Friday, October 21: I’m sure I’ll hear from the Ibri people on this posting because it isn’t going to be good. I should have listened to my colleague Cece, who lived and worked in Ibri for a year. She told me she thought she wasn’t going to make it in Oman because in Ibri there is NOTHING. Ever the optimist, I think there is no way there could be NOTHING in Ibri. After all, I saw some cool and funny YouTube videos of Ibri and the astounding castle and the souq where they sell goats. And I subscribe to a blog by RuralRouteRunner who lives in Ibri and she makes it seem like the cutting-edge running capital of Oman. Well, maybe not. But she makes it seem like fun anyway, especially when she posts pictures of her camel friends.
But the thing it all boils down to is this: I’m never very good at listening to anybody and I generally have to find things out the hard way, on my own.
Besides, I also read a great article in the Oman Observer that tells about all the things in Ibri, including numerous famous oil and gas fields, which provide the sultanate’s main source of income, along with a wealth of minerals such as gold, copper, sulphur and salt. Ibri is also famous for the cultivation and production of different types of dates, as well as mangoes, vegetables, fruits, clover and wheat. Other attractions include handicrafts such as pottery, leather work and palm-woven items. There are also other ancient sites around Ibri, such as the ruins of Bat.
I am actually psyched to take a drive to Ibri on this Friday morning because I have absolutely nothing else to do. I get out my trusty map of Oman and I figure out that it will take about 1 1/2 hours to get there. As I woke up a little late, I spend some time waffling back and forth about whether or not I should go. Finally, after taking a long hot bath and puttering around the house, a normal Sunday morning routine for me, (after all, Friday is Sunday in Oman) I finally get on the road at 10 a.m.
Now, I know in Nizwa that if you don’t get up early on Friday to get to the souq or the Fort or WHATEVER you want to do, it ain’t gonna happen. Because generally around 11:30 on Friday, EVERYTHING closes down because all the shopkeepers go to the mosque for Friday prayers.
So, yes, this trip is ill-advised. And yes, I get a late start. And YES, I even know in my heart of hearts that EVERYTHING is working against my having a successful trip. YET. I do it anyway. This is what sheer boredom will do to a person.
So, I set off around 10:15 or so. The drive to Ibri starts out like a promise. In Nizwa, I get on the main highway, a beautiful modern four-lane interstate-like highway to head toward Bahla. I drive on this for 38 km. Suddenly, in Bahla, the interstate ends. After driving around in circles for quite some time in Bahla, trying to figure out which direction to go to get to Ibri (Bahla really needs to put up more signs!), some young Omani guy sees me driving around and around in circles on several different roundabouts and beckons me to pull up alongside him. He asks me where I’m going. I say to Ibri. He says, “Follow me!” So I follow him to a main 2-lane road and he tells me to go left and then go straight, straight, straight. No turns! And I will end up in Ibri.
At first I am thinking, wow, these mountains are so beautiful. I love Oman! And yes, they are, the Oman mountains are beautiful in their brown undulating jaggedness. But after a long while of driving along, I am a little worried about staying awake. The only thing to keep my interest are some scrubby bushes scattered throughout the desert, endless lines of brown mountains, and numerous Omani drivers overtaking me in their brand-spanking new white SUVs.
I arrive in Ibri a little before noon, after this very long and excruciatingly boring drive through the middle of nowhere. There are not even any radio stations to be found on my car radio. I remind myself, once again, that I really need to burn some CDs for my drives in Oman.
Well, I am looking for the Ibri Castle and, as in most towns in Oman, I figure it’s impossible to get lost. So I might as well just drive through the town until I see a sign, which I do. I follow the sign down a long convoluted road, through what looks like an old and partially abandoned village, toward Ibri Castle. I feel that in following these signs I am just making a bunch of circles, because everything looks alike. Finally I see the Ibri Castle looming before me. I made it!
In the parking lot of the castle, I take a few pictures from the outside. But when I walk to the main gate, I see it is closed. Bolted shut. A big wooden door with black wrought-iron door handles and fittings, as closed as closed can be. However, there is another entrance to the left of the main gate through which some people are walking. It doesn’t really register that these “people” happen to all be men.
I am following these pilgrims and suddenly I come to a little courtyard where some men are milling around. I happen to glance to my left and I notice a lot of sandals lined up neatly on steps going into some shadowed place. A Omani man in dishdasha is reclining on a mat and he says, “What are you looking for?” I say, “Ibri Castle.” He motions over the wall behind him. “The castle is over there,” meaning the other side of the wall. “But,” he says, “it is closed! It closed at 12:00.” Ouch.
The men in the courtyard are staring me down. It dawns on me a little too slowly what I’ve done. I’ve followed them into the mosque, at Friday prayer time, and I am the only woman in their midst. I feel incredibly uncomfortable. All I want to do is disappear underneath all the sandals lined up on the steps to the mosque.
I apologize profusely and immediately start heading out the way I came in. After I get out, I head straight for my car. I must get out of this place because I definitely don’t belong here!
So I drive back out the convoluted route and drive some more around Ibri looking for the souq I saw in the YouTube video. Actually, I am looking for anything of interest. Granted, I don’t know what I should be looking for in Ibri, and maybe I missed something astounding. But after driving up and down the main road and some side roads in this sleepy little town, I decide that this has been a foolish trip after all. All for naught. And now I have a 1 1/2 hour drive through the scrub-bushed desert and mountains back to my quaint little town of Nizwa.
This is when I realize how lucky I am to be living in Nizwa and not some other place in Oman where I COULD be living. I like my little town of Nizwa with its beautiful fort and souq, it’s sprawling Lulu Hypermarket, its little roundabouts and greenery planted in the medians. Granted, it’s not New York City, or even Muscat, but it really is a fine and dandy place to live.