Updated: Oct 19, 2018
by Nina Sabin - Travel
In our second year of living in Saudi, we traveled four times - a total of about 50 traveling days for the year. The first one I mentioned in my last blog, The Ins and Outs of India. This was the first Eid Holiday (‘Eid al – Adha – Feast of Sacrifce) which at that time fell in the Fall Season and we went to India for a 13-day trip.
The next trip was a three-day weekend excursion. It was a company holiday. Many of the adventurous expats took advantage of any day off to travel. Since, no one really knows how long they will live overseas, when the opportunity to travel is available, they don’t miss it.
We wanted to see more of the Middle East so we decide to drive south to Doha, Qatar. We lived in the Eastern Providence of Saudi. Qatar is about a four-hour drive through the desert from Saudi; about 240 mph (380 kph).
Our excursion started on a Thursday morning about 7 am. At that time the weekends in Saudi were Thursday and Friday. Presently, the weekends are Friday and Saturday. One day about five years ago, the king decided to change the weekend; and just like that the weekend changed. They proposed the adjustment in 2007 but it took six years for the transformation to go into effect.
We had two other families join us. So in total we had three cars and ten people in a caravan through the Arabian Desert. If you have ever gone on a road trip you know the more scenery, the more interesting the trip. However, this isn’t the case when you drive through the desert. All you see is sand and more sand. However, if you are lucky you may seem camels along the side of the road. We were the lucky ones and we also saw Bedouin camps along the way.
Driving through the desert can be an exciting experience when a shamal happens. A shamal is a northwesterly wind that often creates a sandstorm. Well, we did have the opportunity to experience a shamal. Thank God it was a moderate sandstorm, however, it sandblasted our headlights and some paint off of our bumper. A severe sandstorm can be extremely dangerous, zero visibility, and covers the sun and the sky is totally orange.
After four hours we arrived at the border. There is always a process to go from one country to another. At the Qatar’s border in 2003, we had to get out of our car with our passports and go from window to window to get through the process of buying insurance, getting our visa, and clearing immigration. Now the process has been modernized and not as complex. At the border there is no longer the Israeli and American flags with black X’s through them.
The original plan was making it to the border before prayer time. In my blogs about living in Saudi, I explained that prayer time happened five times a day. Everything would close down for about 20 to 30 minutes. Well, as you know best laid plans don’t always happen the way we think they should. We arrived about five minutes before prayer time. However, often people leave for prayer early. So we had to wait in the heat of the Middle East about 104 degrees, in the little border shack, until the immigration re-opened.
We have been blessed at borders not having to get out of our car and be searched. Many times, the security at the customs has the right to search your car and everything removed to be inspected. The car before us was being thoroughly searched, but expats especially with young children tend to be waved on and not have to go through that process.
Once finished with the border clearing, we had smooth sailing form there. We stayed at the Ritz Carlton of Doha. At that time, with our company discount, we paid only $75 USD per night. What a wonderful way to spend the weekend. The hotel had all the marvelous amenities that Ritz Carlton are known for. Amazing pools with a waterfall and pool bar, delicious international restaurants, and even a shisha bar. Shisha, also known as hookah or hubbly bubbly, is a water pipe with flavored tobacco. It is very popular in the Middle East.
Since we only had the weekend and two of them included traveling days, we had only one day to really explore Qatar and the rest was enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of the hotel.
A must see when visiting Doha is the Corniche. There are many sights and activities along this beautiful promenade, including the Pearl Statue and a traditional Qatari village. We loved the views of the dhows, traditional Arab crafts, and the Arabian Gulf, also known as the Persian Gulf by the Iranians.
Two other places we visited on this trip to Qatar was the Old Souk, and the Fishing Port. The Old Souk is great shopping for exotic spices, herbs, nuts and. traditional craft items. Buying in the middle east includes haggling and bargaining. Not the easiest thing to do as an American, since we are used to the fixed prices. The fishing port of Al Wakrah is a beautiful little port where we saw small white mosques and few beautiful old houses. This port was once the main center for pearling; today though the waterfront and the part of the port have been sanded up, leaving us with just a hint of what used to be.
We enjoyed Qatar so much, that it is one of the countries we have visited more than one time. It was a convenient and reasonable place to travel from Saudi. However, years later the cost of the visa increased almost 400 percent and the hotel discount went from $75 a night to $300 a night. Needless to say, it was no longer a reasonably-priced place to visit for a long weekend.
In my next blog, I will share where we traveled to on the second Eid holiday, Eid al-Fitr. Stayed tuned!