Souks and Mosques – Muscat, Oman

I woke up quite excited to see Muscat and after eating breakfast, met with my friends to go. We wandered off this ship past all the tour buses and made our way out of the port. It was really hot and the first thing I noticed was the sidewalk. It was shiny and polish what seemed like marble. It was so clean you could almost eat off it. In fact, as I look around, I found that the whole city was like this.

The buildings were white as if they had just been bleached and you would be hard pressed to find a piece of trash in the gutters. I wondered if they had erected the hundreds of flags which lined all the road ways for their National holiday which was just a few days previous. In any case, I will not forget the Omani flag any time soon.

The people were dressed very traditionally and I didn’t see anyone in jeans and tee shirts. We decided to head to the Grand Mosque first thing so that we could spend time in the market with no time pressure. Lee negotiated a great cab which did turn out too good to be true since Mr. Cabdriver had NO idea where he was going. When we passed the Opera House for the second time, I knew we were going in circles this modern yet still quite traditional city. How could he not know where the Grand Mosque was? Or did he really not understand us even though we had a map? Perhaps its better to negotiate a flat rate than by the hour.

In the end, we stopped at a gas station where a very friendly local helped us and translated to our frustrated driver. When we pulled into the parking area, I realized this was like no other mosque I had been to. It wasn’t just grand, it was spectacular.

The marble walkway was polished so shiny I had to put my shades on. The whole place looked like it had just been built last month. We were all very excited to explore when we were stopped short by the guard. Apparently there are no tourists allowed unless between 8-11 and 5-7. It was just past noon. My heart sank.

We tried to bargain with guard but he wasn’t having it. He asked if we were Muslim. We all said no. I kept on and finally he asked me again and I …gulp…said yes. I was dressed appropriately and it was somewhat believable. I just ducked in for a peek but didn’t get far at all before my conscience got the better of me. This was the first time I ever felt really upset not be able to see something. I was right there! But I guess I would have to come back another trip. I will the feeling I got from the place was a deep solemn spirituality. It was even more impressive than when I went to the Vatican City. Now imagine if I had gone inside…

Regretfully I turned back and joined the others. We piled back into the cab and made our way back to the market. Here I had loads of fun trying on abayas and negotiating with shopkeepers. There were clothing, trinkets, perfumes, tailors, fabric of every kind, shoes, and even some little barber shops. I was in awe of the colors and the organization of it all. The stores had tons of merchandise but it was all arranged so neatly. The sellers were mostly of Indian descent and I realized a lot of their wares were as well. I told myself I would only allow myself to buy an abaya as the rest of it I would find in India probably much cheaper.

After eating a bit of lunch, the shops closed up for a couple hours. Lee and I watched the boats in the harbor. The was one very large yacht/ship that we deduced was the Sultans. I wondered what it would be like to have such a lavish lifestyle.

When the shops opened again, the place really got hopping. More of the locals came out and there were a lot of fully covered women now. They were either in small groups or with a man but never alone. I didn’t see that at all. I was shy to interact with them but on all the occasions that I did, they were friendly and curious. I didn’t find anyone who spoke English so our communication was limited to a few smiles and nods.

I finally bought the abaya that I wanted and got it for $28 complete with veil. Its jet black and has lovely embroidery on the front panel and cuffs. It was unique and I knew that it would be wearable, unlike some of the much more intricate and flashy ones. I don’t think I could pull those off.

The sun was going down so Lee and I hopped on one of the tour buses that had lots of extra space. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if we missed the ship but I didn’t want to navigate my own way to the neighboring United Arab Emirates. It’s a good thing too…because we found out the next morning, we Canadians were not actually supposed to be there. But…since when has that stopped me?

Grateful for hazy boundaries.

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