My first impressions of the small mountain village of Saqlah in Al Batinah South was as the sun rose above the mountains, bathing everything within sight in a warm orange glow. I was suddenly glad we had followed a wandering camel down a track that branched off from Route 13 just after Nakhal.
As beautiful as the surroundings were, however, it was the people who really made the village of Saqlah special.
There is an unspoken rule in Omani culture that when you visit villages in the Interior you don’t just grab your camera and start snapping away. When I saw a group of elders taking a simple breakfast in the centre of the village, my friend and I approached to make our introductions as a matter of courtesy.
These initial greetings help smooth things over and often follow the same format. First there will be extended introductions to everyone present, which can go back as far as your grandparents as you explain who you are and where you have come from.
Once they feel comfortable, they will begin joking to put you at ease and quite often food will be served. As it was the morning, we were treated to dates, coffee and fresh fruit.
These hospitality rituals stretch back hundreds of years and remain deeply rooted in Omani culture to this day, particularly in the smaller villages away from the capital.
Once all the necessary greetings had been made, the old men became the most hospitable of hosts and gave us a tour of their village, which was made up of around 10 buildings and nearly all the inhabitants were cousins or other family relations.
Next, we moved to the outskirts of the village to provide a dramatic backdrop for some portrait photos. There was strong emotion shown in their weathered faces and you could practically tell the story of their lives through the cracks and lines. These old men were proud of who they were and what they had achieved in life.
With several generations joining in the photo shoot, it became obvious that these people had lived most of their lives almost completely cut off from technology and the modern world. Their posture was very straight, almost military-like, and this extended from the oldest in the family right down to the youngest.
It was like a glimpse into a different era and felt like a far cry from 21st-century life.
Another thing that surprised me was just how fit these men were. Moving to yet another location to snap further shots of the family, I found myself in a friendly race with one of the gentlemen as he vaulted over rocks and scarpered across the brush barefoot.
While this bout was proclaimed a draw, I was beaten hands down on the return leg as my opponent raced back up the mountain at a lightning pace. The mountains nurtured and raised these people and I became resigned to the fact that there was no beating them on their home turf, regardless of their age.
After another extended exchange full of well wishes and pleasant goodbyes, we eventually parted company, but I promised to return one day with their copies of Y Magazine.