Thursday, February 14: Today is Valentine’s Day, but I don’t give it a thought since I don’t have a Valentine. As if it’s any other day, I invite two of my colleagues to come with me for a hike on Jebel Akhdar; we’ll have wine and dinner afterwards at the Sahab Hotel. These colleagues arrived in Oman this past fall and were both readers of my blog before they came here. They don’t have cars of their own and so haven’t had much chance to explore the country.
Mona Lisa is from Canada and has traveled all over the world. She used to work a long time for the United Nations and spent 5 months in Nepal some years back, even trekking to Everest Base Camp. She inspired me to go to Kathmandu, which she loved, for our semester break. Beg is from Turkmenistan but has also lived and worked in Turkey; he speaks both Turkish and Turkmen, as well as English, Russian and other languages, fluently. He’s planning to get married in March and bring his new bride to Oman.
This is a good thing for me and, I think, for them. For me, it’s a great accomplishment, and really stepping outside of my comfort zone, when I get up the nerve to invite someone other than the regular characters to go on an outing. I’m always afraid of being rejected, so I usually only plan things with the old standbys. Or I just do things alone. Under my social category of 2013 resolutions, I resolved this:
Cultivate new friendships with great discernment. Cultivate at least one new friendship in Oman and one in Virginia. Make more of an effort to talk to my close friends regularly. Invite someone somewhere once a month, either to come by for dinner or a movie, or to go on an outing.
So, yay! I do something on my resolution list for February.
After parking at the cul-de-sac near the trail head of the path that meanders through the rose villages, I point out our destination. Mona Lisa is a little worried that we will be hiking down into the canyon. I point along the ridge line and tell her the hike is basically level, that we will be walking only along the top of the canyon.
In the first village of Al Aqr, we come upon 3 lively Omani girls playing with some mud in a bowl; they take great pleasure in holding up their muddy hands for us and begging: “Sura, sura!” (Picture! Picture!)
We enjoy our walk and stupendous views on the relatively flat hike through the first village of Al Aqr, through a boulder-filled wadi, and through the second village of Al Ayn. It’s only when we get past the second village that I remember that in fact we have to climb down quite some distance to walk along the falaj to the third village of A’Sheragah. From there, we have to walk further down to the terraces, doing a loop back UP to the trail leading down. Then we have to backtrack further UP that trail to the second village. It turns out a lot of climbing is involved, leaving us all winded and sore.
Thank goodness they are both good sports. I keep pointing to the Sahab on the top of the plateau, reminding them that we will have a reward at the end: dinner and wine. They’re too busy breathing heavily to think about this. Actually, I’m breathing quite heavily myself. We are all exhausted when we finish our loop, about 2 hours after starting, and head to the Sahab. We sit by the pool and share a bottle of wine.
At 6:30, we go inside the hotel for the buffet dinner. The place is packed with tourists! I keep exclaiming that I’ve never seen so many people here; Mario and I have been many times and had the whole place to ourselves. When the staff brings out the buffet, we are surprised at its sumptuousness. Many of the dishes served have a heart-shaped motif. The dessert selection consists of a huge variety of confections, including heart-shaped chocolate and pink-iced cakes. Watermelons are carved with the words “Happy Valentine’s Day.” The meal is delicious, especially accompanied by the two bottles of wine brought by Mona Lisa.
Only at the end, when it’s time to pay the bill, do we find that this buffet is 12 rials ($31) as opposed to the normal 8 rials ($21). Ouch. It’s wonderful despite the price, and we have a great time talking and laughing and enjoying each others’ company. And at the end, it turns out Beg insists on treating both of us to dinner! And I feel happy that I extended the invitation and provided the car, without which none of us would be here.
What a lovely afternoon and evening. I feel happy to have spent time with two new friends.