Day 4 pt. 2 The one with My Happy Place

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It seemed that every car in Sur was decorated in red, green and white- the colors of the national flag. Some cars had stripes going across, some had hundreds of stars plastered all over and others had portraits of His Majesty covering the entire back screen. Life in Sur was busy- people were out on the streets- a sight you don’t come across often in Muscat. We could not go faster than 40 km/h for fear of yet another child zooming across the road fearlessly on his bike. Closer to Ras Al Hadd, the little villas are replaced by scenes of a bay harboring traditional wooden Dows. Ras Al Hadd is the exact spot where the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman meet. The sea there is very rough, cold and somewhat brutal- nevertheless it is the deepest blue you will ever see. It is also home to four species of nesting sea turtles; the endangered greed, loggerhead and the Olive Ridley turtle as well as the Hawksbill variety. Eager to share with Yulya the breathtaking experience of watching sea turtles nest and their youngsters crawl to the sea, I planned this day well in advance. A month before she arrived I called Ras Al Jinx resort (which provides guided tours at night), but they were already full, my second option was Ras Al Hadd, where I have previously stayed in April. Booking the last two double rooms at the resort, I had then called up every week or so to make sure they were still holding them for me. I have a prejudice distrust when it comes to hotels in the interiors, it is better to be safe than sorry. I also booked us for a tour in Ras Al Jinx, which is the exact location where the sea turtles come to nest. 
Just before checking into the hotel, we could not resist stopping for a few shots, these were taken by Yulya:

Ras Al Hadd is a great 3 star property. It is value for money. When you enter the lobby they let you hold fragile little sea turtles in the palm of your hand. They are slimy, green and unbearably cute. The rooms are relatively fresh, always clean and provide the basic comforts. They are also all sea view, can you resist?

 By the time we checked in we were starving, and quickly organized a spontaneous supper of potatoes, grilled chicken, fresh salad and sandwiches. Feeling refreshed and to Yulyas screams of “Hurry we are going to miss sunset!!!” we rushed out to the beach, which is a mere 10 minutes walk from the hotel. The moon was already up, and the sun was about to set- a genuine setting for an aspiring photographer. There were many visitors to the beach that eveing, mostly families with children who got too close to the 1 m high waves and had to be dragged back by their parents. With an attempt to shoot an oversized crab, I climbed too far up a rock and got splashed from head to toe by a wave that hit the cliff violentry. The water was freezing cold. We hastily made our way back to the hotel, after calling Ras Al Jinx about 20 times to find out when our tour is. That would probably be my only peeve during the entire trip-Ras Al Jinx is impossible to reach by the phone. It is in my opinion easier to drive the 400 km there and back- more chance of getting your questions answered. As we later found out, tours take place at 9 pm and then again at 3 am. Anxiously driving along the 9 km winding road to Ras Al Jinx, I could not supress the same panic I faced in April. There are absolutely no lights on that road. It is a 15 minute drive into pitch darkness, with the occasional ‘Beware of Camels’ signs, and foxes running across the road. As per the statistics, over 2,000 tourists flock to the area every month would it hurt them to make the roads a little safer?

