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We attempt to visit Oman from Dubia & get flooded out

February 11th, 2024

Oman, officially the Sultanate of Oman, is a country located in West Asia.  It is situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, and spans the mouth of the Persian Gulf.  It shares land borders with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen, while sharing maritime borders with Iran and Pakistan. The capital and largest city is Muscat. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast, and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast.   Oman is roughly the size of Poland or about twice the size of the state of Georgia.

From the 17th century, the Omani Sultanate was an empire, vying with the Portuguese and British Empires for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. At its peak in the 19th century, Omani influence and control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to Iran and Pakistan, and as far south as Zanzibar. In the 20th century, the sultanate came under the influence of the United Kingdom. For over 300 years, the relations built between the two empires were based on mutual benefit. The UK recognized Oman’s geographical importance as a trading hub that secured their trading lanes in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean and protected their empire in the Indian sub-continent. Oman is an absolute monarchy led by a Sultan, with power passed down through the male line. 

Formerly a maritime empire, Oman is the oldest continuously independent state in the Arab world. It is a member of the UN, and Arab League among others. It has oil reserves ranked 22nd globally. In 2010, the UN ranked Oman as the most improved nation in the world in terms of development during the preceding 40 years. A portion of its economy involves tourism and trading fish, dates and other agricultural produce.

White symbolizes peace and prosperity, red the battles fought against foreign invaders, and green the fertility of the land. Unofficially, white is associated with the imamate, red the sultanate, and green the mountainous interior area known as “Green Mountain”, Al-Jabal Al-Akh[dsubdot]ar.

CURRENCY:             Oman Rial (OMR) – $2.60 USD or $0.0043 CDN


BEER:                        Lion – although much of the country does not drink

GAS:                           0.239 OMR per litre – about $2.35 USD per gallon – we never had the chance to buy any

Despite our flight from Sri Lanka leaving 20 minutes late, we landed in Dubai nearly an entire hour late and the baggage came ever so slowly.  We could tell as we were landing that it had rained very recently and it was weird to think we’d returned to the desert only to get wet!

We had booked a car for pick up at the airport so we could drive to Oman for three days – it’s supposed to be one the best countries to go on a dune bashing tour so we’d save it for this country.  Once the bags showed up, Doug went to the car rental office and Fran went a few hundred metres further to get a SIM card.  She purchased 22.5GB for $55 USD (not cheap) that we will share during over today, our return on Wednesday night and again when we return to the UAE after Uganda for four days.

Usually car rental paperwork takes a while, but Doug was finished before Fran was (we had already sent the documents they needed via WhatsApp and the paperwork we needed for the border was already prepared – this cost an extra hefty fee [$143USD], of course).  He joined her at the SIM card shop and then we walked over to get the car from the parking area.  This time we have a automatic Mitsubishi Attrage sedan with a big trunk.

We loaded all our stuff into the car and headed out of the city Dubai.  The hope was to get closer to the border before stopping but since we arrived late and everything took longer, we just found a hotel on the outskirts of Dubai for the night.  That was a fiasco to find (the app had the location off by a several blocks) but after parking near the location indicated on, we found a shop to ask and were told it was down the street and to the left.  It was late and we were hungry so Doug succumbed to his urge for KFC and we just ate there before going over to the hotel.

We found the apartment/hotel and got parked underground and settled in.  It’s quite nice with a king bed bedroom, 1.5 baths, a full kitchen (with few supplies), a living room, desk and large balcony.  It came with towels, a kettle, Wi-Fi, hot water and AC and free parking.

Next morning, we awoke to heavy rain and the forecast looked pretty gloomy.  We left by 6:30 am and it looked like we’d reach the border by 8. We wanted to make it well into Oman today so that we could do the dune bashing tour tomorrow that Doug had arranged.

Well, the rain just kept fall and it was heavy; there was thunder and lightning but the highway was in pretty good shape although the water on the ramps was collecting fast.

