Monday, March 2, 2009

Grand World Voyage Part 5: Middle East

One of the great things about going on a world cruise is that you end up in places you never dreamed you'd ever see. I've been to parts of the Middle East before - Alexandria, Egypt and Israel, both easily accessible from the Mediterranean Sea, which is within what I would consider a 'normal' place to be. In my wildest imagination I never dreamed I'd see India, Oman, or the Suez Canal. Or the South Pacific or Indonesia, for that matter.

I found the idea of going to Oman exotic, and the visit was quite interesting, even though we knew that we saw only what they wanted us to see. We started in the city of Salalah. Our excursion included seeing where the Sultan lives, Job's tomb, a magnificent blow hole, and, of course, shopping.
The Sultan's palace was in great contrast to the palace for the Sultan of Brunei. In Brunei the palace (what little we could see) was over the top, whereas the style of the one in Oman seemed to fit in with its surroundings, despite the obvious difference in size and the wall surrounding it.

The countryside was beautiful, very arid, with rolling hills, at times reminiscent of Southern California. We saw cattle, and of course, lots of camels. One thing that made me chuckle was a place where there were a couple of date orchards, surrounded by tall fences, but with the gates wide open. That kind of defeats the purpose of the fences, since the object was to keep the camels out, which would otherwise destroy the crops.

I did not quite know what to make of Job's tomb, which not only included his grave (now
inside a building), but also a footprint in stone which was supposed to be Job's. This was a place full of incense, where people come to worship. Another treat was seeing frankincense trees, including a demonstration of how the resin is collected. Many people are getting into farming frankincense.

The shopping was interesting even though we did not buy anything. The best part is that our bus driver invited us to have coffee with him, a very nice gesture. I very much enjoyed this visit to Oman.

I think I viewed the Suez Canal
differently from most people on the ship, perhaps because I was viewing the wilderness of Sinai where the Israelites wandered for 40 years, so long ago. To most the Suez was boring because there were no locks, and not all that much scenery. But the Suez Canal is as historic as the Panama Canal. Ships travel in single line caravans from either end of the canal, starting early in the morning, meeting at the large lake in the middle. The longer line gets to proceed directly through the lake to the rest of the canal, while the ships in the shorter line have to wait to proceed until the long line has exited their starting end. That means that the time for transit of the canal can vary by several hours depending on which line you are in. We had expected to wait in the lake, but were able to proceed directly, thus arriving in Alexandria several hours earlier than expected. We saw soldiers fairly frequently, where they were camped on the Sinai side, or at their bases on the Egypt side, and they were always friendly and glad to see us. There was one place where there were twin "Welcome to Egypt" signs, one in English and the other in Arabic. There was also a very nice WWII monument on the Egypt side. It was interesting to see the ferries darting across the canal in front of us, sometimes cutting it very close, on their way to the other side. There are also two magnificent bridges that cross the canal. And when we got to the mouth of the canal on the Mediterranean Sea, there were already ships anchored, waiting for their turn to transit the following morning.

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