GWENDA LAWTHER, of Lismore Heights, Meets an Old Man in the Desert of Oman; Whispering Spirits and Arabian Horsemen

Article excerpt

Oman is a small country nestled on the Arabian Peninsula and surrounded by oil rich countries whose initiation into the concept of western capitalism is demonstrated by their excess and opulence.

By contrast, Oman is quietly disbursing its wealth to its people through free housing, education, roads and developing its tourism industry. In a short trip we saw deserts of colourful dunes, pebbled beaches lapped by the mysteries of the Arabian Ocean, wadis of stark rock interspersed with emerald green streams, and oasis towns steeped in history and tradition.

The capital, Muscat, has much to see from the bustling port and souk of Muttrah to the hushed tones of the glistening, white-tiled city mosque. While nary a woman was in sight, men ranged from the type who either ogled or ignored us, to the chivalrous young man who in return for practising his English, insisted on paying our cab fare.

My favourite part of the journey was three days and two nights spent in the desert. After driving down the coast from Muscat, we turned inland to where the prevailing winds from the ocean meet those from inland to form massive dunes with contoured slopes that defy gravity.

After pitching camp in a valley of sand, I walked up the highest dune where I sat enveloped in the silence, watching the dunes changing colour as the light faded around me. During the night, I dreamed of Arabian horses dashing through our campsite, their breath rasping in the cold and their rider's swords clanging against the stirrups. Several times during the night I was awoken, I thought by sounds, but it was only the frost seeping into my bones.

In the morning I rose early to find our Indian cook boiling water for tea and I told him of my dream. …