method is towing the bus out with his Jeep. I don't think it was that special. Of course, this attempt fails as well.
The police are called, civil services are called, an actual tow truck comes by, and nothing seems to be working. At some point a bulldozer arrives. Ridiculous. The bulldozer tries to pull the bus out and ends up breaking the tow cable. Then the bulldozer attempts to lift the bus out of the dirt. This seemed like a terrible idea, and it kind of was. The bulldozer lifts the bus slightly which causes the outer frame of the bus to crack, windows break, and the bus is still stuck. At this point, the bus isn't going anywhere.
We realize this, grab our belongings off the bus, and decide to walk to the Omani border in defeat. Morale is low, and we have a long hike to endure. But wait, the story does not end here. Alhamdulillah, a car passing by pulls over and offers to give us rides to the border. Alhamdulillah again because this man just so happens to have a bus that can take the whole group. Our parents told us to never get in a car with a stranger, but I'm not sure if this rule still applies while stranded in Oman. We were in a large group anyways, so I didn't feel as nervous about it.
We arrive at the border and walk through immigration. It is about 8pm and we have called for another bus to come from campus and pick us up. The bus should take 2-3 hours to reach the Omani border from Sharjah. 2-3 hours is a lifetime after this whole ordeal. We hang out next to a beach where some people watch a movie, play football, try to find snacks, sleep, and anything else they could to pass the time. Eventually the glorious savior of a bus arrives and takes us home.
A memorable trip indeed. All of the bug bites from waiting on the beach never let me forget this trip either.