Oman, Oman! (Published in The Citizen, Auburn, NY, Feb. 4, 2018)

(My travels got ahead of my blogging, so I am catching up here. The dates are these: September 29 – October 27 in Bahrain; October 27 – November 5 in England; November 5 – 25 in Bahrain; November 25 – December 18 in Oman; December 18 – January 2 in Bahrain; January 2 – present in Jordan.)

I flew into Oman in the late afternoon on a Saturday as the sun was going down. I am still getting used to the routine of arriving in a new country: immigration (where they check my passport and I buy a tourist visa,) baggage claim, customs, finding an ATM to get some local cash, then getting a taxi to wherever I am staying.

I made a decision about my travel to stay in non-chain accommodations whenever possible. I wanted to travel like a “local” for the local experience, and support local businesses. The Internet has made booking accommodations easier all over the world. I used the Hostelworld app, AirBnB, Hotels.com, and a straightforward Google search for accommodations near where I want to stay, in order to have a choice. I found some local websites and a multinational overseas service called Agoda, which produced a couple of very good deals and, so far, has been reliable.

Like any reservation, I always looked for an email confirmation and saved it in a separate folder created to hold all travel-related emails: accommodations, airline reservations, any tour admissions I paid online, etc. They were easier to find if I needed them (which happened once) without cluttering my inbox. That file also served as a travel expense diary. I could check my credit card charges whenever I had Wi-Fi. I charged accommodations in local currency on my “no foreign transaction fee” credit card. I used my debit card to get cash and checked my bank transactions online, too. This worked like a champ, however, long years of habit forced me to keep my paper receipts for these, and especially for gift purchases, which I stashed in my suitcase. They don’t take up much room.

I planned to stay in Oman for three weeks, and had booked 10 days’ worth of accommodations before I arrived, leaving room for things I might discover. I planned five nights in Seeb, a town about 20 minutes northwest of Muscat, which is the capital of Oman.

I liked Seeb. It was, as the guidebook said, without tourists, a good example of contemporary Oman, a large town where real Omanis lived their daily lives, quieter and less crowded than Muscat. I stayed in the Hotel Abahjah, which catered to Arab and Indian business travelers and a few tourists like me, located in the Seeb market area, or “souq.”

Every city and town of any size in Oman has a souq. In larger towns and cities, it has stores that are occupied daily. Their names were on the storefront signs in Arabic and English, and sometimes Hindi. The English translations would sound funny to our ears: “Retail of Foodstuffs,” “Sale of Construction Items,” “Gents Tailoring,” “Sale of Fake Jewelry,” “Retail of Electronic Goods,” etc. The names strike a quaintly formal tone well-suited to the Omani people.

Other parts of the souq come and go according to need and tradition. In Seeb, fish were brought in daily by the local fishermen, and the fish market operated in the early morning in its own building at one end of the souq. Fruit, vegetables, honey and other farm products appeared under a large tent between the mosque and some permanent stores selling household items, against the backdrop of the Seeb beach. In small, rural towns, produce was sold daily, and animals were auctioned on a certain day of the week.

On my first full day in Oman, I walked around the souq in Seeb. The stores were all open because Sunday is a regular business day in Arab countries. For Muslims, Friday is the main day of prayer and attendance at a mosque. The stores faced a circular, one-way street in the downtown area that was a couple of lanes wide, “lane” being a fluid concept. Men were gathered in the shade on a corner, seated on mats, visiting over soft drinks and tea. This was a daily occurrence, lasting until about 9 a.m., when they went about their business. Some stores closed for the afternoon heat, and reopened three or four hours later, staying open until 9 or 10 at night.

I had lunch in an Indian restaurant on the beach and walked along the “corniche,” the walkway bordering the beach for a long way. I was approached by two young men who were delighted to find an American, and somewhere on the Internet, I am immortalized in their selfie.

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