The dive shop probably opens by 7:30 so they can prep new divers but they don’t expect people to show until 8 am which is when I was finishing my broccoli, blackberries, and bread as I couldn’t get the enthusiasm for the passion fruit that felt like a mix of sour, bitter, and tart while chewing on the seeds that the internet recommends you swallow for the benefits without releasing the extra flavor via chomping. The shop was between hanging our things up outside and putting them on a bench inside to dry when we arrived, so I wrung out what I could and we went back to the room to pack some and put the wet gear in the sun while waiting for mini-golf to open.
A lot of the activities offered at the resort come with an added cost but we were unfortunate that the one complimentary entertainment idea was still under maintenance (which is why we missed it yesterday located by the spa) because there will be more tarp and holes than tees and clubs until tomorrow when we’re already back in Bahrain writing about this trip and telling the guys about it at work. Also included with the room is water bottles (though there is one sign that says you can purchase a reusable one to use at their flavored water stations in each lobby) they also supply mini coolers with a few plastic bottles each between lounge chairs by the pool.
The hotel has a shuttle service that takes guests to a nearby souq and the Avenues Mall (closer to the airport) so we will be on the 10:30 am ride as I shove another date in my mouth and throw the seed in the bowl before we part. The Lulu’s has a luggage service (apart from their usual your bag is too big we will hold it for you while you shop) where you leave your bag and they give you a corresponding numbered tag to take with you. We begin to walk around and I reach into my purse and come back empty-handed instead of with my phone to take a picture of a display.
Caleb calls the hotel who calls the driver and lets us know that I can have my phone that I forgot on the bus back at 12:40 and then 1 pm. A taxi driver offers us a ride for 8 and then 5 rials, but I tell him not until after lunch. Back inside we walk around and up and down and through the stores, get my phone, and then return to BBQ Nation where we decided to have lunch for what I thought would be a chilli fest, but that’s only for dinner. It’s a new Indian buffet restaurant chain and I love it. You get soups, salad, main courses, and desserts while the waiter brings you appetizers and other things to try according to your veg or non-veg preference.
I got grilled peppers, pineapples, and mushrooms on skewers at the grill in our table; some potatoes, crunchy corn, and a trio of veggie patties to try; and left Caleb’s pandan and date ice cream stick after he had already refused its delivery. The waiter couldn’t understand “no” when he reminded us that the food was limitless but forgot that our stomachs are not. It’s been a year since we’ve been to the movies and we weren’t going for great but something to pass the time for the next two hours.
The buffet was 6 OMR each, the movie 7 rials for both, and the taxi was 6 OMR after I haggled him down from 9 rials because I knew I could get it cheaper and that he didn’t have to pay airport fees. I knew we’d have to wrap our bags again, but this left me with 3 OMR in cash and the minimum per bag was 2 rial so I smiled when he said he takes Visa, but he also charged 6 OMR total. Oh well, our vacation would soon be over and we’d be in an Uber in Bahrain listening to the window flags on the car from National Day. Now I know what they sound like.
There are two ways to get to breakfast (bircher/mango muesli, congee (Chinese rice porridge), chickpea/couscous salad, pancakes with a thickened maple sauce, and Omani saffron pancakes with honey, etc.). One is to walk directly towards the group of tables from our room to the right and the other is to walk around the pool area and past the open door with just the sheer curtain closed (talk about feeling safe in the Middle East) though some people felt the need to guard their purse at the table, Caleb and I knew that the birds posed a higher risk of stealing food.
I get to take another walk around the pool while Caleb leaves me locked out of the room while we both move more slowly this morning not certain that we will be diving as the whitecaps (wind + water = choppy chaos) are increasing our chances that the boat won’t want to float in that situation. The shop is concerned about getting us to a new dive site, but I assure them that the closest one is fine if it means less possibility of someone getting seasick or Caleb hurting his neck. I even offered to dive in the marina as I’ve been told some turtles live there and I’ve seen one or two of them.
