Thursday, 13 October 2016

Beyond Oman: Diving in the Red Sea

Leaving it so long to write up this post has worked out quite well. It's nice to reminisce about the last holiday and the last time I was able to dive before I found out I was expecting. We visited Egypt in February going primarily because of a friends wedding, but deciding to make a diving and a sight-seeing break out of it, too. This post will focus on the diving holiday.

The Red Sea is probably one of the best-known diving and snorkelling locations, and I can see why. That said, February isn't the best time of year to go, but more on that later.

We decided to stay away from the typical resort location of Sharm El Sheik and stay a little outside of Hurghada in Safaga. Although from Europe it is one flight straight to Hurghada, we had to take three. Oman to Amman, Amman to Cairo, and Cairo to Hurghada. On arrival, we were picked up by a very entertaining driver called Mahmood who spent the journey telling us all the problems with Egypt and the Middle East and what he would do to solve them. He also told us just how bad the tourism situation was. Ours was the first job he had had in a week. I expected the area to be quite (February isn't peak diving season), but not as quite as it was. Our resort had a total of five guests, and that was after we arrived. The other resorts in the area had similar numbers. So great for tourists looking for a cheap deal, but not so good for the locals trying to make a living.

We stayed at Orca Village, a hotel linked to the Orca Dive Resort. The general idea behind a diving holiday is that is all you do. Our routine was to rise early for breakfast, get on the boat at 8 am, and then spend the day at sea. The diving only takes up two hours, and you don't even travel that far out to get to the dive sites, but you spend a lot of time just relaxing and enjoying the ocean. We would arrive back at the dock/hotel at around 4 pm, shower and rest, then dinner at around 7 and bed by 9 pm, ready to repeat the whole thing the next day.

Before this trip, I'd only ever travelled by speed boat to dive sites, which isn't the most comfortable way of travelling. While the Orca Dive Club owns a few different boats, because of the locations we were visiting and the number of guests we spent all our days on the Alia 3, which is a nice big boat with a good area for kitting up and a sundeck to relax on in between dives. Lunch was freshly prepared on the boat every day and never failed to impress. Diving is one of those things that makes you very hungry and a lot of the time any food will do, but the guys on the boat did a great job, and every day was different. The dinner at the hotel was also fantastic, and catering for such a small number of people meant that we had what seemed more like home cooking than your typical hotel buffet.

Wow, all these words, and no mention of the diving yet. No surprises that it was amazing. The Red Sea is full of coral and lots of interesting sea life, and the visibility was always great. We mostly saw small things, and it was nice that a lot of them were things we hadn't seen before, but there is big stuff to be seen (sharks, dolphins, etc.) at the right time of year and site.

Rather than waffle on much more, I'll leave you to enjoy lots of pictures instead. We also fit in our advanced diving course out there, which worked out cheaper than Oman and were lucky to get an excellent instructor. If I had to pick a negative about the whole trip, it's that the water was freezing! As I mentioned before February is not diving season and even with a thermal rash guard, two thick wetsuits and a hood, I found it pretty cold. But, that just gives us an excuse to go back in the summer when the water is warm and you don't even need a wetsuit.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Road trip: The Roses of Jebel Akhdar

After several failed attempts to explore Jebel Akhdar, I finally made it up there to see the roses in bloom back in April.

Jebel Akhdar (translation, the Green Mountain), is part of the Al Hajar Mountain range. It takes about an hour and a half to drive to from Muscat, or less depending if you have a driver who likes to put his foot down. At its peak, the mountain is 3,000 metres high, and you don't appreciate just how high this is until you arrive at the base and get your first glimpse at the steep the road to the top.

The mountains are the perfect place to escape to in the summer since it is significantly cooler up there. The temperature was 30 degrees at the base and 20 degrees at the top.

It is called the Green Mountain because at the higher altitudes there is precipitation, which means the land is moist enough to allow the growth of shrubs and trees and support agriculture, which includes pomegranates, apricots, peaches, and walnuts. This time, we were here for the roses. The roses are used to make the famous Omani rosewater, which we were told was the most sought-after rose water in the region. It is added to drinks and food, typically Omani halwa and coffee, and it is also thought to be good for the heart, arthritis, and headaches if you rub it in the relevant areas.

We visited the rose gardens and distiller with Guide Oman. They have a great relationship with a few Omani heritage workers, Abdullah being one of them. Abdullah is one of five Omani's left making rose water the traditional way. According to him, he had been making water since the day his eyes had opened. He wakes up early in the morning when its cool (and before the petals get a chance to bloom fully and lose their aroma) and picks the flowers. It takes 7.5kg of roses to make a Vimto sized bottle of rose water, which is a lot of roses.

The whole flower is then put into an earthenware pot with water, sealed up, and a wood fire lit underneath and left to boil for a couple of hours. The rose-flavoured steam then condenses into a metal container that is inside the pot, and it is then filtered to get rid of the oily residue. This produces a dark and very smoky-smelling rose water, which is nothing like the rose water that I expect everyone has seen and smelt before. The 'traditional', clear rose water is produced by boiling the flowers rather than the wood burner technique.

After seeing the distillery, we walked along to Seeq Village, part of Saiq Plateau. There we got to see the Damascus rose bushes as well as pomegranates, onions, garlic, walnuts, figs and other plants I didn't recognise, and lots of toads.

We then had a very tasty lunch at the Sahab Hotel, which has spectacular views from the gardens of the terraces.

The roses season is over for this year so if you do want to see them mark April on your calendar as the best time. Guide Oman are mostly known for their desert crossing trips, but they do offer unique experiences like these and the relationships they have mean that you do get access to places and people that you might not otherwise see just making the journey there yourself. We paid 45 OMR for the day (which included lunch and drinks). Details of this and the other tours they offer can be found on their website.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Al-Hoota Cave

I've been feeling this push to tick off as many Oman attractions as physically possible before the baby arrives. Al-Hoota Cave was something I read about before I even moved to Oman, but until about two weeks ago it had been closed.

Now there are two sides to the cave experience, being inside the cave and waiting to get inside. I'll start with the former.

The cave is estimated to be over 2 million years old, and while it has a total length of 4.5 km, about 0.5 km is accessible via a guided tour. Inside are epic rock formations created by water. You enter the cave via an electric train in groups of around 75 and walk along stairs and ramps to explore the various parts. The pace of the tour is a comfortable one, which is great considering it is very hot and humid inside. The guides stop at various points and tell you a bit about the history of the cave, how it was formed, animals living inside etc, and it takes around 45 minutes to do the full circuit.

The cave has been closed for the last four years, but once you step inside you can see the effort that has gone into making it suitable for visitors; there are sturdy paths and steps and good lighting (although there doesn't seem to be disabled access). The cave is mostly rocky, but towards the end of the tour there is a lake, which contains some blind fish and provides a much-needed breeze before you make your way to the exit and take the train back to the main entrance. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to fill this post with pretty pictures of the inside of the cave because you aren't allowed to take any, but it is definitely worth a visit, and in theory you could combine it with a trip up to Jebel Shams, as the cave is found at the base of the mountain. It's also worth mentioning that there is a very interesting museum that you can also visit, which has a bit more information about the cave and the general geology of Oman, and there is a place to get food and drinks.

The reason say "in theory" you could combine a trip to the cave with another activity is that getting inside is quite another thing. The cave does have a fancy new website to go with it, and there you can book tickets for a particular time slot, and find out more information about the cave. It certainly gives off a very professional vibe, and you would expect a very organised, smooth operation when you get there.

The first problem starts in the car park. Considering the cave can take 750 visitors a day, there isn't enough parking to accommodate everyone, and if you are unlucky you'll have to park a fair walk away. It's the same with the waiting area inside, and there is general chaos as everyone pushes and bundles together to either sort out their tickets or get on the train. Unfortunately, the people in charge don't do a good job of letting people know there is a system (you get assigned a group number when you collect your tickets) and it means that people just start pushing and generally being disorderly. We did book ahead and had a 12.45 time slot, but this seems mostly arbitrary, and we didn't get in until around 2.30. Interestingly on that day they had been taking bookings between 1 and 2pm, even though we were told there was a "break" at that time. I'm not sure if that break happens every day, but it's worth noting. Your best bet would be to arrive first thing in the morning, and make sure to book tickets as I've heard you can get turned away otherwise.

I don't know if we got particularly unlucky with the day we went (Eid holidays, a few days after opening) but, I hope, the running issues get sorted out quickly and the cave can be the nice addition to the Oman attraction scene that it should be.

Check out Al-Hoota Cave website, here, for more information and to book tickets. 

Monday, 5 September 2016

Pregnancy in Oman: Part 1

Hesitantly, I label this part one. I have the very best of intentions to make this at least a two part post, but anyone who has read this blog even semi-regularly will know I can be a very lazy blogger.

I'm into the last stretch of my pregnancy, and I thought it would be nice for myself to document how its all been going as well as a little bit about how the process works in Oman.

I'll start with me...

I figured out I was pregnant pretty quickly, at about four weeks, and decided soon after that we would keep the news to ourselves until the traditional 12-week mark. I was excited, happy, and fearful all at the same time, which for baby number one I expect is entirely normal. My main fears were about being so far away from home: I still don't understand the health system or process here. More than anything, I was disappointed that I wouldn't get to share the pregnancy progress with my family. Having shared every major life milestone with them up to now this still seems like a huge one to be missing.

I didn't get any morning sickness, I did, however, hibernate for a good couple of weeks, feeling completely exhausted all the time. That wasn't helped by getting a cold that I had no idea how to treat, and I doubted my usual pop-Panadol-until-you-feel-normal strategy was a good one. This was also my first experience of the health centre, which I'll get to later. Pretty much on cue, at 12 weeks I felt better again, but from what I understand the tiredness will creep back in again soon.

Other random symptoms I had in the first trimester included having a metallic taste in my mouth, all the time. Eating helped, but eating non-stop isn't a solution. I had read about women suffering from this for the whole pregnancy, which I dreaded, but luckily it stopped. Disappointingly, I haven't had any cravings. The only difference is wanting my drinks extra cold because I always feel overheated, but considering the temperatures this summer I'm not sure that counts as a craving. I think I'll have to make up a craving and send my husband out for some random treat at a weird hour...just to say I've done that.

I felt the first "flutters" at around 13 weeks, but considering one of the "side-effects" of pregnancy are digestions issues (I'll say no more), I was never sure what was baby and what was digestion. As for the first official kicks, they were a couple of weeks later (I'm regretting not making more of a mental note of the date), and now the baby is very active at random points in the day and will stop when anyone wants to feel.

Ok, enough of me and now onto the baby and healthcare.

As I mentioned, my first experience of the local health centre was when I caught a cold, which made me feel even more tired and weak than I had been feeling. I took the day off work and spent most of it in bed, then went to the health centre to get a sick note and maybe some drugs. After waiting over half an hour, I was asked if I would mind seeing a male doctor and because I didn't, I could be seen sooner. I explained my symptoms and mentioned as a passing comment that I was six weeks pregnant. The horror that passed over the doctor's face was quite something, and he told me that if I was pregnant I really needed to see a female doctor. I told him I wasn't there about the pregnancy specifically that I just felt awful and needed him to bare that in mind if he thought I should take anything. He told me I needed bed-rest and then granted me a generous one-day leave from work (the day I had already called in sick). I let the sickness ride itself out, and slept a lot at my desk.

I started off at Starcare thinking that our insurance would cover me, I had a scan to get a rough idea of how far along I was and was advised that I would need to have a bookings appointment and get my green card. Since this would all be at a cost at Starcare, I went to my local health centre and decided to continue my care there.

What I didn't realise at the time is that you can register at any health centre, and some will have more facilities and different types of doctors available than others. I just went to the one closest to my home. They took blood to test my glucose levels, HIV status, and some other blood-related things, and a urine sample to test for infection. There are no appointments at the health centres, and you are seen first-come-first-serve. It took me a good half hour to figure that out. Even though you check-in at reception, you aren't called in by the doctor, and you need to walk into the doctor's office and leave your green card/ID on the table otherwise you'll just be hanging out in the waiting room. After a week I returned to get all the results and be officially registered as pregnant, which is when I got my green card, had a dating scan with a radiologist, and a brief visit with the doctor. The strangest part of the doctor's consultation was that as part of the chest exam I was given some advice about how I should breastfeed, which seemed utterly useless at that stage of the pregnancy especially since all the information I was given about my next appointment was "check-up".

At that same appointment, I was booked in for my 5-month scan, which would be at a local polyclinic since the health centre didn't have the facilities. I was also asked to come in for a glucose test since I have a family history of diabetes. Again no set times for either appointment, but showing up as soon as the clinic opens has been a good strategy for getting in and out as quickly as possible. I would say all my appointments and check-ups have averaged at two-hours. The polycentre where I had my 5-month scan is especially efficient, having my fasting blood sugar results processed within two hours. The only disappointing part of the experience was that my husband wasn't allowed to join me for the scan purely based on the radiologist being a bit miserable. Considering that our first view of the baby together was nothing but a small blob, we were both excited to see something a little more human and from speaking to the nurses it was at the radiologist's discretion if your husband could attend so to be told he couldn't come in with me was very upsetting. I was given some excuse about time, but I don't think him sitting in the corner would have affected anything; it's just a totally female environment, and she was being miserable. The scan reassured me that all was as well as they could tell growth-wise.

Having hit the third trimester now, check-ups will be monthly, and I have another scan booked in just over a month before the baby is due.

My overall feeling of the pregnancy is one of ignorance: I haven't really seen anyone or been told that much. There is no assigned midwife to call with any questions (which is the system in the UK), and I haven't seen the same doctor twice. While everyone has access to my notes, that is nowhere near the same as having a doctor or midwife who has seen and had regular conversations with you. Also, there is also no general care, and by this I mean general advice about the pregnancy and what to expect, how to stay comfortable, if certain symptoms are normal and how to deal with them. I've had to turn to the internet and books to get the answers. The doctors also ask questions without giving me the information to answer them properly. For example, "are the babies kicks good?" Based on me feeling kicks, they're great, but should they be more or less? That's something I would expect the doctor to tell me.

While I've tried not to think about the birth, being only 11 weeks away now, I would expect some advice or to be asked if I have any ideas or preferences about how it happens. I don't think there are any birthing or antenatal classes (although I have seen some advertised privately). I know every woman says that birth plans tend to go out of the window, but I have no idea if they encourage natural, drug-free births, if something like an episiotomy is routine, or if my preferences will be respected and taken into consideration. My biggest fear is them doing things without my consent.

There are times I wonder if using the government facilities was a wise move mostly because I know they will continue to tell me nothing without a lot of questioning and effort on my part. Having read blogs about other people's birth experiences in private facilities, I don't know if that would have been a better option and as I write and think more about this the temptation to jump on a plane back home is huge. Ultimately, I think I am just going to have to take the attitude that it will all come down to luck (keeping my fingers crossed that I have helpful and compassionate staff on the day, and the baby comes out without too much difficulty), and this would be the case wherever in the world I am.

I may post a blog about the books and resources I have found helpful but, otherwise, I will try to go back to regular postings and follow-up with my (hopefully) happy birth experience story sometime after November! 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Why I've been a rubbish blogger

One of the "rules" you see about blogging is never to apologise for an absence. Most people don't care or notice that you've not been updating, and yet, I feel like I should explain.

Really, I haven't been that bad; just extremely lazy. I have at least five posts ready in draft format waiting for images. But, for reasons that will become obvious, downloading the pictures from my memory card has become this huge, arduous task that I haven't had the energy or inclination to do. I will get round to it, eventually.

And the reason for everything: I'm having a baby.

My first instinct after finding out was to run home. Not because I wasn't happy about it, but because I didn't want to start a family until we left Oman. The thought of going through pregnancy and childbirth in a country I don't consider home with friends, family, and convenience all thousands of miles away is scary. But I've had enough time now to accept the fact and, if nothing else, the experience will make for an interesting blog post or two.

As a government employee, I am entitled to care at the local health centres and hospitals - saving us a chunk of money since my husband's work insurance doesn't cover maternity. I've also heard that the government healthcare is better (and in worst case scenarios you would be transferred to a government hospital anyway). The obvious difference so far is that the private hospitals are shiny and modern compared to the health centres. In terms of the service, the main observation I can make is that no one likes to tell you what's going on or why you need to do something. In my case, I suspect that the occasional language barrier doesn't help; but, it is entirely possible that I just ask far more questions than the average person.

I will blog more about this in another post, purely out of interest sake since I appreciate many people don't have the option to use this system. I won't be posting weekly updates for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don't think they'll be that interesting (reading around the subject I've had things pretty easy up to now), and secondly, I'm already over halfway through. Finally, as we have already established, I've been feeling pretty lazy. I spent most of the first trimester asleep, and trimester two seems to be a test of my willpower not to eat 24/7, which was only made harder during Ramadan. I went through that phase of looking like I had just let myself go a bit, and now a am sporting a small, but definite, bump. I'm not sure how normal this is, but it does double in size after dinner, and seeing myself inflate at night and deflate by the morning is weirdly entertaining. 

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Here comes the summer

I dread the arrival of summer in Muscat -- the heat, the boredom. Ergh. But this year I've made plans.

1. Troom Oman Escape Room. I've wanted to visit Troom for a while, but I decided to wait for the summer since it is an indoor thing. It's an escape room game where you need to look for clues and solve puzzles to find the key to get out. You get an hour in total, and there are three different themed rooms, which means the chance for more than one trip.

2. Camping in the mountains. We have a camping trip planned to Jebel Shams next month, and if that goes well, I would also like to try Jebel Al Akhdar. Mountains being high as they are means that the temperature is much cooler. If camping isn't your thing, there are hotels, which I would hope will have some special rates for the summer.

3. Go snorkelling or scuba diving. As you all know, diving is my thing now and no phrase rings truer when you think about how hot the summer can get here than the words of Sabastian from The Little Mermaid: "Darling it's better down where it's wetter". Be warned, though. When you are in the water, all is amazing, but it will be very hot travelling to and from the sites and you need to be very careful about getting sunburnt. I'm speaking from sore experience.

4. Visit Salalah. The most popular time to visit Salalah is the Khareef (monsoon) season when the place turns green and cool. That said it is one of those places you can visit anytime, and probably best to visit out of peak season when the hotels get expensive and full. If we do manage to see it this year, I will probably try to plan the trip just outside of the busy season (August) so it's not too crowded and expensive.

5. Spend the day at Wadi Shab. I'm adding this to the list not really knowing if Wadi Shab is feasible when it's hot. I've heard great things about the place, and many people claim it is a favourite so I want to see it for myself.

There are of course lots of other places to be entertained indoors -- the cinema, bowling alleys, ice rink, and the "shopping centres" -- but I do prefer the atypical options.

Where do you plan on seeing out the summer? More ideas are most welcome! 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Out and about: Jebel Sifah

One of my favourite stretches of beach in Oman is at Jebel Sifah. It's one of those places that if in doubt we'll just head there to hang out or have a BBQ. 

So when Jebel Sifah invited my family and me to spend the weekend there, we didn't take long to accept the invite. 

We usually get there by car. The drive takes you through the mountains on long windy roads that open up to pools of water. But, this time, we arrived via water taxi, which is a completely different experience. The taxi leaves from Marina Bandar Rowda and arrives in the marina of Jebel Sifa about 45 minutes later, taking you past the Al Bustan Hotel, Shangri-La and then stretches of mountains. 

When we arrived, we checked into a huge two bedroom flat with a view of the sea. The development is very much like The Wave, with a mixture of flats and houses, coffee shops, places to eat, and, most excitingly, a brand new dive centre. 

One of the great things is that while you have access to the beach and sea, you are also free to enjoy the pool at the hotel Sifawy (which also has a impressive Friday brunch and dinner buffet). 

We had the option to take part in water activities, too. Diving was unfortunately cancelled because of strong winds, but my husband did have a go at jet skiing (I was too scared). 

We also got a chance to look at how the development will expand in the future, with the addition of a couple of 5-star hotels, a golf course, and more houses and flats. It will be impressive. The flats we stayed in are available to rent, either via the hotel for short-term/weekend stays, but there is the option for long-term renting, too.  

We had a great weekend, thank you to Jebel Sifah and Muriya for having us. We'll be back! 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Expat Life: Top tips for relocating to Oman

I've filled out a couple of questionnaires about my blog and what it is like being an expat in Oman recently and they, typically, would ask for top tips when it comes to living here. So I thought I would collate my answers and add a little more information for anyone about to make the journey or new to the place. That said, I would like to think these tips are useful wherever in the world you are going.

Before you arrive
1) Get your paperwork in order.
Get marriage certificates and education certificates attested. We were given a lot of wrong information from my husband's company about what we would need to have. This meant FedEx'ing documents back to the UK to be attested, which is expensive and time-consuming. Think ahead and bring all the documents you could be asked for.

2) Pack home comforts.
I was very naive about how hard I would find the transition, but my best friend gave me this tip, and she was so right: pack home comforts and things that are familiar to you. I specifically remember her telling me she took the Boots home-brand facial wipes and cotton pads, and this makes so much sense. While shopping in a new place can be exciting, it can also be incredibly annoying, especially if you don't recognise brands or can't even figure out what a product is because you can't read the packaging. Having those small things that add a bit of normalcy to such a big change can make a huge difference.

3) Read blogs.
Mine obviously, as well as all the people in my blog roll. They will give you an idea of what life is like here and what you can look forward to. Obviously, you will continue to do this after you arrive too.

4) Join Facebook groups.
There are loads of Muscat-related groups, some for buying and selling furniture and such, others for asking questions, and some for reviews of restaurants, spas, etc. They are great sources of advice and information.

5) Spend time alone.
Undoubtedly you will feel isolated, and you have to get used to dealing with that feeling or being alone or lonely. There will also be situations when you will be trying your best to communicate with someone, but you just don't understand one another, if you want to get used to this maybe try having a serious conversation with a toddler.

After you arrive 

Now I'm going to leave out the obvious here, because there obvious (get a roof over your head, furniture, bank account, etc.)

1) Get out and drive.
Don't end up like me so scared of the roads that you don't go out and explore. Get in the car, expect that people are going to drive fast and very close to you and if you are from the UK get over the fact that you are driving on the wrong side of the road. I don't think I ever used my horn before living here; now it is almost daily. It's normal.

2) Forget about time.
Time. Deadlines. These words mean nothing here. If you give up on expecting anything to be done in a hurry, you'll be just fine.

3) Socialise
There are a few expat social groups for women, which I have blogged about before, and via Facebook, you can find groups related to any particular interests you may have. There is also a handy "local events" tab where you can find out about stuff happening that you might want to go to.

4) Find a new hobby
Chances are whatever hobby you had before you moved to Oman exists here, but there is the chance to get into new hobbies, particularly outdoor ones. I discovered scuba diving, but there are plenty of other water sports, there is also hiking, driving, camping, cycling, and I am sure much more. If you aren't so into the outdoors, there are also clubs for playing games, arts and crafts, reading. And if it turns out that there isn't a club/group for your particular thing, it's easy enough to start your own.

I hope that is helpful to anyone moving. Those of you who already made the move, what would your piece of advice be?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Life Lately: The great outdoors

These life lately posts originally started as fillers making up for the gaps I would have because I was busy with other things. Those gaps seem to be getting bigger but, sadly, I can't say I've been doing much with my time.
The biggest adventure of the last couple of months was a two-week holiday in Egypt, I've already started the detailed post, but, in short, it was amazing. Egypt is the only place I can ever say I have wanted to visit so describe it as a dream come true isn't an exaggeration. It wasn't a trip we had been planning, but an invite to a friends wedding gave me the excuse I needed to get my husband to agree to go. We split the holiday between diving, sight-seeing, and the wedding. It was only two weeks, but even if it had been double the time, it wouldn't have been enough to see and do everything. If you have a chance to go, you really should.

As I mentioned in my last post, most of the winter was spent diving or thinking about diving. Just this week I discovered that Oman has two diving clubs, one linked with PDO (and open to PRORC members only) and another, Muscat Divers, based at Marina Bandar Rowdah. The advantage of being part of a dive club, apart from the social aspect, is that it is much cheaper than diving with any of the operators. I'm still waiting for an email back from Muscat Divers and hoping that being part of the club is going to open up a whole new side of diving life.

Finally, our other outdoor activity has been camping. It's one thing that I never thought I would enjoy, anywhere. We went camping twice this winter, both times on the beach, and I loved it. So much so that I am hoping we can fit in another trip before the weather gets too hot. The other option once summer does kick in is to flee to the mountains, but that seems like it would need more planning than just settling down on any patch of dry sand. If you have suggestions for camping spots in the mountains, I would love to hear about them. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Diving in Oman

I will begin with a disclaimer; I still consider myself a new diver. That basically means that there are times where I find myself still flapping about rather than looking like the graceful mer-like people you see in any diving video. I am okay with admitting this because diving is a constant learning process and I really can't expect to be at dive 20 where someone on their hundredth-plus dive is.

For wiser words and thoughts on diving, I would read Captain Blue Finger's blog. He was a diving instructor here in Oman and is a fantastically witty writer.

My aim is just to get anyone thinking about diving that push to book a discovery session or even a course. Since getting certified last summer, a lot of my weekends have been spent diving, or planning when I will next dive. Hence, the lack of adventures and posts on this blog.

In my limited experience, I would say that Oman is a great place to learn and dive. The waters are relatively calm, so travelling to the dive site is bearable for anyone who is easily nauseated, like me. I also haven't experienced any strong currents here. Maybe that is just luck on my part, but having done drift dives in Bali, and clinging to a rock in the Maldives, I am aware of that feeling of not being totally in control. As a beginner, calm water does make it easier for you, although later on you may yearn for the easiness of having the sea carry you along while you admire the view.

Now, the diving schools. I have tried most of the ones located around The Wave (or Al Mouj as it is now called). I won't go into too much of a review with them, but I would say they run the operations similarly. You don't get any luxury treatment like you do in Asia, with people setting up your equipment for you while you snack on wafers and drink juice, but some are more organised with getting you your equipment than others. And some offer much newer and well-maintained kit.

I did my training with Omanta with a female instructor called Faye. She was fantastic, really calm and patient, completely understanding of how weird it is to do scuba for the first time, and keen to get you to be a good diver with good habits. I was fortunate to learn one-on-one, which I am not sure standard practice, but was great because you get all the attention. Unfortunately, Faye has now left Oman so I would suggest that whatever dive school you go with you meet whoever is going to teach you and make sure you get along. Like anything, if you are comfortable around someone you will be more responsive to the learning.

I blogged about the theory side of the learning; understanding the physics underwater, how it affects you, and the dangers. The practical is spent putting skills into practice, what happens if you lose your mouthpiece, run out of air, lose your mask, that sort of thing. You also learn things you will be expected to do every dive, such as figure out how much additional weight you will need and how to clear your mask if water leaks in.

Without wittering on too much in this post, I'll leave you with a round-up of my favourite diving pictures and a video starring yours truly.

Monday, 18 January 2016

2015 in review

2015 in Review

My look at 2014 post went down well last year, so before we get too far into 2016, I thought I would do the same and record my highlights of 2015.

January was mostly uneventful, but I did have my first meeting of the WGO book club, which has been successfully running for one-year. We've read 12 books together, and the group is still going strong, which is something I am proud of.

February marked my first year of living in Muscat and my one-year wedding anniversary. We stayed at Shangri-La to mark the occasion. I also had my sister visiting for most of February, and we visited Wahiba Sands and Wadi Bani Khalid. Ed Sheeran also came to town, followed by Trevor Noah in March.

In April, my aunt, mum, and cousin came to visit. We took more trips to the desert and also a dolphin trip. I mostly enjoyed arriving home to find dinners of all the foods I'd been missing.

In May, the summer slowdown began. We did sneak in a trip to Dubai, which involved what all trips to Dubai involved: eating and shopping. May also marked six months at my job and finally getting my annual leave allowance.
scuba diving

June was the start of my scuba diving course. It took place over two weekends, and I consider getting certified and all the diving trips that followed my highlight of the year.

July was Ramadan.

In the last week of July and for most of August I was in London. I hadn't been home since October the year before. I spent lots of time with family and friends and did a lot of eating and walking around.

We spent five days in Singapore at the end of September. This was our summer holiday for the year, and I do have a post on that coming up. We continued our holiday into October staying for 12 nights in Bali. Starting off in the more rural Ubud, and ending up in Seminyak. We went scuba diving, hiking, bike riding, horse riding, rode ATVs, had lots of massages, and lounged by the pool.

November and December were all about making the most of the good weather here. We had our first try of camping and also did lots of scuba diving. We also snuck in a trip to the Maldives to make the most of the national day holidays - I wrote about that recently, here.

I do feel very privileged that we had the opportunity to do and see so many fantastic things last year. I know that the lifestyle we have is a direct result of living and working in Oman. That said, I do hope 2016 will be the year we move on. As much as I have adjusted to the lifestyle, I also feel ready for a step-up career-wise, and I would like to start placing roots somewhere without the worry that we will suddenly have to leave.

As with everything...we'll see.