Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sand and shoppingmalls: a stopover in Qatar

On my way from Frankfurt to Hong Kong, I planned a three day stopover in Qatar. I was flying with a really nice airline company, Qatar Airways, so far the best company I flew with. They call themselves 'the world's five star airline company', which I can pretty much confirm, because the flight was really comfortable.
It is 6am when I landed on Doha International Airport. Stepping out of the airplane, the hot air was blowing in my face like a hairdryer. It was early in the morning, but already well over 35 Celsius. I passed immigrations, waited for my bags, searched for a coffee and went outside the airport building to take a taxi. I told the taxi driver to take me to a small supermarket not so far from the airport. This is the place where I met my hospitalityclub contact Alp. Alp took me to his nice apartment and showed me the room where I could stay. The rest of the morning I slept. When I woke up, I talked a bit with Alp, who is a Turkish expat living in Doha. He told me some interesting things about Qatar and that he actually didn't like the country that much. We had a lunch and afterwards Alp drove me a bit around the city.
It was really nice to have met Alp, because there is virtually no public transport in Doha at all and even taxis can be very hard to find. Basically everyone in Qatar has its own car. In the nice air-conditioned Toyota, Alp drove me around the low rise city. We drove past the 'Aspire tower' of the 2006 Asian games and stopped for some food at a fancy shopping mall. The mall had a remake of Venice inside and looks really like an American style shopping palace. In a country like Qatar, there is nothing much to do besides shopping. Because of the incredible heat, outdoor activities are not popular, so people tend to look for air-conditioned entertainment, like shopping. We walked a bit around the mall, drunk a coffee and continued the city tour.
We drove along Corniche, a wide boulevard along the Persian Gulf, and continued to the heart of the city: the souk. Doha's souk is a really interesting place, although the souk is rebuild and doesn't look authentic, the atmosphere is quite nice. I found it very pleasant to walk through the small alleyways, past all the small shops with spices, antiques and clothes. Later on, we had a diner in a traditional Arab restaurant, where I met two of Alp's friends, a Turkish guy and a Hungarian girl. We had some coffees afterwards and drove back to the apartment. I watched a bit of the Olympic games and went to sleep.
Next day, Alp was working, which meant I was kind of stuck in the apartment. I didn't want to pay a taxi for the whole day and as there is no public transport, I couldn't really go to the city. I just stayed in the apartment, where I talked a bit with two Nepalese guys who were fixing Alp's air conditioner. As in other Gulf states like the Emirates or Bahrein, the ethnic composition of Qatar is really weird. It is weird because Qataris only make up about 20% of the total population. Most of the country's population consists of workers from South Asia (mostly Pakistan), Southeast Asia (especially Philippines) and expats from the West. Essentially, the Western expats are leading the oil companies, the workers from South and Southeast Asia are doing all the low-education jobs and the Qataris are shopping. It might be a bit simplistic, but this is what the division of labour seemed to me. The Nepalese guys I met were really friendly however and the rest of the day I just relaxed, watching the Olympics and using the computer.
The day after I was able to explore some more of Qatar, because the Hungarian girl (I forgot her name) had a day off and offered to take me to the desert. She picked me up from the apartment and she drove me past some chemical factories southwards. We drove around a town just south of Doha, which is besides a nice mosque, not so interesting. The way further south was quite nice, we drove along a dry and sandy area and I spotted some camels. At the end of the road, we stopped and walked a bit on the sand dunes.
With a day temperature of 46 Celsius, climbing dunes is not exactly easy. I really like hot weather, but together with high humidity, everything above 40 Celcius is a bit too much. The view from the dunes was rewarding though and after climbing down we continued to the Persian Gulf. We stopped at a beach for a while and drove back to the city. In Doha, we walked a bit around the souk and afterwards I went back to Alp's apartment. I had a Turkish dinner with Alp and he brought me to the airport a bit later. I checked in for my connection flight to Hong Kong, where I landed 8 hours later.