The first dive spot is a bit rough for the company’s standards but I have no problem enjoying the water and easily getting back onboard. I’ve had more trouble trying to get back on a dinghy in Baja California, Mexico or back onshore in La Jolla, California. Some turtle viewing and tea sipping after the second dive and we’re told that the afternoon is cancelled, whether we planned to go out or not, and we’re ok with that as it will give us time to explore the resort grounds before we leave tomorrow morning. The shop offers to rinse our gear and dry it for us so it’s travel-ready — we agree.
We get dropped off at the Omani Heritage Village (not one to avoid somewhere due to someone else’s negative review) and quickly realize why the ladies could get upset even though we enjoyed ourselves. The first shop was too hot, the second shop was too smelly, and the third shop was just right (as long as he left the door open) but it seemed the owners wanted to shut us in and limit distractions from their animal trinkets and woven garments and other touristy remembrances of a place.
It was in that moment I realized that though the Middle East might seem like a large sandbox to some just filled with camels and the people who ride them that through our travels we have noticed the differences and purchased memorabilia accordingly — for Oman that is frankincense and the traditional cap (kuma). Also in the village replica was a small section of their canal (falaj, and aflaj plural) system. Going through a door brought us into a car museum with military jeeps, family classics, and hand-crank start vehicles. There was also a craft room and sports section (trampoline and soccer) for kids with a large outdoor stadium on the other side of the building.
We meander along walkways and follow employees through parking lots, find some stairs (along with some aubergine and capsicum plants) but can’t find the mini-golf so we decide to read by the pool. My book is about animal competition against other animals and plants in weather extremes and predators amongst their species fighting to spread their genes and killing others to avoid being extinguished themselves.
Someone has secretly been bringing apples to our room, obviously room service, and we’ve been bringing back bananas from lunch and some bread from last night so I grab that to snack on while waiting two more hours for dinner to open at Chow Mee. My dinner will include stuffed tofu which is fancier than it sounds as it’s just carrots, sprouts, and green onions shoved into a wedge of coagulated and pressed bean curd which is still delicious and saved me room for pandan (that sweet green grass used in bread that I had in Singapore) crepes. They were fluffy but also stuffed with coconut covered in muscovado sugar which stole the flavor show.
Dinner was nothing to complain about though and I forgot we had plans to get some more night shots around the resort but what we hadn’t realized was just how rough the seas were today and how tiring that is when your whole body is at once going with the flow and then avoiding it and repeating this constantly for an hour at a time to get as close to sea life as possible without destroying it while also trying to look out into the blurry distance in the hopes of seeing another turtle or shark. Caleb wins the race to get under the sheets first but unlike him, I don’t pretend to read before falling asleep when other couples are just sitting down to their evening reservations.
Silly me to think I’d have all the same foods to choose from the breakfast buffet. We woke up earlier this morning just so that I’d have more time to get a second plate, but I still got the Waldorf salad — just apples, sambar rice without veggies or soup, and a grilled tomato. It’s amazing the variety of color in my diet when someone else does all the prep work — and this is healthier than filling up on sugar cookies with tea.
The shuttle is called and I get in and scoot over to make room for my husband when the boy with peach fuzz on his upper lip named Bart almost takes out my hand in a rush to sit next to me. I smile as I can hear Caleb and the boy’s mom laughing behind me. She’s about the size of her daughter and they were cold on yesterday’s ride so they asked the shop about sweaters. There weren’t any in Caleb’s size so I took one that will now be my designated dive hoodie and he can appreciate it on me.
Caleb and I watched an octopus climb under a large rock and instead of coming out of hiding to entertain the tourists he began to pull another rock in the hole he entered as more protection and camouflage. Back on board, I will learn a lesson about sitting next to my gear. I thought I saw this guy’s ass crack swallow my spare regulator (also called octopus), but luckily I was still seeing its bright yellow because it was turned the other way safely towards my BCD, but not something I want to risk thinking about the next time it goes near my mouth.
That same guy would later hit my knee with his set up as he had trouble getting in and out of his gear every time. It makes sense why he was in search of fins so desperately asking each person about the perks of theirs (and being offered to try different ones, which I hadn’t thought of, just been exposed to) and so surprised at our enthusiasm for diving as much as weather and company would allow in our time here, though I could’ve squeezed in a few more minutes each dive had I known they weren’t setting a timer, as we still had plenty of air.
