Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Salalah, Oman

February 15 - 20, 2008
by KT

February 15, 2008

The anchorage in Salalah is at a huge shipping port, actually run by Maersk Shipping.  Therefore they tightly control where the yachts can anchor and monitor the port entrance and exits closely (as to prevent boats coming while another is trying to leave or vice-versa).  The area they allow for yachts is tiny and not really suited to handle the number of yachts that were visiting.  The holding is also poor and sometimes a bit of current runs through.  All this made it difficult for Chris and I to find a spot, and we weren't really thrilled with our situation ... we'd have to monitor the winds closely, being sure to not be away from Billabong if anything came through.

The officials were aboard our boat for all of about two minutes.  Probably the fastest to date.  The anchorage is miles away from the city - more accurately miles away from anything.  It is cheaper to rent a car per day than a round trip taxi ride, but since Chris and I figured we'd be spending most of our time on board fixing stuff we didn't bother worrying about getting around.  Friends were heading into the city and offered us a ride to Immigration.  Afterwards they drove us into Salalah with a plan at going to LuLu's Supermarket, but as it was Friday even LuLu's was closed.  Salalah appeared to be vast and spread out, no real apparent downtown or area where shops were more dense.  There were some mountains in the background, but the city itself was flat.  It would not be a place easy to explore by foot.

It felt as though we'd moved into a sepia photograph, as there was almost no color to be seen.  The mountains and earth were desert brown with brown rocks and dirt clumps.  The rare pieces of grass that existed were yellow-brown with dehydration.  The buildings were beige and white.  Men walked about everywhere, many wearing long robes or what we called pajama outfits (loose long shirts over baggy light pants of lightweight material), of white, brown, or grey.  Some men wore sulus and loose shirts, but again the colors were drab.  The only thing that seemed to have color were some of the men's hats.  There were two types, the sit-on-top hat which was small and perched on the top of the head, or the rag-hat, which was a light material wrapped around the head.  Both of these tended to be white, but had mixed-in designs of vibrant colors.  To complete the picture were the women.  On this first trip in I only spotted one, apparently they don't come out during the day, but the one I spotted wore a full black burka, just as I knew the others would be wearing as well.

We returned to Billabong where Chris got right to work on the water maker, hoping that perhaps he could flush out the salt water and maybe to salvage it.  That evening we joined some friends for dinner in town.  The dinner was spectacular.  Huge quantities of food appeared, all delicious.  Plates of salad and fresh pita bread were brought, followed by our entrees.  We had a mixed grill platter which included kebabs of varying meats.  We also had hummus that was to die for ...  I've always liked hummus, but never did I know it could be this good.  We ate until I thought we'd both be sick, and then finished up with tea.  There is no alcohol served in Salalah, instead the men sit around smoking huge (about 3 feet) water bong tobacco pipes.  They come in various flavors, such as strawberry or cherry, and are apparently quite popular.  It felt exotic to watch these men in their white robes, kicking back playing checkers while sucking away on a huge bong that sat on the floor next to them, filling the air with a delicious strawberry scent.  Again there was a huge lack of women (like none at all), apparently they don't visit the restaurants very often, and when they do there is a different section for women.

With all the food and tea and the long passage just over, it wasn't long before I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  Bed was heaven.

February 16, 2008

As Chris worked on the water maker, I bummed a ride to drop off laundry in town.  It was slightly more lively, with the shops now open, but the vastness of the city and the desert surroundings still gave Salalah a deserted feeling.  Again I barely saw another women, even the laundry place was run by men.  I returned to the boat feeling pretty good, Chris was making progress with the water maker and all our laundry was about to be done by someone else.

