Thursday, 27 December 2007

One of the best things to do in Yemen

Go to an ATM and get a printed receipt for your bank balance. With the exchange rate at 53 Yemeni Riyals to each UAE Dirham, you don't have to have a big account balance to be a Riyal millionaire! I'm having my receipt framed as its the only time in my life I'll have a seven figure bank balance.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Yemen 6: A meal 'on the road'

Today was our last day in Yemen and we headed out to the National Museum. The museum is in a modern building in central Sana'a, its very well laid out with lots of interesting artifacts detailing Yemeni history. Most exhibits were labelled in English and Arabic though one exhibition hall was labelled in French and Arabic only. I learned so much about the long history of Yemen. Much archaeological work has been done recently and so there are constant additions to the understanding of Yemen's past. The museum closed for prayers at around 1pm and wouldn't be reopening until 4pm so we walked round to a juice place for a mango juice which we had both missed since leaving Dubai.

We walked back through a souq area where 'a meal on the road' took on a whole new meaning when we were invited to join some Yemeni men for lunch which they were eating, quite literally, on the road. They'd flattened some cardboard boxes out to sit on next to their ute, then purchased salta and bread from one of the local vendors which they were kind enough to share with us. One of the men spoke good English and we had a very funny chat about Lebanese pop singers: Is Nancy Ajram a floozy answer yes/no?

Further down the street I did some serious souvenir shopping and almost bought up an entire shop which sold Yemeni kaffeyas, futtas and wall hangings. It was Christmas Day so I spoke to my kids in Sydney and also to my brother Terry in the UK which was really nice though unfortunately I couldn't hear him very well over the street noise.

The nation seems to shut down most afternoons when the majority of Yemeni men and many of the women gather to chew qat. Qat is a small shrub and the people chew the leaves which give a mild high. We saw boys as young as 10 or 11 with their mouths stuffed full of the stuff, and the city streets are littered with the stalks of plants that have been stripped of leaves. In most countries in the West qat is a controlled or illegal substance Some Yemeni men jam so much qat into their mouths that it looks like one of their cheeks is going to explode and even the soldiers and police are chewing away while they're on duty. The other thing that is really popular is fireworks, we've heard them at all hours of the day and night. Even this morning at 6:30am someone somewhere was firing off a long string of crackers.

In the evening we had dinner at Arabia Felix another hotel not far from our hotel. On the way back we got lost in the souq trying to find a shop belonging to the guy who runs the Yemeni shop at the Global Village in Dubai. Another man led us round to find his house but nobody was home (he was in Dubai surprise, surprise).

After an amazing week in Yemen, we're flying back to Dubai early tomorrow morning and back to work on the 27th. All the photos are here.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Yemen 5: Ma'rib, a trip into the wild heart of Yemen

Today we went out to Ma’rib which is about 215km from Sana’a and its been like a trip to the Wild West. Back in the dim past Ma’rib was the capital of the Sabean empire, the kingdom of the legendary Queen of Sheba who’s known in Yemen as Bilqis. The Sabeans controlled the frankincense trade in the area for many hundreds of years and were very rich and powerful. The photos are here.

Nowadays foreigners are only allowed to travel to Ma’rib if they have an armed military escort. As recently as July this year, six tourists were killed there when a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into their minibus. The Marib region is home to four powerful Yemeni tribes and is thought to be a hotbed of support for Al Qaeda.

Our guide Ali picked us up from the hotel in Sana’a and we drove about half an hour out of town to meet up with the rest of the convoy of 4x4s, about 50 in total which were mostly from various tour companies. We had a police escort for the first hour of the trip but then we stopped at another checkpoint and where we picked up the army escort. The escort was made up of half a dozen soldiers, all armed with AK47s, in a LandCruiser ute with a sub-machine gun mounted on the back. With the Army in the lead, we headed for Ma’rib. As we drove along we passed many army positions some with tanks in place and others with artillary pieces. We stopped at Army checkpoints every couple of kilometres along the way, and each time the procedure was the same: the soldiers would ask Ali where we were from, he’d tell them then they’d look at us, see Colin’s jambia (the dagger) and either give him the thumbs up or smile and say “tammam” (ok) and wave us through. At each checkpoint Ali had to pass over a photocopy of the government authority which allowed us to travel to Ma’rib. He had a pile of copies when we started out but there were none left by the end of the day.

