15-Dec-05 Qatar - Getting oriented
The Qatar national museum is supposed to be interesting, and a great intro to the country. However, we would not know; it was closed. In fact, we found out that several similar places are closed for improvement prior to the ASEAN games which will be here next year. So, we walked along the Corniche, and encountered a dockside fish market. We stopped into the Mövenpick hotel for an ice cream, and discovered the magazine Marhaba, which turned out to be a treasure trove of information about Doha and Qatar.
|The closed National Museum||Getting Riyals at the Islamic ATM|
|Fish market at the corniche||Albino flounder|
We grabbed a shish kabob and mango juice at the Bye-Bye Cafeteria, and then headed out to book the "Desert Adventure" tour which will take us to the Inland Sea and sand dunes. Since it takes an experienced 4WD driver, we decided that we should not do it ourselves.
|Shish kabob & juice||ByeBye (hopefully not from the food)|
|Hotel bar rules - "Over Drunkers willbe taken out"|
We'd like to use the bus, but we cannot figure it out. We have a very impressionistic bus map with few clues. None of the sparse bus signs show a route number. There is no schedule. We found out that the bus system was put in place only about a month ago, possibly in preparation for the ASEAN Games. It still has lots of kinks to work out.
|Closed Heritage Center, with Wind Towers||Construction technique|
|Cats can relax anywhere|
We learned in Bahrain about the Friday night horse racing, and decided to not miss it here. The Racing and Equestrian Club is south of Doha, so we took a cab. There is no entry cost, and they don't bet or serve alcohol, making for a different racing experience. However, the horses are magnificent. We watched a couple of races (Keheilan, owned by Mr. Essa Bin Mohammed Al Sulaiti, won the purse of QR 40K) as well as the crowd. This was the first time that we'd seen a concentration of westerners, and most were better dressed than us (which was not hard).
|Equestrian & Racing Club||Preview|
|Beautiful Horses||Horses & owners|
|Honor guard||Winning by 3 lengths|
With a bit of effort (the track is far outside of the city), we caught a cab back into town, had a shwarma (chicken & beef), and then wandered the souk. Mostly, it is a bunch of small shopping malls and stores, crowded with evening shoppers. However, there is an old open-air souk which the city is rebuilding. Rather than making it like any other shops, they are rebuilding it in a traditional style, with rough walls, narrow passages, small shops, and the feeling of an old market. It is not complete, but many shops have already opened up. Roswitha compared it to Santana Row in San Jose, with its faux old feel, but in this case, it is pretty cool. It will be really special once they finish it, but it is not clear that people will come. We wandered through the clothing shops, with all manner of traditional dress as well as new stuff, a cobbler section, spices, and housewares. In a spice shop they let us taste various items, and we walked out with some dried berries, an interesting nut mix with dried figs, and some candy. We were also introduced to a Halva made of ground sesame seeds, grains, and sweetened with date juice. Back in the market, several older men were relaxing in their wheelbarrows (you can hire them to follow you around while you shop). We walked into a courtyard where a band was playing traditional music.
|Rebuilding an old souq||Taking a break|
|Spices||"Escalator souq" - the first one with an escalator|
|Every restaurant has a sink for washing up||Shwarma (with pickles) & juice|
16-Dec-05 Qatar - Friday souk
The Friday souk should be on Friday, right? Friday morning we grabbed a taxi down to the Thursday and Friday Souk, which is roughly 10 KM southwest of Doha. We even managed to not get too overcharged for the ride. The T&F souk is basically a strip mall, full of the usual housewares and clothing shops. It was dead. We really expected that something with the name would be the hopping place on the weekend, but it did not look promising. Then, in one corner shop, we found what we were looking for, a line of hooded falcons sitting on perches. Most were sitting quietly, turning their heads to any sound, while a couple were ripping at bits of meat at their feet. A few had managed to cast off their hoods. They were beautiful as they perched on their bits of Astroturf. The shop keeper tolerated us, and allowed us to shoot some photos. Periodically, some Arab men came in to examine the birds, donning leather gloves and picking up birds that grabbed their interest. They examined their feet, tail feathers, and eyes. In another shop, a man came in with two sons in tow. The older son, probably around 8 years old, seemed to be there to pick out his first bird; he was more nervous than the birds. He put on a glove, unhooked and picked up a falcon, and held it up for his father to examine. The younger son (about 5) did not seem nervous at all as he stroked the bird's tail until his father gently told him to stop. The older son held up the bird so that his father could remove the hood, but the falcon kept jerking and biting, and the son's hand nervously pulled away. Several times the father had to tell his son to move the bird closer. They finally got the hood off, and then closely examined the bird. Once they decided to put the hood back on, they first rubbed it along the bird's chest, and then tried to place it, but the bird refused, flapping and biting. They tried several times, each time the kid moving the bird away from the father's reach. The whole time, the younger son was trying to get in and help. It is clear which one will be the better handler.
