That Time I Inadvertently Fasted for Ramadan

fasted for ramadan

Millions fast from sunrise to sunset on purpose. I fasted for Ramadan by accident. Here’s why.

Last spring I took a memorable trip through the Middle East. It included 24 hours covering Bahrain tip to tip as well as seeking out Oman’s highlights over three days. Aside from being incredibly hot, there was a common theme everywhere I went. Things were eerily quiet.

First I thought it was due to the pandemic but that was squashed early on when I overheard someone claim “Covid is over in Bahrain.” In reality, it was quiet because I was visiting during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Travelling During Ramadan

Now I knew I was going to be visiting the region during Ramadan but failed to consider the impact. I expected alcohol to be scarce, (more than it already is in the region) but I didn’t expect things to be so dead. Islamic states essentially shut down for the month with the bulk of people sleeping in late and staying home. Museums are closed, attractions are closed, and restaurants don’t open until late in the day.

This quiet time certainly made for a peaceful visit however it also made it challenging when it came to getting something to eat. Most hotel restaurants do cater to foreigners during this time so getting some food isn’t impossible. To be respectful though, it’s best to eat in your room or out of site.

Tours and activities can also be hard to coordinate during Ramadan. In Bahrain, it worked out well for me. My guide requested that we start late in the afternoon as he was sleeping most mornings. This allowed me time to enjoy my hotel and it helped kill time that evening as I wasn’t flying out until after midnight. In Oman, it was a different story.

Mundane in Muscat

With the heat and quietness due to Ramadan, I found myself hanging out poolside at my hotel in Muscat. Being someone that likes to stay busy, this brought me down. So much so that I sought a cure in double-doubles and Tim Bits at a nearby Tim Hortons.

That said, I did take a couple of tours in Oman, one of which had me in advertently fasting for Ramadan.

Wadi Shab on an Empty Stomach

Wadi Shab drew me to Oman with images of its teal blue pools and mountains. Getting there is an all-day affair and requires you to hike and swim. Concerned about the heat and challenging day ahead, I reached out to the guide to confirm if lunch was still provided given I was visiting during Ramadan. He texted back ensuring that yes, a packed lunch would be provided. Excellent.

Knowing this made me a little less panicked when the pickup was early and I didn’t get a chance to eat anything before leaving.

Fast forward to several hot hours hiking in and swimming to the end of the stream. It was an amazing but draining experience. I was talking with another guest about how hungry we were. I reassured him that I did reach out to the guide and he told me that lunch would be provided so we assumed we would picnic after our swim and before the long hike back to the car. When that didn’t happen we started to get a bit concerned.

Not wanting to be rude, we pressed on back to the car. By this point, it was late afternoon and the hunger was replaced by exhaustion. We finished our tour with a visit to the Bimmah sinkhole where I struggled to make it up the staircase.

After the sinkhole, I was expecting we were just going to head back to our hotels for drop off however our driver took a detour off the highway once we reach the city limits. “Where are we going? I ask. The driver replied, “we will pick up lunch now.”

It was 6 PM.

I suggested that we continue on and that food wasn’t necessary at this point. He shrugged that off and pointed to the supermarket across the road. I was a bit disappointed that lunch meant getting something from the grocery store but again, I didn’t want to be rude.

Breaking the Law

While we waited in the car I joked with the others guests about the situation. They were on the same page but by this point, we were all hungry and happy to have something to eat.

When the guide returned he drove us behind the supermarket to a gravel lot so we would be out of sight of others while we ate. It wasn’t your typical tour lunch or picnic location, to say the least. The sun had not yet set and our guide didn’t want to offend anyone or get in trouble.

Turns out, we weren’t the only ones to use that spot to go against the norm as there was an empty liquor bottle next to our car. This all really hit home that I was a long way from home.

It might have been because I hadn’t eaten for close to 22 hours, but the prepared food from the supermarket was really good. The company, however, was even better.

Our guide decided to eat because he was travelling, which is an exception to the rules. This clause goes back to when travellers had to break their fast to survive travelling through the desert heat. As we ate I asked about these rules as I found it all so fascinating. As someone so far removed from this world it was interesting to me and our guide was happy to share his religion and thoughts about it all.

Fast to Feast

In the end, the situation turned out to be a memorable one. Although the heat and hike made for a tough day out, it was a welcome change of pace after feeling like I was having a mundane visit to Muscat. Getting the guide’s insight made it all worthwhile. Even though unexpected, I got to enjoy Iftar (the first meal to break the day’s fast) with a local.

That said, if you are visiting during Ramadan I strongly suggest eating before leaving your hotel. I also suggest you pack snacks for the day – just remember to be discrete if eating in public. There’s always a dusty back lot for you to dine in. 😉

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