Monday, June 27, 2022 | Dhu al-Qaadah 27, 1443 H
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The adventure of a blonde and a very old car #17

“Please let this be the last time I drag this tent through a posh hotel lobby!” Mrs J sighed with poorly contained annoyance.

We had changed our plans of camping a night or two out of our small rented Yaris. However, Mrs J had come to the conclusion that she wasn’t great with the idea of sleeping amongst Dhofar’s wildlife after all. So we were back in our Salalah hotel room, which we had left in high spirits and full of confidence the very same morning. Oh well, plans change.

“Excuse me”, the hotel receptionist called out as we tried to sneak past her with a cool box, tents, sleeping bags and a gas stove. “We have a message for you: Your Pajero is ready to be picked up from the garage”. This was the best news we had had in days. Finally we could pack our things (again) and continue our journey camping along the coast, all the way back to Muscat.

The mechanic shrugged. “The oil pump is fixed but I’m afraid the old girl is still stuck in 3rd gear. We can fix that too but you’ll have to wait another couple of months until we find a new gearbox”. Mrs J looked at me wide-eyed. “But my flight home...?” she whispered.

“It’s fine, we’ll take it as it is”, I assured the mechanic. 3rd gear had got us this far.

Finally we were back on the road again. First stop was Sumhuram, the UNESCO heritage site, also known as Khor Rori archaeological site. The place had been under excavation for years, and now stood as a beautiful part-museum part-archaeological site on a hilltop overlooking the creek.

Mrs J wasn’t a big fan of museums and always got that vacant look in her eyes when forced to walk from room to room looking at artifacts. It was difficult to imagine that this was the same woman who could easily spend 4 hours in IKEA walking from room to room looking at ‘artifacts’. So I had to talk up this visit a bit to get her interested.

“You know, legends have it that these are the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s summer palace. She would come here and enjoy the cool breeze and watch the dhows come in to the habour with goodies from lands far away, and leave again loaded with the famous Dhofar’s frankincense. Just imagine.”

The archaeological site was beautifully laid out and one could easily imagine, once upon a time, this fortified city full of life. Narrow paths led us past ruins, which in those days had been divided into areas of residence, a large market place with big warehouses built for storage of frankincense and cargo.

The mentioning of Queen of Sheba had piqued Mrs J’s interested as expected. The fact that scholars still argued whether the queen had ever existed, didn’t matter at that moment. Mrs J had a frame of reference as she walked around the restored walls, touched a stone here and there, and that made the experience more real to her. “Picture the beautiful queen leisurely walking here with her entourage. Selecting the best quality frankincense and myrrh to gift to King Solomon, hoping her wealth and beauty would seduce him”.

I swear, I hadn’t meant to burst her romantic bubble or scatter her pink clouds. But the story was just too good to keep to myself.

“Did you know, that the Queen of Sheba (or Bilqis, as she is known in Islamic tradition) travelled to visit King Solomon with a camel caravan bearing gold and spices, with the purpose of testing his famed wisdom and flirt a bit? The king’s jinn worried that the king might be tempted to marry her, and to put him off, whispered in his ear that rumours had it that the queen had hairy legs (and the hooves of a donkey). The king being curious, had a glass floor built in front of his throne, made to look like water. The queen raised her skirts to cross it, and revealed to all, her legs were indeed truly hairy. The king never proposed”.

Mrs J glared at me for a long second. “Well, that is just typical, isn’t it?”

And so began the long silent drive towards Mirbat.

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