Monday, December 5: After finishing my class at 1 pm, I drive back to my house in Firq to pick up Guido. In the meantime I have called the Omani guy named Moo and he’s invited Guido and I to stay in his flat tonight at Jebel Akhdar, or “Green Mountain” in Arabic. He tells us to bring some meat and he’ll do a barbecue for us. I tell him I have to work tomorrow so I’ll have to drive back down the mountain early Tuesday morning, but I wonder if he can take Guido hiking on the mountain while I’m at work. He says he can certainly do just that.
All of this means that we get a late start going up the mountain. I have to drive home from the university, which is actually going away from the mountain, because the entrance to Jebel Akhdar is at Birkat al Mouz, near the university. Guido and I both have to pack our bags to stay the night on the mountain. Besides this, we have to run to the Lulu to pick up meat and vegetables for the barbecue. We finally are on our way by 2:30, and by the time we arrive at the police station at Birkat al Mouz, it’s nearly 3:00. Getting this late a start means I’m not going to get to see much on the mountain.
Jebel Akhdar is part of the 300 km Al Hajar Mountain range, about 50-100 km inland from the Oman coast on the Gulf of Oman. The range is mostly desert, but at higher altitudes it receives around 12 inches of precipitation annually, moist enough to allow the growth of shrubs and trees and support some agriculture. It is this that gives the mountains their ‘green’ name. The area is famous for its traditional rose-water extraction and agricultural products including pomegranate, apricot, peach and walnut. The Jebel is mostly inhabited by the ancient Arab tribe Bani Riyam (al Riyamy) and Moo tells us that a lot of Afghans live here as well.
The road to Jebel Akhdar is a good paved road but it’s very steep and the police checkpoint at the bottom is there to ensure that people going up the mountain have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Luckily I pass inspection, and Guido and I head up the mountain. It is a tough drive up, and I have to put the car into low gear to make it up. We stop at one overlook point of 2090 meters, where we get out and take some photos. The view from the mountain is spectacular with the brown mountains and valleys below us.
Moo has told me to call him when I get to the Maha petrol station. He assures me it’s the only petrol station on Jebel Akhdar, so I won’t miss it. When I met Moo at the Falaj Daris, he had on the dishdasha and kuma (the Omani men’s cap). When we arrive at the Maha station, before I even have a chance to call him, two guys in Western clothes drive up. In the passenger side is a guy I don’t recognize and he says “Follow me!” I laugh, wondering who this person is, because I always have Omani guys telling me to follow them when they can see that I look obviously lost. I say, “Who are you?” He says “You don’t recognize me?” I honestly don’t and it takes a while before I actually recognize his distinctive Australian/British accent. I apologize and tell him he looks like a totally different person out of his dishdasha!
We follow him to his flat where he gets into my car and tells us where to go. By now it is nearly 4 pm and the sun will set around 5:00. There isn’t much time, but Moo takes us to a number of high vantage points. Jebel Akhdar does not really refer to a mountain as such, but to an area that includes the great Saiq Plateau, at 2000 meters above sea level. He takes us to an overlook where we see picturesque abandoned villages perched on the steep hillsides below. He takes us then to Sunset Point on the upper plateau, where below we can see magnificent canyons and more villages and terraced plantations. Finally, he takes us to Diana’s Viewpoint, named after the late Princess Diana who visited this vista by helicopter for one afternoon in 1990. We can see the terraces and villages Al Aqur, Al Ayn and Ash Shirayjah from this viewpoint and Moo points out huge boulders with fossils embedded in them. The sun is setting and it is chilly and breezy. The air reverberates with the sound from several directions of muezzin calling for evening prayers. Muezzin are the chosen people at the mosques who lead the 5 daily calls to prayer from the mosque’s minarets, usually (in modern days) aided by electronic amplification. There must be several mosques on the plateau as the calls are all around us, enveloping, comforting. It all is quite beautiful and moving.
I can take all the pictures I want, but to capture the muezzin’s calls, I turn on the video on my camera and do a panorama shot of the vista. Sadly the calls are barely audible in my short film. As I pan the camera, I come across Guido with his back to me. I say, quietly, because I don’t want my voice blaring on the video, “Guido. Guido. I’m taking a film. Look at me. Say hi.” He turns around and smiles, thinking I’m taking a picture, but then I repeat myself, “Say hi.” He says “Hi,” and waves shyly, laughing. I laugh too. I find it sweet and endearing.
