Archive for June, 2014
I’ve been taking a morning constitutional most days and exploring a bit. The first day or two I went out because I thought I should try acclimating to the heat, and I guess I’m more or less acclimated because now I go just because I like it. By 7:30am, the temperature is already in the high 30s (90s F) and the sun is already beating down (it rises before 5:30), so the conditions are not quite dangerous but still super crazy hot. I won’t lie: The first day was brutal. My heart was racing and sweat was running into my eyes, but I used to jog in Houston summers and I’ve gone through phases of doing Bikram regularly, so I had that frame of reference telling me I was probably not going to pass out. Anyway, I didn’t get very far that first day. I went to the public beach up the road and took some pictures, which isn’t easy when it’s too bright to see anything in the digital display. (That’s my disclaimer for any and all of my washed-out desert photos.) I’m curious what this rock is. It’s black under that moss. Oman is one of the few places in the world where the ocean plate is visible on land, and I thought maybe this was it, but apparently the ocean plate is not that subtle. (“The rugged ophiolite hills around Muscat and those stretching hundreds of kilometres inland is the largest and best exposed fragment of oceanic lithosphere found on land in the world.” – Oman Tourism) Anyway, in this next shot it looks like the strip of black is parallel to the shore and doesn’t go very far out. I’m sure K will be able to tell me what it is soon enough, and maybe he can explain whatever I garbled in that last paragraph, too. Isn’t the sea lovely?
It was a couple of morning walks later that I discovered a set of stairs in the hill opposite the beach. This is the view from the steps. Climbing up this hill is pretty hard in the heat. But on the other side is the company’s residential area. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that the housing in this area is referred to as “on camp,” and it does sort of remind me of summer camp. I swore we would never live in a compound, and this isn’t at all a compound—more like a neighborhood that the company happens to own—but it’s close enough that I find myself getting defensive (it’s totally not gated! totally not guarded! well, not obviously guarded anyway…) when I try to write about it. The issue of where to live is legitimately complicated, so I’ll save that for another day. I’m putting off writing about “the club” for similar reasons.
Anyway, we have no idea what will be available when our number on the housing list comes up, but I think I could overlook the suburbia elements for proximity to the sea and a shady tree-lined street like this. (We should be so lucky…) I have a feeling this blog is going to be a record of the contortionist-level compromising of all my convictions. This morning I explored some of these other paths… They don’t seem to go anywhere, and I’m afraid of whatever exotic critters might be lurking behind these rocks and under these scrubby plants, though I’m sure the view from the top of that hill is really awesome. It occurs to me that if I hadn’t spent time hiking in the desert in the Southwest earlier this year, I would be a lot more squeamish about walking these dusty trails in the full sun. I sincerely meant to blog about that trip because it was epic in the classical sense of the word, but I’m resigning myself to uploading pictures to Flickr, even though no one uses that anymore. Anyway, here’s Joshua Tree.
In other news, our air freight came yesterday. Apparently I didn’t organize things correctly because it’s mostly winter clothes, which I promptly packed away again, obviously. At least my sandals made it.
We were anxiously awaiting our coffee machine, and though it does turn on (half the battle, I thought, because of the voltage differences), for some reason it won’t brew. Maybe something went wonky in transit, or maybe it’s a voltage problem. K was pretty devastated. I guess we’ll continue drinking instant for now.
During the workweek, we kept fairly close to home. We ran some errands nearby and after we got our member cards, we spent a little time at the PDO Club, which deserves its own post.
Anyway, the weekend rolled around pretty quickly because the weekend here is Friday–Saturday instead of Saturday–Sunday. We were thinking of going to the Muttrah Souq, but most shops are closed or keep short hours on Friday, sort of like on Sunday in the Western world. Salat al Jumu’ah, Friday prayers, sounds to me like the equivalent of the weekly Christian church services. My apologies if this is all common knowledge. I’m just relating things I was curious about.