I stepped into the cockpit to find a huge mess.  Stuff was strewn all over the place, and there was Chris with this depressing look on his face, afraid to give me the bad news.  There are some cords and piping that run from the main part of the boat into the forward compartment.  Back in Ventura Chris had epoxied all open holes, making our forward compartment about 99% water tight.  The only spot where water could come in was through the very very small gaps in cords that was high up on the port side of the hull.  This means that for water to actually ever make it's way in we would have to flood the forward compartment high enough to reach  the small space and be on a port tack.  Well, wouldn't you know, that is exactly what we'd done.  Under our bed we have heaps of space, but not all of it is easy to get to.  So, what's the best stuff to keep in such a location -- spare parts of course.  Alternators, refrigeration units, rigging, and on and on the list goes.  All submerged in salt water since we'd left Uligan.  And that's just the beginning of the list, for the water managed not to just get into the first compartment under the bed, but the second and third as well.  All our bandages, gauze, and medical tape ruined.  Heaps of fabric and material soaked.  Canned goods now rusted and label-less.  But the real doozy for me (not that all those electronics and the rigging don't matter to me, they just don't effect me as immediately), was that my laptop was now dripping water.  The ironic thing is that we do not normally store the laptop under the bed, usually it's in our clothing closet.  But in Uligan we had started the process of hiding things (for the potential pirates on the leg to Aden).  We had thought about putting things under the floor boards, but we felt that there is always potential for water in the bilge (even though they've been dry since we've had Billabong).  Under the bed seemed more safe - we never have even come close to getting water there!  And then there was also the fact that I'd stored my laptop and accessories in a Pelican water-tight hard case.  With the hard case, inside foam, and water-tight protection I felt that I could pretty much store the laptop anywhere and it would be fine.  Chris couldn't believe when he'd opened up the Pelican case and water had pretty much poured out.  He still tried to recover parts of the laptop, but everything from the hard drive to the battery was soaked.  The external DVD/CD writer stored in the case was also toast, along with all the cables and mouse.  I know it's just a computer, but it is the one that we store ALL our photographs on, the one we use to create our DVD home-videos, and the one that is used to maintain our website.  It didn't help matters that I couldn't recall if I'd backed it up recently, but we were happy that I'd stored the backup disk in a different location.  (It turns out that I had indeed backed it up somewhat recently so no data was lost, just a few hours worth of photo editing).  It'll be interesting to see what Pelican has to say about their case!!!

Chris led me forward to show me the water damage, and so started our long days of continuous boat work.

February 17 - 18, 2008

We spent these two days working non-stop; cleaning and trying to recover as much stuff as we could.  Chris also worked on repairing the tear in the jib (luckily it was on a seam) and the UV covering of our Genoa.  I made a few trips into Salalah for errands (laundry and groceries), where I still hardly saw more than a handful of women.  Everyone was extremely friendly, and at first I was hesitant to answer "Where are you from" with "America", but people seemed thrilled that I was American and would usually smile and say "ahh, very good!".  I did have one guy at the vegetable market tell me that "America was good" but he did not like "Mr Bush".  It does feel a bit odd to be a women, especially out in town during the day when there is not another women in sight, but it does not feel threatening, nor did I ever feel that any of the men looked down at me.

It wasn't look good for fixing the water maker, but we were extremely lucky that friends of ours actually have a spare that they lent us until we could get a replacement.  At least we won't have to worry about where we are going to get water while traveling through the desert countries.  We are also hopeful that a lot of the damage will be covered by our insurance.  Every year we've debated whether we should continue to fork out the money for insurance, but we always have because we like the extra security, after all Billabong and what's on her is all we own in the world.  It would be nice to know that all this insurance money we've dished out might actually provide us something in return. We'll see - we are still in the claim filing process, so far they have been extremely nice, so we are keeping our fingers crossed.

I have to make a comment about the laundry.  Salalah was THE best place we've ever had our laundry done.  Granted it was a bit more pricey than elsewhere, but things came back smelling so wonderful .. and IRONED!  I haven't seen an ironed shirt in four years!  Our sheets were even ironed; when I pulled them out of the bag it was like they were brand new.  Some of Chris' work shirts were actually looking as though he could maybe wear them in public without embarrassment!  Of course it's still not quite the same as back home; there was the use of a permanent black magic marker to mark every item of laundry with two black dots -- usually in a spot you couldn't see, but not always.  And the use of extreme bleach, even on items with some color in them -- mostly just on towels, so the color change didn't really matter, but what if I'd wanted the kitchen towel to be blue striped instead of lime green?

February 19, 2008

By now we were worn out and feeling frustrated that everything in our lives seemed to be just about the boat.  We had decided to be apart of a convoy for the next leg (read more about that decision in the next entry), and they were chomping at the bit to leave, so we didn't have much spare time and didn't have the option of staying longer.  We had just about everything done and really needed a break from Billabong, so we decided to spend our afternoon land touring with Sarah & GB from Djarrka.

Our first stop was a museum in town.  Inside they had displays depicting the history of Oman and relics from the past.  We were impressed with the complex, detailed and intricate water system they had built in the early days.  We watched a video on Frankincense.  Frankincense is "milked" from a frankincense tree, which involves scrapping the bark of the tree such that the sap seeps out - the sap (or gum) forms a hard rock shaped lump that is extremely aromatic, especially when heated.  There are different aromas, which are thought to produce different effects, from healing to warding off evil spirits.  Back in the ancient days this gum was one of the world's most sought after substances and it kept the southern Arabia extremely wealthy.  In the small gift shop Chris and I purchased a bag as I figured with all the bad weather and lost/broken gear we definitely had some evil spirits that needed warding off!

