‘Perhaps we should head back down to Salalah for food,’ suggested my travelling companion, Jules, as we entered the derelict-looking restaurant and imme- diately felt the force of the stares from the heavily- bearded male clientele. This appeared to be the most sensible course of action in the face of the slightly funereal atmosphere, but the pangs of hunger drove us on and into the building.
We had been driving around Dhofar, Oman’s southernmost region, all morning, and by the time we had parked our car at Ayoub’s Tomb – the burial place of the prophet Job – even the rather scrawny camels ambling lazily around the mausoleum were begin- ning to look mighty tasty. Our decision made for us by the rumblings in our bellies, we took an outside table at the heroically insalubrious Job’s Tomb café, tuned out the curious glances, and reflected upon a widescreen vista of mountains and sparkling sea.
Those who enjoy charting the changing land- scapes of a country through an aeroplane window won’t find much to interest them on a flight between Muscat and Salalah. Once the imposing craggy bar- rier of the Hajar Mountains in the north of Oman are cleared, the outlook rapidly morphs into nothingness as the wastes of the country’s interior are laid bare below. The view remains the same for the next hour, then all of a sudden, as the plane begins its descent into the Sultanate’s second city, the endless plains of stone and sand are halted by a wall of rolling hills punctuated by deep river valleys – a scene that bears more of a resemblance to Tuscany or Provence than it does to most other parts of the Peninsula.