Wednesday, August 4, 2010

It's here!

Published July 06, 2010
On the 21st of June of every year, Omanis and expats alike pour over local newspapers in search of one simple headline announcing to the public that the Khareef (the monsoon season) in Dhofar has officially started. It doesn’t mean that rain will magically fall on the morning of the 21st, though, even though the older generation expect it to. Thanks to cell phones, the social grapevine and Facebook, for that matter), all of us locals know, literally within hours, when the first monsoon cloud appears, and rejoice accordingly, but for some reason the little headline makes everyone even happier, simply because it’s official. This year, the rain and fog arrived early, but even so the newspaper announcement provided some sort of reassurance. It also meant our fellow-citizens in the sweltering northern parts of Oman could start packing and move down here for the summer to enjoy the cooler temperatures in Dhofar.
The start of a rainy season can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people but to Dhofaris it can only mean one thing: the three-month party has begun! Not only is it wedding season, but the monsoon also means that around a quarter of a million (I kid you not) tourists from northern Oman, the GCC and other countries visit Salalah during July and August. Salalah goes into ‘party mode’ with concerts, plays, exhibitions, late-night barbecues in the mountains, and the famed Salalah Tourist Festival. However, the overall reason for the celebratory mood is the rain. If you’re visiting Salalah for the first time during the Khareef, you may have to rub your eyes and knock yourself on the head a couple of times while driving through the region. The heavy mist, gushing springs and brilliant green mountains may look like tropical East Asia or a South American rainforest…until you spot the first herd of camels grazing happily in a valley of wild flowers and butterflies. Sometimes it’s too good to be true, and it’s unbelievable to think that just a few kilometers away lie the rolling sand dunes of the Empty Quarter!
However, every rose has its thorn, and the monsoon season comes with its own set of disadvantages. Humor me for a moment and try to imagine nearly a quarter of a million tourists landing on a town of perhaps190,000 people over a period of eight weeks. Not a pleasant thought, considering the fact that we have narrow roads and only one highway. During July and August I simply avoid going anywhere unnecessary, since the idea of inching through traffic for hours and trying to protect myself from crazy speeding UAE drivers in their brand new four wheel drives doesn’t appeal to me. Getting a table in a restaurant becomes impossible. Shopping for anything is a nightmare, unless you have the patience of Job and all the time in the world. Also, I dare not forget to mention the famous monsoon tiny flying insects (named ‘khanyoot’ by locals) that can eat you alive if you sit too close to trees or bushes anywhere near the mountains. The monsoon also means that everything from your car to your shoes is covered in a fine layer of mud, your laundry doesn’t dry, and unless you pack away your shoes and clothes, they go moldy. We also keep our AC’s on to dry out the air and stop the curtains and furniture from also going moldy.
Despite all of that, the list of virtues is definitely longer, and Dhofar remains breath-taking and simply magical. If you’ve just about had it with the 50-degree weather in Muscat anytime between now and September, pack your bags. Come and spend the weekend, your holidays, or even the whole of Ramadhan in drizzly, foggy, deliriously happy Salalah. It will definitely be something to remember!

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