Thursday, December 28

Oman, Day Eight: Coming Home

An afternoon flight didn't really leave much room for today so we pretty much went straight to the airport after breakfast for myself and another of the party to catch our flight home.

This gave me a chance to think about the trip and how great it was - I wouldn't say Oman has much to offer tourists per se, but as a place to hang out it hits the spot as much as Turkey does and makes a great alternative to Dubai - keeping all the good things that the Middle East has to offer while keeping modest and being diverse at the same time.

It's quite the feat when I consider it in detail and under this analysis it's no surprise that it conducive to such chill and good times. We (or perhaps it was just I) joked about making it an annual event, so I guess my assessment might just be put to the test sooner than we think.

Wednesday, December 27

Oman, Day Seven: Winding Down

Our final day in Oman was set aside to chill and so we remained local - this actually turned out to be one of the more indulgent days as we barbecued at home (including making smores) before heading to the leisure centre to play Padel (because what other sport do people play in the Middle East?).

Annoyingly I had yet to buy any souvenirs and so some good time was spent hunting for fridge magnets to no avail (top tip - they're available at Carrefour if you're desperate).

Dinner was from various food trucks nearby, which was a great way to spend our final meal together - and of course we had to end that with yet more milkshakes.

Tuesday, December 26

Oman, Day Six: Climbing the Mountain

Today's activity was to hike a trail 2km up the mountain Jebel Shams. Although we drove to the start, the elevation of the hike itself was about 200m so this wasn't going to be a piece of cake.

All in all the 9km round trip took us around three hours which was well within our time budget, particularly as we were taking a more leisurely pace. It was a nice hike but, again, spoiled only by us having had such a wonderful time at Wadi Sham yesterday.

We didn't really hang around much after returning - we made a beeline back home to grab dinner and play what would probably be our final night of games.

Monday, December 25

Oman, Day Five: Swimming the Wadi

In what promised to be the most exciting excursion of the trip, today had been set for a visit to Wadi Shab. As only two of us were interested in the place, we invited some new friends I had met on the flight over to join us in our rental car down to the start of the valley.

On the way we stopped at a dubiously marked spot called "Muscat View" via what seemed to be an abandoned dirt track. Any misgivings were quickly dispelled once we caught the view.

Wadi Shab itself lived up to its promise. After a brief boat ride, the 45 minute hike wasn't particularly challenging and was a decent timepass on its own, but the real fun began once we hit the water at the end of the path.

Basically there is no other way to proceed without swimming, and so in we went. We swam and walked for around 30 mins before reaching a submerged cave entrance which we had to then pass through in order to make it to the final destination of the Wadi - a cavern with a waterfall, including a cliff jump into water I couldn't touch the bottom of. As adventure goes it was right up my alley - not too difficult but one that paid dividends.

On the way home we stopped off at the sinkhole to see what literally was a hole in the ground. It was okay and on another day not involving a wadi swim might have been impressive.

As it was late, we grabbed some cheap food and made our way home where we joined the rest of the party in watching Home Alone... since apparently it was Christmas Day. Given the excellent day I had I didn't even realise that.

Sunday, December 24

Oman, Day Four: Rest Day

Unlike yesterday, we made an early start to get back to Muscat in order to receive the final member of our party who had decided to make the journey even though there was only a few days left remaining on the trip.

Today was a dead day by design - between our stint in the desert and flights for our friend there was no real appetite to do anything too ambitious. And so we found ourselves lunching in malls, gorging on opulent milkshakes and playing board games till late.

Given the previous days (and the next planned) it was a good excuse to slow down a bit.

Saturday, December 23

Oman, Day Three: Camping in The Desert

After a start more relaxed than I would have liked, we made our way to the desert to enjoy an overnight stay on the sand and under the stars. Now given I had already done the desert safari (Dubai) and camping (Jordan) before this trip wasn't on the top of my list but since it was another chance to hang and play games it wasn't exactly something that was going to get a veto from me. Which was actually pretty lucky given how good this trip was.

The staples were all there: so dune bashing and various opportunities to play in the sand and take hero shots.

But it was the detail that mattered. Chilling with friends while watching the sun go down, eating barbecued camel meat while gup-shupping, playing a round of cards as we trash talked, and ending the night around a camp fire looking at the moon through a telescope.

