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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

10/31: Riding the Dunes & Swimming in the Persian Gulf

After exploring some of the fabulously wealthy capital city of Doha yesterday, we made arrangements to to go riding the dunes in the desert about 90 minutes south of the city this morning. 
After getting picked up at 9 by a young Qatari man named Mohammed, we headed toward the desert. As I mentioned in the previous post, Qatar has the world's third largest natural gas reserves and oil. Evidence of that mega wealth was apparent in massive construction projects literally everywhere we looked as the city and country was reinventing itself. In 1969, an artificial deepwater port was excavated in Doha to handle transshipments of cargo from other Gulf States. Mohammed explained that was no longer sufficient and told us that part of the construction we were seeing was a new port south of Doha.
We had never been to a place where everything appeared to be brand new - all the roads, all the buildings, all the homes - just everything. I found it rather disturbing as I couldn't help but wonder what had been eradicated in the march toward progress.
Once we left the city's environs, there were wide boulevards with no expense spared for the attractive landscaping even in the desert heat 
We could only get a glimpse but we might as well been transported back to the States and the endless suburbs of the American southwest.
Mohammed kindly stopped at a store in Measaieed for a few minutes to buy some drinks and candy for us which he put in his cooler that was part of the console of his Toyota van. We had been worried about not eating or drinking much before ridng the dunes but Mohammed assured us that he would drive calmly on the dunes as he wanted us happy and not sick. We were very much OK with that, believe me!
This blindingly white brand new building was a boys' school. All new schools in the country would be patterned after this one, according to Mohammed.

We passed a mammoth petroleum factory but Mohammed said no pictures were allowed to be taken of it even though it was more than a half a mile away. He explained that the factory's workforce was made up of people from all over the world as there were only about 300,000 Qataris in a population of over 1.5 million people. 

We knew we were getting close to our destination when we could see so many tire tracks in the sand dunes. That got us excited.
Mohammed explained that many Qataris come out to the desert from Doha on the weekends and spend time in their trailers. Think of it as having a cabin in the mountains to get away from it all, Qatari style!

There were so many camping trailers, it looked like a FEMA camp had been set up!
Some of the camps even had the high-end Airstream trailers.
This Bedouin camp was where all rides into the desert started from.
Of course, no Bedouin camp is complete without camels. We could have taken a camel ride but, having taken one with a rather drunken Arab man escorting the camels on another trip, we gave it a pass this go around.

While Mohammed had someone help him deflate the tires on the car before riding the dunes, we had tea in the Bedouin tent. The deflated tires were at 15psi and would help him to gain better traction on the soft sand.
We noticed a man praying to Allah in an adjacent tent.
We were so excited getting out into the dunes and beginning our adventure as we didn't quite know what to expect. Some of the dunes had very thick sand as in the picture below. 

What an adept driver anyone trying to ride the dunes needs to be. There were no signs indicating what tracks led where but Mohammed, at all times, seemed to know exactly which dune to crest for the most enjoyable ride. To us, of course, all the dunes looked virtually identical but not to him and the other experienced drivers who had probably been out on these dunes hundreds of times before.
We had just come down this hill and were thankful that Mohammed had made sure his 4x4 was in great shape before setting out!

A quick shot of the sea as we crested the hill before Mohammed drove down the steep embankment. What a rush as Mohammed drove us over the hills and then down time after time. It was like being on a nonstop rollercoaster.

We could see the tracks where we had come down the hill from. It may not look like much but it sure seemed pretty high to us when, at the top, we couldn't even see over the dash because it was so steep!

Since it appeared bone dry now, I was surprised to find out that we were actally close to the sea and that there’s water in this area during high tide.
This area was flat as a pancake and appeared to be so smooth that it looked like it could have been a landing strip in an emergency.

The thought crossed my mind on more than one occasion as we crested a hill what would happed if another driver were using that same hill to come down at the same time! Mohammed seemed very confident though that he would never encounter another driver and that wouldn’t happen since the area is so large.
Woohoo - straight down we go!

Mohammed said camels eat the plants we saw in the dunes. He advised us to stay well clear of any plants because scorpions often live by them.
We noticed a fair amount of trash in the dunes which Mohammed said came from the sea when it was washed into the flats. He said no Qatari would ever throw out trash, only the foreigners do that but of course we had seen a number of Qataris doing exactly that with callous disregard for the environment.

We had to have been driving for a good hour before we saw any more cars. Apparently, the dunes were so massive that there were so many areas in the dunes to take people dune riding. 

