Monthly Archives: October 2012

Visit to the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary

The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary lies between the central desert and the coastal mountains of Oman, an area in which seasonal fog and dew played an important role in the growth of special plants which were the food of the oryx until 1972, when they nearly became extinct, and again in 1982 when they were re-introduced after the breed was stabilized.” (from the “Sultanate of Oman” booklet printed by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, 2005)

Members at the front of our caravan trying to get access to the sanctuary less than 30 minutes before it was closing…The hotel assured us that our names were submitted and we’d get in easily but it was a long wait at the gate and they didn’t have a list of our names…  Special permission is required to visit the sanctuary and can be obtained from: The Office of the Conservation of Environment Advisor, Diwan of Royal Court. Tel: +968-2469-3536, or email: Website: (Funny. I just went to that website given by the Ministry but it is actually a Japanese lady’s cosmetics site. ?!?! Bizarre!)

This was the scene just before we were finally allowed to enter the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary.  (There was a Royal Decree (No. 79/2011) to change the name to “Natural Living Sanctuary in the Al Wusta Region but everyone seems to still call it by the original.) While a sunset may be beautiful to behold, it’s not reassuring when you are hoping to see oryx before nightfall! The hotel management told us we could see it from 4 to 6pm but they failed to mention that it was a 1.5 hour drive to the sanctuary from the hotel! Brilliant! Other guests were equally upset by that lack of information leaving us mere minutes to enjoy watching the Oryx!

It was a real treat to watch these gorgeous animals even if only for minutes.  I had often thought of visiting this site over the past 4 years but this was our first real chance. I wrote about the plight of the poor Oryx in this post titled “Oryx You Going to Protect Us or Not?” 4 years ago. More about the UN’s decision to remove this site from their list of World Heritage Sites here. Little or nothing is said about this historic removal from the UN list on government sites such as this one.  It’s not exactly something to be proud of as the World Heritage Committee felt that the decision to reduce the area by 90% was “destroying the outstanding universal value of the site which was inscribed in 1994“.

The Arabian Oryx has been considered an animal of beauty by the people of the Arabian Peninsula for centuries. With its oversized horns and elegant body, the antelope holds huge cultural significance in the Gulf. Being the largest antelope in the area it has a remarkable tenacity to survive in one of the most inhospitable natural environments in the world. The Arabian Oryx’s body is perfectly suited for life in the desert. Its small hooves mould well into soft sand while its body can tolerate a rise in temperature up to 40°C. The animal can also go without a water source for periods of up to four months, relying instead on the dew collected from plants and shrubs that forms its staple diet.”

The Arabian Oryx has held symbolic value for the people of the Middle East for
centuries. It is thought that the mythical unicorn creature was developed from
the animal’s characteristics. In profile, the Oryx appears to have one horn and
the Hebrew word “re’em” may have been translated as ‘unicorn’.”

There is a large fence around the whole protected area.  There is also a small inner fence at the visitors area (seen here) and quite a few oryx (plural of oryx can be “oryx” or “oryxes” but I prefer the use of “oryx”. 😉 ) are located inside the smaller fence. Many others (we were told) roam freely outside the fence, such as the lone oryx you see here (pictured behind the blue plastic trashbag that some thoughtless tourist must have left behind…).

As night approached, the pictures became blurrier and blurrier…to see some fantastic pictures at the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary, check out this issue (#172) of Y-Magazine.  I’m a big fan of Jerzy Wierzbicki’s photography and the black and white pics of oryx are among the best I’ve seen.

Here are 2 short videos I took while at the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary: (The 2nd one is currently being processed. Check back soon to view!!)

Oman Rock Stars – Duqm Rock Garden

The Rock Garden is a 3 square kilometre area of limestone and sandstone rocks  which formed in an underground freshwater aquifer over 46 million years ago.  With time it has been shaped by wind, water, frost and other natural forces.  According to the Minerals Section of the Department of Commerce and Industry.”

The Rock Garden is one of the top 25 sites of geological scientific importance
in the entire Sultanate of Oman.”

These rock formations are of exceptional scenic beauty and provide visitors with an impressive insight of the geological and geomorphological wonders of our planet.”

If you’re ever in Duqm with about an hour to spare, you can find the Duqm Rock Garden at the Strabag gate entrance between 100 and 200 metres from the ODC (Oman DryDock) gate (which is also the Veronica Floating Hotel entrance) as you head towards Duqm city centre (…or where there should be a city centre but will find only a few buildings). The rock garden is on the right hand of the Strabag dirtroad.  I wouldn’t recommend driving this site without a 4X4.

Click here to read an article in the Week about the Rock Garden in Duqm

“Elephant Rock”

“Turtle Head Rock”

“Licking Dog Rock”

“Snail Rock”

“Smiley face Rock”

Obviously not the top ranking “must see site of Oman”; the tourists aren’t exactly lining up to see the Duqm Rock Garden.  I still thought it was interesting to walk around exploring.  The heat starts playing tricks on you and you start seeing faces and shapes in just about every rock, haha! 🙂  How about you?  Would you walk around in the hot sun for an hour or even longer to see a bunch of rocks?! Or are you more like my wife who would rather sit back and enjoy the comfort of the hotel room?

If this is a subject of great interest to you, I’m guessing you must be a geologist!  This link to Peter Farrrington’s presentation at the 4th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in Muscat in October 2010 would be very interesting to you I’m sure.

