I had been an expat in different countries, within the span of almost twenty years. I thought I had seen it all. In fact, I actually felt a bit jaded. I had learned to live in cliches like “nothing can surprise me anymore” ; “I have seen it, done it, been there, done that” I learned to recite my mantras, by heart. Then I went to Khasab in Oman and realized that I was totally wrong.
Three years ago, I was assigned to Dubai by my Singapore employer. Because I arrived in Dubai holding a tourist visa, I had to exit to the nearest border, to be able to convert my status from a tourist to a resident of the UAE. I never knew that the process was a tricky affair.
There were three places that I could exit. One was by flying to the nearby island of Kish, Iran. I had heard too many horror stories from people who had been there, that it was not an option. Exiting to Al Buraimi in Oman was a better option, because I had read many good reviews. However, all the hotels were fully booked. Time was against me, so the last and only option was in Khasab, Oman.
Together with four colleagues, we boarded a twenty seat van to Khasab. The drive should have taken an hour, but for the three stops to pick up twenty five more passengers. Altogether, twenty nine passengers with luggage. Yes, it felt like we were inside an over packed suitcase ,bulging with clothes, and the only way to zip, is by sitting on it.
Did I mention that each passenger was carrying a big bag.? How we all fit inside that van is still a mystery that I cannot fathom. However, in spite of the discomfort, we found solace in telling our individual stories. We were all going to Khasab for the same reason.
But, I thought I was missing something when one passenger showed me her bag full of canned food, cups of instant noodles, a small kettle, and all the typical staples of prepping addicts. I knew, right at that moment that the journey was not a luxury holiday. This was survival training 101.
It was two in the morning when we reached Khasab and when I saw the “villa”…. my jaw dropped and sleep ideas were replaced with fear ideas. We entered a three story apartment building with three large bedrooms on each floor. Each room had six or more bunk beds. I was separated from my colleagues and was brought to a different floor. I saw women taking showers with the bathroom door open. Men were going in and out of the rooms. People were going up and down the stairs carrying pots and pans full of freshly cooked food. There were women playing card games, and some sitting on the steps. It was chaos! I thought, is this a dream? Is this a joke? Please tell me this is not true……but guess what, it was indeed true.
I refused to stay in the “villa” and wanted to find another place but was told that it was dangerous to be found roaming around at wee hours in the morning. So I decided to calm down and told myself that tomorrow I would leave the nightmare.
The following day, I found my colleagues and we shared the decision to leave. The previous night’s experience was so traumatic that we spent the whole day looking for another place to stay. We hired a car and driver who thought he hit the jackpot, because we paid him an equivalent of one week’s wages.
Then finally we managed to negotiate a good deal with the Golden Tulip Khasab, the only four star hotel in the area. We hurriedly collected our bags and moved to the hotel and sleep. We woke up the following day feeling refreshed and ready to shrug off the experience. It wasn’t easy to forget because we developed a bond with the other girls we left in the “villa”. We would come back from time to time. Then, we would hear different stories that only a true novelist would savor. So much drama and sadly, real drama stories..
But, we found a way to lift our spirits by discovering Khasab’s beauty. We found them in the rich topography of the city, from the magnificent Basa Beach, to the rocky mountains surrounding the local villages.
Local tour companies offer a 4x 4 Wheel Drive adventure to Jebel Harim, translated as the mountain of women, the highest peak of the Musandam Peninsula at 2,087 meters above sea level, where you can enjoy views of the Hajar Mountains.
Along the way we observed fossils dating back several million years. We visited the Bedouin village of Sayh, situated at 1100 meters above sea level. This is a small and peaceful village where one can cherish the beauty of Musandam on the plateau of the mountain. On the way back, we enjoyed the Khawr Najid, a stunning sea view point overlooking the Indian Ocean, facing east.
Of course, we did not miss the Musandam cruise. On board the traditional dhow, we sailed through the waters to visit the dolphins and see if they were in the mood to perform by doing stunts. Well, we were not that lucky but we saw a few who would quickly surface to mock us and swim deep in the waters, then resurface 20 meters away from us. Cheeky monkeys they were!
We spent almost a month waiting for our visas to surface like the dolphins of Musandam. During the past weeks spent in Khasab, we learned to embrace the simplicity of life. There were no big malls. People found happiness in each others presence. The locals respect nature by living in harmony with the mountains and the sea that surrounds them.
My experience of Khasab was unforgettable in many respects. The “villa”, the drama, the adventures, the people, and most especially, the beautiful mountains I looked up to every morning and prayed with every night.