"Omanis want jobs and money to buy material goods," Khaled told me. "They are not so interested in political freedoms and democracy." Although Oman is a much wealthier country than it was in the past, Khaled said that his grandparents had told him that life had been better before -- families spent more time together. Now, they said, people only connected on the phone.
On Christmas day, I drove with Abdullah to Wadi Shaab, about two hours south of Muscat. A small boat ferried us across the water. From there we hiked for 45 minutes through the spectacular valley until we arrived at the pools. I left my daypack with Abdullah, climbed down into the pools in my shorts, and swam through the turquoise water.
An Omani man appeared out of nowhere. "Hello, my name is Juma," he told me. "Follow me, it is this way."
I swam behind him. "Watch the rock here, be careful there," he instructed. He spoke with such certainty that I followed his orders. We swam through a narrow keyhole into a covered cave, surrounded by glistening rocks. At one end, water cascaded down a waterfall. "You want to climb up?" Juma asked, "I will help you."
Against my better judgment, I found myself following Juma, using a rope to help climb up the side of the waterfall. It was incredibly slippery, but Juma appeared to be half man and half fish, and advised me where to put my feet. Somehow, I emerged at the top of the waterfall, looking up at the steep sides of the wadi. I caught my breath and savored the view for about 10 minutes before climbing back down the waterfall and jumping into the water below.
I spent my last day in Oman at a market in the dusty town of Ibri, where Bedouin came to trade camels and goats and to buy food and guns. The women there had their faces covered with a strange contraption that looked like a leather thong, which was apparently supposed to block the sun. In the evening, I went to the opera house in Muscat to see The Nutcracker performed by a Russian production company.
I was sad to leave Oman after two weeks traveling around the country. It was the most beautiful country that I had ever visited in the Middle East -- with the nicest people. It was clean. There was no hassle. It was safe. Its diverse peoples -- the legacy of an empire that had once included Zanzibar and Somalia -- identified as Omanis. And Sultan Qaboos appeared to be the best sort of leader that an oil rich country could hope for. But what will happen once he is gone?
"We are a monarchy, madam, not a republic," the taxi driver responded when I asked him about the impact of the Arab Spring, as if that inoculated Jordan against the upheaval seizing the Middle East.