Monday, January 7, 2013

Oman’s Coast–Yiti, As Sifa, and Bandar Khiran

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The Samman beach restaurant, sunset

It was hard to pull ourselves away from the Hajar Mountains, but coming to the beach eased the pain. We were returning to the scene where we spent our 12th wedding anniversary last year, the Sifawy Hotel at As Sifa, on a section of Oman’s coast just south of Muscat.

Last year when we stayed there the Sifawy had just opened, there were very few guests, and we were upgraded to a deluxe suite with a balcony. On the downside, when we got there they didn’t have their alcohol license yet – at least not until the next day, which was Christmas Eve and our anniversary. Suddenly they had acquired the license and we could order a bottle of wine with dinner.
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Sunrise, view from our room
I can now report that the place has been discovered, and there were plenty of guests relaxing poolside during the day. We didn’t get the upgrade, but we had a nice room on the pool deck with a little outdoor patio which was the only place where the Internet worked. This time they brought a complimentary bottle of wine to us right after we checked in. The breakfast buffet was great, with a traditional Arab spread of dips, olives, tomatoes, and other veggies, European style sliced meats, smoked salmon, and a selection of cheeses, an egg station where they cook you an omelet or eggs any way, Arab or American pancakes, chicken and veal sausages, beef and turkey bacon, curried potatoes, foul - pronounced “fool” which is beans, a popular Arab breakfast food – the list goes on. The only thing they didn’t have was anything made with pork.

I must do a food blog. Inshallah!

We still like the hotel very much, and recommend it. As a boutique hotel, it’s reasonably priced, compared to some of the luxury hotels. And we are getting spoiled by the service in these Arab countries.

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Sifa Marina

The new marina has a few boats now, including two sailboats, one from Australia. We didn’t spend much time hanging around the hotel, though. We had brought our inflatable kayak, and we had our 4WD, so we went exploring.

We decided to drive south from As Sifa, to see how far we could get, and maybe find an interesting beach to launch from. What we found was that there is lots of construction going on – more luxury hotels – and a small village at the end of the road, with schoolboys wondering what we were doing turning around in their schoolyard. No beach access.

Bandar al Khiran

Next we drove north. On the way from Muscat to As Sifa, the road passes a network of tidal bays called Bandar al Khiran, which reminds us of some places on the West Coast, with the tidal flats against soaring cliffs. With mangroves and who knows what else to see, we thought this would be a fun place to launch our inflatable kayak and explore.

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The government is taking control
of tourism activities

Unfortunately for us, the area is now being managed by the Ministry of Tourism and is off limits to tourism activities without a permit. We weren’t sure if this included our kayak, but we didn’t want to take a chance. A couple of months ago, we took the kayak into some mangroves on the UAE’s eastern region at Khor Kalba. We were apprehended, told “Problem!” and threatened with a fine of 10,000AED, or about $3,000.

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Ash Shaykh beach

We looked into the little bay at the fishing village of Ash Shaykh, which was nice but by that time it was after noon, the sea breeze had kicked up, and we decided it was too windy and rough to be any fun. Mark chatted with a local fisherman, who came down to the beach to see if we wanted to take a boat ride.

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Happy Anniversary
For our 13th anniversary dinner on Christmas Eve, we went to the open-air fish restaurant, which was closed when we were there last year. This year, they were open every day for both lunch and dinner, with coffee available at 10:30 a.m. We had a delicious hammour dinner. Hammour is a very popular locally caught grouper, and unfortunately it’s being overfished. Every hotel, restaurant, fish market and supermarket has it. I order it once in a while, as a special treat.

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Al Bustan auditorium

That night we drove into Muscat to see a concert of traditional Omani oud music at the Ritz Carlton Al Bustan hotel. The audience was mostly Arab, although we did spot a few other expats.

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There were a few very ornately dressed women in the orchestra. At one point, the entire orchestra left the stage and the women returned to perform alone without any men. The audience erupted in ululations – a high-pitched sound that we also heard at the Emirati wedding we went to, when the bride arrived.

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A group of boys also performed, to the delight of the mostly Arab crowd. We found the music to be a bit redundant after awhile, but we enjoyed the concert.

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Our inflatable on As Sifa beach

On Christmas Day we decided to launch the kayak on As Sifa beach, where we explored the coastline. The tide was high, so there weren’t many fish, but we saw lots of rock crabs and sand crabs, which scurried away as we approached. What a beautiful place and, again, it reminded me of the northern California coast.

Another interesting place on this stretch of coastline is Yiti. This would be another great place to camp and again, it reminded me so much of places I have been in California. Yiti is also now a construction site. Another resort. So, who knows how long it will be accessible. But I can’t complain, because I am taking advantage of the beautiful resorts that are now on Oman’s coast. You can’t have it both ways.

Or can you? Oman does seem to be striking a good balance. A huge part of the charm, for me, of the entire coastline is that the small fishing villages are relatively untouched, and the people there continue to fish and raise goats, even a few turkeys, at least for now. Some of their accommodations have changed; many people live in much bigger houses, with high walls for privacy. But they still come out in the evening, squat in small circles – all men or all women, never mixed – and talk or make trinkets around a little fire. It remains to be seen how long it can stay this way.
Thanks for reading!


catbirdinoman said...

Love your photos of As Sifa Beach. It sounds like your anniversary was celebrated in great style and luxury!! So glad you enjoyed it. :-)

Edward said...

Musandam Khasab is very famous place for trip i like it very much nice blog great work