Exiting Salalah en route to Aden:
We’ve spent several days at the over-syllabled Omani city of “Salalah.”
Why did they not just stop at “Sa-lah?” You’d figure that at least the locals would have shortened it over time, and get rid of the extra syllable. We do that all the time — “St Botoph’s Town” became “Boston,” and “Jorvik” became “York.”
But Arabic is not unique in having overlap words and expressions. In Turkish, there is “kendi kendi,” and “yavas yavas,” where adjectives are repeated to become adverbs. And we have lots in English too. “Alfalfa,” “huba huba,” “Wala Wala,” and “banana.” (Or, taken to the extreme, Bananarama!) and places like Wala Wala, and all those Native American names that don’t seem too eager to stop either.
Salalah, in April, is hotter than Hades. But to make up for it, the people were exceptionally friendly. And they were particularly fond of Sima, who dresses and looks European but flaunts her name like an Arabic greeting card.
Sure, many women were heavily veiled. One in particular, in the supermarket, was wearing what looked like a giant black lamp shade, with the veil draped about her head in all directions. And some would often look the other way as you approached. But many others were friendly and engaging, and worked hard to communicate with us, with us using our several words of Arabic to greet and the locals responding in ther more accomplished English.
The port of Salalah is a bustling commercial hub. We have been anchored in its midst. Or, perhaps more accurately, we had to enter and exit through its midst, and then were instructed to anchor in a lonelier cul-de-sac, near a Navy patrol boat and some large and gigantic fishing boats. It has been quiet and pleasant, and the dry heat didn’t interfere with our ability to sleep.
We had come for just a few days to replenish our fuel stores after we’d burned some 175 gallons getting across the Arabian Sea. We needed about 600 liters of additional fuel, and figured that we would stop in Salalah if we could do so without too much of a hassle.
We learned beforehand that all yachties must be represented by an agent, and there is only one option here, a fellow named Muhammed. With a monopoly, he is not particularly incentivized to find shortcuts or to keep costs down. But boy was he smooth.
We emailed him about a week before we came to find out about fuel costs and logistics, but he didn’t respond to either of our two emails.
We finally called him from the SAT phone when we were two days away, still at sea. He apologized about not responding to our emails, saying he’d been really busy with other boats. Could he tell us about logistics for fuel and give us a price? “Hey, that’s difficult to peg, you see. Come in, we’ll take care of you. No worries!” Could he provide a range? “the price changes every day,” but he eventually provided a number that was high but not outrageous. “No problem,” he kept on saying, when we tried to understand the particulars, “It’ll all be OK. You’ll see.”
So to Salalah we sailed.
When we got there and telephoned Muhammed, his cell phone had been turned off. We went to customs and immigration, as we needed to clear in, and were told we needed to find Muhammed to do so. The folks at Customs telephoned him, and couldn’t reach him, threw up their hands, smiled, and cleared us in without an agent.
Muhammed came later that day. He is a tall, handsome, impeccably-dressed fellow, in a long bright white robe, with matching white sandals and white hat, driving a white, late-model, Mercedes SUV, but dark wrap-around sun glasses. He gave us a warm handshake, a big bright smile, and then slowly peeled the sunglasses from his face.
We talked fuel. He said that he hoped we weren’t going to be like “all the other difficult yachties who always claimed to be trying to save money for their families.”
Uhm, “Not us Muhammed! Spend, spend, spend is our motto!
“Some of them are so bad,” he continued. “This year alone NINE left without paying my fee. Tsch tsch tsch.”
He left us momentarily to talk to another fellow, whom he said was responsible for diesel sales. He returned to us, and said that he’d just been told that we couldn’t have any fuel after all, because the amount we sought was too small.
We walked back in to the customs and immigration. Look, we said. We really, really don’t want to cause a bother. We’re just here for a short time, mainly to purchase fuel. And we’ve already paid to clear in, but we are now being told we can’t have any fuel, which we had arranged for at sea.
Muhammed was called to the office. What had happened? the Customs official asked him. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and explained that it was “beyond my control.”
Voices began to rise. There were many other locals in the lobby, near the window where Muhammed and the Customs official were having their animated conversation. “The Customs officer is trying to help you,” explained a fellow standing next to us, and then added, “Do you have to buy diesel from this agent? You should try to find someone else.” Alas, we understood that we had no choice but to deal with Muhammed.