After we’ve had our eyeful of the sunset and the gorgeous views, Moo takes us to a beautiful 4-star hotel called Al Sahab Resort. Here we walk around the grounds and admire the lovely building made of stone with fossils embedded in them. We look at the infinity pool and the views over the canyons and then, because it’s just too darn cold to sit outside, we sit in the gorgeous lobby and drink tea to warm our weary souls.
We go back to Moo’s flat where we relax a bit while Moo makes a fire out in his courtyard. We bring out our sumptuous salads and vegetables and our hamburgers and chicken kebabs and Moo cooks them all up on the fire. We eat our feast and Moo tells us stories about the friends he has from all over the globe. He tells of his travels around the world and of his love of the outdoors and walking and hiking.
Mostly it’s just Moo and me talking as Guido is sitting back quietly for a change. Possibly he has taken to heart what I told him last night. Last night I told him, as kindly as I could, that I really cannot understand his English. My problem is that once I break open a topic such as this with a person, a topic regarding something that is annoying, then there is no shutting me up. I told him that when he speaks, his pronunciation is bad and he talks too fast, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for me to understand him. On top of that, he throws in Italian or Spanish or even German words whenever he doesn’t know the English word. And I told him the worst thing of all is that he THINKS his English is good and so he talks non-stop telling long convoluted stories that I cannot understand at all! I said to him that I’ve told him numerous times that I cannot understand him, yet he totally ignores that fact and continues to talk as if I DO understand him. Even when I can understand him, he tells such long stories with such unimportant details that I do not even have the patience to try to listen.
He replied last night that he thought that since I had trouble understanding him, he should say MORE and not less, so I could be SURE to understand him. But I said that saying MORE of incoherent gobbledygook is not going to make me understand him any better. It only makes me totally lose interest in even attempting to understand.
His attempt to speak MORE of a garbled unintelligible language is tantamount to an English speaker talking to a non-English-speaking foreigner and repeating the words louder and louder so that the foreigner can understand. If the person doesn’t know the words, saying them louder or more clearly is not going make them comprehensible! Speaking MORE of incoherent babble will not make another person understand either.
After our long evening out by this campfire, I say I’m tired and will go to sleep. I leave Guido and Moo outside to have their man talk, while I drift off into peaceful silence. I feel bad about the situation with Guido and me as he is really such a sweet, adventurous and happy-go-lucky guy. But the situation with our communication is incredibly difficult. I guess if we decided we were serious about each other, one or both of us would have to take language classes in the other’s native tongue. But as it is, we hardly know each other and live in separate countries. I’m not sure there is any future for us, even if we could get past the language barrier.
Tuesday, December 6: The next morning I awake at 5 am, shower, and head down the steep mountain to go to work. All night I have been tossing and turning because apparently many fatal accidents have occurred with people trying to drive down this steep mountain without 4 wheel drive and trying to use their brakes alone to slow their descent. I have not really used the 4WD capabilities of my car that much and I’m afraid, going down alone, that I won’t know how to use them properly and so will go careening down the mountain. In the end, my car down goes fine, slowly, but still with some trepidation.
At around 4:30, after my classes are finished for the day, I go to the police station at the bottom of the mountain to meet Moo and Guido. They arrive safely down and Guido tells me he and Moo went on a 12 km hike all though the canyons and villages and terraces. He says he ate a nice lunch at Moo’s mother’s house. And he says his poor legs are killing him from all that walking.
We relax a bit at the house and then go back to the souq, where Guido sweetly buys me a gift of the Oman Off-Road book I wanted. He says he wanted to give me something special and he knows I will get a lot of use out of it. It’s very sweet of him to give me this.
We have dinner at the Spicy Village, where we run into my colleague Matt who accompanied me to Petra in Jordan. Matt recommends the prawns with noodles, which I enjoy immensely. Then Guido and I go home and get everything together for our trip back to Muscat tomorrow, and his ultimate return to Italy on Thursday morning.
If anyone is interested in calling Moo (Mohammed) for a great hiking, trekking or just exploring experience, you can call him at 9556-2219.