Eight reasons why I love the ocean here

Right now, we are in the throes of paper grading, speaking exams, and general mayhem here at the college as the semester winds down. Normally this is a very relaxed place, but right now the pace is quite harried and hurried. Thus, now is the perfect time to think about the good stuff about living here, and one of the best things is the ocean. We are a 30-minute drive to the Gulf of Oman, which provides the perfect escape from anything that needs to be forgotten, even if just for a couple of hours. I present to you my top eight reasons for treasuring each moment I spend there:

  1. It’s warm

No matter what time of year, it’s pleasant to go into the water. I’ve heard it gets up to 30 degrees Celsius in the summer, which seems a little out of control – not that I’m complaining. Even now in the “cold season” (nights on the beach drop down to the high teens/low 20s), the water is still warm – warmer than the air at that point.

  1. It’s calm

Few waves disturb you as you float thoughtlessly in the water. Ahhhhhh….

ocean

If you like surfing, this is NOT the place for you.

 

  1. It’s deserted

For whatever reasons, few Omanis see the ocean as a place to hang out. I asked my students once if they liked the ocean and they all pretty much said no. When I told them I liked to go swimming, they thought I was nuts. The ocean seems to be seen as more of a place of work and industry than pleasure, at least in this region. There are several fishing boats out there at all times (we see their lights at night in the distance), and fish is a main food staple here. The shipping trade routes are also quite busy here. But that doesn’t mean one couldn’t also use it for fun. I wonder if part of the reason is the conflict between beach attire and conservative Omani dress code. I have seen women in their abayas on the beach before, and it doesn’t seem right through my Western perspective; beaches are for swimsuits, or perhaps shorts and a T-shirt. I try to cover up well until it gets dark, then I strip down to my one-piece suit (a thread-bare specimen I wore in college! I’ve been wearing two-piece ones typically) and venture in.

  1. Groovy sea life

When I’m out in the water I think about all the creatures that are sharing their space with me, like the ones I saw when snorkeling. I also know there are a ton of dolphins in this region, though I have yet to see them. The sea shells that get washed up onto the beach are also really neat. I collect a couple each time we go there and place them in a display bowl at home.

shells

The beginning of my super-cool shell collection.

 

  1. I love swimming when it’s dark

As the sun sets and the sky goes from lighter to darker shades of grey, the sea does its best to match. The effect is that I feel as though I am floating in space. I lie on my back and face out into nothingness as calm waves wash over me. Oftentimes, the water has a phosphorescence which makes the waves and the water I disturb gently with my hands a powerfully intense reflective green. The water is pretty salty, so staying afloat is a breeze. Absolute peace is the result.

  1. Parking is easy

We take Horst off the road and onto the beach. It’s easier to hide our beverages that way too ;-).

ocean Horst

Must be in the front row…

 

  1. The company is great

We tend to go with a couple of other teachers each time. Conversation flows as freely as the libations. We vent about challenging students and situations, our friends and family back home, lost pets, about anything on our minds. The sloughing waves; warm, dark, salty air, and quiet create the perfect safe space for honest conversations.

  1. It’s in my blood

I’m a Scorpio with a moon in Scorpio and a Pisces rising. That’s means I’m a triple water sign (note: I have had two astrologers state that it “must be hard to be you,” after seeing my chart). If the stars and heavens don’t draw me to the coast, I have no idea what would.

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The pace of Omani life

Things move a lot more slowly here than they did when I lived in the US. I have fewer responsibilities, both career- and home-wise. My job can be challenging at times, but with only two classes, I can manage the workload. I don’t own my home, so I don’t have to worry as much about maintenance. I have a lot less stuff so there isn’t a lot to do to manage it. A smaller social circle, which of course has its drawbacks, also means that I often find myself with not much to do on the weekends except read, plan lessons, and watch the world go by — but it is a beautiful world, as you can see from this amazing sunset.

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Seriously, it doesn’t get more amazing than this.

 

This past Friday, a good part of my afternoon was spent watching the fate of a poor goat who climbed up a construction site, but was too afraid to come back down. He alerted me to his presence with a sad, but loud bleat, which made it hard to concentrate on my grading. Hearing goats in the neighborhood is pretty common, but this cry was different enough for me to investigate. Then again, while grading papers, any distraction is welcome.

