The Middle East

It's funny. Nothing elicits strong reactions like the Middle East. When I tell most people where I went the last two weeks (Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman), they generally gasp and either look at me like I'm crazy or really brave. I try to explain to them that though I'm almost unbearably manly and rugged, one need not be brave to visit the Middle East.

For obvious reasons, the whole region, from Turkey to Pakistan, has a real bad rep. But other than a handful of legitimately dangerous places, most Middle Eastern countries are no more dangerous to visit than places in South America, Asia, or Europe. If anything, I felt less safe in Brazil, where there are terrifying spiders everywhere.

Now don't confuse safe with comfortable. I never felt like I was going to be robbed or broken in on or kidnapped this whole trip, but Tim the American Jew is still a bit uneasy in most Arab countries. Even this, though, is probably unwarranted, based only on my own preconceptions. In reality, saying I was American (no matter where I go or how uncomfortable it is, I will never tell locals I'm Canadian out of fear-- what a lame thing to do) almost always elicited a thumbs up and a handshake. Even people who had a lot of anger toward the US government or even the concept of America seemed to understand that individual American people weren't to be hated (at least not outwardly).

Before I get to pictures, a few general comments on the region:
  • Muslim conservatism runs the whole spectrum. Even in this one trip, I saw the whole range, from dancing and drinking to women with their entire faces covered and me being scared that everything I do is going to offend everyone.
  • No matter where I was, the "call to prayer" was ubiquitous. It's the Muslim prayer, which is said in Arabic and plays out of loud speakers so everyone can hear it five times a day. One of which is at 5am. Which woke me every day, and often gave me nightmares. There's just something haunting about a lone man chanting in a foreign language at 5am. This tops the list of things I learned to appreciate about the States.
  • Every person in the entire Middle East has seen the clip of the angry journalist throwing a shoe at Bush. Literally everyone. Upon finding out I was American, a lot of locals would motion like they were taking off their shoe and throwing it and then they'd laugh. By the end of the trip I would beat them to it-- when they'd ask where I was from I'd just take off my shoe and pretend to throw it and they'd lose it.
  • Likewise, a ton of people mentioned Obama and across the board everyone there seems to feel as great about him as do most Americans. It made me proud. I'm going to move on now because I'm getting teary.
  • Almost everyone is named Mohammed. I'm not being a dick-- about 60% of men in all the countries I visited were named Mohammed. How do teachers call on students in class?
  • The food is great. My favorite is Lebanese cuisine-- basically bread with hummus, tahini, and about four other delectable dips, accompanied by delicious lamb or chicken. Hard to beat that. Tea everywhere too, which is always a plus for me.
  • The U-Pillow I bought in the airport became my Linus blanket. I took it everywhere and felt generally better when I had it in hand.
Anyway, here's where we went. I numbered the 5 main places:


We started with Egypt. Egypt has a lot to live up to-- pharaohs, pyramids, the Nile, King Tut, Cleopatra, hieroglyphics, the Ten Commandments, the walk from the 80's music video-- nowhere has more ancient lore attached to it. Frankly, it's weird how much famous stuff is associated with Egypt.

Cairo

Stop #1 was Cairo. As you well know, I had the unfortunate experience of spending most of my Cairo time in sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Thankfully, my luggage finally arrived five days into the trip.

Sweatpants aside, Cairo was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting unfriendly, uninteresting, dangerous, and filthy. Of those four, it turned out to only be filthy. Introducing myself was usually followed by a "Welcome to Egypt!" and by the end I felt completely safe walking around at night. The streets were full of life and after all of the obvious sightseeing, I could have stayed for awhile happily.

As for the sightseeing, it was not over-hyped. The two biggies were the Pyramids/Sphinx, and the Egyptian museum. The Pyramids are a little like The Grand Canyon, or any great national park, in that they really cannot be sufficiently captured in a picture. I've seen them a hundred times before, but in person they blew me away. Not only because they're huge, not only because they're made of over a million stones, each of which weighs between 1-10 cars, but I was in total awe of their ancient-ness. Put it this way-- when the ancient Romans were doing their thing in 300 B.C. or so, the pyramids and sphinx were already over 2,000 years old. So they were as old to the ancient Romans as ancient Rome is to us.

The other cool thing about them was that there wasn't the level of protectiveness and security you'd expect from such a vaunted sight. I expected ropes and guards and all that-- rather, you could just walk right up to them and climb up a little bit.

