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Sohar So Good

The sun was shining brightly, indicating that we had slept significantly into the morning. It was good, though, it had been very late indeed when we had arrived at that lonely public beach in Sohar. The beach was now much less lonely; in fact, it seemed we had collected a small audience outside the idling Previa, scrutinizing the cycles and peering through the condensation-soaked windows at us sleeping.

So we rolled out of our seats, greeted our audience, thanked them for their attention, and with a Billy Shears type introduction, presented them with Jackson, who performed an epic rendition of Speed TR  unfolding, followed by a rousing bit of wheeling.

With the car locked tight and fading into the distance behind us, we struck out in search of the secrets of Sohar. It was a sweaty place, though the moist seaside breeze was not so much hot as it was oppressively sticky. It also became apparent that we were not only far from the city center, but also quite a way from the nearest source of breakfast. So we headed back to the Previa, performed reverse rendition of the bike-folding act, and to the great chagrin of our fellow beach goers, disappeared into the hazy day, headed for the city center.

Scott had an insatiable urge that morning for Internet, and we drove for quite some time, Scott with his laptop open, searching for wireless networks. We found quite a few, but they were without fail either red herrings with no data behind them, or secured against us. Finally, after spending a fair bit of time attempting to sweet talk a local business into letting us onto their network, we finally gave up and chose a new tack: shopping malls.

So we asked for directions to the largest local shopping mall and parked our car outside. Inside, we were initially unable to find a source of wireless Internet, but Scott was intrepid. On the upside there was another sprawling super market. This seemed the perfect place to buy the breakfast foods we so very much needed to maintain sanity. So Scott and Jackson headed off in one direction, and Claudia and I in another, one team determined to find some way to access the Internet, the other to procure foodstuffs. We met up and feasted at a table outside one of the many coffee shops. Scott had great success in his search for Internet, finally syncing his email in the back office of a children’s fun center on the fourth floor.

So with stomachs full and sync’ed of emails completed, we unfolded the cycles and headed out to the road. Sohar turned out to be great for wheeling. Very nice, smooth roads, low traffic levels, and starkly uniform Islamic architecture. From time to time, as we continued to explore, the wheeling became mildly technical. You see, the city was bisected by a number of large highways, on which, while traffic density was still quite low, the speed and recklessness increased greatly, requiring some gnarly portaging in order to get from one street to another.

As we headed farther from the city center, we began to feel a change from the stark white buildings and giant sparkling mosques to a more rural vibe. The roads began to crumble into gravel and packed earth, and soon animals were roaming around us. Our goal was to get to the ocean; as far as our compasses and understanding of the local terrain were concerned, it couldn’t be much farther. We had even begin to smell that salty fishy musk, but the road refused to take us consistently in the right direction, instead meandering this way and that, and all the time growing ever worse. We stopped to take stock. and I climbed onto a nearby wall to scout things out. Up ahead, we could see the road connected with another in a T-style junction. And the other road, it seemed, might take us right out of the salt marsh agricultural zone through which we rose, and directly to the beach.

And sure enough it did. That same sweltering humidity that had made the car sweat so profusely overnight washed over us as we came upon the coast, which was dotted with overturned fishing boats. We took a left onto the first paved road we encountered, and headed down it along the beach. Soon we were joined by a group of young local wheelers, who were absolutely thrilled to see us in the neighborhood.

They were, unfortunately also quite reckless with their cycles, and possessed a nasty penchant for littering and challenging each other to races. We rode along with them for a while, but were quite glad to be free of them once they finally lost interest.

We also found this interesting piece of Omani graffiti, which we would love one of you Oman-savvy readers to unpack in the comments.

A few kilometers up the road, moving away from the water, we called a waypoint at a local grocery shop to buy water and Japanese sports drinks, to be mixed into a healing kind of dilute tonic.

Claudia pulled over and used her Arabic to ask a couple of Omani teenagers who were walking and smoking cigarettes by the side of the road how to get back to the Safeer Mall, where we had parked the Previa.  They gave us very good directions, and feeling just peachy, we pulled off the road onto a 500 meter section of packed dirt that  would let us get over to the mall parking lot.

As we rode, a couple of women called out to us, giving their support in Arabic. Oman… what a place.

We pulled back onto the road and drove on, cracking Red Bulls and listening to more trivia podcasts. We drove for hours through the desert, and eventually the sun began to set into the rugged tree-less terrain. It was then that we realized it was time to eat again. Perhaps something about all the Red Bull was suppressing our appetites, for we had now a few times during our drive accidentally gone way too long without sustenance.

We pulled off at the next exit, which turned out to bring us to a fascinating town by the name of Al Suwaiq. We pulled into the brightly lit city center, which was really nothing more than a maze of very narrow streets and single story concrete buildings. At least 60% of the businesses here were ladies’ tailoring shops, a ratio that was so unbelievably high, that to this day we wonder how so much ladies’ tailoring business became centralized in this region.

It was, I dare say, not a majority Omani city. In fact we were to learn that most of the people here were immigrants or temporary laborers from Bangladesh.

Claudia needed to take a leak, and being rightfully somewhat wary of heading out into this city on her own, I decided to accompany her in the search. Just as we were asking at our second restroom-less ladies tailoring shop, a man in a giant flowing white robe came over and asked us in Arabic what we needed. Claudia began to explain to him who we were and what we wanted in his city. He asked us to follow him, and we did, past a giant pile of demolished buildings, down a set of stairs, and into a pitch black cul-de-sac. I was a bit worried, but Claudia seemed confident in this guy’s good intentions, so I trusted her. Our new friend fumbled noisily with a large lock and opened a door, spilling out a pool of dim yellow light.