Ras Al Jinx is a modern turtle conservation center. I have nothing but praise for their facilities and employees. The groups and tour guides are very organized, they dealt calmly and professionally with the 100 people that gathered in their hall that evening. People from all corners of the world pateienly waited for the tours to start and were divided into 5 separate groups to make their trip a little more enjoyable.
The reason Sur is my Happy Place lies solemnly in Ras Al Jinx Beach A. The 15 minute walk, under the full moon, on the cool sand is equivalent to a jar of Nutella Choccolate or 100 hours of Yoga- if that is how your get your kick. Every whisper echoes off the surrounding rugged mountains, and you cant help but settle down and you can literally feel your thoughts calming. See, I suffer from what Elizabeth Gilbert calls ‘monkey mind’ -the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.” Hence when I manage to find a cure, to just for a minute or two get the monkeys to settle down and reflect- I am at my best. Sur is the only place that seems to do it for me, away from the noise, away from the errands- it is just me, the beach and the rolling waves. Never mind that there are 100 other people there- I don’t feel them.
Once the tour guide comes to a sudden halt, he looks into the distance, flashing his infrared flashlight at his colleague further ahead. He waves him over and we quietly follow. A short wait later, he points out a black dot on the white sand. Some 50 meters ahead, a green sea turtle has emerged to nest- she is now slowly but surely making her way across the beach. The guide gestures for us to sit down, we circle him and watch as he draws on the sand a demonstration of how the turtles choose their nests. I faintly remember that it has something to do with the temperature and the humidity of the sand. He also says that over 30,000 turtles nest on this exact beach every year. However, only 1 or 2 out of thousand baby turtles ever make it to adulthood. At any given time, the mother turtle disposes of 200 eggs, and buries them a meter deep into the ground, digging another “fake nest” nearby to throw off the predators. It is enticing, the details and the processes that nature has so carefully arranged. No matter how saddened we are by the enormous fatalities amongst the sea turtles, the guide shakes his head and says “it is a circle. We must not intrude”. He is hopeful to show us baby turtles that night, he takes a few steps into the distance and gestures for us to follow. Suddenly sitting down, he begins to carefully clear the sand away with his hand. Me and Yulya have front row seats. Sitting on our knees on the cold sand, we lean over right into the hole is clearing. I cannot believe my eyes when I see movement under the surface of the sand. A little head emerges, then the front flippers push the body to the surface. A second baby turle follows right after. “Experience” is what our guide refers to when asked how he found the nest to precisely. Somewhere in the crowd, people begin fidgeting. The guide goes over to them to make sense of the excitement. I cautiously stand over the two baby turtles that are still crawling out of their nest, I have an intense urge to pick them up and carry them to the sea but a rude tourist hisses at me when I stretch my arms to them. By the time I pull myself away from the two helpless wonders, everyone is already “ouuing” and ” awwing” over the sight of hundrets of baby turtles and their dark silhouettes crawling towards the flashlight of the guide. He walks ahead, leaning the source of light on a rock, and we witness an incredible spectacle- little flippers working hard to make their way to the flashlight. They are silly like that. We are then forced to tear ourselves away from them and let them be. They will now use only their primary instincts to reach water, and not all of them will even get that far. Two hours later, it is already 11:30 pm and the guide urges us to head back, inspired and bewildered we make our way back to the hotel…my happy place has not failed me.

Day 3. The one with the hangover from hell.

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It is not wise to drink like there is no tomorrow if tomorrow you have to drive 200km to Nizwa. I, the ever designated driver have knowingly abstained from mixing wine-bacardi-baileys-tequila-beer  drinks, the same cannot be said for Yulya. “Don’t play with someone who can play better” that is what the evening of day 2 has taught me! Raising bright an early, violently knocking on Yulya’s door for about half an hour until her highness emerged growling “but we were supposed to wake up at 9”, whilst clock said 8- Kuwait time. Making sure everyone was up and running, I dashed out to get some coffee, (see below-the best post-tequila breakfast) and made it back home within half an hour to kick butts out of the door. To grunts and whines, I loaded Alex and Yulya into the car, she sat there without as much as a sigh, quite the whole way. Occasionally she would stir, take our her beloved camera and shoot the scenery around. Then she would quickly succumb to the hangover and grow quite again. Driving to Nizwa is challenging enough without someone constantly remind you that they are going to barf. I was determined to make it to Golden Tulip Hotel, where Nina was waiting for us. Seeing the state we were in, she suggested taking her car instead and heading out to Nizwa Souq and Tanuf. To Yulya’s exclamations of “i feel bad, so bad, so bad” we drove on to Nizwa Fort, to find the area deserted except for a few trucks selling goats. The smells of stalls that sold “fresh chicken” did not aid the hangover in the slightest bit. Luckily not all the stores were closed and we managed to sneak a peak at the renowned silverware, pottery and Omani handcrafts. She took some amazing shots for her Project 365- an act worthy of recognition considering how badly she was feeling.