At Mar’ib the local Police took over from the Army guys so we had a Police escort to visit the ruins and other sights we’d come to see. First stop was the village of Old Ma’rib, which dates from 1BC. The village was heavily bombed during the 1962 Civil War. After the '62 war, the residents moved to what is now the new town of Ma’rib. Many of the buildings in Old Ma'rib have gaping holes caused by artillery shells. Mud brick -v- mortars wasn’t a fair fight.

From there we drove to the Great Ma’rib Dam which was built in about 700 BC though recent archaeological work has found remains of primitive dams dated back to 2000 BC. The Great Dam took several hundred years to complete and is believed to have been 700m long and 35m high. It ran between two groups of rocks on either side of what was then a river. Water from the dam irrigated about 70 sq km of desert and supported a population of around 50,000. The final destruction of the dam is noted in the Koran (Chapter of the Saba, v.15-16). Close by is a large new dam which was built with funds from the late Sheikh Zayed of the UAE whose family lines trace back to Yemen.

Next stop was the ‘Arsh Bilqis which the locals called Bilqis’ Palace but researchers think was a temple dedicated to worship of the moon. Either way, there are five magnificent 10m high columns there. Last stop for the morning was Mahram Bilqis which was built prior to 800BC and is believed to have been dedicated to the sun god. It was fenced off so I couldn’t get close enough to see much. We stopped in the new part of Ma’rib for lunch at a hotel which had a swimming pool, something I didn't expect to see out in the backblocks. After lunch we got back into the LandCruiser to wait for the Police escort but we struck a snag, our Police escort was supposed to meet us at the hotel and do the trip back to the checkpoint where we’d pick up the Army boys, but they failed to turn up. There were two 4x4s waiting for an escort, us and an Italian couple (the majority of tourists to Yemen are Italian not sure why). Both the other driver and our guide Ali rang “people who know people” and shortly afterwards a police car pulled into the hotel driveway. In an entertaining diversion, an overweight police sergeant got out, waved his arms in the air while ranting and raving in Arabic (no translation was required, it was a hizzy fit in anyone’s language) he then squeezed himself back into the car, slammed the door and drove off in a flurry leaving even the Arabic speakers bemused. (If you’ve seen “Snatch” it was reminiscent of the scene where Tyrone is ‘pouring’ himself into a car.) Ten minutes later another police car arrived this time full of police with their stereo blasting out the latest Lebanese hits, and we all headed out to meet the military escort. Our armed military escort this time was a lone soldier who looked about 12 years old though still armed with an AK47. The soldier sat in the front passenger seat of our LandCruiser chatting happily to Ali. What can I say? Anyone who feels uncomfortable about travelling at speed in a car with loaded guns shouldn’t travel in Yemen. Even so, it was a bit of a concern to us when the soldier was resting his gun across his knees and the barrel was pointing directly at Colin in the back seat. A while later Colin told me that the soldier was resting his chin on the barrel of his gun, my only comment was, “Well, I’m not cleaning the roof.” All joking aside, its obvious from past events that there is the potential for serious stuff to happen at any time - I’d noticed earlier in the day that our guide was also carrying a pistol tucked into the back of his futa (mens’ skirt) and he seemed to me to be a man who'd have no hesitation in using it.

We dropped the soldier off at the last checkpoint and headed back to Sana'a. Our long day ended back at the hotel and saying goodbye to Ali. We have a day to ourselves tomorrow, our last day in Yemen. The plan at the moment is to see the National Museum.

At no point have either of us thought about hiring a car - not now we've seen how they drive here. The Lonely Planet guide to Yemen says something like "...maniacal drivers with a complete disregard for the few existing road rules...." All I can say is "You're kidding? There's a rule?"

