I am back from Oman and in Dubai for a few days before moving on. I am still having issues with finding a good internet connection anywhere in the Middle East. I still have photos from Thailand I have to upload. The hotel I’m at now in Dubai put a 120mb cap on bandwidth, which can easily be achieved without downloading any big files or watching video.
My trip to Musandam was interesting to say the least. The ferry which goes from Muscat to Musandam is perhaps the worst run business I have ever witnessed in my life. The ferry (of which there are two) is very expensive. I’ve read they cost US$60m each. They are high speed, diesel powered catamarans designed to carry 56 cars and 220 passengers from Muscat to Khasab, the largest city in Musandam. Because Musandam is separated from the rest of Oman, the ferry is designed to eliminate the need for two border crossings when you have to pass into the UAE.
Why is this a horrible business?
- The car ferry has never transported a car. In the excitement to have the world’s fastest ferry, they never built a ferry terminal to support loading cars onto the boat. It only carries passengers right now. I have seen no activity towards building an actual terminal for cars.
- The flight to Khasab is 55 minutes versus 5 hours for the ferry. The cost is the same. An airplane can carry as many vehicles as the ferry right now: zero. You have to show up at the ticket office two hours before the ferry leaves to get on a bus to take you to the ferry.
- The operating costs of the ferry are enormous. It burns 18,000 liters of fuel each trip. Even though Oman is an oil producer, with subsidized fuel it is almost impossible to break even with a full boat. There were about 10 crew on board the ship that I could tell and there would probably be more if they had to load cars. The snack bar was open and everything was free. There were about 20 passengers on the boat when I took it.
- There is no website where you can buy tickets. There are no agents which you can buy tickets from. I’ve seen no marketing material of any sort except for a very nice full color brochure you get after you buy a ticket. There has been no advertising and no one in Muscat seems to know anything about the ferry other than it exists and it is the best in the world.
- Musandam, the destination for the ferries, has a total population of 30,000 people and three hotels. They probably couldn’t support a full boat of people if they had one.
- The ferries were not designed for long haul routes. They were designed for trips no greater than an hour. The engines are being used far more than they were designed for with 5 hour trips. As a result, mechanical problems and issues with spare parts will start creeping up over the next few months.
The ferry is sort of a microcosm of what you see in much of Oman: pretty cool looking, but sort of dysfunctional once you look behind the scenes.
Musandam itself is an interesting place. Khasab is totally surrounded by bone dry mountains and cliffs. It is difficult to see any vegetation anywhere. I took a mountain safari with two Austrians and had a guide take us up into the hills.
Life up in the mountains isn’t too different than what it was a few decades ago when people lived in holes in the mountainside. You can still see some of the dugouts if you look closely enough. You can also see many marine fossils in the mountains, which date back about 2-300 million years.
If you look at a map of Musandam, the tip of the peninsula is a giant tangle of fjords. In addition to driving up into the mountains, you can also take short dhow trips into the fjords.
There are no taxis in Khasab and no buses which run to Dubai. This makes getting around difficult, but there aren’t too many places to go, so it sort of evens out. There are usually vans which will shuttle people to Dubai every day, but it isn’t a regularly scheduled run.
It is really a stunning and beautiful place which doesn’t get much in the way of tourism. If you have a vehicle, it might be worth a one to two day trip from Dubai if you have some extra time.