The Nizwa Fort was obviously closed given the Eid Holidays, so we performed our usual routine of posing next to the shut gates and cannons that decorate the entrance. There were very few tourists around, and people in general seemed to be celebrating at home rather than filling the streets of Nizwa. By midday we were mighty hungry and oblivious to the fact that EVERYTHING IS CLOSED DURING EID. Giving up our quest for traditional Omani food, we made our way to the abandoned village of Tanuf, a site of ruins and historical sights. Even the faded mud houses were not a good enough cause for Yulya to get out of the car. We drove on to Tanuf, going off-road with the help of a 4×4 button on Nina’s car. Herein my geographical challenge kicks in, and although I know there was a dam and a wadi- I cannot remember the name of the place. However, it was cool, refreshing and gorgeously adorned with greenery of all shapes and sizes. Trekking through the mountains for a mere 10 minutes was enough to realize that we simply cannot go on without food. By then it was already 1pm, our sick tourist was demanding a meal and pictures of mountains tired themselves out (Yulya: “wow, we don’t have mountains that are this gorgeous in Kuwait”). Hunger forced us to head to Al Hoota Cave, we knew for certain that they have a decent buffet at just 5 OMR per person. Little did we know that the entire population of Muscat has decided to flock to Al Hoota Cave that day. It was after all an Eid Holiday, but we kept on forgetting that significant detail because we were on a holiday of our own. A plateful of kebab and spaghetti bolognaise later, we stretched out in the outdoor patio of the restaurant, overlooking a scenic mountainous landscape above which thunderstorm clouds gathered. Eager to get back home, but dreading the 2 hour drive we lazily made our way to the car and headed to Golden Tulip Hotel to pick up my companion- the Sunny. We hastily organized the smokers (Nina and Alex) to head back to Muscat in one car, while I had Yulya with me. We talked the whole way down to Muscat, which is a big deal for me- because I am not a talker. Her hangover seemed to be dissapearing by the hour, or maybe it just knew that regardless of it’s presence we would still head to Left Bank for cosmopolitans later that evening.

Day 2. The one with all the rules.

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Waking up at 9 am and barging into Yulya’s room screaming “its time, according to the schedule we need to start having fun in 20 minutes” was how my day began. The next morning she locked her door. Should I be offended? 🙂 I dragged her sleepy, nevertheless excited, butt out of the house, and drove her straight to Starbucks which is always a good idea after you mix tequila with beer. Yulya was surprised to see “18th November” Street, and nagged me to stop and take pictures of all the “18th November” signboards. We drove through the Ministry Street (this white building is the ministry of this…and that is…umm..something else”, through Khuwair and the cozy streets of MQ, driven by an animalistic urge for COFFEE and a brownie, we aimed straight for Starbucks, because you cannot sightsee without caffeine and a cookie. According to my “schedule” we headed out to the Hyatt, picking up another awesome girl on the way, where we lounged on the sunbeds, proud of the little vacation we have arranged for ourselves. Troubling clouds drifted past (Yulya: “We never have clouds in Kuwait” ), a cold breeze blew from the sea (Yulya: “Its much colder in Kuwait”) but the water in the pool was pleasantly refreshing for those of us who got 5 hours of sleep. Completely oblivious to the presence of others at the pool, we chatted on, taking pictures to document our “compulsory fun” until an hour later an employee approached us and in a matter-of-fact tone informed us that it is prohibited to take pictures by the pool area. “Since when?” was my first reaction because I have been a member at The Hyatt for 12 years and have never heard anything so ridiculous. Apparently its a newly applied rule, that has been implimented over a month ago, after complaints received the guests in that area. I guess someone couldn’t resist  snapping a few shots of guests in their binikis- for personal entertainment. However, when you are on a vacation, especially one as short as Yulya’s the last thing you want to be told is that you are not allowed to take pictures!
We swiftly made our way out, the Shatti beach was our next destination, we bumped into My Cynthia there and soaked in the sunshine and took pictures until we could take them no more! The rumbling in our stomachs reminded us that lunch is a must, and I took Yulya to my personal favorite- Darcy’s. We were joined by Alex and another friend, and our girly lunch troupe quickly grew into a noisy, crowded get together. A club sandwich and a Greek salad later, Yulya began whining about the absolute absence of Sheesha in Muscat. Apparently in Kuwait Sheesha cafes are as ordinarily present as lampposts in Oman, and it is tragic that there is only a selection of places in Muscat that offer Sheesha. To amend this evil-doing we drove on to Tche Tche, where Yulya happily puffed away, bewildered by the scenic views of the Cornish. The girl was already head over heels with Muscat, it was love at first sight. Indulgence, sunshine and good company only added to the quickly growing infatuation.
For a little pampering I took Yulya to “Dr. Fish”, a haven for a half hour get away from reality. With its murky light settings, Bryan Adams tunes and starvnig fishies that nibble at your heels- this spa is a must-experience. As three girls sat there, knee deep in an aquarium, giggling with delight- a crowd gathered around us. Various “evil looks” later, the receptionist got the hint and politely asked the viewers to leave us, giving us the must needed peace and quite after such a long and tiring day of “fun”.
By 7 pm we were exhausted with doing nothing all day- a feeling that I welcome during a vacation. We carved out half an hour to go home and change, to later make our way into the night…. Unfortunately it was the beginning of Eid and dry spell fell over Muscat, the bars and pubs werent serving any alcohol….just our luck…
Thank god for house parties. Especially ones that have Sheesha.