The Egyptian museum was mainly cool because, again, everything in it was mad old. Including the mummies. I always kind of grouped mummies together with zombies, in that I kind of thought they were fictional-- but apparently mummies really exist. Like, I stood face to face with a bunch of dudes who lived 4,000+ years ago.

Cairo photos:


My threads for the first five days.


On the bank of the Nile.




Some old stone thing with hieroglyphics. Hieroglyphics are mad Egyptian.


This is some shitty small Sphinx in an ancient capital called Memphis. I didn't take this picture for the Sphinx-- I took it for the awesome old man. He asked me to take a picture of him, so I did, and then I asked him to stay there while I took one with my camera as well.


Before the huge, famous pyramids, some pharaoh gave it a go and came up with this. This was built about 50 centuries ago, and is the oldest man-made stone structure in the world.


We stopped at a place called a "Carpet School" where kids were furiously weaving carpets. In another room, the beautiful finished carpets were on display. I asked someone whether this was kind of an example of appalling child slave labor, and he claimed that the kids were treated well and that it was a desired place to "work." Who knows.


There they are. Those are some big pyramids. The far one is actually the bigger one, but the one on the right is on higher ground so it looks bigger. They're composed of 2.3 million massive 2-15 ton stones. Apparently the pharaoh recruited workers during the four "dry months" each year when they couldn't farm and needed work, and further lured them in by promising them a spot in the eternal afterlife with him. Lucky workers.


You can see how big this thing actually is by comparing it to the tiny ant-people in front of it.


I have a really hard time not taking pictures of camels. No animal amuses me more.


Me realizing I'm getting conned. This guy gave me a headdress "as a gift." Then he put it on me and took a picture. Then he put one on my friend Brian, "as a gift." Then he and his friend told us they'd take a picture of us in front of their camel. Then they pursuaded us up onto the camel's back "for the best picture" and suddenly the camel stood up so we couldn't get off. Then they took us about 50 yards from the crowd and took pictures. Then they let us down and demanded tips "for the services" and got pretty aggressive, which they could get away with because we were off away from everyone. Incredibly predictable, in hindsight. Part of being an experienced traveler is knowing both when you're being conned and when you're not being conned. I think the progression goes like this:
  • When you first start traveling places, you're scared of everyone and everything.
  • Then, you realize that no one is going to hurt you and you become over-naive and trusting and you get ripped off a bunch of times.
  • Then you react by being over-paranoid and assuming everyone is trying to rip you off and you end up missing out on a bunch of good experiences with nice people who have good intentions.
  • Finally, after a few dozen trips, you get good at recognizing good intentions versus bad intentions. I'm still working on fine-tuning this expertise. It's important, because my absolute best travel experiences have happened when I've trusted well-intentioned locals, and my worst travel experiences have happened when I've trusted sneaky locals. Later this day, we went to this cool incense/perfume shop and spent the whole time making it clear to the guy that we weren't going to be ripped off by him and in retrospect he just wanted to show us how the perfume was made and expected nothing in return. Still working on my con-sensing skills, but getting better every trip.


Brian and I on the camel. Not a cheap picture as it turned out. On the other hand, I wore the headdress for the next two weeks and it ended up being well worth the money, ironically.


One of the big pyramids up close. What look like little rocks on the surface weigh about 20,000 pounds each.


Me on the pyramid. As I said, no security whatsoever.


Trying to get to the Sphinx viewing area. Apparently we weren't the only ones with this idea.


There she is.






Back in Cairo. There were a lot of windows like this. I don't get it. Women are barely allowed to show their noses, and the storefronts are full of slutty mannequins. I had to look up how to spell mannequins. Who the hell knows how to spell that off the top of their head?


Duh. King Tut's famous mask was in the Egyptian museum. King Tut himself was nothing notable-- some shitty pharaoh who died early and made little impact. He's so famous because his tomb and rad mask were discovered in better condition than any other. His body was found inside a coffin, inside a coffin, inside a coffin, inside a box, inside a box, inside a box, inside a tomb. Like those Russian dolls.



4,000 year old dudes are not attractive.


Lax driving limitations in Cairo.


With my friends Brian and Danny and apparently A-Rod. Why I'm making this face I really can't tell you.


Normally when I travel I buy a multitude of shitty, useless souvenirs, like wooden elephants and thimbles. They sit on my shelf and I can't even remember where half of them are from. The reason I'm smiling so big in this picture is that this dude was some craftsman in some souk (market) in Cairo and this backgammon/chess board and pieces are actually super high quality and made from cool materials like camel bone and mother of pearl shells. Either that or he's an extremely savvy con-man (I'm doing it again). In any case, I'm thrilled with my purchase.