The conversation finished, Muhammed turned to us and smiled warmly. Let’s go to the office of the fellow responsible for diesel fuel deliveries, he said. Maybe we can work something out . . . .
We went. It felt like a game of charades. Well, OK, said the delivery fellow. MAYBE we can do it, but it will be a great inconvenience. When he finally gave us a quote, it was multiples higher than the range provided, and three times what locals pay.
Muhammed smiled brilliantly and shrugged again. “It’s beyond my control. The government sets these prices.” Could we see something with the official government price? I don’t really have access to that, he explained.
We were made to pay first. The fuel came the next day. As it was being pumped into our boat, Muhammed said, “Don’t forget about the agent fee that you must pay me.”
How could we “forget” something that had not previously been mentioned.
“Do you think I did all that negotiating for free?!”
We did not reach agreement with Muhammed on his agent fee.
Another yachtie is here at the same time as us, had it even worse, and was equally unhappy with Muhammed. He tied up along-side another boat, against the wall, to refuel, was told after that fact that he’d be charged a “berthing fee,” an “agent fee,” and that the amounts would be doubled unless he produced a an insurance certificate valid locally.
With the boat fueld up, we seperated ourselves from Muhammed. We did not meet anyone else of his ilk. Without exception, the others that we met during our short stay were genuine and warm.
Salalah city is a fifteen-minute drive from the port. It was dry, dusty, and blast-furnace hot. Walking down the street in the early afternoon saps one’s energy. We were told that this was the hot season, and readily believed it.We spent a couple of nights dining at an oversized pub called “The Oasis Club,” the only place in town to get a cold beer with your burger. The rest of the city, like most of the country, is dry (in the figurative sense here). The interior of the club was draped with scores of international flags, memorabilia from many of the world’s navies, and lots of rugby and soccer jerseys from various Commonwealth countries. The climate was cooled to a comfortable 60 degrees or so. Entering, you felt a world away from the arid moon-like landscape just outside. We caught up on email, looked at the weather and such things, ate greasy western food, quaffed our thirst, and relaxed. Such things are especially pleasurable after a couple of weeks at sea. We caught up on some of the cultural developments we’d missed being out at see — a new song “Poker Face” by “Lady Gaga” is played over and over again on the radio.
(We add this piece some time after this original post. Sima was at this time pregnant with our first child. Alexander was born seven months later, at the end of November 2010.
Sima is a pescatarian — she does not touch red meat, and has not in years. She hadn’t touched it once in at least a decade.
During course of the passage, however, she began to talk about wanting a burger. “Not just any burger, mind you. But a big, fat Burger King Whopper. You know, with melty cheese and juicy red.”
When we got to Salalah, she lived up to her word, ordering an oversized cheeseburger, devouring every bite with gusto.
Alexander was most certainly speaking through Sima, though only several weeks in gestation at this time. By the time that Alexander was allowed to choose his own food, years later, it was burgers and fries whenever he could get his hands on them.)
A bowling alley was attached to the pub, and we went in to check it out. It was small, with only four lanes, and the bowlers were all locals. Or at least, they were not the westerners that populated the pub just next door (there are lots of workers from other countries here, and we met some from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India). These fellows were bowling in long white robes, which made it difficult to bend and slide, and gave them terrible form. The balls would leave their hands at about hip height, and land five feet or so down the alley after a solid bang and bounce. We were just about to leave, suppressing our smiles, when we noticed that one fellow, despite his form, was pretty good. Then we began to watch more closely. They were ALL pretty good! Strikes were not uncommon, and when pins were left standing, they were often cleaned up promptly, at least once with a cocky turn of the back as soon as the ball was released. “I picked that up,” his head toss said. He had.
We enjoyed the area. We did not spend much time outside of the neighborhoods around the port, as this was a fuel-stop visit.
Just now, we’re at sea again. Six hundred miles and about six days to Aden, Yemen. Until the halfway point, just offshore from a city called Al Mukallaoff, we’ll be motoring against a good current and a weak wind. At that point, the weather systems call for us to pick up a favorable wind and current.
All is well on board, and Leander is performing happily.
We have started the trip in the company of another sailboat, Felicitas, single-handed by an affable fellow named Edmund Erich Fritz – from Germany.