Tuesday, November 27:

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave! “

~ “Hotel California” by the Eagles

This morning at 9:30 a.m., Mario and I, excited about our adventure ahead, take off for the 5-hour drive (about 380km) to the harbor of Shana, where car ferries depart for Masirah Island.

We stop along the way in Barr al-Hickman, on the route from Mahut, near the harbor, to take some pictures of the desolate salt flats, covered in red algae.

the salt flats of Barr al Hickman

salt flats

more of the salt flats

When we arrive at the two-lane bridge leading to the dock at Shana, we are flabbergasted by what we encounter.  There is a line of cars waiting patiently on the bridge, but aggressive Omanis in big bully vehicles are bypassing the cars sitting in the right-lane queue by getting in the left lane and shoving their way to the front.  On the rectangular concrete pier, there are about 3-4 lanes of cars lined up lengthwise within the rectangle. The pushy Omanis add themselves to the lines on the pier, leaving those of us waiting patiently in line further and further behind.

There are only several policemen at the dock, way too few to control a crowd of such magnitude and lack of principles. There are literally hundreds of cars. Most are Omanis heading to Masirah Island for the National Day holiday, which begins today.

There is absolutely no system in place.  The policemen seem to be wandering around aimlessly.  At one point, they direct a huge semi-truck to block off the people coming onto the dock.  This doesn’t stop the aggressive Omanis from shoving their way around the ends of the truck.

The small ferries, which carry anywhere from 15-25 cars, arrive at various points along the pier at random, unpredictable times.  When a new ferry arrives, everyone on the dock jockeys around, pushing and shoving, to get in position for the new ferry.  When it’s evident where the ferry will land, everyone rushes to that spot, bumper to bumper, like water trying to go through a funnel, blocking others from making their way forward.  Unfortunately, if you are in a position away from the random landing, you miss out on that ferry and then have to go through the entire rigmarole again.

When a ferry lands, and everyone jockeys into place at the correct spot, crowds of Omanis jump out of their cars and surround the police. Of course they are upset, because some people who have been waiting for hours are at the back of the line, once again.  The police seem to have no teeth.  The way of Omani culture is to be friendly and accommodating, especially to other Omanis.  Honestly, the police don’t care about the questions and concerns of the Westerners.  For one, none of the police on the dock today can speak English.  So, of course, they have no information to offer. They basically ignore the Westerners, although they seem to kowtow to their fellow Omanis. They seem to be incapable of making any decisions whatsoever.

Click on any images below for a full-sized slide show.

What a disaster!  For a while, we are foolishly hopeful.  We see the futility of the situation, yet we still think we will eventually get on a ferry.  This goes on for over four hours!  During this four-hour period, we come up with too many solutions to count for this utter chaos: 1)  Someone should be selling ferry tickets at the entrance to the bridge.  The tickets should have a number on them, and only enough tickets should be sold for the number of spots available on the ferries. 2) The police should set up cones to keep people in ONE lane on the bridge.  There should be a gate at the end of the bridge nearest the pier, and it should be opened only when a ferry arrives.  Only those who will fit on the ferry should be allowed through the gate.  HELLO?? How difficult is it to put a logical system in place?

When we miss yet another ferry at around 6:00 (we arrived here at 2:00!), we decide we’ve had enough.  We figure that if this is the situation getting TO Masirah, who knows what we will encounter coming back.

We decide to leave.

This is a joke.  We CANNOT leave! It’s like an episode from The Twilight Zone.  We finally are able to jockey the car around and head toward the bridge, but both lanes of the bridge are blocked, now by two police cars at the front of the lines.  Behind the police cars, both lanes, incoming and outgoing, are blocked by Omanis trying to push their way to the front.  Deadlocked!

This situation could be easily solved if the police removed their cars from the bridge and funneled the cars from both lanes onto the pier.  But, as usual, they do absolutely NOTHING.  They seem to be totally incompetent.  Unable to make any decisions at all.  So we sit.  And sit.  And sit.  For at least an hour, we sit, making no headway at all, staring at a line of headlights shining in our eyes.

Finally, it is the ordinary citizens that take action.  Omanis standing around on the bridge start directing the people in the left lane to move over to the right as far as possible to allow us to pass off the bridge. It is touch and go, and slow going, because there is literally nowhere for the people on the bridge to move, since the police don’t take any action to move people off the bridge. The other option could be for the police to direct everyone in the left lane to back up all the way to the end of the line.  But of course, they don’t do any such thing.

We finally escape, at which time we fill up the car with petrol.  We have wasted a lot of gas sitting on the pier because we kept our car, and air conditioner, running because of the heat!  Feeling a sudden burst of freedom, we decide that we will drive to Al Ashkara, a supposedly beautiful beach north up the coast toward Sur, and set up our tent. We stop for dinner at some small town Pakistani restaurant and then continue up the coast.

We are out in the middle of nowhere!  We drove 5 hours this morning to get to Shana, and now we are driving four hours north toward Sur.  There is absolutely NOTHING here along the east coast of Oman.  The night is black as ink.  We can barely see the beach along the way, and we simply cannot make out a place to set up our tent.

By the time we reach Al Ashkara, about 2 1/2 hours north of Shana, it is getting cold outside and the whole idea of setting up a tent is looking very unappealing.  We start calling every hotel in Sur; most of them are fully booked for the holiday.  We want to shoot ourselves!  Finally we find we can share a room at the Sur Beach Hotel, which has a room, for 55 rials ($143), 27.50 rials ($71) each.  We tell them we will take it and will be there around 11:00.

After our grueling 14 hour day, we arrive at the Sur Beach Hotel, an oasis in the middle of nowhere.  We have never been so happy to see two twin beds!  We celebrate the survival of our horrendous day by breaking out some wine.  Mario has some Scotch.  We sit up talking until 2 a.m., relieved to finally have escaped the nightmare of the Masirah Ferry Dock.