3 .- Desert of Rub al-Khali. الربع الخالي‎ الصحراء   

From Muscat to Salalah من مسقط إلى صلالة

Early in the morning,  we get up at 5 a.m. and leave the city by bus, to  join our  next city Salalah, located 1000 kilometers south. Bordering the Rub al Khali desert الربع الخالي. One of the most inhospitable deserts on earth.

The bus was not too bad, cheap, about 12 euros , quite acceptable but obviously not reach the comfort and quality of those in our country, but for what we have seen in other Asian countries could consider of many “stars.” Something dirty, haggard seats, no curtains to absorb the sun …. but ultimately passable.

The ride is incredibly dull, but beautiful. The Rub al Khali desert الربع الخالي changes color as it passes the day, and even in appearance, from the golden dunes to rocky areas with dark soil, are perceived certain similarities to lunar landscapes. There is absolutely nothing, not a shelter, and apparently no plants or animals.

The bus stops every 2 to 3 hours to allow passengers to eat something and go to the toilets. Usually tends to stop at a population composed of several adobe houses, and one of these buildings is usually something like a restaurant. In Oman, the food is acceptable and cheap, the “restaurant” is usually clean (for Eastern fees ….) And well, the toilet does not deserve much comment. They are usually all something stuck with a disgusting smell and a large hole in the ground ….

The staff on the bus is usually mixed, men accompanied by his wife or wives and many children. (In Islam a man can have four wives, provided they can maintain them and meet them equally to all …. so I mean, that despite appearances, is no a bargain ..!!). There are plenty of Bedouins living in the desert, with their costumes, their turbans and their weapons, and women who are fully covered. They are only seen those black eyes …… Women can not be spoken, not even looking. If you look at the eyes of a woman, the men start to get nervous and immediately she looks away as a sign of sumission or other woman can look at you aggressively. Is not  convenient to maintain the look at veiled women as the eye can see. Men in general are curious but always with an air of superiority continued proselytizing Islam, as they perceive that you are abroad and speak Arabic … and obviously try to convince and convert to Islam. For them it is a merit.

After 13 hours traveling, we arrived at Salalah, where to be more distanced from the “hell wet” of  Muscat,  we  thought, or wanted to think that heat and humidity would be lower. And so, but the difference was minimal, but more bearable. Quickly seek a moderately priced hotel, about 30 euros for a double room acceptable, and as always, we leave our stuff in the room and we rushed into the streets to discover the city before the darkness.

No one can say that Salalah is a beautiful city. It basically consists of two major streets with many shops, the population is predominantly Pakistani. It has a coastline with endless beaches, a kind of somewhat ramshackle waterfront, high humidity or Rutaba “رطو بة, and a little more ….

In Oman as a country of the UAE and have a lot of oil, the old Bedouins are now the “masters” of the country  and do not work.  They Import workers from neighboring countries, mainly Pakistanis, who are Muslim, meaning “brothers “…… and very cheap labor.

 Salalah has a coastline with endless beaches, a kind of promenade something left, lots of “Rutaba” and nothing more. Little local tourism, absence of foreigners and desert landscape, converging moisture from the coast to the dry, dusty air of the desert, which certainly gives it a peculiar aspect to the place, there an army of men engaged in hand-washing vehicles of the population who are always dirty and wet, and covered with a thin layer of mud ….. just like us, we also suffer from the mixture of fine soil moisture desert with sea salt, and  give us something seemingly “sticky “….

The dinner  in a suitable restaurant where we eat pretty well with reasonable prices, about 3 euro each one … Falafel, fish, salads. Later,  a short walk down the main street, very hot, very boring people and  little more. Nothing interesting, to be honest.

We spent two days in this city trying to discover it. We even ventured to visit the port, thinking that the port was a seaport  After hard bargaining with a taxi driver and support their attempts at conversion to Islam by reciting the Koran paragraphs,  we reached ( after going through part of the city consisting of several houses built in the middle of a desert) the port. Obviously there is no sea port in Salalah but rather a port stevedores, loading and unloading of containers and thousands of workers-slave army Pakistanis in turn, resting on a tattered and dirty bar in the zone.

We were disappointed and somewhat discouraged. Nothing pretty. Everything was a jumble of huge cargo ships, colorful plastic bags flying everywhere and men in orange overalls and hard hat, which gave the place a strange sight, almost apocalyptic ….

The return was more complicated. A port in the middle of a desert with nothing around. Barely walk to a residential complex for foreigners workers with all kinds of facilities, green spaces, security guards and even a genuine English Pub. We were even more surprised. Staff not too friendly, so we decided to get out of there, again  in the middle of a deserted road. And as expected, after a while appeared a truck that   stopped and which brought us back near our hotel. We arrived exhausted, hungry and somewhat stunned. It was not worth staying there much more. The city deserved the last dinner and an “escape” to  fresher and well-known lands, to Yemen. But you never know if you are able to enter to this country, even if you have a visa ….