On this recent trip, all the dive sites were different, so everything was new. To be fair, all the sites are broadly similar tropical wall dives with prolific hard and soft corals and uncountable reef fish. Others in the party from Doha were lucky enough to see, and in some cases photograph, rays and turtles; Muggins wasn’t that fortunate.
The weekend away was organised by one of the guys in Doha Sub-Aqua Club to provide a change from the dubious delights of the silt and jellyfish of Old Club Reef. We flew to Muscat on Thursday night, dived intensively on Friday and Saturday morning, and then chilled out at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort before taking the Fun Bus back to Seeb airport in Muscat at obscenely early hours of Sunday morning. Thus, a very early flight got me back in Doha and at my desk by around 6:30am instead of the customary 8am.
Beloved Wife simply drove over to Muscat from Dubai, picked me up from the airport on Thursday night, and we drove to the dive centre on Friday morning.
I finally escaped from the airport so late on Thursday that it was almost Friday. Over 90 minutes I stood in a queue to have my passport stamped. It was Visa On Arrival, and paying was the easy bit. Why is Muscat’s immigration so unbelievably slow? How long does it take to find an empty page in someone’s passport and hit it with a rubber stamp? I pity the poor hapless fools who had purchased their visas in advance. They had to stand in a different queue to get their visas before joining the back of the passport-stamping queue. Even having a visa in advance was no help. The queue for visa holders was even longer.
How is it that when one of those alumininium tubes with wings pulls up outside the terminal building - exactly as forecast in the flight schedules - and disgorges several hundred people, that the authorities seem completely unprepared for the sudden influx? Once again, it’s Karma Sutra Passport Control: Loads of positions, but most of them don’t work. Beloved Wife rang me to find out if she’d missed me at Meet and Greet. No, I was still queuing.
Having at last got my visa stamp (on yet another empty page), I spent the next half an hour looking for my luggage. All bags had been removed from the baggage carousels and piled in unwieldy heaps. Was there any clue as to which carousel the Doha flight had used? Is the Pope a Buddhist?
I was certainly a relief to get to our friend TGL’s flat and become horizontal for a few hours. Beloved Wife handed me a small pie at the airport to cheer me up. Good show!
Friday’s breakfast consisted of an Egg McMuffin in lieu of food, and we headed off in Beloved Wife’s car to the resort. I drove and BW fiddled with her new GPS.
The diving was, on the whole, excellent. There are some additional photos in this gallery.
Having washed the kit after finishing on Saturday, we killed time allowing it to dry, and awaiting 6pm and Happy Hour. It would not do to pack our dive kit wet; paying excess baggage for water is extremely undesirable.
A beery and sleepless evening followed, and at 2:30am we boarded the fun bus back to Muscat and the airport. Here, I discovered a colossal cock-up with my ticketing. For reasons unknown, I was booked to fly a week later, and the only way to get aboard today was to buy a new ticket. A single Muscat to Doha cost an appalling OMR150, or some $400. My original ticket had been obtained through Qatar Airways’ Frequent flyer Air Miles, and should be changeable for a $25 fee. But of course, nobody’s available at 3am, and I couldn’t wait until office hours owing to the need for me to present myself in my office. Oh, and the website to obtain a refund on the unused return ticket simply crashes, perhaps because it’s allergic to giving anything back. It's not a total loss, however. Qatar Airways have now cancelled my erroneous booking for 23rd October, and I can apparently pay $25 to reroute it Dubai to Doha any time before September next year.
Not true, I have learned (November 2011). It's $25 to change the date, plus $25 to change from MCT-DOH to DXB-DOH, plus the difference in airport taxes. In other words, "$25" is nearer $100.
It took a while, but I eventually found myself airside. I went looking for breakfast. The only place that was open and offering solid food was a Dairy Queen. I stood at the entrance and checked my Omani cash, the menu, and the employee poised expectantly at the counter. Decision made, I asked for that thing on the menu, only to be advised that Dairy Queen was closed until 6am. So why the bloody hell didn’t he say so while I was planning my breakfast? Why wasn’t he simply asleep in his bed? What is the point of creating an illusion of being open for business when the shop is in fact closed?
On the whole, the diving and chilling part of the weekend was excellent, albeit unnecessarily expensive owing to the ticketing screw-up. Such a pity that I find myself exhausted and irritated by the trials of air travel, and immediately in need of a holiday to recover.