Onwards To Oman: Angelette Calero Draws The Veil That Hides Exotic Oman
Angelette Calero is one half of Jelly Bellies Party Experts, a company that specializes in children’s parties. One of the stalwarts of the industry, the company has been around for 23 years. She is also part of a couple of outreach groups, which she formed with her friends such as Happy to Help and Strong Arms.
But as a traveler, Calero shares that Oman is one country she cannot forget. “We got the royal treatment. “I felt like princess Jasmine. We went all over. Our friend’s friend, who became our friend, he really showed us the time (of our lives). He was so excited to show us his country and we went all over. You could see that it’s still backward but at the same time, they’re so rich. And not with oil, apparently, with minerals. It opened my eyes because I had never been to the Middle East before. And of course, in fairness, they thought I was one of them. I look Middle Eastern but they were so… amused because I’m not covered. Their world is different,” Calero says.
The rooftop outlook of the ancient Nizwa Fort
“Not so much poor as nomadic. We went to the tent of a Bedouin. They showed us their way of life, their products. I think it’s one of those rare places that you can still call exotic. I think that was the draw for us,” Calero’s best friend, Leah Puyat, says. “Our hosts were living in a modern house, but our hosts showed us that there’s an Arab custom na before a guest leaves, they incense you, like in church, the way the incense the altar, they do the same for the guests because they say that means the memory will stay with you forever. Di ba the sense of smell is so strong? So they incensed us. They still do exotic things. They have the big resorts like Shangri-La and all that, but there are no high-rises.”
Exterior of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Interiors of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque
Puyat goes on to explain: “They only had electricity and running water in ‘71 because the sultan, with the help of the British government, overthrew his own father. Because the father was very backward thinking, and he felt that if people had electricity and radio, it would form a revolution Arab Spring-style, which eventually happened. So the sultan overthrew his own dad and he was the one who brought modernity. That was only a little more than 40 years ago. He has a strong sense of aesthetics. He doesn’t want to compete with Dubai. He’s very strategic about it. The rich people in Oman, they go to Dubai for their fun weekends, but Dubai, Qatar, that’s not their peg. They really want to keep it more traditional. They want to remain a discovery. They don’t want to be the careening-into-modernity kind of place. They want to remain like a kind of hidden treasure.”
Wadi Wonder is breathtaking aquamarine pools of water surrounded by rock formations and waterfalls
Because of its coastal location, Oman is known as the Riviera of the Middle East, parts of it seemingly trapped in a bygone era. “They’re proud that they’re like an insider secret,” Puyat says. “We went to their souk, which is like their flea market, and the shopkeeper was selling jewelry. And I don’t know if it’s the years of merchanthood, but they know (how to sell to you). I was looking at these earrings and he said, ‘You know, this is a very ancient Jewish design,’ and he even had this photocopy, it was the history of the design. It’s supposed to be in the shape of an oil lamp, Aladdin style, I was like, how was he able to tell that to me, that would be a big thing, because I love research and I love old things. And to my friend who’s a fashion victim, he starts talking about Kate Moss. It’s like they have this merchant’s ESP because I guess the trading is in their blood.”
What struck the women is how proud the Omani are of their heritage. “They’re so proud to say that Oman is the home of the three kings, or they’ll tell you that Sinbad the Sailor is from Oman. They’re very proud of their history, and they will say that the highest grade of frankincense is from Oman, and that frankincense was just as expensive as gold during the Biblical times. They really have a strong sense of their heritage and past and of who they are. They have a homegrown luxury perfume brand, Amouage, they’re very proud of it,” Puyat says.
Camel ride in the 1000 Nights Desert Camp Wahiba Sands
Puyat also recounts how differently beautiful the desert is. “We got to stay in a desert camp. They say the first time you see the desert is like the first time you see the ocean. Because in English, desert means deserted. The connotation is so sparse and so empty, but the truth is there’s this topography to the desert. You can’t imagine it until you’ve seen it. You see it at sunset, you see it at sunrise, during the moonrise—the desert is a world unto its own. And it’s not on the usual bucket list. Maybe because it’s our Catholic background—40 days in the desert—desert means punishment to us, but it has this beauty also.”
But more than the must-sees and the must-dos in Oman, the best piece of advice Calera has for travelers who are visiting the country is: “Go with the flow.”
And these four words have served her well, in travel and in life.
This article was first published in Metro Society Magazine May 2016