An oasis of charm
DOWN on the beach beside the 500-year-old Portugese fort which guards the entrance to the ancient Omani port of Quriyat, a man was cooking a feed of small fish on a fire.
His three young sons were playing on the sand, allowing their mother to relax on the harbour wall in the shade of an old tree.
I was wondering whether they would mind me photographing this charming scene when to my slight surprise the woman, whose long dress and headscarf was less enveloping than that of most of the other women I had seen in the town, said in perfect English, "Good afternoon. How are you enjoying Quriyat?"
Actually I was enjoying Quriyat a lot. It's not really on Oman's burgeoning tourist trail but it is extremely picturesque and with its colourful fishing fleet, rusty old freighters, lively fish market, nice beaches, strategically placed fort and friendly people is a delightful microcosm of coastal Oman (the deserts and mountains, of course, are a very different kind of spectacle).
She seemed pleased to hear my enthusiastic response and explained Quriyat was a very old town which had been settled by a series of tribes- "Quriyat just means many villages" - dating back at least 2000 years and probably longer.
"It has been less altered than many cities in Oman. We have good roads and electricity and other services but the town has not changed a lot. People here like to preserve the traditional way of living."
I had certainly read that Quriyat had a reputation for keeping traditional crafts alive and on my way through the town noticed a lot of small workshops where men were making ornate iron gates and beautiful wooden furniture.
Fortunately, despite that conservative approach, her husband, who looked like a weatherbeaten fisherman but also spoke excellent English, was happy to be photographed as he cooked the fish. Of course," he said.
The three boys were even more enthusiastic and rushed over from their playing as soon as I produced my camera. Like boys the world over, two of them posed flexing their muscles with the old fort as a backdrop, then the three of them did a bit of wrestling.
Soon, however, the fish was cooked and the boys' attention quickly moved from photos to food so I moved on, thanking them for their friendliness. "You're welcome," the man said. "Any time."
I had actually walked to their little beach in order to have a look at the fort but it was on a small rocky island, just inside the stone breakwater, and I'd have had to swim to reach it.
So after taking a few photos I wandered back down the small peninsula which protects the port from the Sea of Oman and admired the line-up of brightly painted fishing boats posing - just like the small boys - along the foreshore surrounded by flocks of seabirds.
One, I noticed, was called Al Batross. What might that mean? Or was it a little Omani joke?