Sunday, 18 May 2008

Coffee and Doughnuts

Our little visit to the Royal Oman Police in Muscat didn’t quite go as planned. My mobile phone had gone missing somewhere around the time of our arrival in Muscat. I had it on the bus, but could not find it the next day in our hotel room. I was pretty sure it must have fallen out of my bag on the bus, but the bus company had not been able to find it so it seemed that it was gone for good. In order to satisfy the requirements of our travel insurance I needed to report it lost at a police station. I have never had to do this before, but thought it would just be a simple matter of the police filling out a form with the particulars and then giving me a copy. If only.

I first went to the police station nearest to our hotel on Thursday afternoon just after lunch, but after going through what it was I needed, I was told that everyone who could help had already finished for the day. As Friday is the weekend in the middle east, they told me to come back on Saturday morning. Saturday morning came around, but after explaining it all over again, was told to go to the bigger police station in another part of town. One of the locals sorted us out a taxi to get there more quickly, but although he had agreed a normal price, half way there the taxi driver reverted to the usual rip-off-the-tourist price, so we got out and walked the rest of the way (and he got nothing!). At the big police station, things still didn’t improve. First they claimed that because I had no record of the serial number that it would be impossible to report it lost. Then I was sent to ‘CID’. Finally someone senior decided that a report could be filed after all.

After loads of waiting around a portly police officer finally filled out a form with all the relevant details. Everything was in Arabic, but it was a start. All I wanted was a copy of the report, but it was against their rules to release this, they said. Instead, they would use it to type a letter (again all in Arabic), which we would then have to take to the main police headquarters for them to provide us with an official letter to the insurance company (not quite what we were after). By this stage, however, there was no time for us to get to the HQ before it closed at 2pm, and even if there was, nobody could tell us where it actually was anyway! And, no, we couldn’t go tomorrow, as we were heading back on the bus to Dubai at 7am. In the end, as everyone was leaving for the day, one of the CID guys told me he would email it to me the following day. We left empty-handed and without much hope of ever getting anything by email (sure enough, nothing has arrived).

We had left our hotel that morning intending to go to the Oman Dive Centre and at least do a bit of snorkelling, but it was now getting on for 3pm, and the only way to get there if you don’t have your own vehicle is, you guessed it, by rip-off taxi. In the end we decided to head back to the air-conditioned luxury of our hotel room. On foot, of course. Another one hour walk. In 45ºC heat… We’ll teach those taxi drivers a lesson.

It was now our last night in Muscat, and after posting Catkin’s blog entry, we wandered once more along the Corniche and through the souq (market). Catkin haggled for some frankincense, and we bought some Halwa, a very rich Omani sweet. It is so sickly sweet that your teeth almost drop out just looking at it. We finished off the evening at our favourite shwarma (like a kebab) shop, and then retired to our room to pack our bags and watch ‘Pimp my Ride’ on TV (at least it’s in English).

Next morning it was up at 5am to scoff our bread and cheese for breakfast before another one hour walk back to the bus station. At least at 5.30am the temperature was only 34ºC. The trip back to Dubai was uneventful, although the bus was much fuller than on the way out. The stamps out of Oman and back into the United Arab Emirates filled up another page of my passport (not many left now). Once back in Dubai our plan was to head for Abu Dhabi, as we had arranged to meet a friend from the UK who is now living and working there. We were offered a taxi ride to the bus station for only 40 Dirhams, but unfortunately for the driver we already knew we could get there for only 4 Dirhams on another bus. The bus to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi was waiting when we got to the station, and within two hours we were pounding the pavements towards our friend’s hotel. Paul has been there for two or three weeks and seemed to be enjoying the ex-pat life. We had a great night drinking beer in the hotel bar, and he managed to sneak us up to his room for a free night on the floor. We were very grateful, as our accommodation costs were beginning to stretch the budget. We had found that food, drink and public transport were very good value in Oman and UAE, but ‘budget accommodation’ seems to be aimed at someone else’s budget – not ours.

First thing the next morning it was back to the bus station and back to Dubai. We had already booked into the Dubai YHA, so jumped on another bus to get there and check in for our final night in town. The YHA has a great swimming pool which we hadn’t managed to use during our first stay there, but we whiled away the rest of the day soaking in the cool water. Later that evening we wandered up the road to the LuLu Hypermarket for another of their great value pizzas.

We had planned our trip to the airport reasonably well, I thought. Up at 6.00, pack, check out, breakfast at 7.00, out to the bus stop at 7.15, plenty of time to be at the airport by 8.30am. What we hadn’t allowed for was that the bus that is scheduled to run every 20 minutes often doesn’t turn up for an hour and a half… We only found this out when talking to a local commuter, after standing at the bus stop for over an hour. Of course, a taxi was out of the question. The bus did finally arrive, and although it was packed, we managed to squeeze on with our packs without knocking over too many locals in the process. We were late to the airport, but luckily we had already checked in on-line, and the flight was quite empty anyway, so we breezed through check-in. The only drama was me setting off the metal detector and having to take off my boots and go through again in my socks. Twice. We had 30 Dirhams left to spend, and in Duty Free finally found a copy of ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’ which Catkin’s Mum had recommended in a comment on the blog many months ago.

Emirates Airlines have an amazing selection of movies and entertainment – so much, in fact, that you don’t know what to watch first. At one point I found myself watching a stupid movie called ‘Mr Woodcock,’ about a PE teacher at an American High School, which is ironic because I also had a PE teacher called Mr Woodcock (funnily enough, not the same guy…). I also managed to watch a few episodes of ‘Russell Coight’s All Aussie Adventures,’ so am now all clued up about travel in the Australian outback. One movie we both enjoyed watching was ‘Goodbye Bafana’, about one of Nelson Mandela’s jailors during his time on Robben Island and then on the mainland leading up to his release. Having spent time in South Africa and visited Robben Island, it presented a very interesting perspective.

We have now crept into Perth, Australia, under cover of darkness. By the time we arrived it seemed like we had been travelling almost constantly for three days since leaving Muscat on Sunday morning. Perth looks like a really nice place, although the temperature when we arrived was nearly 40 degrees cooler than what we had experienced in Muscat a few days earlier. We are glad now that we lugged some warm clothing around with us through those hot climates.

We decided to try reporting the phone lost in Australia, to at least have something to give the insurance company. Sure enough, five minutes later it was done. So it doesn’t have to be a test of human perseverance after all.

It is still over a week until we expect the ship carrying the container with the Land Rover inside to arrive. In the meantime we are staying at my cousin’s place with her family, and they are looking after us well. We have been searching for books to buy to help us to plan our route across the outback, as well as one to tell us about all the creatures to be wary of. So far on our journey, we have had only one confirmed sighting of a snake - a big puff adder in South Africa - and only a few scorpions and other nasties at various times. Despite the impending threat of death and disability from the Australian wildlife, we are looking forward to getting back on the road again.