Our second dive started with spotting the blacktip reef shark that quickly became a blur. They are about five feet long and no more than 30 pounds and though they attack one wading person every five years they’re on the Near-Threatened list for their meat, oil, and fins from being fished off the coasts of India and Thailand. It was such a beautiful dive full of clownfish in their anemones, sea cucumbers on the sand, shellfish in cracks, pufferfish floating, boxfish eating, lionfish hiding, a crown-of-thorns starfish, white peppered moray eel, and small pipefish (in the seahorse family).
We swam over and through some large rocks and I saw a large fishing net strangling coral, but Caleb said it was too much and illegal to disturb the environment (which I would leave alone if the rope had growth) but I saw a happy eel and some swimming fish so we kept on moving until I saw a crab tangled in another pile who just happened to be next to a lionfish and urchin (both with pointy dangerous parts) and I had to hold the rope to stay steady enough to use my tiny blunt-tipped knife for the first time. Caleb held the crab who seemed to cooperate at first as there was so much netting around his eight legs and got more frightened as he got more freedom, so I let him hold my knife handle while we worked off more with our fingers.
That took up some of our dive time, about ten minutes at least, so we decided to turn around and wouldn’t you know it… that fishing net that we had passed earlier had captured a victim in the time it took us to release the crab. This time it was a broomtail wrasse and he was already cut deep which made me want to cry more but I was so angry at the situation and wanted to stay and cut it all away (even if it meant switching tanks underwater) but I left the fish hiding under a rock and passed a turtle on the way back to the boat. I can’t help but wonder which animal will be next.
There is a crab taking advantage of his picnic in the sea on the next dock over when we return to drop the others off and have a box lunch with a slider in place of the delicious mini everything bagel (should’ve left the chef a note) that I was looking forward to. With not as much time to explore, we will take to the yacht side of the marina and have a peek at the outside of these million-dollar crafts with monthly payments that cost as much as I can afford on a new car (on a 15-year loan).
Mich asks if we want a guide for the afternoon as we will have the boat to ourselves. I offer that he can join us, but he’s not getting in unless he’s getting paid (those are the rules). We see some purple tang, pennant coralfish, big booty starfish (pin cushion sea star), Indo-Pacific sargeant fish, hard and soft coral, fish that like to rest in the sand in groups and then Caleb swims up to show me the picture he just took of my fins and a sea turtle. I’m happy that he got to see what I swam over on this low visibility and high surge dive.
With no other divers back at the shop we take off on foot to enjoy the afternoon walking by perfectly trimmed hedges and through the one-lane tunnel with a 90-second red light for cars and a separate space for pedestrians (which makes me wonder about the footprints on the inches of dirt available, possibly just to avoid the stairs). The shop rinses our gear and keeps it overnight, but they don’t charge our batteries (so it’s a good thing Caleb brought a power bank since we forgot last night) and left the GoPro tonight so we will take the shuttle back.
Four women join us on the bus — two for the Omani Heritage Village (that they weren’t impressed with) and two for the #BajOman sign near the marina though they were told they weren’t allowed in — which I understand with the super expensive yachts and dive boats why the hotel would want to limit liability. I was going to wait on the bus but offered to take a picture from every angle for both of them and individually. I also asked the bus driver to stop at the top of the hill so they could get a few more. We pick up the other two on our return to the hotel.
Trying to ask questions at the front desk can seem pointless as though the hotel’s website lists all the languages spoken at the resort it doesn’t claim that all of them will be understood by different staff and that’s reasonable, but it doesn’t stop me from trying as we got spoiled when we arrived. People come with individual strengths and knowing when to keep my mouth to myself is not one of mine. I just wanted to make sure that I was enjoying my stay to the fullest (though I didn’t know what that meant), but that’s for another day.
We will have dinner at Samba because it’s the closest restaurant with outdoor seating and has veggie options. I get the lentil soup and hummus with pita. Caleb gets the nachos grande and I’m grateful I don’t have to help him attack an American size portion as perhaps the name just refers to the large blue corn chips under some cheese and salsa. My soup feels watered down and no fresh green apple juice for dinner because they need it on the breakfast buffet. Life could be worse and I’m on vacation so I’ll leave the ridiculous complaints to others on Travelocity.
