Marhaban! Welcome to the Sultanate of Oman and Muscat to be exact aka Death Valley by the Sea!
The Global Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition has arrived in the Middle East, and the competition is heating up -- and truly warming the Ringmasters heart! Competition is a good thing -- especially in an internationally recognized travel adventure competition that annually crowns The World's Greatest Travelers.
Following each team's Peer Review process at the conclusion of the par 4 Sri Lankan leg -- that was only finalized when teams were required to show photographic evidence of the beasties they had encountered (insects, birds and fish need not apply!) -- a wild large tusked elephant seems to have won the day!
As a result, we now have a three-way tie atop the official 2012 Leader Board, with our travel savvy defending champions Zoe and Rainey from the USA (Team Lawyers without Borders), hanging on to first place and two obviously great and now seemingly ferociously competitive teams close behind: the Kiwi team of Saskia and Andrew (You're not in Guatemala now Dr. Ropata) along with the other dynamic duo team of sisters from Down Under, Fiona and Katrina (Sydney Sisters).
With just eleven points (out of 25 total for the event), and only four legs left in this the 8th annual around the world travel adventure competition, it seems that The World's Greatest Travelers crown and title for 2012 is indeed up to any one of those teams to win -- or lose!
48 Hours in Oman:
So the teams are currently out sight-doing in Oman on this par 3 leg -- just 48 hours to experience the vast expanse of the Empty Quarter, explore wadis, ancient souks, take dhow cruises, bid at camel markets, mosques and take in so many hidden desert gems and picturesque mountainous villages. I suspect we will see henna-adorned, kuma and musyr-wearing and hubbly-bubbly high teams arriving at our 9 p.m. check-in deadline tonight in Muscat.
Who will have done well here is anyone's guess, because Oman offers a unique set of travel-related challenges for our teams, and I am sure that the three top teams are being fully engaged in their authentic and participatory Omani scavenges.
One of the numerous elements that make traveling so special to many world weary vagabonds is the appreciation and embrace of transitions: the hues of dawn/dusk, the hustle and bustle of departures/arrivals, the awkward feelings of being neither here/there, the nitty-gritty of border towns, the abruptness between towns/empty space, the beginning of the work day and the end of it, the natural geographic borders between sea/sky, water/land, plains/mountains and forests /deserts. You know and recognize them if you are an awake, curious and observant traveler. They are the sweet spots located at the illusive intersection of halfway there. When you occupy that space in sight, sound, smell and mind, you know it. It is special time and place; one of the many golden hours of travel.
On the flip side of transitions are the ever-present paradoxes and juxtaposition that travelers encounter on a daily basis by choice: the tug between urban and rural, the clash of traditional and modern, the struggle between secular and spiritual, the distance between rich and poor, the generational difference between young and old and of course man made versus natural.
The Global Scavenger Hunt event is designed in part to allow participants to see, experience and wholly engage and partake in these transitions and juxtapositions every day of the event. We force our competitors to find them, see them and confront them -- and to learn from them. We have easy legs and then really hard legs; we attempt to cover all our major religions during the course of the event; we send them to traditional societies as well as ultra-modern ones; they experience the wonders of both man and nature.
Speaking of juxtapositions. While walking to the Gulf of Oman for my daily swim, my left side collided with my right side: colorful bikini-clad women sunning on beach chairs while five black burqa-clad women enjoying an al fresco lunch. What an ever fascinating world we live in.
He said what? Actually overheard last night in a souk coffee shop, a Saudi was explaining to a soon-to-be business associate why letting women drive cars in Saudi Arabia was not such a good idea, by actually stating: "...it is really unsafe you know. After all they don't have very good peripheral vision looking out from their face-covering burqas." Well said?!
It was an odd playlist mix last night at the Al Ghazal, a half pub/half nargileh (aka hookah) coffeehouse -- by the vibe manager, with some African vibes, a little Indian fusion, even some Arabic karaoke to shake the room. But in the quiet moment between tunes, a Hotel California ring tone from a Bedouin's cell wrecked the mood, "...you can check out, but you can never leave!"
Observation: Nary has a horn honked today in Muscat. I miss my Sri Lankan taxi driver Soyso and his 15 honks per minute!
Lingering Questions Today?
How come so few Arab men appear to wear glasses compared to other nationalities? And why do so many places employ Kleenex tissues as napkins?
And so the 2012 edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt, this "real-life Amazing Race" of sorts, as some former participants have called it, is in the Middle East for a quick 48 hours. And then we head off in the morning to someplace entirely different: the island of Cyprus. (But shhh, don't tell anyone as you know this is A Blind Date with the World and we would hate any of our competitors to get any upper hand competitive advantage!)
Please catch us later and stay tuned to the event's comings and goings in our next installment of life on the road with The Global Scavenger Hunt 2012 travel adventure competition.
Cheers and happy travels all,
Follow William D. Chalmers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@wmchalmers