It was odd to find myself at Omani passport control at 4am for the second time in a month. Frankly I am more used to East Midlands airport on bleary January mornings or the shuttle between Gatwick's north and south terminals. I was back for a second round of research visits and meetings as part of my work producing the interpretation for the Oman Pavilion at the Expo in Milan next year.
The first time, our team was mostly based in Muscat, a long, pleasant low-rise city spread out along the north-east coast, zipping up and down the motorway in taxis to meetings. Not surprisingly, petrol is eye-wateringly cheap here (in fact it's best not to look the price) so there are plenty of fancy cars around but this is not the land of Gulf skyscrapers and international shopping that I had been expecting when I got the job.
This second visit was a 2-week whistle-stop tour with lots of site visits - starting with a night in the desert on the edge of the Empty Quarter, camping under the stars and rising in time to film the sunrise. We didn't do the camel riding thing - the Bedouin nearby had all been housed in new homes and the only camels around were their livestock. Around the corner from their settlement was an extraordinary camel graveyard where 10 skeletons lay on the sand with air-dried skins and bleached white bones.
Away from the desert, our main reason for being in the south of Oman was to film 'before' shots of the dusty hillsides just a few months before they are transformed into rolling green hills for two months by the western edge of the Indian monsoon. The landscape at that time of year looks more like Yorkshire than the Gulf so we needed the 'before and after' to avoid being accused of Photoshopping our images.
In the north we visited village farms - oases of vibrant green in the arid landscape - and a traditional beekeeper who keeps his bees in hives made from date palm logs and who fed us piles of pancakes topped with handfuls and handfuls of honeycomb. I've never eaten honeycomb to the point of exhaustion before. Later we met a man who produces Omani rosewater using dry distillation in a woodfired oven. The smell of smoky roses stayed with us for days and I have more rosewater at home in my kitchen than I will ever be able to use.
The offical visits were more prosaic but full of warmth and willingness to help (and often freezing due to enthusiastic air con). The main exception was the only meeting I've been to where every man in the room was wearing a dagger in his belt... Working in Oman has been a surprise and a delight.