Our after-dinner walk will take us to Al Bandar to gander at the restaurant lights and different perspective of the sea and resort. There is a real gingerbread house that I would fit in with employees selling Santas, yule logs, mince pies, cylinders of cookies, and other holiday-themed treats. We walk into a shop and lucky for me the man tries to sell us both scarves — pashmina for me and cashmere for Caleb. It was fun trying them on but I already have a collection.
There’s a small art display upstairs, a carpet seller that must be napping (as they usually very eagerly approach a could-be customer), and a shop selling swimsuits. We take a detour back to the room by walking by the delivery entrance. Just because we’re diving doesn’t mean I can disappoint my activity tracker which will be easier to please in about seven years when I’m able to upgrade my dive computer to account for all the fin kicks under the sea.
We haven’t owned a TV in at least a decade (not to say that our Bahrain villas don’t come with one in each room, whether they’re hooked up or not) and sold our unused projector (or maybe gave it away because of a spare bulb issue) years ago, but we used to enjoy our raunchy, depraved, mindless moments in front of a set in a hotel room while traveling and I guess we’re growing up as that time is now spent reading if I’m not writing or falling asleep first.
SUNDAY Arriving at night comes with the joy of seeing things for the first time with fresh morning light. We wanted enough sleep to be rested for a possible full day of diving but I also wanted to be up to explore a bit and eat a lot before getting to the dive center at 7:40 am like we were asked. Swimsuits on with resort casual clothes on over, we exit the room to see a waterslide, palm trees, and mountains with plenty of lounge chairs and canopies in-between.
Breakfast is an overwhelming buffet of options — coffee, tea bags, karak, bakery station, omelet chef, six juices and four milks, fresh fruit bar, international soups and salads, Omani traditional snacks, a kid’s area, and so many other foods to choose from (as we think about what we will get tomorrow) as we only had time for one plate and a glass of green apple juice — one of my new favorites — and why isn’t this drink more popular?
The concierge calls the shuttle to deliver us to the marina but the driver lets us walk down the steep hill until he realizes we have bags and tries to offer help. It’s too late and we don’t care because we’re excited to be going diving. The land is yellow, the water blue, and the dive company has a reusable cup system which I like but a “use our numbered bag” policy which could be an inconvenience as our drybag is built into ours which we leave in the office with our dive logs as we follow the man carrying our gear. I lean over and tell Caleb, “I could get used to this”.
Michael, also called Mich, from Italy will be the divemaster for those needing a guide and an entertaining dive briefer to us on the expectations of the sites after getting Caleb hooked up with another regulator as his has issues again (the first time was a cracked o-ring). Mermaid Cove is a cuttlefish haven (or cephalopod mating area to the more scientifically interested, such as divemaster Tamsyn and I) with clearish water and beautiful reefs full of one of my new favorite fish — Arabian Boxfish aka Bluetail Trunkfish (Ostracion cyanurus).
Averaging 15 feet of depth in 79*F water (I had a 3mm and would’ve been more comfortable in a 5mm wetsuit) allowed us to get almost two hours of bottom time before lunch to spot some puzzle-piece fish (threespot dascyllus or domino damsel). Some people stay fully suited, others half wetsuit, and others into dry clothes for some hot tea with coconut cookies (or salt crackers) to dip. Caleb doesn’t have this issue as he’s diving in swim trunks and a long-sleeve rash guard and sipping coffee.
Back at the shop one of the hotels had delivered a boxed lunch for us (which can be arranged in advance — and I should’ve asked for veggie, but it worked out), so while others left for the day we sat down to a slider and mini bagel that I took the meat off of, two lunch meat wraps that I gave to Caleb (in exchange for his veggie one), a chicken leg, and an apple and banana wrapped in plastic. With an hour to spare, we walk to Al Hosn (the priciest rooms at the resort) where guests must be 16+.
The morning dives we were joined by Bill, also diving Nitrox, who is missing his wife on vacation with him but who can’t dive again until she gets her heart condition fixed. For the afternoon dive, we would be joined by a Dutch family currently living in Armenia (husband’s job has moved them to about five countries) and the kids are 12 and 13, but the daughter is going on 14 and is “woe is me… getting so old” as I think about how I’ve been with Caleb longer than she’s been alive — the other adults agree.
