Alex and Marko Ayling from the US, who won a competition to travel the world, recommend Oman
Alex & Marko won the Biggest Baddest Bucket List competition run by mydestination.com. Follow their journey – they’re off to Tanzania next – on www.mydestination.com or connect with them at vagabrothers.com, @vagabrothers, /Vagabrothers, and Instagram.com/vagabrothers
‘Salam Alaykum’ (we’ve been practicing our Arabic) from Oman, the latest stop in our six-month journey around the globe. We’ve had a whirlwind week in the Sultanate, packing in as much as we can from luxury hotels to desert camps, and wild wadis to mountains. It’s been a thrilling time and we both wish that we were able to stay longer but alas, the open road calls. Before we depart these shores, however, we can give you the lowdown on the Oman that we discovered during our time here and the things we have seen. For a start, we know that the country is home to more than 3.8 million with a diverse population made up of people from all over the world. That’s the great thing about Oman; it has opened its arms to welcome different cultures and religions. At its peak, the Sultanate’s influence extended to Iran, modern-day Pakistan and as far south as Zanzibar, with extensive trading links to East Africa. Of course, it’s always been close to the UK and United States, with military and political ties. Like its neighbours, oil is the mainstay of the economy but tourism is fast catching up. Around 1.75 million people visited Oman in 2012 and it’s increasing each year. It seems more and more people are realising that Oman is the little hidden gem of Arabia.
My Favourite Place: Alex: We’ve been to some awesome places, including the Grand Mosque, Muttrah Souq, Wahiba Sands, Snake Canyon and Nizwa. But my highlight is the Hajar Mountains because I wasn’t expecting mountains of that magnitude. I loved driving through the wadis and seeing a couple of local families and then some goat herders. The green of the wadis in juxtaposition with the dry, brown hills was incredible.
Marko: Al Hamra (the 400-year-old town in Al Dakhiliyah) was really cool. It was so amazing to see a place with all the classical mud-brick homes. It’s something we have never seen before. I just wish that that we could have stopped there for a while.
Highlights: Alex: The Eid goat market at Al Mintrib was the coolest cultural experience we have had so far on this trip. It was so different from anything we have encountered. We were really lucky to see it as it only happens twice a year. There were around 200 people, who were so friendly, and if it weren’t for the cars, it would have been like stepping back in time. It was a sensory overload. We felt that we had a glimpse into the real, rural Oman.
Marko: For me, it was the dhow shipyard in Sur. Oman’s connection with the sea and its maritime heritage is fascinating. What makes Oman so interesting is its history of trade links and being part of the spice and incense sea routes. We saw the dhows being built by hand, which really inspired us to come back to Oman, find a crew and boat and recreate the journey to Zanzibar.
Lowlights: Alex: We are both surfers and so friends of the ocean, so to see miles and miles of pristine coastline covered in rubbish was a personal lowlight. The sight of locals and visitors throwing rubbish on the beach was very sad. Oman needs to get serious about trash and make a cultural change. People please stop littering.
Marko: It’s got to be the traffic. We originally come from LA, which is pretty bad, but guys, you win the prize here. Only Istanbul has been worse for traffic than Oman so far.
Where to stay: Alex & Marko: For a bit of five-star luxury, try the Al Husn Hotel at Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa. At the opposite end, head to the Desert Retreat Camp Wahiba Sands. We had a tent made out of goat hair and were greeted on arrival with coffee and dates. When they turned the lights off at night, we sat by the campfire and looked up at the stars.
Final Thoughts: Alex & Marko: Oman is a really cool place. If you want to do outdoor activities, it has it all – mountain biking and trekking, camping and scuba diving to name a few. It has an awesome culture and a cool legacy. In America, the Middle East is not seen as potential travel destination but hopefully this will start to change – and Oman is a great place to start exploring this fascinating region.