Inside his house, he showed Claudia to the bathroom and as she got down to business, began to change out of his robes and into a lungi and the kind of white undershirt one might uncouthly call a “wife-beater.” Claudia exited the john, and while I took my turn, she began asking the chap for restaurant recommendations.

And so it was that we discovered that his house was, in fact, also a restaurant, specializing in Bangladeshi cuisine. This seemed like an interesting opportunity, and we hurried back out to find Scott and Jackson.

When I got outside, I found that there was some confusion going on with the car. It seemed that two fellows were trying to extract some kind of parking fee from our friends, who remained quite skeptical as to the official capacity of the gent attempting to monetize the section of crumbling asphalt on which we’d docked the Previa. Luckily a passer by explained to us, in no language any of us spoke, that we had better ignore the chaps, and so we did, heading back into the house/restaurant for a little food, but not before assuring ourselves repeatedly that the van was securely locked.

Inside, the Bangladeshi house/restaurant , our host was already hard at work rustling up a number of dishes. It seems that he kept them all ready to go, covered by bits of greasy cloth and requiring only the addition of a bit of flame from his very impressive and heavily modified propane stove. He ran the stove much like the way people pilot rental jet skis: aggressively, loudly, and with a large amount of jerking the apparatus around.

Soon plates of rice appeared before us, and then dishes of meat and freshly cut vegetables, as he prepared them, one by one.  There was certainly plenty of meat in this meal, and a number of delectable complex spices, the likes of which we had not tasted since… perhaps Sri Lanka?

Also, it seems, the fellow had called a number of his friends over to witness the group of foreigners who had chosen to visit his restaurant/home. And so it was that as we began to eat, a small audience formed around us, asking questions from time to time, and generally transmitting good energy.

Once we had finished the food (it was a splendid and rather large meal), we decided to all pose together for a few timed exposures.

So excited were our new friends when viewing the images we had taken, that we decided to head down the block and have a copy printed and framed for them to hang on the wall.

On our way to the photo printing shop, we were joined by a very uncomfortable character in a flowing white robe and head scarf. I believe he was looking for a ride and had noticed that we had a large van, but his language was as circuitous and difficult to interpret as his mannerisms. Even with Claudia’s Arabic skills, we were never quite sure  what he wanted. We had no room in the car for him, and while we tried to communicate to him that we did not believe we could help, he continued on speaking in strange incantations and waving a fist full of Oman reil in front of us.  Eventually, after a fair bit of uncomfortable conversation, he left.

Jackson turned to us once the man was outside. “That man is practicing black magic. I am sure of it.” Fair enough, Jackson.

We chose a nice gaudy frame for the freshly printed image and headed back to the house/restaurant. And here it is.

We decided it might even be worth taking one more group picture with the picture, if for nothing other than reflexivity’s sake.

We climbed back into the car and began to search for a way back to the main road. This proved easier said than done, and we spent at least 40 minutes wandering the dark and confusing back roads of Al Suwaiq. We were finally able to find the main road though, and once on it we made very short work of the remaining few hundred kilometers to Al Sawadi, a kind of seaside resort town. We were becoming way too fond of the hotel Previa, so upon entering the place, we already had little interest in staying at any of the expensive hotels, but we decided that it might be worth visiting them anyway.

So we parked the car outside the Al Sawadi beach resort and headed inside. It was the first time we had seen a bar in quite some time, and for a moment we considered having a drink. But after seeing the prices, we decided that perhaps just smoking a little Shisha in one of the tents in the back might be more affordable.

So we whiled away the next couple hours smoking hookah and chatting about life, the universe, and everything.

Once we had our fill of sweetly scented tobacco smoke, we paid our bill, which was just slightly more than the cost of one drink at the bar, and headed back to the Previa. That night we set up the hotel on a seemingly remote section of beach, not far from the resort, and relaxed into that air-conditioned, humming womb of dreams that is the Hotel Previa.


Comments

  1. Nizar Grira | September 1st, 2010 | 5:53 am

    Hey Scott,
    Hope you’re doing great!

    About the graffiti: the green word is pronounced (Al Holm) and means “the dream”, the red one is pronounced (karrab) and means “is (be)coming closer”.

    The blue drink is pocari sweet (written in Arabic) and the blue inscription with the finger means: He is Allah, [who is] One (قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ) kol how allahou ahad: It’s the first verse of surat al tawheed. For more information, you can visit this website http://www.ilmfruits.com/tafseer-of-surah-tawheed

    Cheers,
    - Nizar from Tokyo

  2. Scott | September 1st, 2010 | 8:47 am

    Nizar,

    Great to hear from you. Thank you so much for these elucidating translations. What do you think the graffiti is speaking about “becoming closer” to?

    Thanks for keeping up with our adventures. Next trip we’ll be in Tunisia for sure.

    Scott

  3. Claudia | September 3rd, 2010 | 12:04 am

    I think that الحلم قرب thing on the graffiti says something to the effect of “the dream (be)comes closer,” although I’m not sure… perhaps its from a group advocating for secession of one half of Oman from the other.

  4. Claudia | September 3rd, 2010 | 12:08 am

    Oops! Nizar had already answered that one. It’s great to know there’s continuity in our translations though!

  5. Woody | September 3rd, 2010 | 3:25 am

    @ Claudia

    Thanks, Claudia. We couldn’t be tickled pinker to have such a large and responsive Arabic translation team here at AsiaWheeling.

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