Saturday, March 1, 2008

go west, young man...

Hey all...


I had the opportunity to head into the western desert on Friday. Myself and a prof took off early friday morning and headed on the road to Salwah. Not much of a drive... but it was a little more interesting since I was driving in my new car! Finally got it!

The roads out of Doha are... mysterious... at best. Sometimes, they're eight lanes wide and easy to travel. Then suddenly, the road lines start crossing, careening into overpasses, and they drop down to a two-lane partially covered in sand without any warning signs. Best part is the overpasses. They must have built ten or twelve full highway overpasses within 100 km of Doha... but there aren't any roads leading away from the bridges! Just miles of overpasses with nowhere to go...


Anyway, we traveled out to the western highway looking for a set of coordinates someone had given us. That's when we realized that the coordinates were about five clicks off the road. So, we looked for a gate in the fence and headed offroad. The fences aren't to distinguish private property, but to keep the 1,000 pound camels off the road. So, only one day after picking up my brand new SUV (and being forced to drive less than 80kph for the first thousand km), I was dropping into 4-wheel drive and heading off into the desert.


First off, it was relatively flat, just driving over large rocks. But about a km off the road, small pockets of desert sand popped up. You would think these little mounds of smooth, flesh colored dust may seem tame and easily drivable... very wrong. Desert sand is loose, and finer than powdered sugar. The moment your tires hit it, you start sliding like you're on ice. Plus, you don't just punch thru these tufts of sand... they're dense and rock the living hell out of you. I was told my some locals that the only way to drive in desert sand is to keep your wheels moving... never come to a stop and keep turning the front wheels. The biggest reason people get stranded offroading is driving into small patches of sand and stopping. Unfortunately, when they hit the gas again, they just dig into the sand like it's mud.


Once we got thru the loose sand, we came upon some rocky outcroppings that we were looking for. In fact, our coordinates turned out to be the highest point in all of Qatar... about 70 meters above sea level. The southern sand dunes can get up to 130 meters tall, but since they're not permanent... they don't officially count.


I took a ton of pics, all of which are in the photo album at http://s249.photobucket.com/albums/gg223/benji-of-arabia/. I really need to stop having my camera set on automated picture... most of the pics are so whited out it looks like I took them on the surface of the sun! But it is bright... the sunlight reflects of the sand both on the ground and in the air... everything looks like it is shimmering.


I did get a few good ones, though... especially the camels! We saw over a hundred, easily. Multiple herds of them wandering aimlessly. One herd was being watched over by a shepherd. Those camels were wearing rugs over them... god only knows why. Another herd was walking close to the fence, so I pulled over to get a closer look. They all looked up, spit, and took off with about ten baby camels in tow.


Out in the middle of the desert, I came up on a nomad compound. It was about ten tents, one big, several small, with some pens made up of old fencing with camels inside. There was nothing... and I mean nothing... not a bush, a tree, or anything within at least 20kms. But here was a group of people, quietly living off the desert somehow. Or at least I thought that, until I saw the two satellite dishes staked behind the largest of the tents. Living off the land... and HBO.


The Doha cultural festival is going on this weekend. Fireworks at night, powerboat racing on the corniche during the day... and poetry. Lots of poetry. Large stages with enough amps to record a double-live album... of guys standing around singing poetry in Arabic. I wonder what the groupies are like??


I've got to start prepping a lab to electoplate some pencils...


later...


ben

3 comments:

Boro Girl said...

Awesome pictures. Darryl might post some on the Dropping Anchor website if that is okay with you.

Love, Sandi

A. Pauline said...

Not sure if the first went through. Now they call me A. Pauline on the Blogger. Hope this is working.

Loved your story of adventure, Ben.
Love you, AP

Anonymous said...

Hi Benji Kay! I've been reading your blog it is so funny you are a wonderful writer. Well we have now entered into "BIRTHDAY SEASON" I get to turn the big "40" yuck! yuck! yuck! My sweety pie Keith is turning 52. Katie is turning 9 and Nevyn will be 19. I get really tired of making birthday cakes. I don't even like cake very much. Well, as you have probably figured out by now I have a very dull life with not much to talk about; maybe I should go to Qatar too. Well, my e-mail address is keith_mcmullen@peoplepc.com hope to hear from you! Love your cousin in Michigan, Joellen McMullen