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Yemen 4: Something fishy

Photos are here.

Yesterday we came down from the Yemeni highlands and onto the plain on the Yemeni coast of the Red Sea. The first thing I noticed was a huge increase in humidity. It was like Auckland where you can often break into a sweat just by standing still.

We started the day with a visit to the Hodaida fish market. The market was held in a large shed with open sides and the place was very busy with lots of noise and bustle. The small blue fishing boats were still coming in alongside the wharf. The boats are very small only 5-6 metres long, I wouldn’t want to go up the Whau Creek or the Parramatta River in one let alone out to sea. The crew of the boats unloaded their catches by hand including some fairly sizable sharks. They tie a rope around the tail of the shark and haul it out of the hold like a tug-o-war. To unload the smaller fish one guy sits in the hold and throws the fish into large woven baskets held by two other guys who then run with the baskets out into the market area. Mostly the fish is sold straight from the basket but some people had tarpaulins that they emptied the baskets onto and then handfuls of salt are thrown over the fish to minimally preserve it and the customers cluster round to buy. A piece of string is threaded through the fishes’ mouths, tied to form a handle and the customer then carries their purchase away. There was a man who was acting as auctioneer as well as the fishermen selling direct to the public.

From Hodaida we headed into the mountains again to the shrine at Al Khatayb. The shrine itself is dedicated to a 16th century imam and is made of luminous white marble with large silver doors engraved with inscriptions from the Koran. On a hill overlooking a shrine is a tiny mosque. We walked up to the top for a nice view over the valley below. We have both been affected slightly by the altitude here. On the first day I was puffed after only a couple of flights of stairs so the climb up to the mini-mosque was really hard work.

Next stop was the 11th century village of Al Hajjarah which, like many villages we’ve seen since we’ve been in Yemen, is perched on the edge of a steep cliff. The houses are built directly onto the rocks. The bottom floor of the house is for the animals, the next floor up is for storing grain etc, next up is for visitors, up again is the family accommodation and the top floor lounge has the best view.

We headed down from Al Hajjarh to the small town of Manakhah where we had lunch and, in what was a real thrill (to me), watched a performance of local dance and music put on by some local men. They asked us up to dance and I didn’t need to be asked twice as you can imagine. Yemeni dance is so much fun, its done in pairs with each partner taking turns leading the steps. The other people sit around clapping and singing. Colin got up and joined in the men’s dance with the jambia (dagger) he’d bought earlier in Sana’a. Great experience and most of it on video thanks to our guide Ali who proved to be a good cameraman.

The most common Yemeni snack food is boiled eggs. Wherever we’ve been in Yemen there’s always a tea shop and a boy selling boiled eggs. If you pay a bit extra he’ll peel your egg for you. The tea is always pre-sweetened but even so most of the locals seem to add at least 2 teaspoons of sugar to their cups – they like a bit of tea with their sugar!

In Yemen like in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East and the sub- continent, its common to see two men walking along the street holding hands. It has none of the meaning we would construe in the West, as here its just two male friends making contact, I guess its like an extended handshake.

The traditional Yemeni men’s clothing is a calf length skirt called a futa which is like the Pacific Island sulu. Futas in each area of Yemen have their own particular design so when a man walks down the street wearing a futa everyone knows where he comes from. This seemed to explain some of the attitudes towards our guide Ali as we went around the countryside. Ali is from Al Beara and I didn’t need to speak Arabic to pick up the occasional cool reception he got from some of the people he talked to and sometimes there was a definite “You’re not from round here are you?” feeling. In other places it was all smiles and hand shaking. In some towns the majority of men wore futas, in other places most were wearing white dishdashes, but without exception every man over the age of 12 (and some even younger) wore a jambia (dagger) on a heavily embroidered belt.

