Thursday, January 19: We wake up a little bruised from the battle last night, but we all try our best to put the episode behind us. After eating breakfast in the Al-Ghaftain Restaurant, we get in the car for the second half of our drive through the Empty Quarter. Al-Ghaftain is a little over halfway from Nizwa, so we still have about 4+ hours of driving through the desert.
Uneventful is an understatement to describe the rest of the drive. This empty part of Oman is desolate and barren. I can’t find much to say about it except that there are periodic signs warning of sand dunes encroaching on the road. Mostly flat desert, there are only small sand dunes, more like enlarged ant hills, dotting the landscape. We make one stop along the way to take photos of ourselves standing in the gravelly sand. We fill up with petrol every time there is a gas station, even though sometimes we get just over 1 rial of gas. There are some road diversions along the way, little construction projects in the middle of nowhere, with apologetic signs at the end of the diversion: “Sorry for the inconvenience.” We see one lone man running along the roadside; with no towns for miles and miles in either direction, we wonder where on earth he came from and where he’s going.
We look forward to stopping at the Frankincense Park to see the frankincense trees. Until I read about frankincense in my Oman Off-Road book, I didn’t know anything about this ancient commodity, traded “pound for pound with gold” throughout India, Arabia and Europe. The Dhofar region’s trees produced what was, and still is, considered the best frankincense in the world.
From Oman Off-Road: Frankincense is the hardened aromatic resin of the Boswellia tree, and is burned for its medicinal, aromatic and insect-repelling qualities. The resin is produced by careful shaving of the bark of the tree. A good tree may produce 10 kg of frankincense in a season, which runs from April to the beginning of the monsoon. The trees grow wild and are located where the southern mountains of Oman meet the desert plateau.
We walk down to the park where a Bangladeshi man who tends the trees shows us some trees with the resin on the trunks.
Most of the resin is still oozing out of the trunk and has not solidified. He tells us that once it hardens, they will shave off the resin and sell it in the markets. Apparently, good quality frankincense has a silvery color, is transparent, and is a good size clump of resin. The more opaque and reddish it becomes, the lesser the quality. Our guide shows us the resin in various stages of solidifying; I find it fascinating how this scented treasure is formed.
After our sweltering walk through the Frankincense Park, we head next to Wadi Uyun. We drive through 3 1/2 km of dirt roads to an overlook with glimpses of green pools and grasses. Though my Oman Off-Road says you can find traces of a trail down to the water, we frankly don’t see any way down to the water. Mostly high cliffs and boulders surround this wadi. Granted we don’t take a lot of time to search for the route as we’re anxious at this point to get to Salalah after our long drive. So we just enjoy the view and move on.
Along the road to the wadi, we encounter a bunch of camels grazing on some meager tufts of grass. We get out of the car and move up close to observe them; they ignore us totally, knowing, I suppose, that they rule in Salalah.
After our camel encounter, we finally arrive in Salalah, where we check out the Lonely Planet-recommended hotel: Salalah Beach Villas.
This hotel is right on the beach, with no road in between, or behind for that matter. This makes it a little difficult to find and we drive around in circles looking for the entrance. After much miscommunication with the non-English speaking receptionist, we check in and unload our suitcases, and then check out the pool, the white sand beach, the poolside outdoor dining area, and our room.
We head out to find fruit at one of the multitudes of fruit stands along the road. The boys are enamored with the fresh coconuts, hacked open and served with a straw, as well as the bunches of tiny bananas.
After collecting a coconut each, and sipping on them through our straws, we drive into Salalah proper to find another Lonely Planet restaurant, Al-Fareed Tourist Restaurant. The guidebook tells us it’s on 23 July Street, but we drive up and down that street to no avail. (23rd July Street is a common street name in Oman, commemorating the July 23, 1970 coup by Sultan Qaboos; it marks a day of renaissance for Oman “in the political, social, cultural, economic and technological spheres of life. Ever since he acceded the throne, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos has begun to plant the seeds of his vision to make his country enjoy the fruits of modernization and restore its glorious past,” according to Oman’s Ministry of Information). We also try to call the number in the book but we get no answer. Finally, we’re starved so we stop at a Chinese restaurant where we order vegetarian spring rolls, vegetarian fried rice, and vegetarian noodles. I order a grilled prawns with vegetables that seems more deep-fried than grilled; I send it back because it’s totally not what I expected.
We crash early after our long drive and I feel a little better about our altercation the night before. However, I still sense a shadow lingering over us, aftereffects of the disagreement. I hope we will eventually recover our laid-back attitudes so we can enjoy the rest of our time together. Time is always the healer of wounds, so we just have to let it pass to mend our hurt and angry hearts.