One of the first things a diver is taught after “Always Breath” is to check their buddies and themselves for BCD inflated and working, weights (on belt or integrated) and how to release them in an emergency, that their air is on and regulator functioning before they put goggles and fins on and enter the water. So you can imagine our surprise since we’re sitting on opposite sides of the boat when I enter the water without my tank open and have to call Caleb over to assist before our descent. The most dangerous part of a dive is still the boat — sunburn, pre-dive preparations, getting to and from boat/site.
We would double our average depth on this dive and make the mistake of trying to follow directions, “instead of following the reef just swim out to sea” like following the red line from Google Maps on the open road (there is no line) and when we lost visibility we lost the navigation (due to different headings on our compasses) to the place we were searching and ended up going almost 60 feet down (Nitrox works best between 50 – 100 feet). We cut our dive short to swim back over the shallow corals.
We enjoy a smooth cruise back to shore while watching the sunset behind the hills. Caleb thought we could change up the water temperature and get in the jacuzzi, but that would require a walk to another hotel, so we just slid into the heated pool for a race to the other side (forgetting about the loop on the other side of the bridge) and I was colder when we got out seconds later. Our shower though comes with options from comfortable to steam as 30 and 38 are written on the knob.
Classy as we are, we share a burrito that we brought with us before going to BAB Lounge on the boardwalk to enjoy the ambient lights, live DJ, and the snack tray: salt-n-pepper chips, carrot and zucchini sticks, and cheddar popcorn that Caleb thought was spicy. We saw Bill and he said he’d try to get some people to join us for a night dive — minimum four people required and good weather — we would get neither. We explored the water park and dhow lit up at night before going back to the room around 9 pm.
Spent the morning slowly packing and Caleb used the items from the fridge that might mold in a week to make breakfast and put the rest of the food in the freezer.
We had to wrap our dive bags, weighing together 19kg, in 0.2 g and 3 BD of plastic to align with Gulf Air’s new bag policy (less trash bags and ropes, more hard and one flat surface). We tried a white chocolate raspberry cheese brûlée that Caleb said had the aftertaste of medicine while we waited for our flight to board after 7 pm. He slept for most of the flight while I enjoyed reading from my first book, On the Origin of Species, on my Kindle.
Caleb and I have different traveling styles, not so much that we can’t explore together, but that the costs of doing so vary and creates laughing memories for later. Caleb doesn’t handle being accosted at the airport very well as he always just gives in unless I’m there to manage what he’s accidentally signing us up for (in Mexico it was almost a tour because he thought the guy was just showing us a map). Tonight it would be a pricier taxi ride, but hard to argue with their haggling system about how much we were overcharged (or just how well we tipped 5-10 OMR = $13-26) for our 45-50 km trip.
We got to the hotel we booked at around midnight because we didn’t realize it was a three hotel system resort (from family-friendly — what we would pay in San Francisco or Canada — to bourgeoisie out of our budget for even one night) at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah leaving us closest to Extra Divers Qantab without going to the pricier resort next door and trying to get a ride or going the cheaper hotel route and hitchhiking with staff or hoping for a taxi early enough to not miss the boat.
This option would also give us alternative activities to do sans rental car if the weather was too rough to dive. I took some time to appreciate the blue-lit rocks, the wooden deco benches, the art garden wall, and the empty calmness of the airport in Muscat. The night manager of the hotel came on duty just as we arrived and though Caleb was willing to take our bags they were delivered on a plush red cart with golden handles to our poolside room and my suitcase set on the luggage rack when we usually use the mattress for this purpose.
An earlier flight might’ve been more convenient or have come with traffic and other issues. Our taxi driver did the minimum of 120 km/h to deliver us quickly and Caleb was sure to fall asleep just as fast leaving me one minute to peek through our sheer curtains at the pool lights as I closed the blackout curtains, pass the gummy bears in a bear-shaped glass container, and pee next to a shower with a separate tub with night lights under the bathroom sink and bedside tables.