A Celtic Musical Adventure

I arrived in Oman on the 22nd January 2017 and was lucky enough to have two weeks to explore. I’d been desperate to visit for a few years and had previously planned a trip in 2014, but it fallen through. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Muscat I was greeting with some classic Omani hospitality followed by a few amusing interactions with the immigration and customs officers. “Hamdulilah, is that a shisha pipe in your bag?!” to which my response was “Ah no it’s just the bagpipes” “Mashallah!” they exclaimed, “Welcome to Oman!” 

Now, you might be wondering why would anyone take the bagpipes to Oman and what on earth does this have to do with Gate8? Well, to introduce myself, my name is Ross O’Connell Jennings and it is my life aim to play the bagpipes in every country of the world. To date, I’ve piped in 60 countries and although I haven’t had Gate8 with the me the whole way, for my two week trip to Oman (and for my two month trip to the Gulf), I decided to swap out my old Bagpipe case for something a little bit more conventional - the Gate 8 Cabin Mate. It’s definitely one of the better decisions I’ve made whilst travelling as bagpipe cases are notoriously unwieldily. 

If you’ve ever visited Oman you’ll know there’s plenty to do. Before I’d arrived I envisaged myself camping in the desert, hiking mountains and even diving with dolphins, but on the first day I decided I’d just have to return, otherwise I’d spread myself too thin. I did still make it into the mountains though, namely ‘Jebel Akhdar’ and ‘Jebel Shams,’ where I ended up camping in order to play the bagpipes as the sun set over the ‘Omani Grand Canyon.’ I explored abandoned villages in the mountains, sipped Kahwa (local coffee) under the Palm trees of Misfat Al Abreen, and even spent two days in Wadi Shab; all the while lugging around my pipes and kilt in my Gate8 Cabin Mate. Turns out it’s a lot more than just a carryon. 

Wadi Shab, one of Oman’s many walkable river canyons, had been recommended by so many people that I decided it had to be done. I first arrived at the entrance of the Wadi as the sun was setting, hoping to get a least an hour of adventuring, but was promptly turned around. The local boatmen who ferry visitors over the first stretch of water shook their heads and told me the entrance was closed. Highland dress, bagpipes and camera kit aren't the easiest to pack and I’d just spent 15 intense minutes carefully arranging everything into my Gate8 Cabin Mate. Understandably, I was a little miffed. Back at the Wadi the next morning I was warned against taking the whole bag (and bagpipes) into Wadi Shab. A few tourists and some of the boatmen informed me that some of the journey into the Wadi involved swimming (!!), but not wanting to miss the perfect piping opportunity, I soldiered on with my Cabin Mate. 

The scale of Wadi Shab was incredible, and it just seemed to get better and better the further I went in. There was a fair bit of clambering so I was forced to put the backpack straps to good use, and they were surprisingly comfy. By the time I arrived at the swimming spot, I’d come to the conclusion that my bagpipes and the Gate8 bag weren’t going to survive a buoyancy test (and neither of them are very navigable) so I scoped out some caves to tuck them out of sight. 
Out of pure luck I’d also packed the Packer Mate Luggage Organiser, which includes a luminous green watertight bag. I transferred all my valuables and electronics into the bag, and cautiously clipped it up. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty sceptical as to how waterproof it was going to be, so I even sat on it to make sure it was airtight! Sitting test completed, I nervously slipped into the water and it wasn’t long before I was having to jump off ledges into the water and traverse up waterfalls. Safe to say that I put the little green bag to the test. 

Back out the water I found myself the perfect piping spot and quickly threw on my kilt. Bagpipes are pretty loud so I was a bit nervous about piping in a gorge which was super echoey. Suddenly, out of nowhere a local man popped up and stared in confused wonder. “Yalla” he said (i.e. lets hear it!), so I piped up, punched the drones in and started to serenade the man with a rather rapid rendition of ‘Highland Cathedral.’ He smiled politely and after about 15 seconds of piping, he bounded off down the Wadi and out of sight. 

After two weeks in Oman I realised how attached I’d become, and I was truly say to leave. The traditions, history and culture are so enticing that I almost felt myself being swept up in it all. It’s a country that’s modernising in a way that seems to have allowed it to maintain it’s cultural integrity; and you sort of feel like you’re stepping back in time, but then you’re swiftly brought back into the 21st century when you see a sign that says “Fibre Optic Cables Below” in the middle of the desert! 
Everyone that I interacted with was an exceptional ambassador for Omani culture, being polite, hospitable and friendly, and they all seemed to absolutely love the bagpipes. I soon realised this is because the Sultan of Oman, is a serious fan of the pipes. As a result, most army regiments in Oman have a pipe band - one of the many surprising facts I’ve learnt throughout my two months in the gulf!
Ross Jennings, GATE8 Ambassador