As we approached Al Ain, the last city before the border, we began to hit flooding – and not just a little. The rain had not let up at all.  Major intersections and roundabouts were flooded – but not so much that we couldn’t get through most of the time.  We had to make several detours and twice we stopped for a bit hoping it would subside – once on the sidewalk at an intersection that wasn’t crossable by us (there were others parked too) and once when we couldn’t get down a street so we turned around and parked on the island at a left hand turn.

It started to hail at one point and we could tell it must have snowed/hailed earlier because we saw accumulation:

You don’t expect to see palm trees and snow!

When we stopped once to find a bathroom while trying to get through Al Ain this morning, there was a pile of hail and the stones were the size of golf balls:

We did turn around several times more and finally around 10:30 (FOUR hours after we left to do a 90 minute drive) we finally got through the city.

Then it stopped raining.

We arrived at the border of the UAE and Oman and we got stamped out of the UAE (cost of an unexpected 50 dirhams each – about $14.00) and then drove over to the Oman side where we showed them the visas we’d obtained on line at a cost of 50 OMR ($130 USD) each and got stamped in.  The fellow at the counter said there was some flooding ahead and we may not be able to pass but it could be better soon if the rain continued to hold off.  We thought:  well, we already paid a lot for visas and exit stamps, so we should try.

Next we had to buy Oman car insurance at the Customs Office at a kiosk machine and that cost about $17.50 USD for three days.

So we finished at the border by 11:22 and off we drove into Oman – still hoping to make it close to where our tour was tomorrow.

About a kilometre down the road, we met a police car going the wrong way on our side of the highway.  We stopped alongside it and were told, yes, the road ahead had a wadi flooding across it ahead but it could subside enough in about an hour for regular cars to pass through; at present only high clearance vehicles were allowed.   AND to top it off, about ten kilometres further there was an even worse flooded section.

An hour? Okay, we can wait that long.  We could still make our dune bashing tour.

We arrived at the flooded area (four kilometres from the border) and there were about a dozen cars parked along the side of the highway and we watched several 4×4 and high clearance vehicles pass through.  It looked too deep in one part for sure.

After about 45 minutes, we could see it had receded somewhat but very little – not enough that the police would allow regular cars to try and pass.  We went for a walk back towards the border and returned about 25 minutes later – no real change.

We discussed what we should do and after checking with the officers again, were told that the other flooded section 10 km / 6 mi ahead, will take a minimum of six more hours to be passable by cars such as ours. We felt it wasn’t worth waiting as our tour has to be tomorrow so not enough time and there was a good chance of more rain (although the sun had peeked out a few times for a few seconds each time) and that it could take much longer than their estimated six hours.

Well, as we say, it’s “a first world problem”, and it’s not the end of the world, if we don’t go.

So after spending about two hours in Oman and only travelling 8 kilometres round trip, we went back to the border and got checked back into the UAE.

Fun Facts about Oman:

  1. Since the introduction of Mountain Dew (a Pepsi product) in Oman, it is one of the few drinks which has the highest rate of consumption for any middle eastern country. It is often hailed as the “alcohol of Oman”. Facts say that when Coca-Cola tried to enter the market, they were shunned and their sales plummeted down to an all-time low in any country.
  2. The Omani people boast of a virtually non-existent crime rate. Reasons for this are attributed to the stringent Sharia law implemented in the country, which calls for rigorous punishment for any crime committed.
  3. The Omani are known for raising horses which have incredible speed, endurance and stamina. Legend has it that King Solomon gifted an Omani tribe a stallion named Zad el-Raheb which was the epitome of a stallion and encapsulated all of the best qualities. It’s said that all these beautiful horses have descended from this horse. 
  4. Oman is responsible for producing a whopping 17% of the entire frankincense world production. It is a commodity that is most sought after in Europe for its fragrance and mild medicinal properties. It grows in the wild and can be bought in loose quantities from any market.  Oman has it in abundance. It’s one of the few countries that can still grow these trees naturally.
  5. Ship building is one of Oman’s main sources of income. It’s an art they have perfected over many hundreds of years and the Omani people are now globally known as the epitome of perfect ship builds and repairs. 
  6. Up until 1970, there were no hotels in Oman at all. As tourism has grown to be quite an important industry in the country, the number of places for visitors to stay has grown. 
  7. Oman once fought the Shortest War in History. The Anglo-Zanzibar Warwas fought between Oman and Britain in 1896. It only lasted for 40 minutes!  