It was fun getting out of the car for a few minutes and letting the warm sand warm our toes.

Another rollercoaster ride coming up - or should I say down?!
Up we go, hoping there's nobody coming down on the other side of the hill!
This particular area was known as the singing dunes during the heat of summertime when the temperatures in the desert climb as high as 45-50 degrees and the tires hit the hot sand resulting in a singing sound. It was nowhere near as hot as that but we could certainly still hear the resonating sand.
He pointed out the 4G mobile towers; previously there was no cell phone reception in the desert. 
After the earlier, tantalizing view of the sea, Mohammed drove us there after we had been riding the dunes for well over an hour.
Mohammed stopped the car just feet from the water’s edge. He said that we were looking at the Gulf Sea, formerly known as the Persian Gulf. 
In the distance was Saudi Arabia which we got to see for the first time. We had hoped to see it from Bahrain a few days ago but the traffic had been so horrific on the King Fahd Causeway that we hadn’t gotten that close.
It was glorious having the entire beach and the sea all to ourselves. We’d never been that lucky before. The water was a very pleasant temperature to swim in and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time just chilling for an hour. It was fun collecting some shells to add to our growing collection of shells from all over. I somehow doubt we’ll ever be able to differentiate the shells from the Gulf Sea from the others though!
At the far end of the beach, visible with my telephoto lens, was the Coast Guard station, Mohammed said.
With regret, we headed back about 12:15 so Mohammed could have his tires re-inflated to the normal 50 psi prior to driving back to Doha. He said the special desert tires he had for his vehicle were hard to find in stores and cost $200 per tire and only last about six months.
This looked like a dune-high pyramid of sand!
The surface of this flat area seemed to be almost as hard as concrete.

We appreciated Mohammed’s driving carefully as we ascended and descended the dunes but my carefree spirit would have relished the thrill of going even faster a few times at least so we could have experienced a heart-stopping rush of adrenaline.

Mohammed pointed out the apartment blocks for petroleum employees.
The, of course, brand new Petroleum Office Building located in Messaied, south of Doha.
In the upper right hand corner of the sign warning of distance to the upcoming roundabout, were the Arabic numbers for 300, read from right to left.
The number 200:
Just a miniscule part of the new Hamad Port Project due to be completed in 2022 that will drastically reduce Qatar's reliance on Dubai, according to Mohammed.
The 'rather large' oyster and pearl monument at the roundabout in Al Wakra, one of the towns we passed on the way back to Doha.
This rather swish home, Mohammed said, was owned by the head of Toyota in Doha. Sure looked like he had some nice digs!
I must have taken about a dozen photos showing the astounding amount of construction going on in and around Doha. We had never seen anything on this scale before.
After resting at the hotel for a bit after riding the dunes, we ventured out and walked past the Islamic Cultural Center which had the very different shaped minaret we had seen lit up at night. 

We wandered back through the Souk Wakif and the Falcon Souk again since we had a good time at both just yesterday. 

We watched a man making some of the head covers for falcons and decided to buy one as a souvenir. 

Who knew that they came in different sizes as I sure would have thought that falcon heads are all about the same size. I can’t imagine anyone visiting our home would recognize what it is when they see it so it’s a good conversation piece and memento of our time in Doha. 

We passed a number of stores selling 'abayas' the robe-like article of clothing women wear over their regular clothes.

What an attractive sight the mounted police officers made as they rode through the souk.

One of the huge number of watch repair places we saw:

This quite literally hole-in-the-wall place located just a few yards from our hotel sold a yummy flat bread that we enjoyed snacking on.
Steven learned a new phrase while we were in Doha: a 'set of jewelry' is a matching necklace, pair of earrings and ring. There had to have been about twenty plus jewelry stores in the Gold Souk and each had the most magnificent jewelry displayed in their windows. 

I could only wonder where a woman would go when adorned with such jewels. How many occasions would merit that degree of ostentation?
Riding the dunes and swimming in the Gulf had been an adventure we wouldn’t likely forget. And of course ogling the jewelery wasn't too bad either!

Posted from Johannesburg, South Africa on November 22nd, 2016.


  1. What fun to ride the dunes. I would have said faster/faster. You can do similar in Iceland on the Glaciers. Yes, you also reduce the tire pressure. My thoughts exactly about the jewelry, where would we wear it in Denver??? Oh, BTW, its been snowing here. Lil Red

  2. The camel with the red blanket over it reminds me of the Christmas ornament you brought back a few years ago.



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