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Cruise Day #5 – At Sea

Today, we enjoyed a lazy day at sea, spending the better part of the day relaxing on our sumptuously oversized balcony. It would be a perfect, secluded oasis were it not for the chain-smoking Germans in the cabin next door. But, such is life. The sea day is a nice break, as we’ve been pretty much ‘go, go, go’ this entire trip. Unfortunately, Brilliance offers little in truly interesting or educational ‘enrichment’ activities—it’s the usual mix of “how to make towel animals,” belly-flop competitions, and bingo, whereas we’re more of the lecture-going sort. In any case, I don’t have a lot to report on today…

So, I’ll turn a little more reflective on the experience to date, as Libby and I have conversed at length about it.

We always viewed this trip as a bit of an adventure. While it’s certainly not unheard of for Americans to travel to countries in the Gulf (especially Dubai in the UAE), it’s clearly not a popular or common tourist destination for those from the USA. In general, Americans (us included) are fairly ignorant about the countries and peoples that make up the Arabian Peninsula. There’s a tendency to view them one-dimensionally and as a group, often in less than flattering ways. I’m sure this has only become worse since September 11, 2001, because—let’s be honest—prior to that date few Americans even gave the Middle East a passing thought on a regular basis and those events certainly weren’t going to engender goodwill from the ‘average’ American. So, it’s little wonder that we consistently heard messages of “you’re going where on vacation?,” “why would you go there of all places?,” or “aren’t you worried about insert concern?” prior to our departure.

Interestingly, our British compatriots seem to view this destination as “just another holiday in the sun.” On the one hand, that’s refreshing to see. Clearly, they got the memo that Oman isn’t Yemen, and the UAE isn’t Saudi Arabia. The British generally strike me as more globally aware (look no further than what’s ‘news’ on the BBC vs. CNN). Perhaps, it’s a function of the Commonwealth and/or other vestiges of their colonial past. On the other hand, their blasé attitude (I’m, of course, generalizing here) about the cultural norms in these more liberal Gulf states has left me unimpressed. We’ve also noticed they’re as prone to whining about differences and expecting things to be like they are ‘at home’ as Americans (which is ironic, since RCI is predominately a North American cruise line). In general, while we love visiting Britain (especially London), I prefer being ashore with the Arabs on this trip. Needless to say, we won’t be sailing on P&O anytime soon. :-)

But, I digress…

When we first started contemplating this travel project there were countries we assumed we’d ‘never’ visit, including whole regions that we presumed that we’d skip (the Middle East, along with other parts of central Asia and most of Africa, featured prominently). With more and wider travel experiences, we’ve learned to—as the cliché goes—‘never say never’ again. Iran, Somalia, North Korea? Certainly not now, but why not some day? One needn’t look further than Russia, countries in Eastern Europe, or Oman as places that wouldn’t have been practical (for real or imagined reasons) within our lifetime, which we’ve already visited.

Yet, going into this trip, our expectations were modest. It seemed like such a foreign destination. It reminded me our first visit behind the former “Iron Curtain” to Prague. Growing up at the end of the Cold War, I sort of half expected the Czech Republic to be in shades of gray, colorless like concrete. Of course, Prague is charming and beautiful (as well as rendered in vibrant hues).

Now that we’re here, Libby and I find the UAE and Oman one of the more comfortable places to travel. We’re not rule-breakers or hard-partiers. We feel utterly safe and welcomed. While our politics lean to the left, we’re basically conservative people in our lifestyle: a traditional, married couple. Nobody will confuse us with cast members of Jersey Shore. We try to demonstrate respect and goodwill, and we’ve had it returned to us ten-fold.

All in all, it’s one of the most enlightening trips we’ve ever taken…

Clearly, this handful of days won’t make us experts about this region. If anything, I’m more aware now of what I still don’t know. But, I suspect that knowing the magnitude of my ignorance is a step in the right direction.

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