From Manakhah we headed back to Sana’a through the mountains. Over many generations Yemenis have built terraces on the side of the mountains there doesn't seem to be any area on some of the mountains which hasn't been terraced no matter how steep. They have planted the terraces with crops, often millet and in the recent past coffee. I didn’t know that the name ‘mocha’ comes from the town of Mokka in Yemen (CSM trivial fact # 36572).

Tomorrow we’re going to a town called Marib. The road from Sana’a to Marib is only accessible to foreigners if they travel in a convoy and have a military escort so we have to be at the checkpoint about 30 minutes out of Sana’a at 9am tomorrow morning.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Yemen 2 and 3: From the mountains to the (Red) Sea

Sana'a is reputed to be around 2,500 years old and according to legend, was built by Shem the son of Noah. Its been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The photos are here.

On Day 2 we went out for a walk to find the Military Museum. One of the first things I noticed was that all the women in Sana'a wore burqa (face covering). The only females with uncovered faces were young girls but even many of them wore head scarves. From my first day in San'a I got the feeling that this is a very conservative place and it would be advisable to wear hijab whenever I was outside the hotel which I have done. I had hijab wearing lessons from Rasha before coming down the Yemen so I was prepared. She's right though they've got to be 3 meters long,anything less and they fall off which is really annoying).
We walked from the hotel along As-Sailah the paved wadi and got lost several times on the way. After asking a couple of policemen in a parked car for directions we found the Museum. It was interesting though most of the exhibits were labelled in Arabic only which was a bit frustrating I would have liked to know more about some of the old archaeological pieces on display. The museum certainly had an eclectic collection; there were rifles, guns, a Mig aircraft, fairly graphic execution photos and other war type paraphernalia but also sports trophies and, for a reason I have yet to fathom, a display of dolls' house furniture. The political slant of the explanation was evident, nobody likes Iman Yahiya who was the last ruler of Yemen pre-revolution and was finally assassinated after several attempts.
After the museum visit, we wandered around the city area which reminds me so much of Kabul, Afghanistan in '78. We walked down to Bab al Yemen the last remaining city gate in the old city wall. The gates are huge they must be 15ft high and at least 6 inches thick. I noticed at the top of one of the gates a large hole right through the thickness of the gate caused by an artillery shell. We wandered back through the souq getting lost again in the process and eventually after asking for directions we were walked back to the hotel by a couple of local boys. We had a coffee (or two) and then shared a couple of bottles of Becks Non-Alcoholic Beer (all the taste without the kick) and then walked back to the souq. More shops in the souq are open now as people return to work after the Eid. We were both baffled by the sight of a half grown camel chewing on hay in a cellar down one of the side streets being watched by several kids. What it was doing down there I don't know.

Day 3 and today we left the hotel in San'a early for Wadi Dhahr to see the rock palace known as Dar al-Hajar. The palace is 5 storeys high and sits on top of a single rock having been built on pre historic burial caves. It was surprisingly extensive with lots of different rooms and had the advantage to the occupiers of an internal well. There was a separate majlis (meeting room) opening out onto fountains and what would have been a garden back in the day.

From Wadi Dhahar to Thula, where we were set upon by the local merchants and harassed in a way I haven't encountered since India. Thula contains some houses that were built by Jewish silver merchants and then abandoned in 1948 when the occupants moved to Israel.

At Hababah we took some photos of the large village pond and then drove on to Shibam where we had lunch. The restaurant was on a dusty street and customers first walk into a large room with two men working with incredibly hot open stoves on an elevated platform. After walking through that room we went into the restaurant which was set out over 5 floors of a traditional house. Many of the areas were separate rooms for use by families or groups of ladies and there was also a separate ladies majlis on the top floor. We sat in the large communal area on the top floor. In what was a highlight of the trip so far, we were invited to join a local family to eat with them. The food was laid out on the floor, we had a spoon each, a piece of flat bread to use as a plate and then it was every one for themselves. I tried a local dish called Fatta which is made of layers of thin pancakes with egg on top, spicy and really nice.

