Friday, April 4, 2008

Oman's "Second City" - Salalah

Salalah, located on the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula is all stunning white beaches and acres of desert. This stark landscape seduces the imagination; this striking contrast of camels and men in white dishdashas and muzzars silhouetted against the vast expanse of sky seems to channel scenes straight out of Lawrence of Arabia, making you feel as if you are very, very far away from home. Upon arrival, it so hot that the air seems to waver, while swift breezes sweep across the flat terrain, rustling the palm fronds and propelling sand across the few pavement roads. Several passengers are pick pocketed in town, though we experience none of this threatening behavior, and are instead driven around by an amiable Ahmad, who races his taxi at Grand Prix-like speeds down the deserted highway.

Though Salalah possesses several points of interest for tourists (Job’s tomb, Al Balid archaeological site, Mughsail Beach), the city is most famous for its abundance of frankincense, available for purchase at the Al Husn Souk. Matt and I chose to forgo this shopping excursion in order to drink margaritas, having purchased all of the frankincense we need, which is to say, exactly none. Instead we spent the afternoon enjoying the sound of waves breaking on the beach from a pair of lounge chairs at the Salalah Hilton Resort. Though it’s located in the middle of nowhere (which says a lot, since the town of Salalah is already sort of in the middle of nowhere) its isolation only serves to increase the level of exoticism one feels upon arrival.

Hammocks dot the sandy beach and soft music is piped in by the poolside, where waiters quietly bestow drinks on the few vacationers scattered here and there. The Hilton’s Palm Grove Restaurant offers world class satay, beautiful spiced kebabs and crisp salads. Kitted out in an Arabian Nights-meets-Ikea minimalist d├ęcor, the design truly inspires the simple beachside boite, making it a zen spot in which to dine while gazing at the turquoise ocean. We finish off the afternoon befriending locals by assuring them that though we are American, we aren’t Bush supporters. Oddly (or not), this brings on a series of enthusiastic kisses from a Muslim man who then attempts to sell me a taxidermied lobster. Puzzled but ultimately amused, Matt & I speed back to the ship passing a vista of palm trees and sand, palm trees and sand as we prepare to set sail for the distant shores of Egypt.

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