Inside a mosque at night.


On the roof of the mosque.

* * *

New Years

So after about few days in Cairo, New Years was approaching and we decided to head to the coast somewhere. The plan was to head to the Sinai Peninsula (the "triangle" portion of Egypt on the upper right) since that's where all the fun party spots are. Unfortunately, Israel and Gaza were suddenly in a tussle, and there were all these articles floating around about how the Islamist rebels were going to be rising up in Egypt and that they would be seeking out Americans, blah blah. Though it was obviously irrational to feel fear in the middle of Egypt because of something totally unrelated, the three terrorist attacks in Egypt in the past five years have all targeted tourists in the exact places we were heading for New Years.

We found ourselves having a discussion the night before leaving for the Sinai, playing mind games with the terrorists, saying things like, "Well we don't want to go the biggest New Years party because that would be an obvious target," and "Even though this hotel is a more likely target, the other hotel has lighter security." Not fun.

So at some point we were like, "Rational fear or not, this is going to be in our heads the whole time-- let's just go somewhere on the main coast." The thing is, there was really only one coastal option outside of Sinai: Hurghada.

The guidebook we were using describes Hurghada like this:

Hurghada is a frightful mix of endless construction and environment degradation, served with a heaping dose of Russian package tourism. Hurghada is a dense band of concrete in the form of gated resorts, which sprawls along the coastline...there are literally thousands of construction sites, all in varying degrees of abandonment and neglect. Not surprisingly, the reefs close to shore have been degraded by illegal landfill operations and even the government concedes that it made planning mistakes here. And then there are the Russians -- while wealthy Western Europeans prefer the air-brushed shine of Sharm el-Sheikh and the Sinai Peninsula, Moscow's emerging middle class is flocking to Hurghada in droves...Russians are cashing in on cheap flights and discount package deals...Unfortunately, the Egyptian-Russian mix is anything but natural. If there's a holiday hell on earth, Hurghada is it. Visit at your peril and avoid it if you can...This is tourism gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Really? Because Israel was fighting Gaza, we were gonna spend New Years there? I've read a lot of guidebook descriptions, and this is far and away the most negative endorsement of anywhere I've ever read. And this is really where we were going? Couldn't be.

And yet, I will always remember spending New Years 2009 in none other than Hurghada, Egypt (#2 on the above map). And as it turns out-- somehow-- it was much worse than we expected.

Hurghada is truly a hideous place, inhabited by extremely unfriendly Russian people. There was nothing to do during the day, and when we went to bars at night, we spent the entire time getting our self-esteem pounded into the floor by attractive, deeply mean Russian girls. One interaction I remember went like this:

Me: Hi
Attractive Russian girl: Bye.

Bad times.

One other note: Somehow, Russian girls are all gorgeous and Russian guys are all hideous. How is that possible?


The hotel where we were staying forced us to pay $100 each for a ridiculous, gaudy, "New Years gala." The highlight of the event is pictured below, when this old, crusty Russian couple almost got violent with us because they were so angry we were sitting at the table they "had reserved," even though we were just sitting where the staff had seated us.




The four of us, toasting to spending many more a New Years Eve in Hurghada.

* * *

Kuwait

From Egypt, Brian and I headed on to Kuwait for short stop (#3 on the map). Kuwait is tiny, rich because of their massive oil reserves, and super friendly toward Americans (for obvious reasons).

The Kuwait Towers. These are cool-- the two big spheres are huge water vessels and the little one is a viewing area.


Taken from the viewing sphere. Kuwait City is as big and modern as most US cities.


A photograph on the inside of the viewing sphere, bearing the inscription, "The Iraq invaders made Beach Oasis a Dead Land," referring to the Iraqis trashing the viewing sphere during the Gulf War (i.e. they're not over it).


A souk in Kuwait City. This is a good example of the remarkable effect of oil on an otherwise-poor nation. In Cairo, this exact souk would be outdoors, dark, and filthy. Here, it is roofed, well-lit, the floor is tiled, and there were janitors around tidying up.


Brian intensely interacting with a man selling the most delicious dates of all time (seriously).


Another date man. Though he appears to hate me and hope I perish, soon after this picture he asked where I was from. Upon hearing, "America," he smiled, shook my hand, and gave me a sampling of free dates.


Just like in the States.


