The Best Laid Plans…

I guess this is why they say you can’t go back.

I wasn’t impressed with Salalah the second time round, unfortunately. It’s weird, cos I was much more prepared this time round, we’d booked hotels, I was going with friends I’d been to several trips with and was comfortable being around them, but it was not a good trip, altogether.

I guess sometimes we tend to look through rose-tinted glasses about the past, conveniently forgetting the painful moments, and when you try and and go back, the glasses come off and reality bites you in the ass. Quite literally too, for us! Wadi Darbat was still beautiful, but the bugs there were relentless (which I had conveniently forgotten about from the past trip) and bit our arms and legs with a renewed fury and have left itchy, angry red spots all over! The magic road was still freaky (we even laid out a bottle and it rolled back upwards against gravity and all that is logical!) The frankincense trail was beautiful in the night.

But the Hilton Salalah was a disappointment. It was a very old hotel, and though it was clean, it smelled musty, like the smell of old, damp houses, and that got my allergies going, and since I was there for 3 days, I got sicker and sicker day after day! I exhausted all my emergency meds as well as all the tissues in the hotel and was miserable as hell! I was ravenous from all the sneezing (which is an exhausting business!) but couldn’t taste any food by the end, which is a pretty bad state to be in! The spread at the hotel was not all that great to begin with, so I guess I didn’t miss much.

The ride back home was interminable and we got held up at customs longer than we expected due to a faulty system, so when I finally got home at 4am, I was exhausted. I spent all day at home, drinking fluids and trying to feel better, which is a miserable way to spend your birthday, don’t you think? I managed to drag myself to dinner with the gang in the evening, but birthday-wise, this one was pretty disappointing.

To be fair to the place, I guess I’m more upset about falling sick which kinda ruined everything else for me. But I still won’t go back to Salalah again.

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Rewind

They’ve declared the Eid holidays, and I just found out I’m getting 3 days off. Which means I get a really long weekend (Fri-Tues).

Eid of 2008 was when I went on my first road trip. I’ve blogged about it here, but only spoke about the drive there and not the trip itself. Though I largely have fond memories of the trip, there were a few annoying things that happened which I believe could have been prevented if we’d been better prepared!

For one thing, we hadn’t booked a hotel. Which is a big mistake if you’re going to a small place like Salalah. The only decent place to stay there is the Crowne Plaza. We had naively gone assuming we could easily get rooms and were nonplussed to find out they didn’t even have a vacant broom closet we could squeeze into. It should have been obvious I suppose, but we were completely inexperienced travelers then and didn’t think this would be such a popular destination for Eid.

After we were shown the door at CP, we drove around looking for a place to stay, but most places were fully booked and we finally ended up staying in a creepily large hotel that was almost devoid of patrons or even staff!

The lonely waitress at the empty restaurant didn’t know what half the items on the menu were and looked confused and lost, as if she didn’t know what she was doing at the hotel in the first place! The rooms looked okay, but hadn’t been used or dusted in a long time. In the shower, I bumped my elbow against the soap-dish and it fell off it’s hinges! It wasn’t screwed on and the hinges were rusted through and was sickening to look at! I quickly finished up and ran the hell outta there, wanting to spend as little time in the hotel as possible, which was the only good thing , if you wanna look for a bright side! :P

Salalah itself is quite lovely during this season! I remember losing our way and almost ending up in Yemen on our way to Marneef caves. I remember being awed by how high the waves were that crashed against the cliff, when we finally got to the caves, and how lovely the lights looked in the mist.

I remember our car going at 25 kmph on neutral on the Magic Road (random video there, that’s not our car). I remember lovely weather, beautiful landscapes, and their ridiculously slow pace of life.

I went there with four others, whom at the time I didn’t know very well. The rest of my friends from the group haven’t been there yet.

So, for this Eid, I’m going there again, with the gang. This time, we’ve made hotel bookings in advance. ;)

PS: I know I know! I’ve been going to so many places this year! I hope I won’t jinx anything, cos I’m loving all this travel! 

Photo Credits: My friend Nitin, and his awesome SLR.

The Journey, not the Destination

In August of 2008, we had a 3 day weekend for Eid and till the night before, I hadn’t a clue as to what I would be doing for the holiday.

Around 10 pm, I got a call from my friend and a plan was impulsively formed (these are still my favourite kinda plans! ) to go to Salalah. Right after the call, I went out to the store to buy some provisions. On my way to the counter, I saw a humongous pack of puffed rice as well, which I randomly added to my trolley (to this day, I can’t eat puffed rice without being reminded of this trip! ).

I got home, did some research online on all the places to check out in Salalah, (including a magic road! And yes, it’s pretty cool!) packed an overnight bag and went to bed all excited about my first road-trip! :D

The road to Salalah from the border is a two-way road that stretches around 1000 kms across the desert with no barriers in between. Also, no streetlights.

On our way

So basically, you drive in pitch-black darkness (cos we went at night) with nothing but the headlights of your car to illuminate your way. Occasionally, you get oncoming traffic and hope to God they’re not sleeping or drunk cos if they make a wrong swerve, you’re done for!

There were 5 of us, and one 4wd (which is NOT advisable btw. Always go in two cars when you head out into the middle of nowhere).  Our only pit-stops were the petrol stations that we could not afford to miss, cos it would be the only one on the road for the next 400 kms or so. So if you don’t fill up, you’ll run out of gas and be stuck in the middle of nowhere.

After daylight hit us, we went off-road and did a bit of dune-bashing ( we had an off-road enthusiast with us) and  afterwards stopped for breakfast at one of the petrol stations. There was pretty basic stuff on offer- shawarma and falalfels, not much else. And it wasn’t all that great either. It’s best to carry food with you. But since we only had our seemingly inexhaustible supply of puffed rice and some cold pizza left over from last night, we silently ate our shawarmas and washed it down with juice, with my friend pushing the accelerator down, aiming to reach our destincation faster than ever!

The most amazing part about going to Salalah via road is the abrupt change in scenery you encounter within minutes of going up the mountain (don’t ask me which mountain! A mountain that suddenly crops up after your 1000 km journey through endless desert!).

It’s a sudden transformation from brown-nothingness…

Nothing but sand

… to lush greenery!

lush-nessss!

After 10 hours of staring at sand, we drank in the soothing greenery like parched souls in an oasis! There was a cold mist around us as we were quite literally walking in the clouds! I breathed in the cool air and could feel myself relaxing already.

This was gonna be good!

a sight for sore eyes

But now that we were in Salalah, we needed to find a place to stay, which, due to our last-minute planning, was an issue we’d completely disregarded.

And unless you’re one of those who’ll go knocking on doors in a strange places asking for accommodation (and those kinda people exist! I know exactly one person like that), you need to book in advance!  Of course, this may seem obvious to you, but look at what happened to us with our lusty impulsiveness to get away! We didn’t have a place to stay!

Of course, we eventually found a place… but that is fodder for another, more whiny post!

For now, let’s just enjoy the greenery!

mera-wala green! :D