As cringe as it sounds, it was never about the desert or sand activities, but more about spending time with friends in a different context - and ironically realising how much that context didn't actually matter, even though it may have emphasised the bonding.

Oh and of course it didn't hurt that our private cabins (versus tents) all had en suite washing facilities (versus a dry toilet and water out of a drum). At this age they're all luxuries I definitely appreciated.

Friday, December 22

Oman, Day Two: Muscat in a Pinch

This trip to Muscat was never meant to provide for tourism per se - and in many ways this is kind of my general approach to travel these days. Culture can be cringe but having a local take you around to the local spots trumps the tourist trail for me and given today was Jummah we used it as an excuse to stay local and tick off a few things we did want to see in the capital.

After a decent brunch (read: lunch for me), we headed to offer Jummah in the local Sunni mosque - the qualification is deliberate as I had already experienced first hand the Imadi Islam that prevails in Oman. The mosques here are lavish by the way.

We then headed to Shati Al Qurum, a quiet beach, for a walk and coffee - yet more chilling. The beach was clean, easy and just a nice place to hang out in.

As the sun was setting we headed to The Grand Mosque to offer Maghrib. It was lavish yet modest and in many ways representative of Omani culture, and definitely worth a visit.

After treating ourselves to Omani cuisine at a fancy restaurant we called it a day in anticipation of a weekend excursion that began the next day.

Thursday, December 21

Oman, Day One: Getting The Party Started

There's a few things that make travel special: if they're booked last minute, the level of planning or depth of itinerary, the manner in which the travellers arrive and the "unattached" quotient of the group. This list just happened to be fully ticked off for this trip to Oman, and as a result I was very excited to be on my flight to Muscat.

Even though I arrived at 6am (night flights increasingly becoming my preferred way to travel) I wasn't the first to arrive - apart from the host another traveller had pipped me to the post by two hours and so the chatter and banter had already since begun and continued in person as I stepped into my local friend's villa where we were going to spend the next week or so.

After a good rest and some orientation the three of us headed to Al Mouj (previously known as The Wave) for a walk around the marina and a burger dinner and dessert. It was an evening of chill and calm (and card games) while we waited for the rest of the party to arrive and just the ticked for our first day in Oman.

Tuesday, December 19

Film: Godzilla Minus One Click for more info

It took me a while to figure out why they picked what they did for the title of this movie. It's not as simple as it being a prequel or origin story. No, it's actually a throwback to the Japanese Kaiju films of the 50s and 60s and in many ways a gentle protest at the hollywoodification of the genre.

It's hard to list exactly what gives this such a classic feel. Godzilla himself is a pretty passive force in the movie, just doing his thing with not much of an agenda, and so the plot also simply goes from A to B.

This put the focus on the characters and it's the way they're all hammed up that makes me feel that this is a film from simpler times.

As someone who doesn't hate the more modern takes of Godzilla and friends, I appreciated the contrast I felt while watching Minus One as it made me realise the direction that Hollywood has chosen for our favourite monster. Recommended.

Sunday, December 3

Karachi 2023

Given the relief at having been able to visit Karachi post COVID, it's shocking that it has been a whopping 48 months since that last visit. The delay has been for a number of reasons, not least that we only visit in the winter so as to avoid the unrelenting sun, and the 2022/23 winter window was missed for a few windows. Needless to say that this trip was overdue and I was very much looking forward to it.

Not much had changed despite the gap, and yet it felt as different as any of the trips I've taken. Kids are now adults, cousins are now grandparents, aunties and uncles even more full of the love that only people that age can offer. Conversations were of a different quality as all involved become older, or perhaps just more patient and mature.

It also felt very busy socially - not a day went without an invitation to a very welcomed home cooked meal somewhere, and surprisingly we only went out a few times to eat, what with quite effective political boycotts ruling out the usual fast food treats. On that note I don't think I've ever drunk as much Pakola as I did this trip.

I was happy to return after the two weeks I was there - that particular limit seemingly hardwired into my brain. But I did definitely feel a loss on my return too and have never looked so forward to our return trip, hopefully in a more appropriate time frame this time.