A Couchsurfing Dream
As I alluded two posts ago, CouchSurfing was a vital part of our Oman experience. With the exception of one night spent at the Turtle Beach Resort, we slept every night in the home of CouchSurfers. Adel, our Jordanian host, not only picked us up from the airport, and let us use his house as our home base during our holiday (he arranged a rental car for our trip also); he also took us all over Muscat, including a day at the beach on Christmas Eve, and for drinks at a 7-star resort on Christmas. His hospitality challenged us to step ours up the next time we host any CouchSurfers.
Even when we weren’t staying in people’s homes, there were several CouchSurfers who took us around and showed us incredible sights in Oman. This post is about a few of those:
Day 6: Oman with Aiman
On Monday morning, we met up with Aiman for a day trip out of Muscat. Aiman works at the airport and, improbably, went to flight school at University of North Dakota. He’s incredibly nice and seems to know every nook and cranny of Oman. Our first stop of the day is in Nakhal, at a warm spring in a wadi where little fishes swim around your feet and pick off dead skin.
After stopping for tea, our next destination was the massive fort in Nakhal. The fort has a spectacular setting upon a rock in the foothills of the mountains, and most of the rooms in the castle have been outfitted with the furnishings and royal accoutrements of the era when the castle was built.
Next up was the town of Rustaq where we visited another spring with even hotter water and ate a delicious meal at a tradtional restaurant, sitting on the floor.
From there we drove toward the coast, to take a boat to the Daymaniyat Islands. The boat ride was long and narrow, and the waves were rather formidable. Luckily, it was a short journey to what appeared to be the tallest of the islands.
There’s a stepped path made of stone leading up to a castle perched atop the island. Once we get to the castle, there’s a dark and scary stairway winding up the tower. We decided to take a different path back down the island, which is faster but more treacherous.
After sailing back to the mainland, we walk along the beach, watch the sunset, and drink more tea. After that, it was back to Muscat to rest up for another day of adventure.
Day 7: Back in time
We left Muscat early Thursday morning, looking for Al Hamra, to meet Mohammed, another CouchSurfer. We get way off track, thanks to a lack of signs and a misinformed GPS. After ending up in the middle of the desert, and calling Mohammed, we get back on the right track. Mohammed, his wife Hanna, and their three children are an absolute treasure. They are the sweetest, gentlest people, and they drive with us up a steep mountain toward the village where they grew up, stopping along the way to let the kids play with some sheep and goats we see.
After arriving at Mohammed’s cousin’s house, on one side of a steep valley, we walk along a falaj (the traditional irrigation system still used by Omanis), down the terraced hillside, and up the other side of the valley to Misfat al Abreen, the oldest village in Oman at almost 2000 years old. The village is an idyllic trip back in time, and is just like you would like to imagine a village in the Middle East would be. Since the village sits on a steep hillside, the paths through the village are mostly stone staircases. Mohammed shows us all sorts of fascinating things, like the house where he grew up (part of it has now fallen down), and the sablah, which is a sort of communal living room.
Mohammed somehow moves with grace and ease through paths that caused me to suffer a nasty fall. We climb back up to his cousin’s house and have coffee and dates with both Mohammed and later Hanna. They are both such devout people, ending any sentence about future plans or hopes with inshallah.
After that we go back to the family flat for lunch. We were a little confused by what happened next, but after conversations with a few others, we think we now understand. Mohammed brings us out some delicious looking food, and then goes back into the other room, and closes the door, leaving us to eat by ourselves. It seems that the reason is because Hanna’s head is uncovered while she eats, and as a male who is unrelated, I can’t be present. It was a bit strange at first, but the food was far too tasty to feel much awkwardness.
After that, we go with Mohammed into Al Hamra, which is a mere 400 years old. We visit a traditional house that is something of a cultural museum, with various people in the house doing household tasks using traditional methods and tools. The tour ends, naturally, with more dates and (thankfully this time) tea.
The whole experience was enchanting, but for my throbbing right big toe which was swelling up from my fall earlier. To complete the day of CouchSurfing fun, we drove to Nizwa where we stayed with Barry and Helen, an American and Taiwanese couple (respectively) living in Oman. Once again, it was a display of incredible hospitality. They were already hosting two other groups of Belgian CouchSurfers – a couple about our age and a family with two kids. Although it wasn’t the sort of enchanting cultural experience we’d had with Aiman or Mohammed, it was nevertheless a delightful and fun experience, as we got to eat, drink and chat with fellow travelers along the way.