So based on the above, we cannot comment on visiting Oman – maybe sometime in the future (especially if expensive visa fees disappear), we might try again.

Back in the UAE

The first 20 km after crossing the border back into the UAE were not bad (as we’d experience coming from Al Ain on our way south).  As we approached the city, we hit lots of flooding again.  We figured we should spend the night in this city and get to Dubai tomorrow.  We tried to reach two different hotels to spend the night. The first one was furthest from the city but it was taking an excruciating amount of time to get 7km so we picked a closer one that was a bit more expensive but we did make it there; 2.5 km took over a half hour!   We had seen both of these on but had not booked for fear of not making it.

So we came to the desert only to get rained out!  It was two days of rain, hail and flooding for UAE, Oman and parts of Saudi Arabia.  In one suburb of Dubai alone, 500 cars were stalled out.  People here saw “snow” for the first time.  Fran read that the city of Muscat received a year’s worth of rain in one afternoon!

Online photos of flooding in Dubai and Al Ain  (including the one at the top of this post):

this is usually bone dry

Unfortunately, the last roundabout we went through was a tad deep and water began to come into the car from the bottom of the doors!

At many intersections the traffic lights were quite damaged: the bulbs were hanging out of the sockets but some were even still working!

When we reached the second hotel, the Al Ain Rotana, they gave us a slightly cheaper price than app was going to give us and we got a nice king sized room.  Unfortunately, due to the storm their Wi-Fi was out and their systems were on and off. It took a good 20 minutes to check in and Doug had find non-flooded parking spot.  Due to this system outage, and until morning, key cards were not available so someone had to let us in the elevators and into our room.

Doug went out to find some sponges so we could work on soaking up the water from the carpets in the car.  It seemed the water came in through the back doors and spread up to the front. We began the process of soaking of water and went out a few times that day and again the next morning.  We took the floor mats out to dry and in the morning when it was sunny, we left the windows opened in the hopes of a faster drying process.  We switched to paper towels and that worked better.

This turned out to be a 5 star resort with so many extras that we didn’t/couldn’t use.  The pool was quite disgusting looking with all this rain and everything was quite soggy.  At least we were comfy and dry in our room and for dinner we decided to order pizza delivery so as not to have eat in the pricey Trader Vic’s downstairs or try to drive somewhere.  Fran went down to reception to have them help her order some delivery, when the fellow said room service had pizza.  The price was not bad and it meant we could eat within a half hour, not the possible two or three hours it might take a delivery service to get to us in these conditions.

Hotel lobby as viewed from the glass elevator

The choices of pizza were slim but we got a veggie and a pepperoni, some brownies for dessert and a couple of Coronas for maybe 20% more than if we’d just ordered only take out pizza.  It rained lightly on and off during the evening but by morning the sky was pretty clear and things began to dry up.

After spending more time mopping the carpets in the car and eating lunch in the hotel room, we headed into Dubai.

On the way out of the city, we could see many abandoned cars:

We have a reservation Wednesday back at the Marriott where we left two bags for Uganda but they had no space tonight so we found a cheaper place downtown and went there.  It’s an older place with underground parking and is actually apartments; they gave us an upgrade to a king suite which was huge with 1.5 bathrooms, a huge kitchen with a fridge, microwave and stove top but again, very few kitchen supplies but it had a washing machine.  The city has few puddles left – at least downtown – and the traffic is moving at its usual busy pace.  Seems most the really bad flooding took place in the suburbs of the city.

