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Friendly Friday,  Oman,  People

Friendly Friday: meet some amazing guides

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.

Man driving with view of camels on the road
On the road with Hussain in the south of Oman

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.

Hussain

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.

Two men at a café table with the sea beyond
In the beach-side café near Salalah

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.

Pottery burner wrapped in cellophane
From Hussain: traditional incense burner
Book with photo of frankincense tree
From Hussain: a book about frankincense

Said

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!

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!

28 Comments

  • Marsha

    We haven’t done nearly the traveling that you have, Sarah. Our trip to Italy was to visit friends, and they guided us. Our trip to France was to see our son and his new wife, so we made our way alone except for one taxi driver who asked if we were visiting and took us all over the city for a very nominal fee. During a trip to Athens, Greece, we missed the tours due to getting up too late. A visiting Canadian couple guided us around for the day, and we went everywhere! My mom and I went to England with a college group of high school English teachers. We and spent the entire three weeks chasing every play in London and nearby towns. We must have had guides, but I don’t remember them. We also had the fortune of visiting schools, and that was super fun for me. Thanks for hosting Friendly Friday. When did you start hosting? I did an interview with Amanda and Sandy on May 29th. I should do an update! 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I joined the Friendly Friday team a few months ago. It was when Cady Luck Lady stopped the ‘Just one person’ challenge. Sandy contacted me to see if I could keep that sort of theme going under the FFC umbrella, which is where these ‘Meet …’ posts originated. But they don’t seem to have proved as popular as we’d hoped – maybe Cady had exhausted that well?! So in the New Year I’ll be changing things around a bit for my FFC posts. Watch this space! My first post will be late January so if you want to schedule an update around then just let us know 🙂

      • Marsha

        That would be fantastic. You are a great addition to the team. You all have such different talents, locations, and perspectives. What I’m interested in is the back story and your cross-world communication, and what changes you have in mind. You can email me a narrative, then maybe we can chat. It will be hard to chat together because of the time differences but we could try. I’ll email you all.

  • rkrontheroad

    I haven’t used guides in most of my travels, but these men seem so helpful, kind, and patient. My son and I had a guide in Tibet (required), a gentle young man about my son’s age at the time (early 20s). He was careful to talk about Chinese occupation and current events when we were away from buildings and other people. He wanted us to have a realistic picture of the country and its hardships, but not get into trouble by doing so. Our trail guide on a Peru trek, Elvis, and my son became fast friends. He told stories of myths and history as we wandered the mountains and villages.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      These sound like wonderful guides Ruth, the kind that introduce you to something of their country’s culture and politics etc., not just the obvious tourist facts and figures!

  • I. J. Khanewala

    We haven’t usually travelled with a guide, but on our trips around India we often hire a car, and it comes with a driver. This man is crucial to the trip; the best can enter the spirit of the trip, and enhance it. The worst, well. Let’s just say you don’t want to remember them. It seems to be like your experience with guides.

  • wetanddustyroads

    Very true … a good guide can make or break a holiday! We have not had many guides on our adventures thus far, but those we had (they normally found us), were great! Hussain looks like such a friendly guy (and guide 😄) and yes, I do love Said’s headgear!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Even when travelling independently we’ve quite often found a local guide or driver to show us around. Not only can you get to some hard to reach places that way, you also often benefit from meeting an interesting local who will share the sort of insights about the county that you can’t easily find in guide books.

  • Forestwood

    A good guide can make all the difference to how a tourist feels about a country. It sounds like your Omani guides were top-notch. I remember my wonderful Nepali guide telling me that the people he guided made a difference to the experience – on both sides. It is a different experience with nice people like you, he said. I feel I have repressed guide tendencies: to show off a place one might know well and highlight its history, significant points and interesting sights would be such a joyful job. Sounds like Hussain was a virtuoso!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I have friends who are tour guides and they’ve told me some tales about ‘difficult’ customers! But like you I think there’s something of the guide in me. I loved giving an unofficial tour of Newcastle to some Virtual Tourist friends recently 😃 And maybe that’s why I like blogging about my travels?

  • theartblogger54

    I love Oman. I have lived worked there twice, firstly in Muscat itself at the Sultan of Oman’s Naval Base in 1977 and about 80km from Salalah at Thumrait Air Force Base 1996-2000 (the bit the US Airforce leased form the Omani’s). Back in 1977 it was still traditional Arabia and the drive from Seeb (where I lived) to Muscat was largely undeveloped with just a few villages and small towns scattered here and there. The only other significant town of any size was Muttrah (which due to it being a major fishing port, you could smell long before you saw it!). Wonderful people. Great memories.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      How interesting to have lived and worked there, especially so long ago. I loved the country – amazing landscapes, lovely people, interesting history. Thanks for stopping by 😀

  • Manja Maksimovič

    Ahh, how wonderful that you had excellent guides on this trip and on most of the others. These gentlemen are both very striking and clearly good at their job which is clearly more than just a job for them. You even got such thoughtful gifts! I’m sorry to report that I have not had a single local guide anywhere I went to, at least not a hired one. My hosts showed me around sometimes but I don’t have any photos from those trips. That’s why I will tell a story of a different kind of encounter in my post, if that’s okay. I’ll post it next Friday. Looking forward to the new Friendly Friday adventures in the new year!

  • lgopinath

    Sarah…I admire you for putting this up….it is important to honor the person who takes care of you…even if its part of his job. Some go out of the way too.
    Nice read.

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