This was cool. We happened upon this big area with all these Kuwaitis chilling, smoking on hookahs, sipping tea, and shooting the shit with each other (like everywhere in the Muslim world, no alcohol to be found). A Kuwaiti sports bar of sorts. Though there were many women outside this area in the market, women were not permitted to hang here. We sat down and observed and chatted with friendly Kuwaitis sitting nearby (yet again, these two guys look like they want me to perish, further discrediting my whole "Kuwaitis love Americans" thing-- I swear, they really did like us).


These two guys were sitting across from us and their two friends were next to us. The four of them were from Saudi Arabia. I'm pretty fascinated by Saudi Arabia, and asked the guy next to me a bunch of questions. Apparently, the guy in this photo in the red headdress had just gotten married. When I asked the guy if he liked his friend's new wife, he replied, "What?? Of course, I have never met her, and never will." Riiiight, the whole super-oppressed Saudi women thing. He went on to explain that not only has he never seen his friend's wife's face and never will, but his friend never saw her face until after the wedding. You know, just like in America. We continued talking, and I learned that Saudi guys are allowed to have up to four wives and even more mates, but if a Saudi woman even hints at a relationship with another guy, she will basically have her throat slit. Religious reasons or not, that's not that awesome. Made me really not want to take women's rights in America for granted.

When I asked about the major sports in Saudi Arabia, the guy showed me clips of sport #1 on his phone: driving really fast in your car on normal streets and then slamming on the breaks and doing 360's. You know. Just like America.

* * *

Dubai

Anyway, from there we headed to the United Arab Emirates to meet up with our friend Noah (who's living in Dubai).

Dubai (#4 on the map), and the UAE in general, is an insane place. Also super-rich off oil, the UAE has gone all out to compete on an international stage. Builders in Dubai don't just want to equal cities like New York, London, and Hong Kong, they want to be bigger, fancier, and more remarkable than all of them. And they've built this massive metropolis in a staggeringly short amount of time (like six years). The result is that Dubai is, as Noah calls it, "More American than America." Bigger mega-marts, taller buildings, fancier cars, more advertisements, bigger malls, more pollution, and basically more of everything...except freedom. This is what makes Dubai-- as fascinating and cool an experiment as it is-- a pretty terrible place. Underneath all the excess and materialism in America lie the core values of hard work and unalienable liberty. The UAE, on the other hand, is basically a police state. And the way things go, UAE natives (the Emiratis) can do whatever they want and are given a car, home, and general life of luxury by the government. When we were on the highway, we'd see Emiratis in shiny luxury cars going literally 160mph on the highway with no fear of consequences. Meanwhile, an expat living there might be pulled over on the highway and given a hard time for doing nothing at all. Noah got pulled into a police tower on the beach and harassed for kissing his girlfriend in the ocean. And when we were in his apartment, looking out at this super-modern city, www.nytimes.com was blocked on his computer.

All that said, I have mixed feelings. As badly as Dubai rubbed me, I find myself rooting for it to succeed-- because even considering the lack of freedom there, it is far more progressive a place than other Arab nations (remember what happens to a flirty Saudi woman?). The hope of Americans has got to be for places like Dubai and the new Iraq to succeed, to show that the nations with democracy and basic liberties will fare far better than those in which the regimes are oppressive (kind of like West Germany thriving next to impoverished East Germany made a point to the world about Capitalism vs. Communism).

No matter what your opinion, Dubai will fascinate and bring out hot emotions in most Westerners who visit, and is a great two-day stop.


A typically unattractive view of Dubai.


Noah brought us to his favorite Pakistani restaurant, which comes along with no silverware. I tried to stop thinking about it, but I am very conditioned to want to reach for a napkin when my hand is covered with sauce.




The famous indoor ski slope, which is in the middle of a huge mall.


And what else would you ski on than your Ferrari skis. Only in Dubai.


A mega-mart that makes a huge American Wal-Mart look like a corner convenient store.


I love aquariums, so I was beside myself when we happened upon the biggest aquarium wall in the world. This photograph shows about a fourth of the whole wall.


They also had one of those delicious aquarium tunnels.


Stingrays are exceptionally nerdy-looking.


video
Watch this video. After hanging out with these guys, seals have vaulted into my Top Five animals list. They're like impossibly cute, playful, water-dogs.


The famous sail-shaped hotel. Apparently the only 7-star hotel in the world. Rooms are priced at between $1,200 and $6,000 a night. $50 just to check out the lobby. That weird UFO platform on top is both a helicopter landing pad, and a tennis court.