We each took turns doing some floor soaking up in the car both this afternoon – it’s getting there but not done yet.

Doug went out to the electronics district (Dubai is known for cheap electronics) to look for some inexpensive phones for Uganda and on his way back picked up some laundry soap and we caught up on our laundry before going out to get some stuff for dinner and it was all dry on our makeshift clothesline across the kitchen before we left the next day.

Next morning we took turns again soaking up the floors again  and checked out of our hotel; the driver’s front was now dry, the passenger side maybe 80%, the back was around 75% so we’ll have to do more as the day goes on.  Parked in an underground lot doesn’t help as we can’t use the sun’s help so hopefully this afternoon we’ll make better progress as we thought parking at the Marriott was street parking.

We got a late check out at this hotel today as we cannot check into the Marriott until 3 and they kindly gave us till 2/2:30.  So that will work nicely.

By the time we got to the Marriott, the floor was doing much better and we were pretty confident it wouldn’t get noticed so they couldn’t dig us with “damage” to the car.  Phew!   Turned out the parking here was underground anyway.

After checking into the Marriott, we had our stored bags brought to the room so we can begin a final repack for our third last flight of this two month adventure.

We left Toronto on January 2 and including that flight we’ve already had nine flights!

Our flight back to Dubai from Uganda is February 29th and we had planned on a few more days here in Dubai but seeing as we’ve pretty much seen what we wanted to see and going to Oman would prove costly as we’d have to get new visas (they are only good for 30 days), new car permissions and insurance, we checked with the airline and we have changed our return ticket to Casablanca to the 1st of March from the 4th.  We’ll have a short overnight at an airport hotel and be back in Minou by that afternoon!  The change fee was reasonable so it was cheaper than four night’s hotel in Dubai and possibly a car rental since it’s not a walking city.

To reward ourselves for getting the repack done so quickly, we went up to the rooftop pool & bar for a couple of beers and appies.  The temperature outside is a comfortable 28C / 82 F and it’s sunny.

So Thursday morning we were up earlier than our alarms and got out of the hotel in plenty of time which was good as it took longer than expected to get to the car rental return and then we were at the wrong Terminal (thanks to bad instructions from the car rental rep on WhatsApp) and had to put the bags back in the car and drive to Terminal 3.  (You cannot walk or take a shuttle between terminals here in Dubia – you need to take a taxi, it’s so spread out.) After dropping off the car at the right place, we entered the terminal and went to bag drop off as we’d already checked in online.

Here’s went everything went sideways.  The first question the kiosk asked was “do you have a visa” – Uh oh!  We both forgot we needed to gets visas online before flying!!!  Rookie mistake!  We are quite embarrassed!

We’ve just had so many hassles lately that it completely slipped our minds.  We quickly went to sit down and got our Fran’s laptop and it got worse from there – there are no instant visas – it can take up to a week but then norm is 2-3 days.

The web page would not accept payment no matter which credit card we used and so while she kept trying and she called our main credit card company to see if that was the issue, Doug went over to see about changing the flights to another day.  The agent recommended we wait a couple of hours in case we got the visas them fast.

We gave up on Fran’s and she started Doug’s.  That went through right away but the payment page that came up was different (?)!  Fran went back to her application and after a few more tries got the same payment page and it worked right away – now we begin the waiting game.

We put on our applications that we were flying on the 18th in the hopes it might get expedited but Doug went over and rebooked for the 19th  as we we’re going to make this flight but we have terrible flight times on a sister airline, not Emirates.

Now what do we do for three days?   We looked into flying to Oman but we’d have to do the visa thing all over again (only had a single entry visa).  So we decided we’d book a local hotel with an airport shuttle and decided upon a Marriott related one to at least get some points and benefits.  The Aloft only has three shuttles a day and their first pick up one was in 40 minutes so Fran booked the room and we went out to wait for the shuttle.  That was a bit of a fiasco to because despite being told where to pick up the shuttle, it didn’t show up after ten minutes so we called and she was put in touch with the driver who said he would come find us.  He was parked around the corner!

