THE OPENING OF OMAN

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DANAE MERCER crosses mountains, desert and coastline on a road trip from Dubai to Oman

打開阿曼的大門

Danae Mercer駕車穿越高山、沙漠與海岸,從杜拜前往阿曼

DANAE MERCER drives from coast to mountain to city in the Arabian Gulf’s friendliest, most spectacular and (formerly) most secretive land Danae Mercer駕車穿越海岸、山脈和城市,探索阿拉伯灣最熱情好客、風光最秀麗,一度披上神秘面紗的國土

It is 6pm in Oman. The sun has dipped behind the Al Hajar mountains and the moon, nearly full, is the brightest thing in sight. We are inside a box room while a Liverpool football match blares from the TV on the wall.

‘ Halwa?’ one of the officers asks, presenting a sticky sweet dish of ghee, flour and nuts. ‘Coffee?’

I’ve been on the road for 10 hours, and we’ve just found the world’s friendliest police checkpoint.

Oman is naturally extraordinary. Its geography ranges from the monsoon-kissed southern coast to a fair chunk of the Empty Quarter desert to the jagged mountains of the Musandam Peninsula. Oman is a world apart from neighbouring Dubai. Low-rise buildings meet huge expanses of emptiness. Red dunes merge into sharp mountains and goats wander along the quieter streets.

It’s vast, empty, unprocessed – but changing. In the mid 1990s, this historic and conservative land began, very cautiously, to open

阿曼時間下午6時。太陽已隱沒在Al Hajar山後脈背 ,眼前最明亮的景色是天際的一輪圓月。

我們置身斗室,牆上的電視正大聲播放著一場利物浦足球賽。

「要吃點哈爾瓦酥糖嗎?」其中一位警官遞來一碟以酥油、麵粉和果仁製成的甜糕。要「 喝杯咖啡嗎?」

我們已在路上十個小時,剛剛走進了世上最親切友善的警察查檢 站。

阿曼擁有與眾不同的天然景。疆觀 其 土從南部受季候風影響的海岸,延綿至大片空曠的Empty Quarter沙,漠 至穆桑代姆半島的崎嶇山脈。阿曼的面貌與毗鄰的杜拜可謂天淵之別:大片曠野上點綴了低矮樓房,紅色沙丘與崇山峻嶺連成一氣,人煙稀少的街道上有山羊在遊蕩。

但這片空曠遼闊、未經開發的土地正在悄悄轉變。1990年代中期,這個歷史悠久而保守的國家小心翼翼地開放旅遊市場,現時步伐正不斷加快。阿曼旅遊部將在未來25年投資高達

350億美元( 2,730億港元) ,計劃將酒店客房數目增加四成。

up to tourism. Now the pace is quickening. The Ministry of Tourism is investing up to US$35 billion (HK$273 billion) over the next 25 years, with a 40 per cent increase in the number of hotel rooms planned. Already a handful of new hotels have popped up. The focus: premium properties, higherspending guests, no mass tourism, not much for backpackers.

I want to see Oman of the present, not the future. And I want to do it from the road.

‘ The actual driving in Oman is very easy as the road conditions are very good. They have big, open highways with a lot of long, straight stretches,’ says Kieran Smith of Lightfoot Travel, a bespoke tour operator that helps me organise almost all my trip’s logistics. Smith had recently finished a similar Oman journey. The roads are winding and may require a 4x4, he warns me. Mountains can be challenging and desert even tougher.

‘But as long as you’re a confident driver,’ he adds, ‘I think you should be fine.’

At noon on a Friday in Dubai, my friend Stacey Siebritz and I pile into her dusty 2007 4x4 Pajero.

We set off for Oman.

The roughly two-hour drive from Dubai to Six Senses Zighy Bay is pretty and simple. For 98 kilometres we travel along the E33.

Closer to Dibba, as Google Maps fails, we follow the hotel’s own directions: ‘Left at the dolphin roundabout’, ‘Straight across lantern roundabout’. Roundabouts are rarely dull things in Oman.

Six Senses Zighy Bay is five-star, isolated and romantic, with dimly lit stone-andwood villas inspired by traditional Omani architecture spread out between two pools and palm trees.

Stacey finds the private beach while I hike toward the valley of Wadi al Khamsi. It’s steep and sharp but my guide keeps glancing at the sky. ‘We just need to get over the mountain before the sun goes down,’ he says, and so we push on. At the top there are views across the neighbouring village – flat, tan buildings – and a fisherman’s cove. The guide beckons me to peer inside a squat house of heavy stone. ‘People lived here until 20 years ago.’ ‘Still?’

He shakes his head. ‘No water, no electricity? It was a different life.’

