Our little propeller plane slowly descended on the Peninsula of Musandam, Oman’s most northern enclave. We could make out Iran in the distance and big oil tankers below us in the Strait of Hormuz. Then suddenly, the incredible coastline of Musandam glided into full view for those sitting on the right side of the aircraft. Cameras clicking and gasps of excitement filled the small plane. For those with a more untamed mind, the rigged coastline resembles giant crippled fingers reaching out into the ocean. Steep slopes of bare rocks, completely void of vegetation, line these long inlets. The longest of these fjords, Khor al Sham, is 17 kilometers deep and a popular place to visit by Dhow.
Thirty years ago, Musandam had no public schools, no hospital, no road, no electricity. Today, even the smallest villages inside the fjords have access to electricity and water supplied free of charge by the government. This generosity allows a couple of hundred families to stay in those few isolated settlements inside Khor al Sham. They make a living from fishing or keeping a few goats and they own gardens in Khasab where they spend in the hot summer months and harvest their dates. Khasab is also where the village children spend their school days. For the weekend they travel back home by speedboat. None of these villages allow the many Dhows carrying tourists to come near them. But who would blame them?
A six-hour sailing trip around Khor al Sham was one of the highlights of our two-week travel in Oman. Resting on carpets and pillows gazing at the dramatic mountain scenery can easily fill a day. Twice we stopped for swimming and snorkeling. It was on this boat that Heidi discovered the most addictive drink ever: tea spiced with cardamom, rosewater and saffron.
Only two decades ago, not only those village were isolated, but the whole of Musandam. Separated from the rest of Oman by a 80 kilometer wide corridor (the UAM), it could only be reached by boat. Slowly this changed. Since the 1980s a road passing through the UAM connects it to the main territory of Oman, an airport was built and a speedboat now does the trip to Muscat in five hours. Despite all this modern infrastructure, it has remained a laid-back, quiet place.
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