So we decided to take a drive to Al Bustan Palace and then look for some South Indian food in Ruwi on the way back. We took the scenic route along the coast, and I’ll have to go back to photograph some of the parks and ports. The driving was confusing though because it’s all traffic circles and a lot of the streets aren’t clearly labeled.
We didn’t realize that our destination was just a luxury hotel. We thought it was a luxury hotel at the site of something cool, which it is sort of, but… mostly a Ritz-Carlton. We parked in some far-off parking lot and came in through a deserted entrance by the ballroom, making our way through dim marble corridors until we found the most opulent lobby I’ve ever seen. It was challenging to photograph, but I tried. The lobby was encircled by these arches, and the dome above was 38 m (125 ft) high.
K got a coffee and I got an iced tea, and our bill was over 7 rials (almost $20), which is insane but I guess normal for the Ritz-Carlton? I asked the waitress where I could take a picture of the sea-side view, but apparently you need a room-card to get out on the terrace. She kindly informed me that I was welcome to take a photo through the glass door. Isn’t that nice!
This was clearly not our kind of scene, so K went out to get some 35°C air (95°F—relatively cool) while I shed my last shred of dignity and went to take a photo through the glass door.
Some hotel employee took pity on me and let me go out on the terrace to take a real photo. Of course he stood in the door and supervised.
It is a very beautiful place. Satisfied (I guess), we wound back through the bowels of the building to get to our deserted ballroom exit, which I guess they decided to lock when they saw our lonely car in the empty lot back there. I wondered if they were watching us as we came back through the lobby a third time and went out the main entrance. I’m still not sure why this place was recommended. I guess it’s for making a reservation and dressing up and having a fancy dinner or something.
There was a lot of beautiful landscape and landscaping on our little walk around the building back to our car.
It’s really the mountains that make Oman so beautiful. And if someone wants to have their wedding reception in that ballroom, we know just where to park.
On the way back, and for something completely different, we decided to hit up the much-heralded LuLu Hypermarket, where I’d been told I could get our staple Indian food ingredients. It was super confusing to get there because it’s essentially under the intersection of the busiest commercial street in Muscat and the main highway, yet it can only be accessed from very specific angles. I think we overshot it twice, driving many kilometers to turn around, before finally pulling in, but now we know those roads much better than we did before.
Anyway, this part of Muscat actually looks like a city to me. Pardon the grainy iPhone photo, and notice the cute camel decal.
If this all sounds like a huge drag, it totally wasn’t. I’m accustomed to learning new places by making lots of wrong turns, and usually I’m on public trans or on foot and alone, so I was grateful to have company and be the passenger for this roundabout journey.
LuLu was crazy and a post explaining the various hypermarkets in Muscat is probably in order. I’ve visited three in less than a week, partly because we didn’t bring much with us and partly because I really enjoy grocery stores. (I sound like Bert with his paper clip collection…)
After all this excitement, we were ready to try Saravanaa Bhavan, the vegetarian place K had his eye on.
I’m curious to see how long he’ll allow me to use him as a blog subject. I’m probably pushing it, but he makes such a good star for this show!
The vada sambar was really, really good. Usually the vadas come on the side to be dipped in the sambar, but these were submerged. Also, they gave us like twelve spoons for some reason. I removed a few before shooting this. (That’s coconut chutney on the side.)
K got the rava dosa, which had a spicy mashed potato filling, and carrot juice, which had so much ginger that it was also spicy. I got the mysore masala dosa, which had some sort of garlicky filling that I couldn’t quite place—maybe coconut? I can usually identify most of the ingredients in things, so this intrigued me. It came with (from top to bottom) some sort of roasted pepper jam, coconut chutney, and some kind of spicy peanut sauce. And, of course, more sambar.
On the way back to our place, I began to have a clearer idea of where our neighborhood—Qurum, or more specifically, Ras Al Hamra—is, and I’m a lot less terrified about trying to find my way home. From points east, at any rate.
