FRIDAY 3 MAY – SALALAH. Oman, of which the euphonic Salalah is the second city, is a country not blessed by an abundance of natural resources but which has a progressively-minded Sultan who, since tipping his father out of office, has performed social and economic wonders for his people.
Apart from defeating Australia in football recently, a melancholy fact the locals do not hesitate to mention, there exists little by way of a relationship between our part of the world and this remote desert land.
Nautica berths in a huge port imposingly bedecked with cranes for the export of rocks, cement, fertiliser, a bit of oil and not much else.
The shuttle from the ship drops off Ingrid and me at the port gates, there to negotiate a price with a taxi driver for a couple of hours sightseeing around Salalah.
Like elsewhere in Asia and Asia Minor, the act of bargaining rests somewhere between commercial necessity, gameplay and art form.
I prepare myself for the task, as usual, by calculating what may be a fair price and then, as the process ensues, working as close to that as I can, determined always to be good-natured about things and certainly not regarding it as some kind of death wrestle.
So we meet tall, rangy taxi driver Salim who says he’ll guide us around the city for a couple of hours for 30 real (about $75). That being well within my expectations, so there’s no need to haggle, off we go.
“Where you like see?” asks Salim, who is impressively self-taught in English. Not knowing this city from the far side of nowhere, we’re happy to go with Salim’s Salalah Experience, and tell him so.
The first stop is the camel market.
A good camel in this neck of the woods sells for around 1,000 real ($2,500). The athletic ones are used for racing; the rest, and that’s most of them, for food.
“You have camel in Australia?” Salim asks. When I affirm, he responds, “One hump or two?” which takes me right to the limit of my knowledge of the species.
And so we look around the souk (market), the Sultan’s magnificent palace, some splendid international hotels, coconut and banana farms, and the grand mosque - where Ingrid is fetchingly bedecked in a local scarf that Salim digs out from the boot of his taxi. (I am similarly well attired in the PNG cap that Francis Nii gave me.)
Salim, who is married with a couple of young daughters, is from a small village in the mountains north of here. He owns this taxi and, back home, 20 cattle, which he uses for breeding.
He is a gently spoken and elegant man and we soon strike up a warm relationship.
At the end of the trip, back at the port gates, I give him the 30 real we owe and an Australian five dollar note. He knows nothing about Australia; has never before seen our currency; and does not know that we speak English as our native tongue.
That’s when the German appears. An ugly, mean-faced man with small eyes.
“Hoe mich you pie hem?” the German mutters to me, as Salim looks on.
I tell him 30 real, say that's a reasonable price and commend Salim to him.
Then, as I move towards the shuttle, the German begins to loudly haggle, first with Salim and then, more shrilly, with other drivers in quick succession.
The bargaining soon becomes a vituperative one-sided harangue and, as drivers and security guards gather, the insults begin to ring out in a strangled Germanic English – “Cheat! Thief! Liar!”
The Omanis – a sweet, hospitable and inoffensive people – are deeply insulted by this disagreeable and disrespectful performance by a guest in their country.
As the police arrive, the German and his tired-eyed wife retreat to the shuttle, threatening to take this “furter wid mein kontekt in gabamit”, and refusing to leave the bus.
That is until I and the other passengers decamp to another shuttle that’s just arrived.
Whereupon our Teutonic hero, seeking safety in western numbers and having caused mayhem - as I discover talking to the drivers, for the second time this day - scuttles after us.
And as he enters the shuttle, I put a real big flea in his ratty little ear.
It’s the same with arseholes like this all over the world, when they can’t get their own miserable way they fart in everyone’s salad.