Oooooo-man

This fall, I submitted an application to a large publication for a contributing travel-writer-at-large position. This publication, whose name I shall not shame publicly but  rhymes with the Clue Cork Dimes, recently appointed someone for the position—someone that is not yours truly.

Factually and without bias, I think we can all acknowledge this is a larger-than-life mistake. But in any case, as I’m not traveling this weekend, I decided to publish the submission I wrote about my trip to Oman with José this spring, in response to the prompt: “Where is the most interesting place you’ve traveled, and why?” Here it is (and in all seriousness, best of luck to the new writer!):

Not much has been written about the Sultanate of Oman. Of course, I was able to do some research prior to my trip, but I found fewer pre-planned itineraries and packaged tours than I had for any country I’ve visited. And that’s the way I like it.

Oman is a treasure trove of the Arabian Peninsula—vast desert, lush green oases, quiet coastlines, and a modern capital painted in sparkling whiteness. Compared to its glitzy neighbours, Oman is a laid-back gem, with a quiet coolness that I haven’t found elsewhere in my Middle Eastern travels. Since opening its borders in the 1980s, Oman has morphed from a seafaring country to a cultural hub that combines old-world Arabian heritage with contemporary touches.

Uniform in its whitewashed style, the capital city of Muscat is nestled deep in the sleepy mountains that surround it, dressed in a fruity perfume of frankincense. Muttrah, Muscat’s commercial center, is a beautiful seafront corniche highlighting the nation’s mercantile roots: the Sultan Qaboos Docks, Fish Market and Muttrah Souk are all found here. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is located just outside the city, and was worth a visit for its stunning decorative marvels, including impressive latticework and the world’s second-largest rug. To the city’s east is Old Muscat, and served as a fantastic place to absorb the country’s history, with Portuguese-built Al Jalai Fort and the Bait al Zubair Museum, where I found a showcase of Omani cultural relics and a thorough yet expedient primer of Oman’s past.

It’s legal to “wild camp” in Oman, and I was eager to explore Oman’s labyrinth of landscapes, so I headed down to Wahiba Sands for an evening of desert living. After driving through the dragon-tooth ridges of the Al Hajar mountains, I was greeted by my hosts, a gracious Bedouin family of five. They pitched me a tent, but offered to pull the mattress outside so I could sleep under the stars—an obvious yes. Having lived in Madrid, New York and now Singapore, I’m no stranger to escaping city life in favour of quiet refuge, but my night under the Arabian sky enveloped me in a deafening silence I’d never before experienced. In the morning, it was a traditional Omani breakfast of dates, hummus and vegetables shared on a communal carpet, trading camel for car for my trek to Wadi Shab.

Located in Oman’s Al Sharqiyah Region, this is Oman’s largest and most famous wadi (ravine), and for good reason. Land meets sea here in dramatic fashion: the towering red-rock Hajar Mountains plunge into crystal blue waters, creating a landscape of sharp-sided fjords. A self-guided hike took me on a palm-lined walk to a hidden cave with a turquoise blue pool, set between boulders. Afterwards, a swim and stay on the unobstructed coast of nearby Tiwi Beach sealed the week.

Access to untouched natural wonders, beautifully preserved Omani traditions, warm and wonderful Arabian hospitality. In Oman, they’re part of the every day—meaning adventure is a given.

Some photos from Oman: