Our Modest Road Trip to the UAE continues on the humbler side of the Hajar Mountains, i.e. Oman. We imagined a scenic ride along the beach, watching the waves crash into the coast; only to discover that you can’t see the coast from the road that extends from the border, Khatmat Malahah, down towards Muscat. Oops! No frets though, we eventually worked the beach into our adventure even though it was too cold for swimming!
After crossing into Oman in the early afternoon, we made plans to stop at the beach in Sohar for some refreshments and sand play. As we turned into Sohar, we wondered if we would find any establishments open since it was that opportune napping/siesta time between the noon and afternoon prayer. We missed our turn to the municipal park to access the beach and found a parking lot to turn around just pass Sohar Beach Resort. To our surprise we saw a sign: Africa Coffeehouse and Restaurant.
Very curious sign (especially considering the weight of bearing an entire continent on your eatery’s name). Our patient tummies have become accustomed to the restraint of verifying two facts before preparing to eat:
1. Is it open?
2. Anything vegan on the menu?
I entered the coffeehouse/restaurant for the reconnaissance mission and was greeted by a friendly, South Asian waitress. I was pleased to see a vegetarian section on the menu but still struggling to make the “Africa” connection until I realized that the offerings were Zanzibari/Swahili food. Yes, we’re still in Arabia and if you haven’t heard, there are Black people here! Not just from Zanzibar either! There are homegrown Omanis who have as familiar faces as our relatives but have never left the Gulf. This is one of the many features of Oman we love: the diversity in appearance. We rarely “stand out” and that often serves us well.
The menu was appetizing and including a variety of fresh juices. We settled on a “Green Goddess” drink of kiwi, celery, cucumber, green apple, and lemon. Delish! After Lil’ Z mastered her straw-sucking skills with our carrot juice that morning, she was ripe and ready to rip into our drink. We also ordered Maharage (kidney beans in “African” sauce) and Mhogo (cassava in coconut gravy), with a side of Swahili chapatti.
The food was bomb! Our first experience of Swahili food was a huge hit and we savored every last bite. The so-called “African” sauce was a coconut-milk based sauce, similar to that of the cassava dish. The ambiance was artistic and contemporary, with a touch of tradition. We were warmly attended to by all of the servers and welcomed to return anytime.
Oh yes, back to the beach.
We let Lil’ Z play in the sand with her new-found seashell and saw riding horses before continuing on our journey. We drove one more hour to Suwayq where our hosts received us with true Omani hospitality.
After a late night, we pushed out early to visit Ayn Al-Kasfa, a hot spring in Rustaq.
I’ve heard of hot springs before but this hot spring was like boil-an-egg hot. Sheesh! I guess you get used to it because children were dipping in and out with no woes. Interestingly, the spring is hot when the weather is cool and cool when the weather is hot! Subhan’Allah! The ayn has sheltered stalls for visitors to enjoy, separated by gender.
We took a nap and rustled ourselves to go out once again. This time, we were going “house hopping” to meet and greet friends and relatives of our hosts. Of course, you can’t go to an Omani’s home without being fed, so each of our three stops had meals and refreshments. By the end of the long day, we were tired of eating all of the delicious vegan food, specially prepared for us.
On the last day of our tour, our hosts prepared a delicious breakfast, we packed up “Suzi” and headed home, carrying warm memories and the subtle scent of bukhoor (incense) in our clothes. Along the journey we reflected on our “week on the road” and Lil’ Z serenaded us with some of her original renditions, sung to the tune of cute. It was such a joy to not only see new places but to see Lil’ Z’s interactions with new places and people. She’s always initially watchful but her warmth rises and peaks shortly thereafter. When she sees other children, she waves and “talks” to them, looking at them directly in their eyes. She generously offers them their toys and attentively listens to their conversation. She plays with them well and cries when they cry. To see her little spirit and personality blossoming is such a treat, masha’Allah. May Allah protect her big heart and use it to bring comfort to the hearts of others- ameen!