Leaving The Netherlands on a rainy day was almost symbolic. Being in Holland for about 6 weeks with only sunshine, high temperatures and no rain at all, was like being already in the Middle East. However, it still felt like unknown forces were telling us to leave and go east.
Flying with KLM to Muscat, was our last string to Dutch/Western civilization. Entering the airspace of Saudi Arabia, meant that all alcoholic beverages were locked up and out of sight. Our first touch with our new reality (we thought).
After a short stop (and a cheap re-fill for KLM…..), we continued our flight to Muscat. Once out of Saudi airspace, the champagne was flowing again!!! Okay, again we drank our ”last” glass of alcohol.
Arriving at the airport of Muscat, we felt like we arrived at a fairy tale world. We have seen multiple airports in the world, but the beauty, luxury, design and comfort this airport has to offer is one of a kind. We felt like being in an Arab Royal palace, and if that was the intention of the designers/builders, they definitely succeeded. We walked almost alone through the long corridors with automatic conveyor belts (which worked, not like Schiphol, where none was working when we left). Left and right, rocks and desert plants were placed, which gives you the feeling that you are already transferring through the desert. Blue hidden lights added to a the mystic of being part of the Thousands and One Night story. The fragrant smell of essence which historically Oman has been famous for, is pleasing your nose thrills and have a relaxing effect on one’s inner person. Would that be the secret of the friendly, welcoming and relaxed character of the Omani people? We will find out.
Arriving at the immigration at the airport, we had a little reality check and our ”perfume balloon” popped. A very long line with a lot of very small people was in front of us. No, not children, but ”little” adults. These were mostly the people from countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, who work in house keeping, hotels, construction etc, the low paid jobs. I felt like a giant between these people and was looked at by all these dark eyes, like I was from a different planet. It took long and the line was not moving, these people were checked thoroughly by the immigration officers. Then another officer, came like a border colly (“border”, how funny) dog, drifting away a herd of sheep. He took a large part of he group with him to another window and we and a few other people (who looked like tourist or business people) were now in front of the line.
Even if you plan certain things in advance, there can be an oversight. It turned out our well planned visa for a year, came with an entry period, which (because we postponed our flight) just expired the day before our arrival. A lot of immigration officers had a look at it and one (who looked like being in charge and spoke very well English), came up with a right solution. Just buy a new one! Not directly my type of solution (just one day!!). Anyway, it was late (midnight), we were the last ones there, we had a ton of luggage to get through Customs with all our hightech gear, so we were not in the position for long discussions or further negotiations. And actually we were happy, that we only had to slide our credit card at the Immigration booth instead of doing all kind of extra paperwork.
Step 1, cleared, step 2 picking up luggage, which was easy, since our bags were the last ones on the belt. We also saw all our ”little friends” again, now all piling up at the Voda Phone booth, for their SIM cards, staying in touch with home and with each other. Aren’t we all the same in that way?
As expected we would be invited into the ”check the all the luggage department”. I saw some of our small friends while their luggage was sorted out and noticed the time it took. Mind you, we have 6 big full pieces of luggage. Through the scanner and waiting for the results. Only the hand luggage was up for review! But we noticed the customs people were also at the end of their shift, so just a quick (and very polite) search, and we were out. So if there is a ”which is the best airport in the world competition“ again, I would definitely choose Muscat International Airport.
Also the taxi service from the airport to the hotel was an experience. Beautiful, clean and peaceful (huge) taxi stand with helpful bag carriers, dispatchers and drivers. We drove over beautiful well paved roads, highways, amazing buildings of outstanding architecture and luxurious hotels. Before, we may have looked at Oman all the time as a forgotten, undeveloped, maybe even poor country, but what we saw was definitely not what we expected. But ok, its our first night, our first glimpse of Oman and after all, we choose to stay in one of the fanciest hotels in Oman, where western civilization has found ground to grow its roots. A place that looks like a Palace, where we can see all the world TV channels, drink whatever you want, and can dress as you wish and swim in beach clothing, like at home in the Caribbean. This is also Oman. So, what is the real Oman? We will find out the coming days. But for now, we have entered a world, not many people from the west have visited, we feel privileged and hope that during our traveling the coming months, we will better understand the Middle East, its people, its history and its culture.