After lunch we headed up to Kawkoban a village clinging to the side of Jebel Kawkoban above Shibam. The residents of Shibam used to head up to Kawkoban for shelter when they were threatened by raiding parties from rival tribes.
As the fog started to roll down the mountains we entered al Tawila, a small and rather unexciting village. We wandered through the village and moved on to Mahweet where we stayed the night at the Mahweet Hotel which now holds the title of "Hotel with the Hardest Mattresses in the World".

Early the next day we headed off to Jebel Ariadi which gave us incredible views down into a deep rift valley. We stopped on the way at a one room factory on the roadside where two young guys were carving gypsum templates that are about 25mm thick, a stencil is laid over the top and the boys carve out the pattern. Later on stained glass is inserted into the gaps.

From there we had a 2 hour trip (seemed like 4 hours) which took us the length of Wadi Saraa over some very rough roads. We saw lots of small villages on the way, kids out herding goats and many donkeys working hard. The clothing being worn by the ladies changed a bit though one part of the wadi, the ladies were wearing bright clothing, a head scarf but without having their faces covered. Also they wore broad woven hats similar to those worn by the Indians in the Andes. We passed though Kamis bani Saad and arrived in Bajel for lunch at a "Brost Restaurant". We went upstairs to the "family area" which is used by family groups or groups of ladies so they have privacy from the men downstairs. In the family area we had our own screened off area. After lunch we got back into the car passing the people begging or trying to sell boxes of tissues.

Next we headed to our overnight stop of Al Hodaidah on the Red Sea. Al Hodaidah is Yemen's largest seaport, larger than Aden. Ali our guide took us down to the beach and we had a pleasant walk along the sand collecting shells and enjoying the sight of Yemeni families doing what families at the beach do all over the world. We wandered around the Hodaidah souq and I bought some music. Afterwards we went for dinner at a seafood joint which proved to be a great experience. There are restaurants, there are cafes and then there are places that can only be described as "joints" and this was definitely one of the latter, this place was a Joint with a capital "J". I can't tell you what the name of the place was it was all in Arabic. First we had to go across the road from the restaurant to haggle with the fishermen to buy the fish for our dinner. The men are all in traditional clothing including the dagger and the fish is displayed in large flax baskets. Colin chose three fish which were like breem and also bought 500g of prawns: total cost 40AED ($13) then back to the restaurant where they took the fish into the kitchen to cooked them. The waiter laid out the tablecloth which was actually fresh pages from the Khaleej Times (the English language newspaper from Dubai) and then handed us huge slabs of fresh bread to eat with the fish. The prawns were served with a bowl of lemony sauce and they also grilled the fish in a tasty peppery coating. The fish was bought out on a big plate and then the waiter put the fish directly onto the newspaper in front of us. All fingers, no cutlery here. Meanwhile semi organised chaos carried on around us with customers yelling at waiters, waiters yelling at the cooks and the cooks yelling abuse at everyone. All the while there were flames coming out of the gap in the wall where we could see into the kitchen, the box of Gladwrap next to the gap started melting and the food was so hot it must have been cooked with oxy-acetylene blow torches. It was the best seafood meal I’ve ever had in my life. It was a real local place full of fishermen and locals and as I was the only woman in the place I got some curious looks but after the initial surprise everyone was too interested in their food to pay any attention to me.

That's it for the moment. Off tomorrow to the fish market and then a round trip back to Sana'a

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Yemen 1: Old Sana'a, a medieval-modern Islamic city

We were up at 4am this morning and heading out to Dubai airport for our Emirates flight to Sana'a the capital of Yemen. The flight took just over 2 hours. As Sana'a is at 7,000ft above sea level the pilot needs to have a special licence to land there. We met Bruce, a Kiwi guy from Paraparaumu ("Paraparam") in the immigration queue while we were waiting to get our entry visas. Bruce has worked on the oil fields in the Middle East for 15 years or so. He now works in Yemen but he was saying that the last job he had was in the backblocks in Oman where summer temperatures often reached 65c, which makes 50c in Dubai seem cool in comparison. He told us that Yemeni driving was worse and more frightening than Dubai driving. Hard to believe but he was right. Judging from the cars we saw there isn't a straight panel on any car in Sana'a and we now know why! On the drive from the airport there were cars coming at us from all sides, including a stationwagon with a goat in the back, utes loaded with kids, there are no lane markings, pedestrians just do whatever they like and as for the motorbikes, well, if you can't get at least three people on a motor bike then you just aren't trying. Seems to me that Yemeni drivers would cease to function if they couldn't use their horns. One of the major roads is a dry river bed which has been converted into a road with high sides which still floods when there's heavy rain.

