Friday, February 24: This morning, my friend Kathy and I get up early and head to two adjacent villages about 40km northwest of Nizwa, Al Hamra and Misfat Al Abriyyen. We’ve been trying to get more exercise lately, taking walks after or before work, just to get our bodies moving, to shake out our stiff & creaky joints and create some energy within ourselves. We eat a big breakfast of eggs with tomatoes, onions and garlic (yummy), turkey sausages, and coffee, prepared by Kathy, and we head off into the horizon.
Al Hamra has one of Oman’s best-preserved old towns, with mudbrick houses in various states of disrepair and a maze of rubble-strewn alleyways spilling down a hillside to an oasis of date palms and banana trees below.
We park the car and are met by several small children who shyly greet us in chirpy voices: “How ar-r-r-r-e you???” They pose shyly for a picture and then we say “Ma’asalaama” and pick a random alley through which to enter the mostly abandoned town.
Purely by chance we come upon one of the two museums in Al Hamra, Bait al-Jabal Museum, billed as “the first museum in Oman presenting antiques and masterpieces in their traditional setting. The house is more than 210 years old and is situated in old Al Hamra town which is over 500 years old.” The museum contains artifacts between 300 and 2,000 years old, from Oman and other parts of the ancient world.
The entry fee is a steep 2 rials. We poke our heads in the door but I tell the curator I can’t afford it since payday isn’t until Sunday. (This has been an expensive month for me between my car service and my sons visiting!) He kindly invites us to come in anyway. I guess business is slow and he wants some company.
He graciously shows us the old front doors, panels carved with Arabic decorations and script from the Quran. He guides us through the atmospheric house with its rough-hewn mudbrick walls and rickety steps. All the floors are wet as he has just watered down the house to “make it fresh” for the morning. I’m sure without the watering down it gets very dusty.
We see Moroccan silver kettles, a 400-year-old elephant leather kettle, and a traditional mill used to grind starch used to make Halwa, a traditional Omani dessert. A 300-year-old dagger made of leather and wood and metal is labeled: “found in a desolate place.” Old locks and keys, a pistol made in England, and handwritten old letters and books are showcased throughout the museum.
My favorite room has four models made of date palm who display old Omani handicrafts. Another room has colorful Omani traditional costumes.
The curator then invites us down the street to show us his small “factory” and shop for making and selling Halwa, the traditional Omani dessert made from starch, eggs, sugar, water, ghee, saffron, cardamom, nuts and rosewater from Jebel Akhdar. It is cooked here in Al Hamra in a large cooking pot called a mirjni over a wood fire for about 4-5 hours with constant stirring.
Kathy and I leave our informative Omani guide and wander around Al Hamra’s alleyways, and then down into the oasis of date palms and banana trees.
We then drive another 5 km up to the lovely mountainside village of Misfat al Abriyyin, where we wander through more winding alleyways between ochre-colored stone buildings. This village could almost resemble a medieval French hill village if it were more restored.
It’s fun to wander through these twisting lanes through covered passages, gateways and steps. We make our way down to the falaj which runs below the village and waters a huge tropical oasis which bursts in exclamation points of greenery: grasses, an abundance of date palms, banana palms, and Bougainvillea.
We check out the Misfat Bed and Breakfast, where I think I will stay one weekend when I want to chill out and relax. The proprietor takes us to the rooftop where breakfast and dinner are served and where the view over the mountains and the tropical oasis below is wonderfully peaceful.
We follow the falaj back up the hill and then where it runs along a steep rocky gorge dotted with more date palms and miniature terraced fields. We come to a turret or some kind of watchtower sitting along the path and this is where we decide to turn around.
It’s around 12:30 and the hottest part of the day is beginning. We decide we’ve had a good walk, plenty of fresh air and exercise for one day. We head back to Nizwa, where I lie down to read and end up taking a 2-hour nap. A bit of heaven in the afternoon 🙂