Monday, May 5, 2008

Yousef Dedicates a Song to Dave

The trademark Yousef Lean-in

Stunning view down to Khasab.
Ashley said there is no where else in the world she wanted to be right then.

Today we left the country.

We decided to leave the hubbub of crazy Dubai and go for a day trip to the Sultanate of Oman. I have visited Oman about a year ago as part of my Gulf State trip and loved everything about it. Oman is considered ‘the anti-Dubai’. There is very little development and Sultan Qaboos has implemented strict development rules.
The adventure began the evening before the day trip even started. Ashley and I returned directly to the villa following our amazing tea on the 27th floor of the Burj Al Arab while Dave, Deidre and Lynda took a cab to the Mall of the Emirates to pick up some odds and ends.
The phone rings and it is our driver to Oman, Yousef. He was just calling to introduce himself before the 6 a.m. pick up the next morning and to make sure he know how to find the villa. He seemed to want to chat about everything and nothing, but I eventually said my good bye’s after saying several times, “So, Yousef, we will see you tomorrow at 6 a.m.”. About 30 minutes later a van pulls up to the villa. Jason excuses himself from playing PS3 and goes to see who it is. I notice the sign on the van and it looks like our pick up van for tomorrow. Yes, indeedy, it was Yousef. I guess he was in the neighbourhood. He just stopped by to say ‘hi’ and drop off our visa forms to get across the border. Low and behold, he was Arab! What a treat. We don’t get to meet many Arabs in this part of the world. Other than Abdul ,who stopped by the villa one day to ask if he could rent my villa for one day for his family to play at the beach, and the odd shop keeper, our interactions with the locals are few and far between. All Asian workers. I dazzled Yousef with my Arabic and got the usual shocked reaction. He then insisted on going through the very simple one page form in great detail and, again, there was no getting rid of him. We eventually said our good bye’s and I had a very good feeling about the whole upcoming adventure as he was quite a character.
A 4:45 a.m. wake -up comes as quite a shock when you’ve been up half the night with Ashley watching downloaded Coronation Street episodes. I rallied the troops and Yousef was right on time, dressed in his butter-coloured dishdash and cream and brown head scarf. We loaded into the van and were off.
Calling Yousef ‘a character’ would be an understatement. We could immediately tell that he was mischievous, playful, and was going to keep us entertained. As we sped down the highway at warp speed, weaving in and ut of traffic to find the fastest lane, he would often lean way over to Dave, sitting in the front passenger seat, and carry on a quiet conversation of which none of us were privy too. Dave later pointed out that Yousef would be looking direct at him, not the road.
Yousef’s choice of music was amusing. A collection of cover tunes by artists unknown to us. A few John Denver songs, the odd Celine Dion, mixed with some Euro Techno. Dave later told us that later on that one of the first lean-ins was, “This song is dedicated to you”. I can’t recall the song, but along the way we all had songs ‘dedicated to each of us.
Our first stop was a petrol station to grab snacks, use the facilities, and have a smoke. Oh, yes, one of the first things he said to me in the morning, before even leaving the villa, was, ”We will first stop at a petrol station for water, toilets, and….perhaps you smoke?”
At the petrol station , during a smoke, Yousef made enquiries. If Deidre was Dave’s girlfriend, why was Dave sitting up front and I in back with her? Which one of the other gals were my girlfriend? How old was I? I pulled my usual “How old do you think I am?” This promted a thorough 360 degree inspection, paying particular attention to any protruding grey hairs. None being found, “29, sir” was the answer. I told him my real age and a look of astonishment came over his face. Feigned or not, it was an entirely delightful interaction. My enquiries led me to find out Yousef was 26.
Somehow, perhaps to put everything back the way it should be, Dave ended up in the back seat with Deidre and I was now in the front seat. We plugged my Ipod into his stereo and dedicated a few songs to Yousef.
Passage through the Omani border was hassle free with the usual astonished look when I spoke Arabic to the crossing guard. "How is it you know Arabic?". I replied that to learn a few words of the language a country you are visiting really isn't that difficult and simply adds to the experience. He shook his head in agreement and I walked to the van where the gan were deep into British Invasion tunes. And we were off to explore the beautiful Sultanate.
One is first struck by the lack of development, construction and generally more laid back way of life in Oman. Sultan Qaboos has implemented strict guidelines so that no building is more than 9 stories high (and those are few and far between and only found in the capital Muscat). He has even regulated the colours one can paint their house or a commerical building - usually in white, pink, or natural light brown.
The part of Oman that we visisted was new to me. It is an enclave completely surrounded by the UAE and is found at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula touching the Strait of Hormutz, just a few kilometres from Iran. Forty percent of the world's oil supply passes through the Strait by tanker.
The road to Khasab, where we picked up our boat tour, hugged the Arabian Gulf with the stoney, jagged Hajar Mountains protruding up from the other side. It was spectacular as the video and pictures. The water is a turquoise blue, bordered by either white rocks or immaculate white sand beaches.
We drove the winding road on our way to Khasab. The views were stunning. We arrived at the picturesque town of Khasab where we would board our boat (about twice the size of a PEI lobster boat). There was just us five, four others, and the crew of three. The boat was laden with rugs and cushions for high-intensity lounging. I was chilling when I heard a lot of commotion. The dolphins had appeared and were trailing alongside our boat, jumping and turning on their sides as if to show off or wave to us. We then moored for a snorkel. The other gang were quick to get geared up and take in the the crystal clear turquoise waters. I was hesitant and eventually decided to ask for a life jacket and went in. Many beautiful and colourful fish were about.
Following the snorkel the crew prepared us a great meal. We then did a slow sail to another snorkel site. Dave and Deidre participated, but Ashley, Lynda and I stayed aboard. The crew through lunch leftovers into the water and there was a feeding frenzy. We could see the fish so clearly, some almost jumping out of the water. It was fantastic.
A slow sail back and we arrived back at Khasab where Yousef was waiting with his usual mischievious grin. The trip back was much faster on account of a more streamlined crossing back into UAE and Yousef clocking up to 160 km/h. We said our good-byes to Yousef - who hung out front of the villa for about 20 minutes getting caught up on his nicotine, with radio blaring. It was a great day. Top of the list of activities so far.

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