Finally, we were on the other side of the Arabian sea! After taking an unexpected mean of transport: a cruise ship! And when we put our first foot in Oman, we really didn’t know what to expect from this country and from Middle East.
We had decided to disembark from our cruise ship in Salalah in the south of Oman. Getting our Omani visa on arrival in Salalah looked quite easy… from our side. But it was not the case of the crew that told us we needed the help of an agent to get the visa. And obviously the price the agent wanted to charge us was four times the cost of the visa. Note that when cruising, the visa system is not the same compared to when travelling by land or air. At each stop, the cruise company has specific arrangements with the immigration authorities. At the beginning of the cruise, passengers give their passports to the company which takes care of everything (at least in was the case with Costa). At each port of call, temporary passes are given to passengers so that they can unboard and board the ship without showing their passports. So when you cruise, you don’t get any stamp on your passport!
When we arrived in Salalah, we decided to short cut the agent and pay a visit directly to the immigration in the port to check if we really needed this agent. The agent had met us on board, saying he was payed by us to assist us to go to the immigration office. So we started to look by ourselves for an immigration office in the port. The heat was very strong! However, when we arrived in front of the immigration officer, he said we needed to pay for an agent. We told him we didn’t need the agent at all to come to the office. But he said it was mandatory… because of “some past issues with people from Yemen”… So finally we had to pay him a fee (and still no agent was there to assist us), which we negotiated to 10 OMR (25 €) for the two of us… on top of the 20 OMR visa fee per person (100 € for two). We knew our cheap times in India and South Eath Asia were gone!
All the administrative tasks done, we finally found our Couchsurfing host Mohammed who first covered us with gifts, then dressed us like Omani people and finally drove us to the most beautiful places in and around Salalah. We realized Oman is not a country for people without a car. We spent hours driving. But the rewarding views on the white beaches and the clear sea was worth it.
Mohammed was incredible with us but we had a big (cultural?) difference. He didn’t care about sleeping. On our first night together, at midnight, after a long and tiring day, he finally announced us that his mother lived 2 hours from Salalah and that he generally slept on the beach. It was a surprise for us, we were exhausted, expecting to finally reach his home to have a bit of rest, and not ready to sleep on a beach without any tent or mattress. So we managed to find a hotel room. The next days, the night sleep would always be a complicated task. There are big resorts near Salalah but not any cheap place to stay. One night a strange story happened to us. It was midnight and we were struggling to find a place to sleep. Mohammed met a friend of his family to ask him if we could sleep in his house. But the man asked Alex if we were Muslims. Then he said he couldn’t host us because we were Christians! His family didn’t want to welcome Christian people. We were astonished as it was the first time this happened to us despite all the Muslim countries we had crossed. The man looked embarrassed and Mohammed slammed his car door in his face…
Despite these hectic sleeping situations, we will always be grateful to Mohammed. He made us discover so many amazing places around Salalah and introduced us to such good friends of him. We especially liked this cafe next to the bazar where we would always find Mohammed’s friends hanging out. They used to welcome us and have meaningful conversations with us. Thanks to them we also learnt a good basis of Arabic language which was very useful for the rest of our trip!
But our best memory is when Mohammed brought us to his secret beach. It was late in the afternoon. The beach was totally empty. When we looked at the sea, we saw around twenty dolphins very close from the shore. We went in the water. We just stayed there, quiet, waiting. And after a few minutes, the dolphins came to us, turning around us like playing. It was a fantastic moment. Swimming with dolphins is most of the time an activity organized by companies that attract the dolphins and disrupt their natural life. But here we were totally alone with the dolphins. We didn’t touch them or gave them food. They came, played around us and left.