Compulsory Eid Fun


Having enjoyed a few consecutive weekends of random outings, get-togethers and partying into the dawn- I am seriously looking forward to the holidays. But not so that I can enjoy snoozing till 11, no on the contrary… I will at my busiest yet!

Luckily I have been able to make use of the PH and take a few days off work, a much needed arrangement as we are having a special guest visit us! A good friend of mine is travelling here from Kuwait- and is eager to explore the Sultanate. Hence from Monday to Friday I will implement the itinerary I have so eagerly worked on over the last week. It includes a fusion of pampering, fine dining, cultural exploring, natural wonders and of course- the best of what “night life” in Oman has to offer.

Being the controlling, obsessive, over the top organized person-that I tend to be in similar situations- I have literally put together an excel sheet of “activities” that we have planned for these 4 days. I call it my “compulsory fun” schedule. I have sent it over for my friend’s approval- she was seriously impressed (or at least made me believe so!). Now, this hectic adventure is going to include everything from Dr. Fish Spa, lounging by the pool at the Hyatt, doing tequila shots in Trader Vicks to gawping at the immense wonders that The Ras Al Had Turtle Resort has to offer. There is of course snorkeling, a trip to Nizwa and a city tour and shopping in the schedule too. Oh did I mention we have only 4 days to do all this?

The husband did not object to anything on the list (especially the dune bashing in Boashar) and did not question my “ability” to survive on the 5 hours of sleep that I have penciled into the excel sheet. Alex knows that I am capable of cramming a month worth of impressions, expressions and experiences into a few dozen hours of holidays. Knowledge gained from our recent annual leave back to Uzbekistan!

Nevertheless, she is arriving in about 36 hrs, and I am eager to make her stay special and unforgettable! I figured to really grasp the cultural essence of Muscat you need to see the following:

• The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (to enjoy a guided tour through the beautiful grounds into the Mosque itself, the only Mosque in Oman open to non-Muslims. The Mosque is also home to the largest Swarovski chandelier in the world.)
• Mutrah Souq- which offers a variety of bargains including frankincense, hand woven pashminas, antique silver jewelry and other gems at affordable prices.
• The Sultans Palace (do I need to explain this one?)
• The Mutrah Cornish (for the gorgeous sights of the port, rugged mountains and turquoise waters)
• Nizwa Fort and Silver Souq (because everyone who visits Oman goes to Nizwa at least once!)
• Ras Al Had Turtle beach ( I was awe struck at the majestic abilities of Mother Nature, and the stages that the gigantic green sea turtles go through to lay their tiny eggs- a must see!)
• Dolphin Watching and Snorkeling (who would miss a chance to see 50+ dolphins leap over 6 meters into the air, all around your yacht? Or swim with a sea turtle over coral reefs?)
Since Kuwait is infamously known to be strict on alcohol availability as well as places to enjoy the latter, one of the main aims of this visit is to catch up on the much needed essencial-20-something-entertainment. I know we all complain of the lack of “night-life” in Oman, we do only have only a handful of places to go to on the weekends- but serious- Kuwait has NOTHING! Dear Friends, let’s not take for granted the Tika Puka Puka at Traders, or the Strawberry Mojito at Left Bank! These and many more are to be enjoyed when we are not eating Sushi, taking pictures of hatching baby turtles or when we are getting our toes devoured at Dr. Fish. It may seem that I have gone overboard with the planning, I will admit I have already stocked up on red bulls and chocolate to keep us going, but isn’t going overboard the decent thing to do when you are showing off a country you love to a person who deserves only the very best of what it has to offer?
To end this babble, here is a conversation from Friends (yet again) that I can absolutely relate to this week:
  • Monica: I need you at the rehearsal dinner tonight at 1800 hours.
  • Phoebe: Uh huh. Okay. What time is that?
  • Monica: You don’t know military time?
  • Phoebe: Why, I must have been in missile training the day they taught that.
  • Monica: Just subtract twelve.
  • Phoebe: Okay, so… 1800 minus twelve is… one thousand, seven hundred and…
  • Monica: Six o’clock!
Tomorrow at 1200 hours I will be picking up Yulya at the airport…I hope she knows military time 🙂