And that was our first Jumu’ah!
We just got wifi set up in the apartment last night, so I’m a few days behind. I guess I’ll start with the first day.
The guy who picked us up at the airport, Mr. Sunil, was from Kerala and spoke Hindi, so he and KC chatted easily the whole way. I knew there would be a ton of South Asians in Muscat, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Hindi would be the lingua franca among them, especially because I’d heard they were mostly Keralites, who speak Malayalam. Anyway, KC’s Hindi fluency will probably be handy.
Mr. Sunil told us that the supplies provided at our temporary accommodations would be meager, and he swung us by the hypermarket—a grocery store with household goods and electronics and such—before dropping us off. In the interest of keeping it real, I’ll admit to an embarrassing produce kerfuffle wherein I didn’t realize that I had to weigh and tag all my stuff. The poor bagger had to run it all back to the produce department and do it for me as the checkout line grew behind us. This system is not unheard-of in the States (particularly for bulk pantry stuff, but my favorite grocery store in the world—Central Market in Houston—requires it for produce too), which only added to my shame feelings. Anyway, at some point I saw the bagger guy raising my kiwis to ask the cashier something about them and I told him to never mind, I didn’t need them. By the time I saw that he also had the garlic in his hand, essential for the dishes I had planned, it was too late.
On the way home I was unreasonably sad about this, unable to think of a single dinner recipe that doesn’t require garlic.
We arrived at our temporary accommodations in the early afternoon, having slept only an hour or two here and there since the previous morning. The apartment is more than adequate, but it has a lot of fluorescent lights and ugly furniture. After a much-needed nap I decided it was sort of charming.
Making dinner seemed like the best way to keep busy for a few hours until it was a reasonable time to go back to bed. Also, I figured it was wise to get acquainted with the kitchen before hunger hit, as I had no idea when that would happen. The stove is electric, which in the past I always hated, but I’m finding it pretty easy—instinctive, even—to set aside whatever petty preferences may or may not suit this part of the world. I have no idea whether most ranges here are gas or electric, but this is my stove for the time being so I got friendly with it.
I couldn’t find a cutting board but the counters are granite, so I just went ahead with that, though the blade against the polished rock was sort of nails-on-chalkboard until I got used to it. I set about making a stir-fry with some apprehension because not only was I lacking garlic, I also didn’t have any soy sauce or nut oil or even salt or pepper. Is it possible to cook without salt? I figured I could try to compensate with fresh herbs and such (I had been in a one-track fresh-produce frame of mind, apparently).
So it was onion, ginger, carrots, and green beans tossed with rice noodles—I could only find super-thin ones—and a sauce made from canned hummus (for the tahini/salt flavors) thinned with lime juice. I garnished with a whole lot of chopped cilantro, mint, and pistachios. It turned out like a bizzare-o pad thai with a vaguely Middle Eastern twist.
It wasn’t very good but I enjoyed it anyway, especially because I was pleasantly surprised to find the weather on the balcony (I love balconies!) totally bearable.
Anyway, the process of cooking was incredibly soothing, and the lack of equipment and missing ingredients only added to my amusement. We blew a fuse twice, so I also learned that we can’t run the stove, television, and iron all the same time. Good to know!
After supper I insisted we take a walk outside to help our bodies understand that it was, in fact, nighttime and not the middle of the day. There’s a little public beach about 0.65 km (practicing my conversions) up the road, so we went there and put our feet in the sea. I’ve never lived so close to the water, but KC has. He said he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed it.
They say alcohol and caffeine make jet lag worse but to that I say, bollocks. After the judicious application of a couple whiskey-sodas, we retired around 10pm and slept more or less straight through until 5:30am. Perfect.
P.S. Having acquired some further supplies, I stir-fried those leftovers with a little frizzled minced garlic and topped it off with more hummus/lime sauce and a bit of salt. It was much, much, much better.