Monday, April 8, 2013


Even if you don't speak a word of the local language, you can tell when your tour guides are lost. There's something in the way questions are asked and replied, a tilt of the head, perhaps even a barely perceptible shrug of the shoulders and a hopeful gaze off into the distance. You can just tell.

We were only a short drive out of Muscat but it felt like we were riding around on the Curiosity Rover such was the barrenness of our surroundings. This was dry. Really dry, dusty and very rocky. And in spite of it all being pretty much one colour (a sort of chocolatey grey) it was oddly beautiful. 

If not for some scruffy trees and the occasional goat, we could have easily been the only living things in this part of Oman. But we knew that was not the case. We were looking for honey farmers. Bee-keeping has been practised here since ancient times and Omani honey is considered the best in all of Arabia. It still uses the simplest of methods: Hollowed out date palm trunks cut into lengths approximately one metre long; some honeycomb and a queen are placed inside, and the ends are sealed leaving a bee-sized entry point. The colony does the rest.

After asking the driver of a water delivery truck for directions, we did find some honey farmers who welcomed us with a hospitality that we soon learned to be commonplace in Oman. With introductions made, we spent a good hour or so with these generous gents who kindly opened a precious hive so we could see the business of honey production in action. It seems too simple. Bees go in. Sweet, dark honey comes out.

There's something about tasting food right at the source: The apple straight from the tree; oysters opened fresh off the rocks; home-grown veggies from the patch, and honey from the hive.

We sucked honey from pieces of the waxy comb, and licked our fingers gleefully. Unmistakable sounds of approval and pleasure coming from mouths busy extracting the syrupy sweetness. Talk about food much joy from such a simple experience. Frankly, this is the magic of the universe at its finest. 

But the universe likes to keep things nicely balanced. In my case, the counterpoint came from an unexpectedly close buzz and flutter followed by a searing sting as one of the there's-no-need-to-worry-they-don't-sting bees left a stinger and venom sac pumping its diabolical toxin into my lip. Concerned, one of my travelling companions grabbed a pump-pack of Stingose and gave it a well-intentioned squirt, some of it probably hitting the throbbing target, the rest of its zingy, battery-acidiness trickling into my mouth.

From somewhere one of the bee-keepers brought out a thermos of piping hot, strong Omani coffee infused with Cardamom. Tiny cups were filled, refilled and refilled again.

After a rough start, we now had honey, coffee and any thoughts of being lost were long forgotten. Even with the occasional lingering lick of aluminium sulphate from the Stingose, and a lip more plump than Lana Del Rey's I'd say that, on the universal balance of things, I was miles in front.


Confession: I recently had the very great privilege of travelling to Oman as a guest of the Sultanate of Oman Ministry of Tourism. As you would imagine, I was very well looked after and have committed to writing a handful of posts describing my time there. Just quietly, I loved every minute (in hindsight, yes, even the bee sting) and think it might just be my new favourite place. 

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