“Look at that,” Mike said. “Parrots!”
Sure enough, a couple of lime green parrots were hanging out on the side of the building next to us.
We were in the Sultanate of Oman on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and we were surrounded by birds. There are common birds in Oman—pelicans, herons, ospreys, and storks—and then there are truly exotic and wildly colorful birds, like the Gray-headed Kingfishers, Nile Valley Sunbirds, European Rollers, and African Paradise Flycatchers, that arrive with the changing of the seasons.
But the birds you’ll see most often in Musandam are the wild parrots we saw perched on the turrets and drains of the 17th-century Khasab Fort.
We’d driven to Musandam from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to spend some time on the water and escape from the desert heat. Located between the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, Oman was once a very powerful empire that competed with Britain and Portugal for dominance. At its most influential, it controlled land as far away as Iran, Pakistan, and Zanzibar. Today, it depends on oil exports for much of its economy, although tourism is its fastest-growing industry.
We booked a room at the Atana Khasab Resort Hotel with a sunny view of the Strait of Hormuz and surrounding mountains. It was as posh as one would expect while visiting a sultanate, and it even had a bar, which is somewhat rare in Oman.
We struck up a conversation with the bartender, who was from Sri Lanka and asked us if we spoke Arabic. Mike said he’d learned some as a kid living in Saudi Arabia, but he only remembered a few key words and phrases.
“It’s a difficult language to remember,” agreed the bartender. “My coworkers have told me that it will be easier to learn if I start with the curse words.” We laughed, and Mike admitted that they were probably right.
The hotel sat right on the water, and as the tide rolled out, we walked along the shore and watched hundreds of little crabs basking in the sun on the rocks at the base of the cliffs.
The thing we were most eagerly anticipating in Oman was a day cruise on a dhow. These traditional wooden boats have been sailing Asian waters for thousands of years, although the exact details of their creation are disputed as both Arabs and Indians claim credit for their invention.
We sailed Khor Sham on a jalibut, which is a medium-sized boat with an engine, as opposed to the cloth sails that are typical of the shu’ai that are used throughout the Persian Gulf for fishing.
Khor Sham is a 10-mile (16 km) Omani fjord with crystal-clear water that is surrounded by mountains, earning it the nickname of “Norway of Arabia.” Our dhow visited three tiny coastal villages and two islands, including Telegraph Island.
Built by the British in 1864, the island was home to a manned telegraph station for the cable that was laid underwater from Iraq to India, providing a connection from the Asian colony to Great Britain. It’s surrounded by coral reef and is a terrific spot for snorkeling.
Our dhow captain did some free-diving during one of the snorkeling stops to collect fresh scallops from the seabed, and he cracked them open to share with us for lunch. If you’re a shellfish lover, it’s heaven to enjoy a fresh catch when it still has the salty sea water dripping off of it.
But the scallops weren’t the highlight of the day, however. As we sailed toward Seebi Island, we were joined by a pod of dolphins. We saw as many as seven of them at one time, swimming playfully alongside our dhow and occasionally soaring above the waves as they flashed us their smiles.
All I could think was, “I wonder if they’re laughing because they’re thinking of curse words in Arabic?”
I guess we’ll never know.