Tokomaru2 site Links
Crew: Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon
Tokomaru2 in Oman and Yemen
Having crossed the Indian Ocean, we now find ourselves in the deserts of Arabia. After the green and colourful tropics suddenly everything is beige. Barren mountains form the backdrop to Salalah, our port of entry into Oman. Salalah lies on a coastal plain where the sand extends for miles with not a scrap of green, just the odd scraggy palm tree. Occasionally there are stretches of undulating, wind-blown sand (as one imagines the ‘desert’) but mostly it’s dusty, stony terrain. Outside the town camels roam freely, -on the beach, on the roadside, on the slopes of the dried-out ‘wadis’, almost invisible against their surroundings. The modern town of Salalah is spacious and clean. Stately mosques, a grand palace and elegant Arab-style buildings are varying shades of beige or white with tasteful marble finish and wide paved areas in between. The streets are empty as people move around inside their air-con vehicles (white). The few people about (men) wear a spotless white dishdasha; the (even fewer) women are concealed inside the black abeyya. All very classy and minimalist!
Mohammed the Yacht Agent in full kit
But our very first impression of Oman was of warm and welcoming people who appeared on the quay to take our lines as we arrived (finally, on 26 March) in the big container port in the dark. Guys from a nearby rusting trawler brought us tea and we sat chatting to them as we waited for customs. More people came to join in the chat and before long they produced from somewhere a full dinner of chicken and pitta bread; so we experienced straight away the famed Arab hospitality. We certainly felt pampered after our long days at sea. Earlier, as we entered the harbour, fellow yachties had come alongside in their dinghies and, under cover of the night, lobbed cans of cold beer into our cockpit. Oman is strictly no alcohol.
1910 Motor vessel Doulos
One of the first things Omani people tell you about is the ‘khareef’. This region of Dhofar, on the south east corner of the Arabian Peninsular catches the monsoon rains between June and August. At this time, they say, the dried out wadis fill with water, the desert blooms and Dhofar is transformed into a green and flowering paradise. They proudly boast that hundreds of tourists will come, especially from the Gulf states where it becomes impossibly hot. Apparently men with their four wives and many children can’t afford holidays in Europe anymore! So they fill the posh hotels of Salalah, and enjoy the beautiful beaches, flocks of flamingos in the estuaries and the refreshing green of the mountain slopes. Photos in the tourist brochures certainly bear this out.
In March though, we had to be content with dry, dusty desert. But Oman has excellent roads (and very cheap petrol, 15 cents a litre) so we explored the coast in a hire car, visiting Mirbat, a fishing village; small, square, sand-coloured houses with lattice wooden windows, and an old fort above the bay. The fort was open and a group of men lounging in the guardroom waved us in, so we climbed the stairs in the courtyard and peeked into dark, windowless rooms with bright cushions on the floor. From the roof we had a view of the glittering turquoise sea –a brilliant colour in a desert land. We then went off to find a much older settlement, the remains of 2000-year-old Kour Rouri, an ancient trading port. After a lot of off-road driving along tracks of sand and stone we finally came upon our ruins, perched above a valley, an unexpected oasis of green. This is where, in ancient times, precious frankincense was traded with spices from India. Another trip took us 1000 metres up along the mountain road towards the Yemen border. The drive is a spectacular climb as the road zigzags steeply, cut through sedimentary rock revealing layer upon layer of sandstone forming decorative horizontal patterns. There were stunning views over the valleys of Dhofar, camels everywhere, and in one of the wadis we think we identified the odd frankincense tree.
After a week in Salalah we faced the 6 day sail along the coast of Yemen through the Gulf of Aden.
This stretch of sea is notorious for pirate
attacks, and while the majority of attacks are on the Somali side and against
large ships, enough yachts have been boarded in the last few years to make one
wary. Yachts tend to go in a gang of 4
or 5 for safety. We can’t maintain the 5
knots of speed which is normal for most yachts so we set off independently. Our lonely trip was uneventful, except we caught
a fine tuna, the first success for months.
We were approached only by friendly, well-behaved Yemeni fishermen who
pointed to their mouths. We gave them biscuits
and they went off, waving cheerfully.
The problem turned out to be all the ships which, like us, were staying
close to the
Port of Aden looking towards the tourist jetty
Women carrying bundles of Qat
On our first day in
women carrying truck batteries on their heads
In fact, Yemeni people seem to be in a good mood most of the time. We enjoyed walking around in Aden where, day or night, the streets were alive with folk, sometimes quite volatile, -Yemeni men like to shout a lot; very different from quiet, wealthy Salalah. We found everyone very welcoming and eager to show us the way without any hassle. There were plenty of women about, all covered in black. Sadly, there are many destitute Somali women begging in the streets or encouraging their children to beg. More cheerful Somali women work in the bar near the port. Here, we could get a beer, (along with plenty of local men), and we were also able to replenish our gin supply. The barman decants the gin into a mineral water bottle, whereupon you can carry it away with impunity!
We visited the town of
AK 47 visible on the streets of Tai'iz
On the long, dusty drive back to
In the old Arab town near
It’s now 1st May and we’re anchored
amongst the reefs off the coast of
But we’ll wish you a Happy May Day (the other kind) anyway! Liz and Nick
|Website © Nick Thomas and Liz Vernon 2008|