Dating a biker… (before and after marriage)


We have not gone on a date- in ages. Partially this is because we already spend all our free time together, either at home, or with our families. We grocery shop together, we hang out together, we go for lunch and dinner together- you get it…there is a lot of togetherness. Hence, there was never a real need to make time for some “alone” time. Except this week saw the 4 year milestone of our togetherness, and this called for a celebration of a different caliber. I decided to do something special for Alex on this occasion (or for me, I am not so sure anymore).
The first ever surprise date I ever took him (in 2007) on almost ended in disaster because the suspense that I’ve build up eventually turned into annoyance. He REALLY wanted to know where I am taking him. Luckily I had planned a dinner for us at a German restaurant, complete with a generous flow of house brewed beer, finger-licking dishes and dozens of varieties of meats and poultry. Gausthouse was complete with live tunes in the background, traditional Inn décor and customized waitresses. Let’s just say this place has been a favorite of his-ever since (it might have been those waitresses!). Turns out the wife, has pretty good taste after all . Here is a snap of us, from a few years back at Gausthouse.
In Muscat there remain very few places that we have not already tried and tested. I sincerely wanted to surprise him, take him to a place where he has never been before and get him to experience something new. I am not entirely sure how I have come to the conclusion to take him to a fish spa, but that is what we ended up doing.
Dr. Fish is a spa experience located on the first floor of Bareeq Al Shatti mall, walkable distance from the InterContinental hotel. It is nestled amidst a continuous line of shops, but is not hard to miss due to the massive blue doors with fish images.
I didn’t know what to expect from the evening, as there isn’t much information about the place- except that you get there, soak your feet in water and little fishies swim up to you to munch on your dead skin cells. Somehow, that sounded appealing to me. I thought Alex would it enjoy it too, since he is usually a big fan of all things weird. So throughout the week, I give him little hints like; there will be animals where we are going, no you can’t eat those animals, no we are not going to a pet shop on our date…and no it’s not a circus.

When we arrived for our appointment he was a little stunned, because he definitely did not expect a Spa treatment! He quickly grew fascinated with the aquariums and was the first one of us to soak his feet into a pool of hungry, hyper fish (not piranhas- as I assured him). I genuinely enjoyed the atmosphere at Dr. Fish, a room no bigger than your average sitting room, with sufficient space to place your shoes, bags, wash your feet prior to the treatment, and a staged deck surrounded by 6 separated aquariums. The lights are very dim with a bluish tint, soft gargling music plays in the background and very few customers- the perfect “private” date.

We snuggled on a cushion while soaking our feet, the little Garra Rufas nibbled at our toes, heels and other damaged areas, tickling us unbearably until we got used to the sensations. Although no extensive exfoliation was achieved, my feet did not feel any different than they did prior to the appointment- it is worth going there simply for the experience. There is a tank with slightly bigger fish for those more daring and/or bikers, where you can feel the pinches harder and the fish are more aggressive, especially if you have biker feet. Alex has about 20 fish vacuuming his one toe!!!

All in all, at least in the future we can say “and we went on a date to an all-you-can-eat-dead-skin-cells buffet for fish”, instead of just another dinner and a movie.

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