Google tells us the drive from coastal Zighy Bay to Alila Jabal Akhdar, perched some 2,000 metres above sea level, will take seven hours.

It takes closer to 10.

There are the Al Hajar mountains to cross. And there are multiple borders – 當地有已 數家全酒新 店陸續成落 ,優以 質住宿招徠高消旅費客,把大型旅行團拒諸門外,更令背 客望而卻步。

我想欣賞阿曼的當下風光,而非發展後的面貌。而且我希望以公路旅行的方式進行。

專為旅客度身訂造行程的Lightfoot Travel旅社行 為我安排這趟旅程的大小事宜,其職員Kieran Smith表示:「在阿曼市區駕車輕而易舉,因為道路狀況優良,寬闊的大型高速公路上有許多長而筆直的路段」。 Smith說他最近完成了類似的阿曼自駕遊,他提醒我穿越阿曼郊區的道路蜿蜒曲折,可能需要出動驅四車,馭駕 山路的旅程絕不鬆輕,而在沙漠地帶駕車更為艱辛。

他補充道:「不過只要你對自己的駕駛技術有信心,就不會有問題。」

某個星期五中午,我和朋友Stacey Siebritz在杜拜爬進她那輛滿是灰塵的2007年菱三 Pajero四車驅 。

我們出發前往阿曼。

從杜拜前往Six Senses Zighy Bay酒店約需兩小時,一路車程輕鬆簡單、風光明媚。

我在們 E33公路行駛了98公里,快到Dibba時卻連不上Google地圖,於是按照酒店提供的指示前進:「在海豚迴旋處左轉」「, 過了燈籠旋迴 處向前直駛」。阿曼的迴旋處往往充滿妙趣,一點也不沉。悶

Six Senses Zighy Bay是一家隱世而洋溢浪漫情懷的五星級酒店,別墅坐落在兩個泳池和棕櫚樹之間,採用傳統的阿曼建築風格,以石頭和木材建成,內部燈光柔和適舒 。

Stacey前酒往 店的私人海灘,我則朝著Wadi al Khamsi峽谷的方向遠。足路途陡險峭 峻,可是導遊卻不斷抬頭向望 天空:「我們得在日落前越過山峰。」因此我們加快伐在了步。站 山巔,可以俯瞰毗鄰村莊的棕色平房,還有一個小漁導灣。 遊示意我向一間由厚重日塊砌成的小屋張內 望。「直至20年前,還有人住在這裡。」「在有現還 嗎?」

他搖搖頭「。沒有水和電力的生活,教人無法想像」。

Google地圖顯示,從邊海的Zighy Bay駕前車 往盤踞海拔2,000多米山上的Alila Jabal Akhdar度假村需要七個小時。

實際車程卻花了近十小時。

MOUNTAINS CAN BE CHALLENGING AND DESERT EVEN TOUGHER山路絕不輕鬆,在沙漠駕車更為艱辛

我但們不 需穿要 越Al Hajar山途脈,中更得不停進出阿聯酋的邊境,一共越過五個邊境關卡。

人煙阜盛的風景不時在我們眼前曇花一現,復又轉瞬即逝。我們在阿聯酋的沙迦市,經過水果攤檔林立的Maliha路;沿路前進約一個小時後我, 們來到一個小鎮,那裡攤在陽光下的地毯和陶瓷顯得異常耀眼,吸引一車車遊客駐足細看。我們停在加油站午餐,以即溶咖啡炸和 雞果腹。離開時,提示穆斯林禱告的鐘聲剛好響起。

我們再次進食已是多個小時後,那時太陽已下山,由於途中多次迷路令,我們感到煩躁安不 。就在這個時候,我們兩個筋疲力盡而且風塵僕僕的人駕車駛進了世上最親切友善的警察檢查站,停車等待檢。查 一名警衛從檢查站走出來。

「要喝杯咖啡嗎?」他笑著議提 。對於那時的我而們 言,他絕對是適時的救。星 「要點吃 哈爾瓦酥糖嗎?」

Alila Jabal Akhdar度假村以大自然美景為招徠,賓為 客在四面環抱的壯麗美景之中,提供一處稍事歇息的奢華空間。客房建在高架木樑上,可飽覽Al Hajar山脈景致,低調的啡色和灰色、大型陽台和獨立日砌浴室別具粗獷質樸的魅力。儘管歷史古城Nizwa近在咫尺,但置身於此卻恍如天涯之外。

某早個上,我們遠足途經一個乾河谷只( 在雨季才會注滿水的乾涸河床) ,清涼的空氣寂無聲,周遭只聽見我倆的呼吸聲及山羊的叫聲。第二天,我次首嘗鐵攀試 索 岩,身體緊貼懸崖邊緣兩, 位阿曼導遊守護兩側。隨著世界像是要

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