On the coast. This was not enough coastline, so nearby is one of the man-made islands, which boasts over 70 miles of mad-made coastline. And by the way, couldn't this picture be Santa Monica?


Yummy.


One of the nights, we left fancy new Dubai and visited old Dubai. It's easy to forget that before all the craziness, Dubai was an authentic old Arabian port. This area was lined with crappy old boats that made their way back and forth between Iran or India or Pakistan and Dubai.


We struck up a "conversation" with these Iranian sailors (who spoke no English) via charades (which I got good at in Central Asia). I also warmed them up with my old "throwing the shoe at Bush" impression. They were super-friendly, invited us to hang out, and served us tea. We asked them if they liked Ahmedinejad and they seemed not to. Of course, "Obama?" got a huge thumbs up. And yes, I wish I was sitting in a less retarded pose.


Hour one of five at a typical Middle Eastern restaurant.


Such good food.


Of course, Dubai has built the tallest building in the world. It dwarfs everything else. It is twice the Empire State Building. Think about that for a second. As a comparison, that building on the right side of the photo is about the height of the Empire State Building.

* * *

Oman

So here's the weirdest thing about Dubai-- drive ten minutes outside the city, and you're in barren desert. And after a couple days in the city, that's where we went. I'm always intrigued by countries I know nothing about, and Oman (#5 on the map) is certainly one of those. I mean, I know nothing about Oman. To make things cooler, the plan was to drive Noah's horrendous old Hyundai Galloper (a big 4-wheel drive Jeep-type car that never made it to the US market) around the country and camp each night. Very exciting.

Oman and UAE couldn't be more different if they tried. Even driving along the border, the UAE side is well-lit, well-paved, and lined with trees. The Oman side is vast, barren nothingness. A country with oil reserves vs. a country with none.

Anyway, the first night, we got way the hell away from humanity and parked the car alongside an endless field of delicious rolling sand dunes. Almost nothing makes me happier than big, soft, sand dunes. We hiked way in. We brought torches.

That's right. Torches.




This was no laughing matter. We took ourselves very seriously.


So we spent a few hours drinking whiskey and running and jumping around the dunes in the dark. Possibly the most fun few hours of my life. Above is where we eventually slept. Nighttime on the dunes.


Morning on the dunes!


Better than sex.




As we ventured further into Oman, we came across a lot of cool old forts like this one.






Our camping spot the second night was considerably less soft and delicious than the first night's spot.


I'm took this picture from the top of one hill, and if you look really carefully, you can see Noah on the top of the hill facing me.


We found this guy in a village, and he made us delicious bread (which fed us for days) by flattening these dough balls and then slapping them against the sides of this oven for a few minutes (see below).




I don't really remember who this guy is, but I know I want to be more like him.


Those are some shitty TV's.




In the middle of some empty canyon, we saw a soccer game going on in the distance. Soccer amazes me. It is actually the most universal cultural thing there is. It doesn't matter how vastly different the countries I've visited are-- they all have soccer.


The Galloper only galloped when it damn well felt like it.


Another camping spot. This is one part of Jebbel Sham, what people call the Grand Canyon of Oman.


I woke up to see this curious fellow.






You try going to a canyon and not having rock-throwing contests. It's not possible.


You know those car commercials where the SUV is out on a cliff somewhere and it's called the Outback or the Explorer or the Excursion or something? And you're like, "This is stupid-- the people who buy this car only drive it on the street ever anyway, and they don't "explore" shit." Well, this entire trip, our little Galloper lived the car commercial dream.


This was a sheer 1,000+ foot drop. So ball-tinglingly horrifying to get near that the only way to do it was on your stomach.


See me? And yes, we planned this picture.


We drove into the canyon, and came across a little village, where we were attacked by a wild pack of humans.





The tiniest human in all of Oman.




Good times. Although after this, we tried to leave, and they really, really wanted us to stay...




As if massive canyons weren't beautiful enough, there were date palms everywhere at the bottom.






Grilling at night. If it were left up to me, we would have had a lot of granola bars and grass. Luckily, Noah and Brian are mad culinary.


Best bedroom ever.


Car commercial.


Another village in the canyon. Six families total. They invited us to sit for tea. Muslim hospitality is like none other.


Sitting across from me were these three dudes and about four well-wrapped girls. However, the second I took out my camera, the girls scurried away. Just like how American girls would react, except instead of running away they would try to give their most attractive smile and then they would run over to the camera to look at the whole picture but really just at how good they look and then they'd post the ones where they look really good on Facebook and any other girls in the photo who didn't look their best would immediately untag themselves. Two peas in a pod these countries are.




