Up early today for Friday auction day in Nizwa. Forget Sotherbys, think the running bulls of Pamplona and make sure your life insurance is uptodate before you go.

Let me set the scene. In a large patch of ground outside the souk and the famous Nizwa fort sits a sort of circular covered rostrum affair while crowds of mainly men in their dazzling white dash-dash garments mill around the outside, surrounded by tethered goats and trucks of cows and bulls ready to be auctioned.

So far so good but then things liven up as the auctioneers begin to circumnavigate the bandstand dragging their goats and sheep. Buyers and sellers leave a path for the animals to be paraded round the rostrum, negotiating with the auctioneers as they pass by, usually causing a jam for the dozens more following them round. Much shouting and negotiating as they try to get the best price as more and more animals join the parade.

Still so far so good but then the big stuff moves in as huge cattle are yanked around against their will as the crowds make a bit more room for the parade. They are not as well behaved as the goats though, often trying to reverse, kneeling down fighting and even trying to get a leg over. It turns into a frenzied racetrack of fast-moving traffic and would never get through 'elf and safety' as livestock can career into the crowds, some with dangerous-looking horns (the cattle, not the crowds) as there is no barrier between the angry animals and spectators. In the chaos I am not even sure that I might have not acquired a black heffer by mistake. It all called for a couple of Omani coffees and dates (edible not female) in the souk.

The rest of the day proved more restful seeking out sixteenth century mud-built abandoned villages perched precariously over deep canyons of tiered terraces of roses, apricots, pomegranates and so on, sadly not in season. To be here when they are, you have to be prepared for temperatures in the 40s and even 50s.

Postscript: no improvement on our driver. He has take to merely using the palm of his (one) hand to steer while offering directions to a friend on the phone who has lost his way in the desert. My Arabic is not good enough to know how you give directions when there must be very few landmarks.

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