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Friday, May 19, 2017

Highlight Reel 3: Bahrain, Qatar & Oman

On October 27th, after ten days exploring modern Cairo and the antiquities of ancient Egypt, we started our tour through most of the Gulf countries in Manama, the capital and only city in Bahrain. What a better place to start than admiring the fabulous gold stores! 
It was immediately apparent that the city was full of foreign workers; in fact, there were far more of them than native Bahrainis, something we had never encountered before.
I am stretching a bit that the Bahrain National Museum qualifies entry in the Highlight Reel of Bahrain as the country was not a highlight or standout place for us at all.
Living in such close proximity to the Persian Gulf had strongly influenced many of the painters and sculptors whose works we saw.

Bahrain was famous as the 'Land of a Million Date Palm Trees' as everything in the tree was useful to people. 
For four centuries Bahrain has been a country famous for its almost exclusively natural pearls. In fact, so valuable were the pearls from the island's shallow waters that the country's entire prosperity was built on the collection and trading of the gem.
This was the first museum we'd ever been to that offered a private boat ride to take us to another part of the museum! Steven and I joked that our ride on the choppy, open waters was almost better than the entire museum!
Coming from Egypt where we had seen very few modern buildings, few signs of any wealth or prosperity, no modern architecture and overwhelming poverty by and large to the skyscrapers and attractive architecture of Manama was startling.
Qala'at al-Bahrain, Arabic for Bahrain Fort:

Manama is well known for the massive number of burial mounds, originally estimated at 80,000, not too far from the capital. 
Muslim women enjoying sunset at the beach by the fort:
By October 30th, we were in Doha, Qatar and at its Souk Waqif about ten minutes away from our hotel. There has been a souk or bazaar on the site for centuries as this was the site where the Bedouin - the Arabic-speaking nomadic people of the Middle Eastern deserts - would bring their sheep, goats and wool to trade for essentials.

The city's Falcon Souk was a special lure for us as it wasn't anything we had seen anywhere else on our travels.

Doha's impressive skyline where the business district was, was located across the bay from the souk and the old part of the city.

The renowned architect I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art which was constructed on an island reclaimed from the sea. 

One of my top ten photos I took on the trip:
As our Halloween treat, we hired a driver to take us out for a ride in the dunes about 90 minutes away from the capital. First up was a visit with camels.

It was such a thrill roaring up and down the dunes time after time with no other cars around.

This particular area was known as the singing dunes as, during the heat of summertime when the temperatures in the desert climb as high as 45-50 degrees, the tires hit the hot sand resulting in a singing sound. It was nowhere near as hot as that but we could certainly still hear the resonating sand.

Woohoo - straight down the dunes we go! What an incredible adrenaline rush we got rushing up and down the dunes at great rates of speed.

Later, the driver stopped the car just feet from the water’s edge. He said that we were looking at the Gulf Sea, formerly known as the Persian Gulf. In the distance was Saudi Arabia.
Steven first heard about a 'set of jewelry' in Doha, i.e. a matching necklace, pair of earrings and ring. There had to have been about twenty plus jewelry stores in the Gold Souk and each had the most magnificent jewelry displayed in their windows.
After several days enjoying the sights of Doha, Qatar, we flew on November 2nd to the neighboring Gulf state country of Oman and its capital, Muscat. Many stalls in the Mutrah Souk had what we soon discovered was the typical male Omani hat for sale.

Outside the souk we saw these traditionally attired Omani men playing cards as we walked back to collect our car.

Muscat's Sultan Qaboos Mosque:

Our superb guide, Fatima, made the mosque and her love of her Muslim faith come alive for everyone on her tour.
The Royal Opera House located in the heart of Muscat:

A scene driving through one of the two provinces in the Interior of Oman on November 3rd:
We sure weren't in 'Dodge' any longer when we heard a camel in the bed of the truck at a gas station! 
Thought this should have been the ruling leader's home and not a court complex for a small town.
Visiting the Friday Goat Market in Nizwa was unlike anything we'd ever be lucky enough to do again.

Eating a date in Nizwa's Date Souk certainly was a highlight for me as I love dates as you can see from the grin on my face.

Oman's tag line should be 'Land of Forts' as there are over 500 of them. We visited several of them around the country; this one was in Nizwa.
Our tour of Al Hoota Caves reminded us of Carlsbad Caverns back in New Mexico.

Men going to the mosque for late afternoon prayers in tiny Misfat Abryeen on November 4th:
Driving to the top of Jebel Shams, Oman's highest mountain, on the treacherous, 'gravel' very narrow road strewn with boulders would have been a challenge for any NASCAR driver!
Jebel Shams is known in English as Mountain of the Sun.

Hiking in what is known as Oman's Grand Canyon at Jebel Shams is probably as close as I'll ever get to the Grand Canyon. It had to be one of our all time favorite hikes in terms of the difficulty of just getting there, its sheer beauty and amazing views and especially the challenge and thrill of hiking a trail on the edge of vertical cliffs. The hike merited its name as the Balcony Walk.

At Sharqiya Sands, a desert area in central Oman on November 6th:

Wadi Bani Khalid is one of the most famous wadis in Oman. A wadi is a valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season.
Swimming by ourselves along this gorge at the wadi was nothing short of heavenly.
About eight months before our trip, we made reservations to visit the Turtle Reserve located in Ras Al Jinz, on the Omani coast. Ras Al Jinz beach is the only place in the entire world where green turtles come ashore each night to dig a hole in the sand and lay their eggs, covering them carefully before returning exhausted to the sea. What a thrill watching that process for a couple of hours.
Hiking in to Wadi Shab, a narrow, palm-fringed ravine hemmed in by spectacular cliffs, was an adventure as there were no signs and we had to clamber over rocks and wade through shallow pools. 
The 80 minute hike to the wadi was worth every drop of sweat when we encountered the beautiful oasis. We had forgotten our swimsuits back at the car but Steven's Speedo-like underwear and my T-shirt and black panties fit the bill in a pinch!
The Bimmah Sinkhole, 75 miles south of Muscat and one of numerous sinkholes in Oman, was 330 feet in circumference and about 66 feet deep. 

Oman was one of the few countries we've been to where we would love to come back and visit. We only scratched the surface of what there was to see and do in Muscat, the country's capital, and there were still huge areas of the country we didn't have time to explore at all. The people were very friendly and welcoming; the country was so incredibly varied with rocky terrain, desserts as well as beaches; it had a charming capital and interesting villages, was modern and yet still quaint, and had lots of activities for those either seeking adventure or just wanting to relax.

Posted from Grayton Beach State Park, Florida, on May 19th, 2017.

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