They also had a maritime section with displays on ship building and the exploration that took place from Oman.  We got a kick out of the "head" (toilet) which was basically a small platform with a hole in it that hung over the side of the ship.  A bucket attached to a rope completed the flushing system!  Talk about exposed!  Since then we've actually seen a number of fishing boats with this same system in place!

Then, for a whopping $1.00 each, we hopped on a golf cart and were driven around the ruins of the old town - consisting mostly of mosques.  We would've walked but it was now nearing noon, and being in the desert and all we thought we'd be more comfortable under the shade of the cart top.  The town did not span a very large area, yet there must have been over thirty mosques.  I guess when you pray five times a day it's handy to have a mosque nearby!

After a terrific lunch we headed out to look for a small spring area that another cruiser had recommended.  Once you get out of the city area driving becomes a bit difficult, or rather driving without getting lost.  The signs are mostly in Arabic, and those that are in English tend to not have consistent English translations; if a location in one translation ends EAY and in another ends with just Y is it the same location??? Apparently sometimes it is, and sometimes it's not.  Getting lost was probably the best thing that happened to us.  We ended up traveling up through the mountains, getting a terrific few back at Salalah and the ocean.  We passed heaps of wild camels as well as donkeys and goats.  Finally, convinced we had no clue where we were, we stopped at a small shop and took the map in to see if they could point to where we were.  After a lot of pointing and hand waving and questioning eyes we came away still as lost as before but with some tasty nut treats.  A few more miles up the road we spotted a "Department of Tourism" building.  Ahhh, perfect!  Only the building was closed, and covered with so much dust it looked as though perhaps it has been closed for a very very long time.  Two policemen stood across the road curiously look at us.  Chris ran over with a big 'ol smile and the map and after a bit of discussion as well as a lot of laughing he came back to tell us that we were miles and miles off course!  We were almost at some border and just about off the map we had.  Kind of ironic but when we were first coming up the mountains Chris looked at the map and said, "Where is this huge mountain range that the map shows?".  Well apparently we were driving up and through it the whole time!!!  But, like I said, we were all completely happy that we had been lost and really enjoyed the drive.

We eventually found the little spring or waterhole.  It was pretty but not that impressive, making us even more grateful for our earlier detour.  As we were driving back from the spring a herd of camels came sauntering down the road.  These must be one of the strangest looking animals on earth ...  but what a smart design!  At last I could get my wild camel photo.  These guys were a perfect end to our half day tour.

We made a quick stop at LuLu's where Chris and I determined that the full veil burka does not make a lot of sense, the women who were shopping with the full veil actually had to lift the veil in order to read some of the labels -- doesn't seem very practical.  That afternoon in the supermarket was the largest quantity of women I'd see out and about since being in Salalah.  We spotted everything from western-style dressed women (still further covered but not in a gown or burka), to veiled black burkas, and even some of the face covers with the eye protectors that block the women's peripheral vision such that her whole head has to turn if she wants to look at something.  The women whose faces we could see were heavily done up with tons of makeup and many of them had shaved off their eyebrows, only to paint one long continuous one that formed a v in the center.  I would've liked to seen their clothing under the burkas as I've read that many wear extravagant, fancy clothes.  I understand the idea of dressing conservative, and even, to some extent, covering every inch of the body, but I'm not sure I get why it has to be black, especially when the men get to wear the cooler white color.  Perhaps it's time I found a book and did a bit of research on the whole thing.

Even though we got back to Billabong as the sun was setting, Chris got right back to work on the sail repairs he was doing.  I admit that I'm amazed at his relentless energy when it comes to getting stuff done - he easily out lasts me ten-fold.

February 20, 2008

We were happy when the convoy decided that an extra day wouldn't hurt and actually, according to forecasts, might give us better sailing weather.  This gave us a chance not only to do our previous days worth of touring, but also some time to get the boat put back together after all the work and repairs.  It took us all day to finish up everything, and then get everything stowed for the upcoming passage, but at long last Billabong was a working boat again.

We walked up to the Oasis Club (about a twenty-thirty minute walk from the anchorage) for dinner and drinks.  The oasis Club is pretty much a whitey hang out, the only place in Oman you can get a beer.  It is patronized by ex-pats and the large ship's crews.  I was craving a good 'ol fashioned cheeseburger and fries, and it really hit the spot.  We had drinks with the gang we had done a lot of our passages with since Thailand, they were all staying a few more days and not going directly to Aden, so we wouldn't be catching them again until somewhere up in the Red Sea.

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