A Dubai-based pilot and friend suggested I visit Salalah, a port town on the southern tip of Oman. He told me to visit from June to September or in January, when the monsoon rains paint the sun-baked desert a brilliant green.
Not many people have heard of Oman. It rarely makes the news, yet it is one of the seven oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf that include Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“What’s the story with Oman?,” I asked a Yemeni friend.
“There is no story,” he said.
I could see why; Salalah is just 20km from the border of war-shattered Yemen. It remains an oasis of serenity despite its being surrounded by some of the most dangerous, politically violent and oppressive countries in the world, including Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Sugar white, powder-soft beaches and dramatic cliffs trim the country. When I visited, the rains had turned the rocky landscape lush green.
Oman is the southernmost of the states, where the Arabian Gulf meets the Indian Ocean. The country is huge, roughly twice the size of Colorado with a population of only 3 million. (200,0000 in Salalah). The highways are perfectly groomed with few automobiles.
Almost everything about Oman seems perfect and orderly; the air is clean, markets are fragrant with frankincense and old. The sandy beaches are cool, not too white, not too black. The sand is the perfect a grain. The weather is neither cold nor hot. The waves don’t crash violently but gently spill. Except for two big chain hotels there’s hardly a soul on the beach.
I hired a driver guide to take me to wadi in the mountains. On route he turned on the radio. A stern voice recited the Quran followed by a few minutes of bagpipes. The national anthem, the Omani driver explained. I asked him what kind of music he usually listened to. “I hate music.”
The journalist in me is slightly suspicious of countries you never hear about in the news. They seem almost too good to be true.
No politicians and security forces appear to be threatening journalists. Yet Oman rates of 125 out of 180 in the 2016 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.
Shame the Sultan of Oman plans to demolish most of the old seafront on the corniche to make way for five star chain hotels.
A new airport is under construction.
Oman has made international news as of late; a week before his last day in office, President Obama sent 10 Guantanamo prisoners to “resettle” in Oman. I doubt the new detainees will be served tea everyday.
At the end of the day, I prefer Kenya with its lively press corps. For all its faults Kenya has soul. Oman is bliss.