Our hotel is in the middle of the old town of Sana'a. In its' past, Sana'a has recovered from floods, earthquakes, looting by tribesmen, and during the 1994 Civil War, a Scud missile attack. The entire old town area of Sana'a was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. The unique tower houses are made of mud brick and up to 5 storeys high. Their origin lies in the remote villages where farmland was scarce and building vertically was the only way to accommodate the people while making efficient use of the available land. Ibn Rustah, a 10th century Persian explorer, wrote about Sana'a in his Book of Precious Records describing “houses adorned with gypsum, baked bricks and symmetrical stones.” The exterior walls of the houses and the edges of the windows are marked with white gypsum which gives the look that's unique to Yemen. In the afternoon we wandered around the area and had a wonderful time, the Yemeni people were so friendly, the men and kids happily posed for photos of course the ladies are off limits for photographs. I was pleasantly surprised that not one of the kids asked for baksheesh. People passing us said "hello" or "asalam aleikum", or gave the thumbs up. Colin bought a jambiyya which is the traditional Yemeni knife. It is attached to a belt covered in intricate handwork which takes a woman a month to stitch, though the majority seemed to be machine made. He wore it like the Yemeni men do and this seemed to be a hit with the local guys. We went off down an alleyway to a shop which sold antique guns and bought an old English rifle dating from 1874. Today is the first day of Eid al Adha so its a public holiday and most of the shops in the souq were closed.

One of the Eid traditions is that on the first day all the children are given new clothes, so the streets of Sana'a were filled with little girls in gorgeous fairy/princess dresses even fairy wings on a couple of littlies and the boys in new dishdashes (I don't know what they call them in Yemen). Every male over the age of 12 wears a jambiyya (the dagger) as part of his every day clothes and it's a point of pride. However, they are for show and rarely drawn in anger. In the Emirates and Oman the daggers are called "khanjar" and are only worn on special occasions. In Dubai you'll never see a man wearing a dagger, in Yemen you'll never see a man without one! The dagger styles and shapes differ from place to place and the handles are made of everything from rhino horn to plastic and some of the blades are old while others are made of recycled metal taken from car driveshafts. The scabbards of Yemeni daggers are often bound in a green fabric tape (legal secs, its like the tape we used to bind legal briefs back in the old days)

We have another day in Sana'a tomorrow before heading off for 3 days into the countryside. Our photos of Old Sana'a are here.

(1) Richard Brooks Jeffery, Assistant Curator, College of Architecture, University of Arizona.
(2) Eric Hanson's article in Saudi Aramco World.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Chrimbo approaches

Things are starting to wind up for the Eid/Christmas break here. Western firms are having their Christmas parties (we're going to the Lebanese restaurant at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel) and many expats are flying back home to spend Christmas with their families. The Muslim festival that occurs at this time of the year is Eid al-Adha which falls around the same time as Christmas every year and is the most important feast of the Muslim calendar. It concludes the pilgrimage to Mecca. The exact date for Eid is decided by the sighting of the full moon but the dates haven't been announced yet as the decree has to come from the Moon Committee in Saudi. Once the announcement is made everyone has two days holiday followed a few days later by a couple of days off for Christmas for Western companies. By taking one or two days of annual leave I'll have nearly a full week off. We're making the most of it and heading to Yemen for a week.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Oman weekend

Cathy and Stan my long time friends from NZ are visiting Dubai. They've had a week in Jordan which they thoroughly enjoyed and are now back in Dubai. Colin and I and C&S left Dubai after work and headed to the Mezyad border. After the irritation (to Colin) of Kiwis crossing over to Oman for free while he has to pay, we were over without too much trouble. As a reality check however, one the other women in the group is Algerian and the Omani border guards refused to let her over the border because she, as a married woman, was travelling without a letter of permission from her husband. In the end she phoned her husband who had to drive all the way down to the border from Dubai (2 hours)to show his passport and write the necessary letter of permission, and only then was she permitted to cross the border.

