I have always been interested in the Middle Eastern cultures, however, not all of the countries I would wish to visit are safe to travel in. An exception (like the UAE) is Oman - another Emirate country maybe even less influenced by the West world than the UAE.
Knowing almost nothing about this huge country south of the UAE, we decided to extend our layover on the way to India and spend one day in the capital of Oman, Muscat.
Here I have summarized the day in Muscat, for the whole story you find it here.
The first impression of Muscat was (obvious for the season) the dry heat; feeling like a constant hairdryer blowing in your face. Sweaty and warm we walked around and eventually found a small Indian restaurant. The food was as usually very spicy, which made us sweat even more. In this restaurant I was the only woman, which wasn't totally unexpected since we were in a country with patriarch structure. All men sat on the floor on pillows eating with their hands, some of them Arabs, some of them Indians. In general, the Indian influence in Muscat was obvious. We stumbled upon an Indian wedding, Indian students chilling in a park, Indian families on their afternoon walk...and never ending rows of Indian restaurants.
After the spicy meal we continued our walk through the city, but after a while the heat was unbearable again. I started to feel desperate to go for a swim in the sea, and managed to convince Sam to go to the beach with me. In Qatar, the UAE and other Emirate countries, getting around with public transport is tricky (or sometimes impossible), and taxi is usually extremely expensive. We decided to try to look for a bus stop and investigate the public transport options that could take us to the beach.
However, a taxi driver suddenly stopped and promised to drive us to Muscat beach for free. Hmm, that little suspiciousness inside us was making us doubt, maybe this was a trick and this guy was gonna charge us an unreasonable amount of money later on. We decided to take the risk and jumped in the car - and luckily our worst case scenario wasn't happening. The driver turned out to be extremely friendly and insisted to drive us around for free to show us more of Muscat. For a European, the Middle Eastern hospitality and generosity often tend to seem extreme. Simply because we aren't used to an approach like this, we have a hard time not to get suspicious - this was not the first or the last time I couldn't help wondering if this guy really didn't have any hidden agenda to his kindness. But I was happy to have been proven wrong, once again.
Kamil turned out to be as excited to drive us around for free as we were about meeting him and escaping the heat. We had to answer many of his curious questions (typical in cultures like these): about marriage, children, our families, our parents education, and so on. Kamil had a wife and many children, we got to know. However, his life was miserable and boring, he told us. Every day he was driving taxi to provide for his family and they still just complained. This was his chance to practice his English and learn more about our cultures, he told us. Out of this curiosity and excitement to meet us two Western tourists, Kamil ended up spending the whole day with us.
We had a great day and once again I felt mind blown by the hospitality and friendliness we'd experienced in Muscat. Locals were accommodating, always smiling at us, offering us help - and not to mention Kamil who happily acted tour guide for us the whole day. It left me with a feeling of gratefulness and happiness. It felt truly incredible that both Kamil and I could appreciate this cultural exchange and meeting as much as we did, and that we both seemed to get as much out of this day.