I wake up at sunrise, and the staff at the castle let me inside before the set opening hours of 09-16. In Oman, there are a dozen or so castles and forts – usually carefully renovated, but sometimes to just a lesser extent. They are free or else really cheap to visit. In Jabrin, there is also a toilet, shower and a small shelter outside under which I could sleep – perfect. I spend the morning touring the castle – a delightful, confusing maze of winding pathways, asymmetric rooms, cellars and attics.
I then resume cycling – village Al Hamra is not far away, with three- and four-storey clay buildings and a calm village surrounding which makes it suitable for a nice morning break. Then todays detour to the country’s highest mountain, Jabal Shams at 3,000 meters altitude. The incline of the road, winding up along the mountain side, is so steep that I partly have to push the bike while walking. It’s tiresome and slow. I soon realize that I won’t reach the top before darkness, and am luckily offered a ride by a local with a pick-up.
Said – deaf, but not dumb, as his mother was quick to stress when we stopped by for a cup of tea at his family home on our way up – cuts the corners as narrowly as only someone who’s been brought up here could. Once at the peak, the hotels charge tourist prices – but I’m lucky to be invited by one of the staff: ”Cycle up to the view point and wait there until dusk. By then, our boss will drive down to town, and you can come and stay here for free”. I pedal up to the view point – eat a few sandwiches and watch the sun set over Wadi Ghul or ”Grand Canyon of Arabia” (that’s what it’s dubbed in brochures), and feel as the icy cold of dusk comes. Once dark, I see the hotel boss’ car drive off – its car lights winding down the road – and I hurry back to the hotel where my new friend is waiting.
I get to share his room. He is a work immigrant from Syria, and responsible for the operation of the hotel. In his room also stays the hotels chef from Bangladesh. He is one of many South Asians who’ve migrated to Oman for doing all the work that the Arabs are too rich to do – i.e. almost everything. I’m invited for a wonderful Syrian dinner, and then an in-sight into something that of course truly doesn’t exist here.
The only paying guests at the hotel is an elder British couple, and once they’ve gone to bed their Omani guide enters our room to swap porn movies with my Syrian friend. They are movies of cell phone quality from the region – those from Bahrain are superior, says my friend, but those from Turkey are also good. Most of them show teenage girls alone, showing off their more or less naked bodies – maybe unaware that others than the one who is filming is going to watch it, or maybe intentionally recording in a desperate attempt to be seen. The chef from Bangladesh instantly looks the other way – after only three months in the country, he is not ready to see something that of course doesn’t exist here.