Monday, February 13, 2012

Fridays in Salalah, Oman--and you are welcome to Come!

Fridays in Salalah, Oman

By Kevin Stoda

Over the first two months of 2012, both the weather on Fridays and the waves of the Arabian Sea have been calm and relaxing. Fridays are the almost universal day-off in the Middle East, and in Salalah--with its banana and coconut plantations--one finds no exception. After church on Friday mornings I often return to my flat to spend time with my family. However, after lunch, I hop on my Indian bicycle and begin a slow peddle to the seashore of Haffa Beach.

Riding an Indian bicycle is definitely more relaxing in Salalah than in many parts of crowded India. Indian bicycles are industrially built and very heavy. Aside from the cluster of a handful of urban centers which are found near shopping and government buildings, Salalah is a relatively rural regio. I live in Al Qoaf, which has small and older Lulu’s and Istaqrar shopping centers. When I first leave my flat, I ride through many small streets to arrive in front of Lulu’s on Matar Street in Al Qoaf.

“Matar” is both the Arabic word for rain and for airport. There is not much rain this time of year in the Dhofar region where Salalah is located, but as I turn right on Matar Street and head to the seaside at the neighborhood of Haffa, both the Salalah International Airport and Burg al-Nadha (Clocktower) round about is to my back. Early on Friday afternoons, traffic is still not heavy and there are often even a few other bikers about—enjoying the relaxing spirit of the day. Nonetheless, there are still many more Indians and Pakistanis on foot—than cars or bicycles during early Friday afternoons

Some people take time on Friday’s to tour one of the longest tombs in the world, located between Lulu’s and the Haffa House. It is ehinda mosquea and I am wearing shorts, so I do not often approach any mosques on Friday but I encourage you to come to this tomb some day.

This is “[t]he tomb of Nabi Imran (or Joachim; Arabic: عمران ) supposed to be the Father of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ (Aramaic, Hebrew: מרים, Maryām Miriam Arabic:مريم, Maryam).”

Fridays in Dhofar is the time for people from all over the region—including those working in the mountains and to the desert beyond--to head into Salalah town and visit friends, do shopping, or to bring in vegetables to sell in the small Friday market, near the crossing where old and new Salalah meet. Likewise, some men are invariably carrying cricket bats and walking hand-in-hand to or from the sea—or to-or-from the mosques and markets. Many South Asians smile and wave at me because it is rare for them to see a Caucasian riding an Indian-made bicycle around town. I nod, laugh, and wave back as I proceed slowly up towards the seaside from Al-Qoaf.

As I pedal away from the more urban-looking part of town, I find myself in the midst of rural traffic--with gardens popping up on both sides of the road. Some gardens and plantations are walled in.

The smell of colitis rises as up through the air as the first banana trees pop up under the coconut fronds and palms. There are some curves in the road, so I have to be prepared for any racing drivers who might head my way—but as I have noted, it is Friday afternoon (and like Sunday mornings in other corners of the globe) there are fewer maniacs on the rode at this junction in time. (Oman is one of the more dangerous countries for driving accidnts.)

Haffa Village is one of the more ancient settlements in the area and many of the buildings are single story and/or rundown—except for a few examples of tourist housing located right up near the sea. The small village of Haffa is also Salalah’ promenade or Corniche road. Later, on Friday evenings all the parking spaces along the sea for several kilometers are filled with cars and peoples from all-over enjoying the sunset from Haffa.

Looking from the white sandy beach several kilometers to the south one can view Salalah’s enormous port. Many miles to the east one views the hills along the sea. When it is hazy, one can only view as far as the Salalah Crown Plaza Hotel.

When I arrive -- usually between 2 and 3 pm-- on my bicycle at Haffa seaside, there are only a few men searching for shells and small sea creatures to fish with. Others are already fishing with nets—as their ancestors have done for millennia.

Still others use poles. A few children play along the beach while legions of sea gulls stand on the shores as far as the eye can sea. A few albatross, pelicans and other larger sea birds fly overhead.

The seawater is surprisingly clear at Haffa Beach on Fridays, and the city’s cleaners have picked up a lot of the garbage that littered the seaside only hours earlier. So far, I have not observed any dangerous waves from the sea at Haffa this time of year. I usually swim out to sea a bit and then proceed eastwards towards the far-distant Paris Café for about ¾ of a kilometer before turning back to where I began. (I should warn readers that during the rainy season—from July through September—no swimming is allowed here in Haffa as the waves are tremendously strong and dangerous then. Many people have drowned over the years at Haffa Beach when they disobeyed the loic of the se changes in Rainy season or al-Khareef.)

As I am drying off and once again preparing to peddle back to Al Qoaf, I usually chat with some of the beachcombers and fisherman at Haffa. I then finally jump back on my heavy Indian-built bike and pump across the sand, amongst a few coconut trees, and then past the ancient small mosque and restaurants at Haffa. By then, a major cricket match is winding down across the way at the junction in the road where I turn back towards Salalah’s banana and coconut farms.

Often, when I peddle back towards Salalah town proper, I observe large birds, like falcon or buzzards flying overhead. Amongst the banana plants, though, I also observe Great Blue Herron and other species of birds and interesting plants. The ride back to my habitation in Al Qoaf seems faster than my original ride to the sea—which leads me to believe that Salalah is located in a depression where an ancient harbor has been filled in by mountains of dirt arriving from the Dhofar mountains over the millennia via Indian monsoon down pours. (This is because I feel that I am bicycling down an incline when I arrive back in Al Qoaf from the sear at Haffa.)

If I am feeling strong enough, I peddle up along the Airport Promenade, which is lined with flowers, palm trees, gazebos, and other interesting sights for over a kilometer—starting from the aforementioned Clock Tower Roundabout.. Likewise the same promenade continues a mile to the east and several miles to the west on Robot Street, which intersects Matar Street at the same roundabout.

FINALLY: You are welcome to visit Salalah any time—not just on Fridays--, though.

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