DAY 18 - Salalah, Oman
Queen Mary 2 World Centenary Voyage
102 days, 31 ports, 18 countries.
28 January 2023
NEXT PORT: 31 January : Abu Dhabi
Ellen Frazer-Jameson reporting live from Queen Mary 2
SALALAH is the capital city of the governorate of Dhofar, a desert Kingdom in the South of Oman, and the second largest city in the country. Salalah is famous for its ancient frankincense trade and in its World Heritage List, UNESCO names it the “Land of Frankincense’. Frankincense is claimed to be one of the gifts the Three Wise Men from the East presented to the baby Jesus and years later Salalah is still known for the quality and quantity of frankincense it produces.
Used mainly as a medicine, frankincense is an essential product of the thriving local economy along with oil and gas. On a visit to a Perfume Souk (market) a smoking container of the crystals which are cultivated from trees, smoulders in every doorway permeating the air and lingering on clothes and hands. The aroma is used in houses to welcome guests and repel insects.
Oman is a prosperous country and quality of life is reflected in low crime figures, and generous housing allowances to citizens plus free health care and education. The country is ruled by the His Majesty Sultan Heysem bin Tarik Al Said , a tribal leader whose line of succession goes back centuries.
In 2020 the previous leader , Sultan Qaboos bin Said, died, he had no children but left instructions that if agreement could not be reached within three days on the choice of a new Sultan, officials should open a sealed box wherein he had written the name of his preferred heir. The late Sultan was held in such high esteem, it was immediately agreed to open the sealed box and appoint his chosen one. His cousin became Sultan and has two sons to succeed him.
Salalah is the first port on the world voyage where masks are mandatory, on the ship, on shoreside and in local transport. Transport is adequate but not five-star. Salalah’s tourism of upwards of a million people annually attracts mainly Arab nations through the local population are friendly and eager to establish greater visitor attraction.
Reflecting this eagerness to be inclusive, all shop fronts declare their business in Arabic and in English offering precise definitions. Coffee Shop: Copying and Typing of Documents; Shop Selling Ready Made Clothes; Perfumes, Oils, Cosmetics.
Retail premises and residential buildings blend into an exotic sandscape, a painted landscape brushed with creamy fine sand shining under a cloudless pale blue sky. Mid morning temperatures reach into the 80’s and tour guides, shopkeepers and drivers all wear traditional dress, white loose pants and knee length over shirts. Most also wear small woollen pillbox hats. Popular myth declares that husbands dip the tassels of the hat in their wife’s perfume so all that all day they will reminded of her, and only her, and not be distracted. Their religion allows for four wives but our guide, Mufti, explains why it is not practical. “The first wife must agree,” he says in excellent English though there are few professional tour guides as yet in Salalah. “Then I must buy the second one the same house as the first one. I must give them both the same money and spend my time equally with each of them. You understand what I mean? And this is true also if I have three or four wives.” He shakes his head. “I already have six children with one wife. It is enough.”
Our Tour with the Gulf Transport Company took us to the Royal Palace. Tourists are not allowed inside but the impressive exterior has a huge double wooden gates with the royal crown and double scimitars emblem either side.
Beyond the high walls, a gold, blue and white dome and tower can be seen. The surrounding gardens are landscaped and fringed with palm trees. Salalah exports fruit trees, bananas and papaya, and the vegetation around the city is lush and green.
Next stop, the beach. Miles and miles of soft white sand, surf and waves gently pound the pristine beach, not a trace of litter, sea birds gather at the water’s edge and white shells and tiny pebbles decorate the sand. And the only footprints are those of the tourists from the tour coach.
Omanis do not go to the beach. They refer to bathe at home in swimming pools. Villas line the beach area but most of them are empty. Many of the local population do not choose to live in the modest government built residences – they prefer the traditional two and a half story mansions further inland with floors to house different family members; often up to half a dozen families live together.
Non-residents to whom the palm fringed beach’s appear as mirages in the sand,a holiday paradise, can buy the detached beach villas for between $200,000 - $300,000 USD. Our explorations take us from modern villas to a six centuries-old settlement, Sumhuran, at the top of a mountain and alongside the ocean and a sparkling blue lagoon.
The land is timeless, cloaked in reverence and mystery. Sand stonework in a walled city reveals, after years of extensive excavations, a civilisation built with houses, businesses, temples and paved streets. The city, which claimed to be “Under the Protection of God” was identified as the land between the Mediterranean and India.
The Archaeological Gallery at the ancient site of Sumhuran contains maps, detailed documents, artefacts and goods, fabrics, spices and precious metals from trading ships which all retell the history of the site.
Sumhuran is lovingly preserved and exudes an air of mystery and magic. The city is carpeted in golden sand and a thin veil cloaks the ancient civilisation and its secrets. Camel trains, traders and ancient mariners all added to the dynamic and colourful community residing in the heart of the desert.
En route back to the ship, the sights and sounds and smells of our all too short visit reverberate with unique memories and unanswered questions of a modern people with their traditions and way of life rooted firmly in the past.
Almost back at the port, our coach is forced to slow down. Dozens of camels stray from their roadside enclosures and walk alongside the passing traffic. A reminder, that the Ship of the Desert still proudly symbolises this mysterious land.
Goodbye, Salalah. Happy Sailing
Memories from a wonderful day of exploration and experiences.
Back on board our mother ship - enroute to Abu Dhabi...
* * * * *
29 January - Current position of Queen Mary 2:
Under way from Salalah to Abu Dhabi
Departure was 23 hrs 14 min ago. (at 18:00 h local time)
Arrival will be in 1 d 13 hrs 46 min. (at 07:00 h local time)
Traveled distance since Salalah: 428.97 nm (794.45 km)
Remaining distance to Abu Dhabi: 701.16 nm (1,298.55 km)
Traveled distance since Southampton: 5,917.04 nm (10,958.36 km)
Happy Sailing ... The Journey continues... Ellen
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - 31 January
Dubai, United Arab Emirates - 01/02 February
Photo of the day (from the archives of JD Schwartz)
Further updates will be posted as soon as we get them from Ellen onboard Queen Mary 2.