|Yummy||A place of honor|
Across the main street is the wholesale and retail souk, with vegetables and fruits, some from Thailand and Indonesia. This was a bit busier, with people doing household shopping. We saw rambutan and dragon fruit, as well as custard apples, avocados, and chiles. The next building over had the fish market, which was busy as well. There was an area where you could pay to have your just-purchased fish cleaned. A small meat market had carcasses and pieces of meat hanging, eggs, and live chickens. The map said that there was also an animal and pet market, although it was not real clear where it was. We saw a residential area, and what looked to be more warehouses off in the distance across an open area. As we got closer, we could smell the livestock, and off to the left was a large area with camels. Unhappy-looking camels, fenced in with chain link. We shot a few photos, and then walked over to covered areas with sheep and goats. And then more sheep and goats. We were drawn to the sounds of chickens further back, and found them, along with pigeons, ducks, turkeys, and more. Most were in small cages in small rooms. There was one room which seemed to be a shop with pet birds, including parrots, various finches, fancy pigeons, and pheasants and peacocks. A group of boys was looking at the birds, and then wanted us to take their pictures. Of course, we complied.
|Vegetable market||Wait - take our photo||Hi!||Me!|
|Some houses in the area|
|Smile||Hey! Over here!|
|Angelina Jolie's got nothing on me||The bird shop|
We asked the Sri Lankan guard at the hotel for a restaurant suggestion. He does not like Pilipino food; it's too hard to pronounce. Arab food is not spicy enough, and it is too greasy, but there are some not too far away - "just look for the Shisha." We ended up having fried chicken biryani and chicken curry at the Aroma Restaurant. It being Friday, not much was open.
|Aroma lunch||Ped X-ing|
|Old mosque||Scott bothers the pigeons|
|Old mosque||New mosque||Grand mosque & Clock Tower|
|ASEAN Oryx||Mosque at night|
|Along the Corniche|
|Moonrise over the Sheraton|
|Construction everywhere||City Center Ice rink|
|Yummy - slow to get, but too fast to eat|
The multiplex theater was modern and very comfortable, and charged accordingly (about $10/person). People in the theater had no problem carrying on conversations during the film. A group of boys were playing loudly at the front, and the usher kept sweeping the screen with his flashlight. After the movie, we decided to hit the restrooms. Normally, this is not a big deal, and not worthy of reporting, but the restrooms in such a modern place are likely a point of interest for westerners. In the men's room, there are often no urinals, so everyone uses a limited number of stalls. (I know, women are giggling at this.) On the women's side, the ladies are often waiting outside the stall for a kid inside, so it is not clear if there is a line or not. The mothers with kids assume priority - especially if they are covered head-to-toe in black - and take their place at the front of the line. Inside the stall is a western-style toilet. The seat, floor, and walls are drenched with what I assume is water; a spray hose hangs on the wall. If there is a toilet paper holder, it is likely empty. In some cases (but not in the City Center stalls), there are dirty footprints on the seat. So, what do you do? Dry off the seat with your precious stash of paper, or squat over it, assuming what you have to do involves squatting? Should you then use the sprayer to wash your hands, the seat, and the already-drenched floor? Do you even want to touch the sprayer? How do you get these questions answered?
17-Dec-05 Qatar - Dune bashing
We spent the morning catching up with things, so the first major event was, of course, lunch. We'd heard about Egg Rolls (not the Chinese kind) at juice bars. The Bye-Bye seemed to be the right place, and they had an egg sandwich listed; the car hop said that it was a roll. So, we ordered that and a veggie sandwich, along with papaya juice and chickoo juice.