Rumours of Petrol Shortage in Oman

Rumours of petrol shortage are getting about as common as the “tsunami warnings” that pop up every year since Gonu.  The latest is that Muscat has a shortage of gasoline but it is only super unleaded that is in short supply.  I know because I just came from the pump (Mawaleh South Shell) after hearing something about this shortage on twitter.  Because our car was close to empty after a long trip from Duqm, I thought I better make sure we’ve got plenty of petrol before the rumours kick into effect and the petrol stations actually do dry out due to panic.  The gentleman at the pump informed me that there is no “super” available as “they are doing repairs at the refinery” but there is in fact plenty of regular unleaded.  Super should be “back on the menu” as early as tonight.  Wednesday saw a mad rush to the pumps as people prepared for long journeys on their 9 day Eid holiday (or 6-day holiday for those in the private sector).  It was reported here.

(I should have picked one of these up when they were on sale!)

It seems absurd that a country sitting on so many millions of barrels of oil would have a SHORTAGE!  But it does happen as demand mostly based on rumours kicks in! (and occasional shortages due to lack of foresight…)  It really affected people heading down to Salalah on their last holiday and many were stranded while others chose to buy it at astronomical rates (probably close to what they pay for it overseas). Read about it here as reported by the Oman Tribune.

Here is a report from the Oman Tribune today, Oct. 27th:

The gas pump near Shannah Harbour (at the Masirah Island turn-off on the Sinaw-Duqm road) was in fact out of stock (That’s what the sign said!) today at about 3:30pm.

Have any of you been affected by petrol shortage in Oman? Do you carry any extra petrol cans full in the back of the car?  Doesn’t that present its own dangers?

Update: A more recent report from the Times of Oman – Oct 29th

TimeOut Muscat & Oman – Autumn/Winter 2012

Timeout is back on the stands and still only 2 OR.  As you can see from the cover, they have special features on Musandam and Dolphin Tour (written by Peter Feely) in this edition.  I think they should have listed Jacqueline Stelle’s interesting write up (humorously titled “Desperately Seeking Shuwa“) on the front cover.  She interviewed the chef in charge of Omani dishes at the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort, Azza Al Mamari, who offers advice on “Where to find Omani Food“.  They also have a feature called “Radar” where they try to keep you updated with “what’s on the social radar” in Oman and on the next page is the “News Bites” with the latest news and upcoming events are found on the same page.  Their restaurant reviews are probably the best part of the magazine and in this edition they have one page, detailed reviews of The Jungle Restaurant and Love at First Bite.  New restaurants Fairouz and Asia have also been added to the Restaurant Listings.  With all that being said, there are things which they NEVER seem to get around to correcting such as poking fun at Passage to India’s “comical plastic elephant that presides over the entrance” which hasn’t been there for years, listing restaurants that have closed down such as Stomach, wrong phone numbers and incorrect info (such as Olivos Coffee Shop having “buffets served every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner” – not true!!   What I’m saying is that you have to read the restaurant reviews with a grain of salt and realize that many of the reviews have not been updated for many years!  Some are so old that I noticed that the magazine has at least taken away the estimated money you could expect to pay at each restaurants as they were often way off.  It’s too bad this magazine doesn’t get their act together as this could really be a fantastic guide for people here in the Sultanate or those thinking of coming.  As it is, it’s a halfway decent magazine seeing how it’s only 2 Omani rials.

Sometimes you can find good deals in Timeout like this Eid special at the Intercon on the inside back cover:

I wish I had read this weeks ago.  I might have booked us a night here at that price.  I just called the Intercon and they said that there may still be rooms at that rate if you call +968-2468-0000 tomorrow and ask for “reservations” once you reach the operator. (It’s 10:30pm now)

I hope you all have a fabulous, relaxing Eid.  Some may not have made any special plans seeing how we only found about having the whole week off (or 4 days for those of you in the private sector) once it was basically too late to make plans flying out of Muscat.  There are plenty of things to do in the Sultanate and I know quite a few people who intend on doing some camping.  Whatever your plans, dear reader, do try to be safe! EID MUBARAK!  🙂

“O Sole Mio”, Ristorante Italiano, Shatti Al Qurum

O Sole Mio is regarded as one of the best Italian restaurants in Muscat.  It’s located in Jawaharat Complex near the Intercontinental Hotel in Shatti.  It was closed down for quite a while for renovations and opened back up for business a little over 2 weeks ago.  We’ve enjoyed this restaurant quite a few times and it has a special place in our memories as it’s the restaurant I took my love to on the night that I proposed to her a little over 4 years ago.  When we went out recently with some close friends, we decided to eat there to see how it is since the renovations.

Penne Alfredo (4.9 OR)

2 of us (the men) tried the Lasagne al Forno (4.5 OR) which I thought was excellent.  My friend thought it was extremely hot (not spicy-hot but fresh-out-of-the-oven-piping-hot) but that’s what I loved about it.  I really enjoyed this dish!

The Blueberry Cheesecake (3 OR) was SO good and it looked like our guests really enjoyed their Cream Brulee (3 OR) as well which we enjoyed with our coffees.

I didn’t take a lot of photos as “O Sole Mio” is one of those restaurants that seems too upscale for shy old me to pull out my camera and start snapping away!  I did want to put up a pic to give you some quick idea of what the interior is like now.  Here’s a pic of our friends, Don and Debi who joined us for dinner:

Our friends, Debi and Don, recently relocated here from the United States.  Debi just started a blog that I follow.  It’s called Notes Home” and can be found by clicking on this link.

Have any of you been to O Sole Mio since it was renovated?! Is so, what do you think?  We really enjoyed our night out there and highly recommend it for anyone looking for a nice (licensed!) Italian restaurant in Muscat.  Make sure to make reservations if you do go as this place is quite busy most nights. (Tel: +968-2460-1343)