We arrived at the hotel, which is attached to the huge City Centre mall, and after checking in, went into the mall to find some food.  When we returned, all of our luggage was in the room and we sorted it out and carried on with our day.

What a blunder on our part.  So now we’ll only have ten days in Uganda instead of fourteen IF our visas come through by the evening of the 18th as our flight is at 5:00am on the 19th.

Our hotel is an Aloft which is one of the lower end Marriott Bonvoy brands but it’s fine.  We have a king bed room with a desk, small sofa and mini fridge.  The Wi-Fi is good and there are a few food choices with plenty more options in the mall and a huge Carrefour supermarket.    Just before 6pm that day (5pm in Uganda) Doug received an email that his visa was approved.

We did look into doing a dune bashing tour here outside Dubai and found one that was on dune buggies but they wanted over 5000 dirhams (nearly $1400USD) as a “insurance deposit even though we weren’t going to be driving – we felt we couldn’t support that stupid policy.

By the end of Friday, the 16th, we’d heard nothing about Fran’s visa but did learn that the 16th was a national holiday in Uganda; no wonder they didn’t answer the phone or respond to emails!  So that means we cannot make our flight on the 19th as it is early so on Saturday, we walked over to the Emirates Airlines offices the next morning (hoping going in person and pleading our case might lessen the fee – nope) and changed our flights again, to the 21st at the original departure time of 9:45 am that we’d had for the 16th.  So we’ll need three more nights at a hotel but it’s going to be pricier next week so we have booked a different airport hotel with better shuttle options – every 30 minutes vs twice a day!

After taking care of changing the flights for the second time, we each went for walks to get out steps.  Unfortunately, Doug stubbed his cut toe once again and it bled quite a bit.  Upon returning to the hotel, a security guard offered to get a first aid kit and meet him in our room to try and clean it up and bandage it.  Remi was very kind and did a good job.  He did suggest that Doug might want to go to the hospital, but it really wasn’t that deep.

pics from the Toll Road Bridge near out hotel:

Then we got more bad news:  we heard from our German friends (co-sponsors of Kitojo School) on Friday that they were unable to import all 8 of the used laptops they had brought with them.  When we all went in 2022 we had no issues when we said they were for a charity organization.  But this time, they wanted to fine them $50 for each laptop as well as confiscate them for “bringing used laptops into the country”.

When we looked it up, there was a law on the books from 2009 stating that no used laptops could brought into the country.   They managed to keep two of them but had to relinquish the rest and pay a $260 fine.  Bummer.  (They were lucky as the punishment can also be imprisonment.)

So we have to rethink our plan because we have six used laptops that we wanted to bring into Uganda.  We decided we’d bring one each claiming they were personal/work computers on top of our own actual personal ones.  We have several new and used cell phones that we hope will pass muster as well as well eight battery operated lights which we hope will pass through (the law is a little greyer on these items).

We considered other options for the four remaining laptops.  Doug looked into finding a place to sell them and only found one that wouldn’t budge on a price of $30 USD each (this seemed ridiculously low to us especially when you consider we spend $20 on each laptop to upgrade them with solid state drives while we were at Josh’s place in Toronto) but it was something anyway and we could donate that money to the school.

So he left the hotel to get a taxi but the line up at the hotel was super long and it was already 4pm.

So then we thought maybe we could donate them to a charity, like maybe one that does things for girls, but being a Saturday we could not reach any so we’ll try on Monday.

Well that afternoon, we heard from Lucky (the school director in Uganda) that he had a friend at the visa office and he put in a good word and about 2 hours later, Fran had her visa approval!  So now we went online  ourselves to change the flights once again.  We decided we’d already spent a ton doing this and if we went on the earlier flight tomorrow, it would cost less but we’d be exhausted so we spent a bit more and got a more reasonable flight departure (the same as we originally had on the 16th).