We were bounced around violently inside the vehicle, and whooped ourselves. Several times we were driving down into a valley as the next car was scurrying up the dune in front of us, seemingly angled 90 degrees vertically from our frame. The whole while, energetic Arabic music was playing on the car's stereo. Although the air conditioner was running full blast, we were often sweating with the motion and excitement. The cars made a couple of stops to get out, take pictures, walk around, and for the drivers to have a smoke. We drove for a long time, zigzagging up and sliding down, about 40 KM until we reached the edge of the Inland Sea, just as the sun was setting over the sea and Saudi Arabia on just the other shore.
|Down we go!||There is no level here|
|Sunset over Saudi Arabia||Sunset echoes|
|Yee-ha!||That's Saudi Arabia in the background|
|Scott & Saudi Arabia||Roswitha & Saudi Arabia & ATV|
|I think that Nassar is Lyndie-ing me|
We then drove back towards the north, crossed a bit of water, banked along a dune next to the Persian Gulf, and arrived at the BBQ. They had set up a fairyland of kerosene lamps, and plastic tables and chairs; we instead chose to relax on the rugs set on the sand. There were also tents with rugs and lounges, but the air was pleasant enough to sit out. We watched the rising full moon, and then they announced that dinner was ready. The spread included Chicken and lamb kebabs, rice, pita, tomato salad, hummus, and a spicy potato salad. For dessert, they served tea, coffee, and Lebanese sweets. Sated and relaxed, we piled back into the 4x4 for the rest of the return, another harrowing, but short, ride - this time in the dark.
|Camping in the dunes||Dinner under the stars|
18-Dec-05 Qatar - Driving North
With a rental car, we set out to find something interesting on the Peninsula. Something. Anything.
Just north of Doha are some so-called "Loam" houses, or, as I'd call them, adobe. We took a short detour off Highway 1 and found them without too much trouble. Yup, adobe, in the form of a small fort. People had built on to them, and were clearly still living in them.
|Pre-oil houses||Most have been torn down|
The town of Al Kohr lies on the east coast, about 40 km north of Doha. We finally found an open museum, a small one describing the history of the town and pearl fishing. Al Kohr also has reconstructed several old watch towers, which were used to watch for invaders coming across the flat surrounding lands.
|Reconstructed watch tower, with dhow||Tower||Every town has at least one coffee pot roundabout|
|Arabs invented the triangular sail||Jewelry fragments|
|Does this ladder make my ass look big?|
We stopped in to Al Arabia Cafeteria, a Turkish restaurant near the tiny town center. The place was hopping with people dropping in for take-out. We got two pies, which were basically flat, thin calzone with tasty fillings, one cheese and honey, the other cheese and thyme. We had also ordered a mix of salads, but the waiter/carhop forgot them.
|Pie||Guava and Mango|
Further north along the coast are a few hundred rock carvings along a hill near the sea. The directions were sketchy, and it was clear that the roads had changed since the description had been written. We drove down a dirt road near an abandoned date orchard, but it ended in a gate. An older man with a rough turban waved us forward. We told him the name of the area, and he started pointing and describing where to go, in Arabic, of course. With some more gestures, Mussar said that he could direct us to them, and invited himself into our car. He used the international method for communicating with foreign language speakers - he spoke loudly. Somehow, with Roswitha's Arabic studies, we were able to get the idea across that he has 4 sons and one daughter, and that we have no kids. We also understood that the large compound up ahead was owned by the Emir of Qatar, and then he communicated that it was where Mussar was taking us. He reasoned that someone there would be able to speak English. He yelled at the gate; presently two guards (one assumes) came out, basically in their underwear, and asked him, and then us what we wanted. He gave a quick explanation and we mentioned the name of the place. They pointed to the ridge not too far away, and said that that was it.
"Can we take this car?"
"No, you need 4x4."
And that was it. We thanked them and apologized for disturbing them, and drove off. Mussar went on about where we should go now, and then told us where to drive to get gas, which we really needed. We decided to drop him back at his place. He seemed to be the caretaker for a beach, and invited us in to hang out on the beach, but we wanted to get going. With some difficulty, we left him and his colleague with a tip.
