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Desert life

Oman day four

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A morning in camp

Early morning at the camp - our tent on the right

We slept well in our cosy tent, enjoying the peace and quiet of the desert until woken around 6.30 by bird noise. A pigeon was cooing on the tent roof, so we got up, dressed quickly and went out to take some photos. The clouds we had seen last night still covered the sky, unfortunately, and the sand flies were a bit bothersome, but the air was pleasantly fresh. Chris climbed the big dune above the camp but I stayed below, photographing the birds and other details that caught my eye.

Dove on the tent roof, and storm lantern

Camel, and camels crossing sign

We had a good breakfast (with another nice omelette and excellent coffee) and soon after finishing that, the clouds began to break and patches of blue sky appear. We took a few more photos around the camp (camels, birds, dunes) before meeting up with Said for a chat about the plans for the next few days (he had some proposals for varying the route, to which we agreed), and a briefing about Omani culture, geography etc.

Chris and Said

Bedouin visit

We then had time for a cold drink in the Desert Ship (as the bar is called), before leaving with Said to visit a local Bedouin family for lunch. We could have opted to stay and relax at the camp today, but it would be a real shame to come to the desert just to sit by a pool, and besides, these visits, while obviously ‘staged’ for tourists, help to support the Bedouin financially and do, based on our experience, offer real insights into their way of life.

We retraced the route through the dunes which we taken when arriving yesterday, stopping to take photos of the camp’s old truck left to rust just outside the gates for that very purpose.

The old jeep buried in the sand

Sign by the jeep

Said decided to take a photo too!

The sign by the jeep reads:

'It's time to have rest, 1000 Nights Camp doesn't need me
any more, I'm too old to move. Give me a favour and take
a photo with me, you might tell my story..'

Arriving at Salma’s home we left shoes and socks in the car and entered the compound to be met by her husband. Inside we were greeted by Salma herself, our hostess, and her daughter in law. There were two grandchildren at home too (two others, older, were at school).

Entrance to the home
Salma and her husband

Salma wore the traditional Bedouin face mask which Said explained is designed to protect from sandstorms and the elements in general. Her daughter in law however wore a veil. Together they served our lunch of traditional bread, rice, dhal, chicken, fish and salad. Being cautious I stuck to the bread, rice and dhal, which was delicious. Chris also tried, and liked, the chicken.

As everywhere in the world, the traditional life-style of the Bedouin is threatened by modernisation and a trend for younger people to move away to the cities. We learned elsewhere on our tour that the government is encouraging this move by building homes in towns which are offered at low cost or even free to the tribal people. The motive, we were told, was to help unify the country by bringing people closer together, as well as enabling everyone to benefit from modern health services and schools. But I’m not sure how well it is working, as in places (near Salalah in the south for instance) we saw new houses standing empty because the Bedouin have moved back to their tents or to villages nearer their traditional homelands. The fast pace of modernisation in Oman, which in less than fifty years has moved from a largely feudal to a technologically advanced economy, is perhaps having its greatest, or at least its least positive, impact on these people.

Inside the room where we ate

Meanwhile tourism, including hosting visits like ours and working as guides in the desert, offers those Bedouin who want to continue to live around here the opportunity to do so. Many, like Salma’s family, split their time between a home here and one in town. Possessions are for the most part small and portable – apart from a wooden dresser, a trestle table and some low benches, there is little solid furniture. The family sit and sleep on the colourful cushions made by Salma and her daughter in law, the sandy floor is covered with a patchwork of rugs, and family photos and small ornaments hang on the walls of the two rooms.

Salma's daughter in law relaxing in the other room
Family possessions

The only incongruously modern notes come from the mobile phones propped on a ledge to charge (they have solar power) or used to keep the children occupied.

Salma's granddaughter with mobile phone

Said had already told us that we were free to take as many photos as we wanted, so we did, asking permission however when we wanted to photograph any of the family. I am not sure what they thought of our interest in their various possessions, but I guess they are used to visitors taking photos of such things!

A window

After we had eaten we moved to the room on the other side of the sandy open area. There we had coffee and dates, and learned a bit of Omani coffee culture from Said. He taught us to shake our cup if we wanted to indicate that we had had enough, or to hand it back directly if we wanted more. I handed mine back without shaking!

The family had set up a small stall of handicrafts, most of the items woven by Salma herself. The bigger items included scarves and bags, while the smallest were key chains, bookmarks and bracelets. I felt we should buy something to repay their hospitality (even though I trust that our tour company, Undiscovered Destinations, ensures that a fair price is paid for these visits) so picked out a mobile phone pouch to serve as a case for my compact camera – something I did genuinely need.

Salma at her handicrafts stall
Weaving loom

There was time for more photos around the home before leaving, and Salma’s husband kindly posed for me with his grandson. I was a bit disappointed though not to be offered the chance to try on a face mask as Said had suggested I might (and as my friend Grete had done on a similar visit), but on reflection I realised that I would probably have felt a little silly and looked even more so!

Salma's daughter in law and grandson

Salma's husband and grandson

The enclosure

Dune view

Relaxation time

Oryx in an enclosure at the camp

We returned to the camp in the middle of the afternoon. Said offered to take us again to watch the sunset but on such a cloudy day it seemed unlikely that it would be a good one, so we decided to give him, and ourselves, the afternoon off to relax.

I considered going in the pool, but my shoulder was still a bit sore and a group of young children were playing there a little boisterously, so I wasn’t sure how relaxing the experience would be. Instead we enjoyed another delicious cold fruit juice drink in the 'Desert Ship' bar, and occupied ourselves with our books and sorting photos. There is no WiFi at the camp so catching up on messages or emails wasn’t an option and we found ourselves wondering about football results and world news; being cut off from just a couple of days seemed good ‘practice’ for our planned September visit to North Korea!

Lemon mint drink

Chris in the 'Desert Ship' bar

Dinner again was a buffet, as the norm in the hotels here it seems, but although I’m not a big fan of these the selection was good and I found several tasty dishes. There were musicians again, and I found them rather more tuneful than the previous evening - the brief video I shot is not great quality because of the low lighting in the restaurant, but gives a flavour of the music.

The day’s clouds had finally dispersed so after dinner we were able to sit outside and enjoy the stars for a while before retiring for our final night in the desert.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:43 Archived in Oman Tagged people food desert culture music costume oman crafts customs Comments (18)

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