Next stop was an overnight stay at the Ibri Hotel. Strangely for a hotel in the back blocks of Oman, the Ibri Hotel makes some of the finest chips in the world. Next day we went out to the pre-historic tombs at Bat, then to Al Ayn where the 5,000year old tombs are far better preserved. Next we went to Al Hoota Cave at the foot of Jabal Shams. The cave system is 5kms long though only about 1/10th of it is currently available to view. The path through the cave passes lots of stalagmites and stalagtites. There were other amazing rock formations formed by the movement of the water through the caves over the centuries. The water flow still continues sometimes to extremes as the cave system was closed to visitors for 7 months due to a total flood of the cave system after heavy rain.Al Hoota only reopened recently. Next to Misfat al Abreyeen an mountainside village which has an ancient but still functioning irrigation system of water channels which carry water to all parts of the village and into the cliff side fields where dates and other small crops are grown.

Next stop Nizwa and the Golden Tulip Hotel. It was the end of a long day so after checking in, being given the wrong room and having to go back to reception to change rooms, we went to the Al Wasit Bar in the hotel which is a faux English pub style bar. We ordered 3 beers and a bottle of water for the 4 of us. The prices for nuts, light snacks are on display on the bar but nowhere is the price for alcohol displayed and, in a large hotel, I wouldn't expect to have to work the bill out myself anyway. I ordered the drinks, the waitress told me the price and I paid it. Later, while we sat at the table I ordered another 3 beers and another member of the foursome paid the amount the waitress asked for. As we left the bar, a waiter ran after us and asked me to pay for two more beers. We'd paid everything they'd asked for so I told him there must be a mistake. Later while we sat at dinner the waitress approached me and asked me to pay for three more beers. I told her "no", that I ordered the drinks, had paid what she asked and that was that. She told me (a) she had mistaken the price, then (b) that she had confused my order with another customer (Ha! In the whole time we were in the bar only one other couple came in) then (c) that she had not realised that I was paying for the whole round (Come on! In an international hotel the concept of paying for 'rounds' would not be foreign to her!). I then had to get up from dinner with my partner and friends and go back to the bar where, to the total horror of the staff, I asked to see the till receipts but oh what a surprise, there were none as she'd "forgotten" to put it through the till. She then proceeded to get out a piece of paper and cover it with figures and arrows which supposedly showed that I still had to pay for three drinks. I asked to see the manager and his reaction was to shrug his shoulders. My partner asked the waitress to explain again and there was more paper with more figures, lines and arrows. In the end, as my evening had been completely spoilt, I paid the 6 Riyals for the beers which supposedly had cost 5.701 and I was handed change for the 6 Riyals I paid. The change was wrapped in a till receipt. I left the bar without checking the change and went to reception, complained to the manager and got more shrugging of shoulders which seems to be a Golden Tulip Nizwa specialty. I found later to my great amusement that the waitress in a final act of customer alienation had shortchanged me and had only given me 200 baisa change instead of 300. However, she had managed to put the money into the till this time and give me a printed receipt for the 6 Riyals at least.

Next day we wandered round the Nizwa market then the Nizwa Fort, over to the Bahla pottery and the walls of Bahla fort which we couldn't get into as it is still being restored. In the afternoon we went over to Jabreen Castle and finished the weekend with a visit to the deserted village at Al Salaif. The residents of Al Sulaif moved out 30 years ago and the place has been deserted since then. Its like a ghost town, the mosque had ceiling fans still hanging in place from the rafters. The photos are here.