Some of you will have been in this situation before.
Traveling on a budget and booking the cheapest flights available often comes at the price of long overnight layovers in remote airports. These layovers often seem to be too long to stay awake but too short to justify spending precious money on hotels and taxi fares. This is particularly unattractive when the airport in question is old and doesn’t provide any furniture even remotely comfortable on which you could lounge and catch a nap.
Having been in Oman before, I knew there was a possible solution to this dilemma: get a short-term visa, rent the cheapest car available and go exploring.
Arriving at the rental desk long after midnight and asking to hire a car until 9:00am caused some confusion and took some reassurance, but looking at the faces of the puzzled staff was totally worth it for amusement value alone. I still had to pay for a whole day, but beggars can’t be choosers, right?
The car handed over to me was nothing to write home about, just a plain and rather dull Chevrolet Malibu. But hey, the A/C worked and the seats are way more comfortable than the benches in the transit area of the old airport. OK then, let’s go. No GPS, no map, no plan…
Muscat At Night
Sultan Quaboos Street takes you from the airport to Muscat and is brightly lit at night. Cruising at a leisurely pace on the empty four-lane highway, soothing electronic music playing from a local radio station, the city lights and the full moon shining is like meditation. I kept on driving until I eventually hit the end of the road at the Al Bustaan Palace, where the dhow sitting atop the roundabout is lit at night in absolute silence.
By now the jet-lag demanded its toll. I was properly tired and in most other countries I would have made an effort to find a safe place to sleep for a couple of hours. But this is Oman, so I just parked my car somewhere in Mutrah and dozed off for a couple of hours. That was, until the Muezzin call from the nearby mosque woke me up at the faintest hint of daylight.
Rising early ensured that I arrived at Al Khuwair North in time for a colorful sunrise. All of a sudden people appeared from every direction. First some fishermen, heading to their boat in a well-kept Nissan Patrol pick-up. Other people were walking their dogs, jogging along the beach or swimming.
Work & Play At The Beach
On virtually every flat surface along Street 37, groups of people from India set up makeshift cricket fields for a game. What a nice way to start the day. Most of them parked directly on the beach, so don’t be fooled by the empty parking spaces in the sunrise picture three images above.
The warm color of the early morning sun gave the red paint of a Chrysler 300C and a Ford Fusion a sparkling golden hue. It had been hot at night, but the heat intensified massively once the sun came up. Being quite thirsty by now, I started looking for a convenience store or gas station to buy some supplies.
But again, this is Oman and one gets distracted easily by the cars parked casually in front of the houses. This time it was the pair of Subaru Impreza WRX STIs in the opening image.
Across the street, a rather subtle Lexus IS300.
The Daihatsu Wildcat around the corner certainly looked scared, as he would much likely prefer to be lifted. It must have been decades since I last saw one of these outside of a museum. The doors have been replaced with custom items and painted to match the body.
The Wildcat’s bigger brothers are a more common sight in Oman, but living in Germany unfortunately provides very few opportunities to spot these legendary 4x4s. First up was a blue Defender 130 pick-up equipped with what looked like a home-made roll bar.
A couple of roads further west, a 40 Series Land Cruiser was patiently waiting for a random photographer to drive by.
The successors of these legends are my favorites. The form-follows-function design approach of the 70 Series trucks proves once more that it creates timeless lines that never go out of fashion or look dated.
These are common and relatively affordable work trucks in most Arabic countries, but are worth a fortune in Germany, because it is so expensive to modify them for compliance with European emission standards.
The 60 Series Land Cruiser is starting to become a sought after collectible now. Cars and trucks living in the desert generally don’t suffer from corrosion, unlike their counterparts in Europe which are affected from salted roads in winter, making rust-free examples very expensive.
Slowly making my way back to the airport, I found a nicely modified eighth-generation Honda Accord.
If you look closely, you can see that the interior is wrapped in clear plastic film. Having seen similar in many cars, I have been wondering why somebody would want to do that? I presume it is to protect the fabric or leather from wear and tear, but it seems odd to use a material that causes sweating. It would be great if one of the local readers could share some insights about this peculiar trend.
It probably doesn’t make much sense to own a convertible in such a hot country either. This Volkswagen Golf Mk1 Cabriolet was parked next to a Lexus ES near the airport, in what looked like a free or cheap long-term parking lot.
The Mercedes-Benz O303 coach in the background triggered many childhood memories from the 1980s, when these were new and plentiful in Germany.
Lots of trucks and buses I’ve spotted in Oman have been imported at some point in time, and surprisingly, many still sport the old German company names on their bodywork.
Imported from the other side of the world, this Toyota Corona T100 still goes strong and provides reliable transportation for the owner. Which Speedhunters reader doesn’t have pictures of over-fenders and a set of retro JDM wheels in their mind when looking at this picture?
Do you like contrasts? How about a stock standard Hyundai Accent in driving school livery, parked next to a lowered Ford Mustang with a set of aftermarket wheels?
After eight hours in the country, half of them asleep in the reclined seat of the Malibu, I made my way back to the rental car counter and returned the keys. Total mileage driven: less than 100km. Would I repeat this if I ever have a long layover at MCT again? No need to ask, really. The best drive-by snapshots experiences are the ones you least expect.
Oman is a great and safe country with very friendly people. Most, if not all, younger people speak English and are happy to talk about cars. If you have the chance, go and visit – even if it’s only for a couple of hours or days.
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