My wife, Yuliya, arrived in Qatar last Wednesday and this was our first weekend as a “couple” here. Friday is the first day of the weekend and most businesses are closed. It is a good day to practice driving a new car [img]http://www.mazeguy.net/basic/smile.gif[/img] around as there is very little traffic on the roads! We managed to visit a few supermarkets, buy heaps of groceries and “essentials” that I managed not to miss when I was living on my own but which I have now been fully appraised regarding the value of.
In the afternoon we went down to the souk where we browsed heaps of shops and generally got a feel for one of the more popular areas of town. I have put up some photos of the souk which is divided into several areas, one specializing in food, one in clothing and household goods, another in sporting activities such as falconry, shooting, and fishing, another in carpets and one in household pets. I’m not sure if it’s my old age or not but I find the idea of dying birds different colors, caging them, and chaining them to their perches quite distressing. This seems all the more cruel when the bird is a South American macaw or an Australian parrot which I am used to seeing in the wild at home.
Saturday is “business as usual” for much of the population and we are lucky that the Western tradition of a two day weekend is one of our privileges. Last Saturday was our company’s Desert Safari Day, we were asked to meet at Sealine Beach Resort in Umm Sa’id where we would leave our vehicles and join guides in their 4WD cars to take us into the desert.
It was a relatively cool day with a stiff breeze flowing off the sea when a large number of fellow employees and their families turned up outside the Sealine resort at around 8am. I’m not sure exactly how many came but would guess there were about 50 of us. As with past experience in Qatar we found that our instructions to be there by 8am or be left behind were a little misleading and we were very pleased when our guides and leaders arrived at around nine o’clock.
Having established who was who in terms of guides versus employees we were asked to divide up into groups of six and find a car that we wanted to travel in. After much milling about and being directed here and there we managed this technical feat and set off, single file across the dunes.
The landscape in the Southern part of Qatar where we were travelling is comprised of large white sand dunes that are perhaps 20 or 30 meters high and flat salt pans where the high tide occasionally reaches inland.
So for the next hour or so we were flying along the top of dunes, “surfing” down the sides or climbing steep sandy dune-faces. It was quite thrilling and a great experience in the capable hands of our drivers. I am not convinced that I would be keen to try some of this on my own no matter how good the car.
We stopped a couple of times on the way to admire the scenery, to be fair this was largely sea and sand-scapes but I think the stops were very much welcomed by those who had been sitting in the very back of the vehicles, not a good place if one is prone to motion sickness.
The penultimate stop was at the “inland sea” a fairly massive expanse of water, on the other side of which you can see Saudi Arabia. After this we travelled north again, following the coastline back to a semi-permanent camp on the beach where we could relax under beach shelters, play with snow-boards in the dunes, ride camels, ride quad-bikes, and generally have some fun while our hosts prepared a fantastic meal of barbecued, meats, salads and dips.
While we were there we were able to learn a lot about things to do in the desert that are not immediately obvious to the casual traveler. Not least of which is the fishing and the diving along the coast.
There are, we were told, coral reefs along much of the coast and the spear fishing and rod fishing is very good. The beaches are fairly hard packed and visitors not wishing to dare the dunes in their own vehicles can drive a 4WD vehicle along the top of the beach for many miles. There are many places to camp and swim and the inland sea is a very popular spot for weekend camping.
You would want to take your own fresh water and toilet facilities, also to take your litter home as there is very little in the way of infrastructure in the desert.
Yuliya and I had a great day and returned home in the mid-afternoon to do some shopping and sort out things like laundry and some details around the new car. I have decided not to do any washing or ironing for the three weeks or so that Yuliya is here. To give you an idea, I can get five shirts and three pairs for pants washed, dry cleaned and pressed for about QAR 39 (about USD $10).
Next weekend we plan to look at some of the housing options around town. To get a feel for the different lifestyles that we might enjoy when Yuliya arrives, and to visit some of the world renowned shopping centers in Doha.