Doha is a dusty city, monotonous and tan. Our taxi driver tells us that the downtown, across the bay has all been built in the last two years. After sleeping in the lobby for an hour we get into our hotel room and sleep for another half hour before our desert tour picks us up.
Our driver, whose name I do not catch, is dressed in a typical white tunic. The top very much resembles a nice, pressed dressy collared shirt but it keeps going down into a skirt that finishes at the floor. It looks quite comfortable in the heat. (Especially compared to the long pants and long sleeves I am wearing, though I have chosen a light weight ensemble from REI that is neither form fitting nor attractive and thusly perfect). In addition he wears a bright red Ralf Lauren baseball cap and sports a short goatee and side burns. He lacks the chatty quality that good tour guides have. Dave plays twenty questions with him trying to find out information before giving up. I try to ask a question and learn not to. He responds to me, “Well Sir…”
We see more of the city as we drive south out of it. It turns out we are in the nicer part of the city which gives way to less interesting, sprawling tan buildings and clustered rectangular developments. A band, 20 or so feet wise, of struggling grass lines the freeway. It looks pathetic, parched and patchy in this dry desert land. Qatar is the only true desert country with no surface water.
As we leave the city, the countryside gives was to flat colorless tan, unobstructed, unmarked, unchanging. We pass an oil refinery with tall tours bursting with red flames sending black smoke out into the colorless tan sky.
We signed up for a half day tour of the sand dunes complete with an authentic camel ride. I am most excited about riding a camel, something I have never done but always been curious to try. I have a romantic idea of Dave and I following a guide through the dunes aback one of these strange creatures.
We arrive at the dunes, expansive rolling mounds of sand with sporadic gray vegetation clinging desperately to them. They are similar to the dunes in Dave’s hometown but farther-reaching and more drab, marked by endless tracks of tires.
The driver stops in front of three men, a hut and 5 or so camels. He tells us that we can pet, ride and take pictures of the camels while he prepares the tires for dune driving. For 20 riyals apiece we can ride the camels. If you have never ridden a camel before you must try it.
Dave’s camel groans audibly as it crouches down, mine does so silently. We climb into the furry saddles and are told to hold on. The camel rocks first its butt up, lurching us forward, then its forelegs up lurching us back then finally all the way up. One of the men, clad in a white tunic, takes the halters of our camels, one in each hand and begins to walk us as if we are little kids on a pony ride. Dave and I laugh at the awkward moments of the camel lumbering along on their long legs. It’s the mot unnatural feeling, particularly for someone used to the gait of horses. I cannot imagine what they must feel like running. Our guide walks us no more than 100 yards across the sand before turning the camels around and walking back. The ride last a few minutes, so much for my romantic trek camelback through the dunes. We pet our camels and find that they are covered with engorged gray ticks. I am filled with disgust and sympathy. Never in my life have I seen so many ticks; they are all over the poor animals’ heads and necks, their butts, swelling and stretched sticking into the air. Our driver is ready.
We go dune bashing. I have pictured a nice tour of the dunes with ample opportunities to stop, walk around and take pictures. Instead our driver just drives, silently. I peer through my dusty tinted window, which is on child lock so I can’t roll it down to take pictures. We stop only twice in the three hours that he drives us through the unchanging, colorless dunes. There are a few incredible ridgelines where the wind had brought the sand into picturesque points.
These dunes are less majestic in appearance and structure than those in Guadalupe. Their expansive is impressive but tiring after three hours of nauseating driving. Our driver is not radical enough to make the drive fun and exciting but moves around enough that I am moderately car sick for most of the ride.
We stop by the sea and he points across the inlet and says that we are looking at Saudi Arabia.
In the afternoon we wander the harbor waiting until 4, after prayer time, for the museum to reopen. Big beautiful wooden boats fill the docks. Men work nosily on them. The boats are all of a similar style. The hull curves from the stern up towards the bow, which is adorned with a pointed beam trusting up at the front. The wide deck has polished wood floors. An enclosed cabin sits towards the back with carvings on the sides, above the cabin a wooden railing bounds off the upper deck. Stretching above the cabin is an awning that runs towards the front of the boat brining shade to the main deck. Each is carved differently with varying degrees of intricacy. They are all beautiful. A few sailboats sit on the other side of the harbor with similar shaped hulls but with masts instead of the shaded deck. The rigging system is complex and foreign to me.
In the skyline, across a circular bay, lies new Doha. Twisted modern skyscrapers twinkle in the distance. The entire area looks new and empty. We find out later from a South African we meet in the airport who is working Doha, that the area is reclaimed land, build up from the seafloor in order to make a nice C shaped bay. The new skyscrapers on the manufactured land are mostly empty buildings and ministry offices. With 1.9 million people and the worlds highest per capital income, Qatar is trying to make to Doha, according to a travel article I read, the next Dubai. They are building and building and building in preparation for the world cup in 2022. It will be interesting to see where it is 9 years from now.
The museum of Islamic art is a beautiful building filled with artifacts dating back 1100AD and beyond. It has an interesting collection of rugs, tiles, pots, weapons, jewelry, vases and countless Qur’ans with gold pages. Many of the artifacts are stunning. Old rugs centuries old intricately woven and mysteriously intact. The gold pages in the old Qur’ans are so delicate, hand printed with love and skill.