So again, what do we do with these remaining four laptops – we decided we’d give  them to some immigrants  whom we felt were in low paid menial jobs and it might make their lives or the lives of their families better.  We couldn’t find any janitors in the hotel so we walked into the mall and went to the food court.  Here we found a couple of guys bussing tables and one spoke English.  We explained what we were offering and he said he’d have to call his supervisor.  We suspect this was so that he would not be accused of stealing laptops or not reporting them to a lost and found.  While we waited for him to do this, Fran went over and got us some dinner at Subway (it was nice to have decent sandwiches for a change with healthy bread and some veggies) and Doug met the supervisor, explained the situation and he accepted all four of them to distribute to his staff.  He took our contact info and who knows, maybe we’ll hear from a recipient or two down the line.

We returned to the room, did another repack and had dinner before going to bed a little earlier than usual.  We were up at 5:30 and caught a taxi to Terminal 3 (luckily we took a taxi and did not have to return a car as the lineup to get to T3 was nearly a kilometre long and this guy knew a back way in – it was a little longer in distance but probably saved 20 minutes!).  It took us 35 minutes in the bag drop line (it self serve and his time at the kiosk we could say “yes” to the “Do you have a visa question?”.  We checked four bags.

The cabbie also told us that Sunday morning is one of the busiest days at the Dubai airport and we saw that again at Immigration.  Even though we could us the Smart Gates for exit, it was still a 20 minute line up.

Next of course, we had to pass through airport security and that took another 15 minutes but no questions were asked about our carry-on luggage.

We got to the gate and waited till boarding and although it looked like we might leave on time, there were so many late passengers we missed our pull back time and we ended up taking off nearly an hour late.

We drove 399 km / 247 mi in the UAE including our little “step” into Oman.

As this is our last significant time in the UAE, here are the fun facts:

Fun Facts about the United Arab Emirates:

  1. A different royal family rules each of the seven emirates in the UAE. The most famous and influential among all are the Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and Al Maktoum of Dubai.
  2. Unlike other countries who went through great effort and violence to free themselves from the colonial rule of Great Britain, the UAE gained their independence through peaceful agreements (mainly because of the UAE’s leverage over the discovery of oil).  However, it was late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Father of the Nation, who brought all of the seven emirates together into one country.
  3. The UAE is known to come up with surprising world records every year. Be it the tallest, largest, biggest, best, one of its kind – the UAE is full of these. The number of world records held by the UAE till date is 190! It has its own Guinness World Records office in Dubai.
  4. Terminal 3 of the Dubai International Airport, is, in fact, the largest airport terminal in the world. It features a 5-star hotel – Dubai International Hotel, many Apple stores, a swimming pool, a gym, Snoozecubes, a jacuzzi and not one but TWO zen gardens! The Dubai International Airport is also the second busiest airport in Asia and has the fastest Wi-Fi speed of any airport in the world!
  5. Now for a ‘luxurious’ fact about UAE, the Burj Al Arab is the world’s first seven-star hotel and is considered one of the most luxurious in the world. The interiors of the hotel are embellished with 24-carat gold leaves that cover about 1790 square meters. The funny part is that it even has a ‘Pillow Menu’ that offers nine types of pillows to guests!
  6. A 155-million-year-old fossil of Diplodocus Longus – famously known as the ‘Dubai Dino’ is permanently on display in the Dubai Mall. It is one of the few fossils in the world excavated with almost ALL bones intact!
  7. Despite the cultural and visual dominance of camels in the country, the UAE’s national animal is an Arabian Oryx. 
  8. The Dubai Police has way more pizzazz than any police force in the world. They have a range of supercars such as the exotic Bugatti, Ferrari, Bentley, Lamborghini, Camaro, Mercedes and many more; at their disposal. The fastest of them Veyron can go up to an astonishing 407 kilometres in an hour! These cars are used for patrolling heritage sites and tourist areas.