We suddenly came across a small fortress built of stone. As we pulled into the empty parking lot, and old man looked up from watering his garden, and shuffled off into his ramshackle house, emerging moments later with keys. He waved at us to follow him through a gate and into the fort. He walked around and unlocked a series of doors which turned out to house museum displays, including pottery (which we could touch if we desired). The fortress is built in a typical style, with three round turrets and one square one. The sun was low in the sky, making for good light. Once we were done with the rooms, he locked them up. We thanked him, and gave him some baksheesh.
|Three round towers and one square one||Gun holes and wood roof|
|Gun holes in every direction||Thick walls|
We drove further west looking for a private game reserve. At one point there were fences on both sides of the roads, and we looked over and spotted many oryx (oryxii? oryxs?) pawing the desert floor. They pretty much ignored us as we shot some photos. We were surprised that we were at a dead end, and even more surprised when the road we wanted to take turned out to be into an army camp. So, we drove back past the fortress (which we determined is called Rekkiya), and turned left towards the north coast, where the emir's family first established itself on Qatar. There was nothing to see. The northernmost city is Al Ruweis, which has a dhow harbor for boats to Bahrain and Iran. There was not otherwise anything to see.
|One of many oryx||Is it contagious?|
|We saw houses like this all over||Yes, there are camels|
We had a mysterious map which pointed us to GPS coordinates for some singing sand dunes. It was not clear whether we'd be able to get out to them in our little rental car, but we decided to give it a go. The road south to Saudi Arabia is heavily used by big trucks, and is under major construction, so the directions were not quite right, but we figured it out. The road turned out to be much better than we expected; it seems to service the pipelines and a radio transmitter, so we only had to walk about 1 km through flat desert. There was a small run of dunes, and the trash and old campfires seemed to indicate the popularity of the biggest one. Clearly, lots of people come out to listen and party. And, the flies were waiting for us. Dune singing is rare; it only happens when the conditions of sand are right, driven by wind which causes little avalanches. The resonance of the falling sand creates the song. Although it was windy, it did not seem to be windy enough for a full concert. The dune was very steep, and neither of us made it to the top by climbing up the face. However, sitting on the face, we could hear moments of slight rumbling. Then, by stepping along, we loosened cascades of sand, and heard it more strongly; it sounded like a low thrum of a large engine. Most of the time, however, the sound was drowned out by the buzzing of the many flies which surrounded each of us.
|Searching for song||Cascades make the song||A small choir|
|Part of our escort||Past bonfire||Steel-belted radials|
Satisfied that we had heard the dunes at close to the GPS coordinates, we headed towards the southwest coast, and then looped upwards towards the town of Dukhar and the oil fields. We saw oil pipelines (the refineries are mostly on the east coast), a couple of cement plants (one of which had built a new odd triangular fort), some oil flares and one big fire, and lots of trucks. Dukhar is the town which seems to operate the fields, but we really did not find the town. It is on the map, and there is an exit, but all we found was a large gate for Qatar Petroleum. We did find a small strip mall which had one of everything; it seemed to be all we could see of the town. So, we had an egg roll (Indian burrito) and lots of stares.
|Beautiful downtown Dukhar||Egg rolls & laban (yogurt drink)|
Dukhar also stands near a ridge of limestone cliffs which are noted for their scenic beauty. We saw them (including the one that looked like Bart Simpson), but could not get close because we did not have a 4x4. We drove back towards Doha, with one last stop in mind.
|Oil pipelines criss-cross the south||Limestone often goes with oil|
They hold the camel races in the morning, so we had low expectations of seeing anything. A whole town has grown up around the track, supporting it and housing camels year round. And, sure enough, as we got close, we saw groups of camels, each group with its own colors of blankets, being led to the track for exercise. There are no grandstands at a camel race; spectators and owners drive alongside the track during the race. The owners shout commands to the jockeys with walkie-talkies, cell phones, and bullhorns. So, we drove right in and kept pace with several trotting groups. Roswitha hung out the window and shot pictures as the sun set, to the great amusement and "hellos" of the jockeys. Even the owners driving their Lexus 4x4s were laughing.
|Lips flop as they run||Riding into the sunset|
We navigated our way back through the roundabouts of Doha until we reached our hotel, and went across the street to a Filipino restaurant. There we ate Pansit mix (chicken & noodle dish), Bulalo (beef soup), Lumpiand Shanghai, and Buko (coconut) juice. Yummy.