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Goat butt. Poor guy is looking for a way out.

 

At first I laughed, but then I worried. How the heck was he going to get down? I watched from my window for some time. Slowly, he worked his way down one small flight of four. He was making progress, but still had a long way to go. Nevertheless, I remained optimistic. Clearly, if he made it down one flight, he could figure out the rest?

goat in shadows

Progress!

 

Alas, I over-estimated the brain power of a goat.  His progress was temporary, as he ended up not liking where he was and went UP again. Thinking I could help, I got dressed and went up the precarious cement stairs of the incomplete building. The dang goat was on the opposite side of the roof, running along the edge. I think he was trying to give me a heart attack. Or, seeing no way, out of his situation, he was preparing to sacrifice his life just to see the ground again. I tried to tell him his plan was lethally flawed, but he wouldn’t listen.

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He was running so fast, I could barely watch. At least he stopped to admire the view.

 

Not wanting to distress him further (no way was I going to witness a goat plunging to his death), I threw a pear core in his general direction – after all, the poor guy needed sustenance to make it through this ordeal — and went back to my lookout perch to monitor any further progress. After about an hour, he made it down yet another flight.

I think I watched that dang goat for over two hours. I’m not sure if that’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever admitted, or if it just shows that life here moves at a different pace. For now, I choose the latter explanation/justification. At any rate, my goat supervision duties came to a halt when friends texted us to see if we wanted to go to the beach. While the goat was entertaining, a swim in the ocean was a much more appealing option and off we went.

one flight down

I said an optimistic goodbye as I saw the goat yet another flight down.

 

When we got home that night, the goat was gone. I guess he finally figured it out.

 

Things can be better the second time around

I went snorkeling for the second time in my life. The first time I didn’t like it; water kept filling my mask and I inhaled copious amounts of water as I tried to find something remotely alive in the cloudy Pacific Ocean off an over-populated Hawaiian beach. I really had no idea what the big deal was as my boyfriend at the time merrily kicked his flippers about among the waves, his snorkel barely visible as he grew more distant.

This time it was entirely different. We took a small, inflatable motor boat out to our destination – the ride lasted over an hour as we passed one set of islands, then another, before finally arriving at the designated spot. The water was completely clear – a perfect pale, greenish blue. Waves were minimal and the water was 30 degrees Centigrade (that’s over 90 for you Americans). I was essentially in a large salt bath filled with color and life.

ocean

This is the only picture I took. The boat was pretty shaky so it’s out of focus and overall just a poor shot.

Within 10 minutes of swimming around, I saw sea turtles! They were completely unphased by my presence, seemingly happy to swim around with me, or in spite of me.

turtle swim

I also saw the most beautiful fish – the same fish I had seen a few months before at my local sushi restaurant. There, the tropical fish were not for consumption, but aesthetic; they swam around in a large tank for all customers to see as us humans feasted on distant cousins. Never did I think I would see these creatures in their natural habitat (Note: All these pictures were taken by a friend of mine, Ali Mac, who is a diver with a cool underwater camera. These are the same creatures I saw though!).

stripes

trigger fish

The coral reefs were pretty cool too:

coral

During our second snorkeling run (after a short snack break), we went to yet another location where the reefs made the ocean about three feet deep. It allowed us to see the fish up close and personal. Fish like the clown fish, parrot fish, and these guys.

fish

Cliché as it may be, I truly felt as if I was in another world. The coral looked like brains, fungi on a forest floor, or dead desert trees; it came in white, pink, brown, purple, and green. It was so hard not to touch them given how shallow the water was (tide was low in addition to the reef being large); I did my best to respect all the life I encountered.

coral 2

As with the first time, water still got into my mask and stung my eyes, and I drank my share of salt water, but this time it didn’t matter so much. The sea creeping into my orifices was a small price to pay for what I was able to witness. I guess I can equate snorkeling with Brussels sprouts; I hated those tiny cabbages at first, but now I consider them one of my favorites. Snorkeling may not be something I do often, but I hope to experience its wonder again while I’m here.