A local guide can make or break the travel experience. A good one will not only smooth the path and tell you about the sights you are seeing, they will also share something of themselves. Spending time together you will get to know each other and learn more about the country than you ever would from reading guidebooks, from the perspective of someone who lives there. They will be able to introduce you to some insider secrets: a little-known site; a café or bar frequented only by locals; a short cut. They will help you navigate local customs so you don’t offend; and they will be good company on any long journeys you take together.
A bad guide will do none of those things and will reduce your pleasure in a trip by creating difficulties or obstacles. Plans will go awry, sights may be missed off the itinerary, recommendations will be non-existent or will prove disappointing. Luckily we’ve been blessed with many great guides and only a few that didn’t live up to expectations. But let’s not dwell on those.
This will be the last in this series of Friendly Friday: meet … challenges, as I’m planning a shake-up for the New Year. So I want to finish by introducing you to some of the most amazing, wonderful, helpful and knowledgeable guides I’ve met on my travels. And because there are several I would like you to meet I’m splitting this into two posts, one this week and one next. Today I’ll introduce you to two super guides we met in Oman.
As soon as we met Hussain, on the first morning of our short stay in Salalah, I knew he was going to be an excellent guide. He was very flexible and eager to give us a good day out that matched our interests, and full of fascinating bits of information.
That first day’s tour was packed with such a variety of sights in the region around this southern city, from a couple of small castles to an archaeological site; a deserted fishing village to a prophet’s tomb; a rare flower to a verdant wadi. Several of the places we went were additions to the planned itinerary, as Hussain gradually learned our interests and gauged our level of enthusiasm (high!)
And as we drove around he taught us so much about Oman’s history, especially more recent events and those specific to this region, Dhofar. Although part of Oman, it has always had a distinct and separate identity, due in part perhaps to the very different climate. The mountains here, Jebel Dhofar, are shrouded in cloud from June to September and monsoon rains fall. Those who live on the mountains are known as jibalis and have their own culture and languages. Hussain told us he himself was from a mountain village and grew up speaking no Arabic. Now he speaks not only Arabic but also excellent English and some German.
Our last stop of the day was by the sea south of the city. While Chris and I took photos Hussain waited for us in a café near the parking area. When we joined him there he suggested a drink so we both enjoyed a lemon mint while he had a coffee. We wanted to treat him, but he insisted on treating us, as his guests. We sat for quite a while over our drinks. It was a really pleasant way to round off our day out, sitting in a place with such a beautiful view and chatting about this and that; the rapid changes in Oman in recent times, the benefits of travel in promoting tolerance, his time living in England and more.
When we said goodbye to Hussain back at our hotel, both he and we were hoping that he would be allocated as our guide for the city tour we had pre-booked for the last day of our stay. And fortunately, he was. That too was an excellent outing. Hussain again was excellent company and flexible with the planned itinerary. And at the city’s Grand Mosque he was also happy to play the role of photographer’s model!
By lunch time we had already seen and done more than was in the official tour, but Hussain was keen to suggest further stops, showing us a bit more of his city. He also offered to take us to some shops, but we knew we had already taken more of his time than was scheduled and in any case had no interest in further shopping. So he dropped us off in the city centre and we said our good byes, rather sadly. He had already been so generous with his time, and now added to that generosity with gifts: a book about the significance of frankincense to the Dhofar region, and a burner with both frankincense and incense to burn at home as a memory of our visit to Salalah.
While Hussain probably took our prize of ‘best guide in Oman’ it was by a narrow margin; other people, I know, have given that accolade to Said who guided us for the majority of our stay. He was very informative, very good company on the sometimes long drives, and also an excellent driver; very important on some of the roads we travelled. And like Hussain he was always ready to pose in my photos. I even had a suspicion that he chose his headgear to match the day’s destination. Look at how well his turban tones with the door frame in one of my photos! That suspicion was reinforced by a friend who’d been guided by him a couple of years earlier and spotted the same colour coordination!
We spent six days on the road with Said and I don’t believe a day went by without us bumping into someone he knew! I joked that he knew everyone in Oman. It started before we even left our Muscat hotel on the first morning; another hotel guest saw us talking to him and came over to sing his praises, having completed a tour with him just the previous day.
At Jabrin Fort it was a former teacher; at Wadi Bani Khalid a fellow guide; in Al Minzafah an acquaintance who worked there keeping the public toilets clean*. And in Misfat a friend spotted his distinctive car drive into the village; we were barely out of it before he had texted him! Said asked if we would be happy to have coffee and dates with this friend, which of course we were. So after our walk through the village we met him at a shop selling honey and date syrup, and strong cups of coffee.
* And boy did Said’s acquaintance do a good job! The toilets were spotless, and well supplied with toilet paper, soap and paper towels; far better than I have found in many other countries on my travels!
There have been many other guides over the years, some of whom I’ll tell you about next week. But for now it’s your turn. Please join in and share some stories of any great guides you’ve had, or maybe any disastrous ones! They could be from organised tours (group or private), day trips or even informal local guides, including friends. If someone helped you get more out of your visit to a destination, I’d love to hear about it!
Please leave a comment and tag your post Friendly Friday (#friendlyfriday) if you want me to find it; pingbacks tend not to work on my site. Thank you.
And thanks too to everyone who joined in the fun last time. Do check out their posts; they may well inspire you to share your own experiences!
- Cath showed us some meetings of very different kinds: https://cathscamera.wordpress.com/2021/10/09/ff-meet/
- Amanda told us all about a friendly welcome in New Zealand: https://forestwoodfolkart.wordpress.com/2021/10/09/to-akaroa-a-hidden-diamond/
- Bushboy made new friends on a visit to Spain: https://bushboy.blog/2021/10/09/an-early-adventure/
- Manja told a tale of a friendship that grew from an encounter in Denmark: https://manjameximexcessive6.wordpress.com/2021/10/15/friendly-friday-friend/
That’s quite a short list; it seems we may have exhausted this ‘Meet’ theme for now, perhaps because a lot of the best stories are already told for the ‘Just one person …’ challenge earlier in the year. So as I said, in the New Year I will be shaking things up a bit. Watch this space!