Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Salalah la la la la……….

Actually the town is Salalah but who can resist adding that extra la-la-la-la ?

It’s definitely neither the prettiest town we’ve seen nor even the most well-known but there was plenty to do on our tour to keep us busy for four hours. We docked on time (!) at about 7a but were only going to be in port until 1pm so we didn’t have a lot of time anyway. Our guide was Ali—he said we could call him Ali-Baba—who had, he said, 99 wives minus 98 wives!

In Salalah the Sultan—or is it the Sheik? Or the King? One of those really, really rich guys—wants everybody to understand the Muslim religion so we were actually allowed inside the mosque. Before this we could either walk around the outside or meander through the more public inside areas of a mosque. This was the first time we could actually go inside the area where they have their worship services. Absolutely stunning! Both the sheer size of the interior and the luxury of the accoutrements: beautiful carpeting; carved woods, marbles, and granites; not a stick of furniture, however, in an immense room perhaps 40 feet (13 meters) high and 100-125 feet (30-40 meters) square. The concession that was made to tourists was that the carpeting had a blue cloth put down for us to walk on—presumably so we didn’t dirty the carpet (can’t say as I blame them for that!).

What Salalah is best known for is frankincense and one of our first stops was the Frankincense Museum. I did not know that frankincense came from a tree and a rather attractive tree at that. It is the sap (I think) that is crystalized and then burned (in the lower qualities of frankincense) or dissolved (to drink as a general tonic or, as our guide pointed out, as a great substitute for Viagra). We bought some from a wonderful burqa-clad woman at the souk later in the morning.

In the souk, there is shop after shop all selling frankincense, but I couldn’t resist going in to talk to this woman. She was extremely friendly—of course, she wanted to sell me something!—and open. (Randy asked and she allowed him to video the two of us, apparently a rare thing as we have been told by many different guides to NOT photograph or video these women as their owners husbands would not take kindly to that action especially by a man. No photos, sorry, only video.) After determining what quality of frankincense to get to burn to drive away the mossies (mosquitoes) and the major decision about whether to get a half-kilo or a quarter-kilo, I asked about her clothing. She was dressed completely in black (have I mentioned it is hot and humid?) except for a small slit for her eyes—that did not impact her ability to show emotion. She told me it would be “dangerous” for me, but she started as a child and was used to it.

What I remember most about the museum was the quality of the ship models. It just about took my breath away to see the beautiful woods and exquisite workmanship in model after model and even in the cases for the models. We were not allowed to take pictures and there were menacing-looking guards about to ensure we didn’t. That was just the maritime section, they had three other sections we didn’t have time to see all of, including artifacts such as a 5000 year old mortar and pestle. Ali says many, many people still use a similar mortar and pestle in their daily cooking; the design has not changed in millennia.

But many other things have changed in the past 40 years in Oman: in 1970 there were two schools in Salalah and one in Muscat and only two hospitals in all of Oman; now there are thousands of schools and hundreds of hospitals. In 1970 there was NO electricity in Oman except perhaps one generator for the Sultan. In 1970 Oman was an extraordinarily poor country, now there is free education for all up to the university level, free health care even abroad, and no tax on income. Quite an improvement.

I haven’t mentioned Flat Stanley in a while. He is becoming quite popular, several people on our tours now recognize him. He had a wonderful time in the Frankincense Museum and on the grounds watching the geese. We showed him the frankincense trees and the geese in the canal, he was quite entranced.

The last thing we did in Oman was stop for fresh coconut and bananas. The coconuts were opened on the spot, a straw inserted and we had our morning refreshment. Then the coconut seller hacked open the coconut and snapped out the coconut meat for all of us to enjoy. What a finish!
Outside the mosque. We had to remove our shoes and women had to wear headscarves
Ali, our guide, in the outer courtyard of the mosque.
Interior of the mosque

Close-up of the ornately carved entrances

The same doors from a distance

And close-up of the carvings

Flat Stanley at the steps of the sacred camel (yes, that what it is)

Really, truly, these are the steps of the sacred camel

A frankincense tree

Flat Stanley enjoying the shade of the frankincense tree. Have I mentioned that it's hot?

Flat Stanley trying to read the Arabic

I think these are geese, but they may be swans. Anybody know?

Randy & Peter, one of our tablemates, at the Museum grounds

The old and the new

Our air-conditioned (!) chariot
Those are goats in the background, Salalah's unique garbage control

Frankincense burning in the souk (market). We hope this will keep the mossies away at home in the summer

This shop did a lot of business because it was air-conditioned!

The souk

Getting ready to open the coconut to drink the "water"

A pure and natural and cool drink!
Written in the Sun Princess, on the Red Sea, Noon, June 12
21° 49’ N
27° 38’ E


  1. I'd wondered what there was to do in Salala and now I know. Thanks for sharing your experience and photos.

  2. Hi Pam, I am oretty sure they are ducks...LOL, tell Flat Stanley I am envious of him, you are doing a fabulous job on your blog !
    We will be on our way in 4 weeks today, not looking forward to the LOOOOOOOOOOONG flight, would much prefer to do it your way !
    Thanks for keeping me amused while I sit around counting down the hours.. LOL Keep well and say g'day to the cc and fb mates ..Cheers, Kris xx