Not much going on in those goat heads.


We went on a hike with four kids from the village. They knew everything about this area of the canyon. We repaid them by teaching them "Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel."





The Omani life is pretty swell.


I know, it's a lot of goat pictures. They just fit so well with the canyon scenery. And they provide a lot of comedy.




Same headdress that was forced upon me at the pyramids. Who got the last laugh?


From the Omani road. Flat roofs because it never rains.




And there you have it. The Middle East. Of course, upon return to Los Angeles, I got the third degree at airport customs because of the countries I had visited. Never had I been as much as stopped before at customs, and now my bags were emptied and I was grilled about my entire trip. Brian had the same experience in San Francisco. Oh, the Middle East. So complicated.

Anyway, as always, traveling leaves me both awe-struck by the rest of the world and builds my appreciation of the States. Doesn't matter how much fun a trip is-- I'm always happy to be back.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jesus, I clicked on here 20 minutes
ago and haven't even sat down yet!

Gonna comment again later when I've
absorbed all this , bout' time too.

Brian Dennehy ...

ps just saw a bad movie 'Sahara'.

Anonymous said...

Your travel journals never desapoint.


One comment only : seals are incredbly amazing little cute animals.

themarkpike said...

Epic travels, gentleman.

I would love to have overheard Noah's interactions with the Dubai beach cops.

Alison said...

I absolutely loved this. Pretty diverse places in a short period of time!

Anonymous said...

Your captions make me giggle.

Anonymous said...

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/01/17/saudi.child.marriage/index.html

Anonymous said...

your travel notes never disappoints, totally enjoyed this one.

love your analysis of developing traveling acumen.

love the photos, esp. the one with the soccer game. seems so utopian.

i think sea otters are as cute as seals, if not cuter. =)

Anonymous said...

tim.. it was funny.. and yeah. middle east is different.. =)
i hope u had fun..

Paolo Fortades said...

Im proud of you, Timothy Urban.

Anonymous said...

Tim,

Right on about Soccer - I backpacked up in Scotland and expecting to run into Sean Connery or endless golf courses ... found more Soccer than anything else. OK I found some fresh whiskey too ... different story.

Another great travel log. Thanks for sharing. Quite amusing.

I'm curious Tim ... if you were randomly doing your day and 3 "foreign" travelers happened to cross paths with you - what would YOU do ??? How would YOU pay it forward?

This here is the 405 freeway ... big macs around the table. What?

clyde

Anonymous said...

Tim, yours is my favorite blog to read.
In 1983, I told a friend of mine, while in England, to say we were Canadian. Everyone thought we were anyway, so what was the harm? I've never been so ashamed of myself since.

Anonymous said...

You taught them "dreidle, dreidle, dreidle"...hahahhahahaha.

Anonymous said...

You should write a travel book for the adventurous traveler!

Anonymous said...

lmao at the caption and pic of the iranian sailors.

i think for ur next travel adventure, u should take a poll and see where ur readers would like u to visit.

Anonymous said...

In some of the photos, I noticed that you and some other older man wearing a headress. Is that what most men wear? Do they not wear turbans?

Heather Maitland said...

Tim, I don't know if you even check this any more, but hopefully an email will find its way to you containing a notification about this message.
You need to go back to Oman.
You only saw a small fraction of what it has to offer, and honestly missed some of the best parts. If you ever have the fortune of venturing forth to Oman once more, start in Muscat this time (About 3 hours drive from Jebel Shams).
There are cool things to do, such as swim in this sucker http://visitheworld.tumblr.com/post/33766281645/bimmah-sinkhole-in-hawiyat-najm-park-oman-by
or adventure through this actual gorge
http://tourism-adventures.com/canyoneering-adventure-oman/
And the place is actually much more developed than you would have seen. Oman is like that. You have sections that mimic Dubai's developed nature, and then 10kms away there's suddenly nothingness and a few clay huts. The reason for this as I was told (which I found insanely interesting) lies in the previously tyranical rule of the former sultan who was usurped by his son, the current sultan, who decided air conditioning sounded like a fun idea and invested heaps of the family fortune in transforming the country. Since his rule (which is still a dictatorship and has been going on for about as long as the President of Zimbabwe's rule but with very different results) things have literally developed over 80 odd years worth of night into the amazing place it is today.