Thursday, February 21, 2019

Desert Dune Bashing

So Qatar's football (soccer) team recently won the AFC Asian Cup (which automatically qualifies them for the FIFA Confederations Cup....which ironically is being held here in Qatar in 2022). The nation celebrated! There were parades, dancing in the street, and best of all businesses offering discounts! We had been talking about going on a Dune Bashing to be able to take the trip at a 21% off discount...I signed us up with 365 Adventures!

We were picked up mid afternoon (we did the half day adventure) and headed out of town. It was about an hour or so drive to the Al Rawnaq. When we started getting close the usual landscape, suddenly had an oil refinery was on the horizon.

As we got closer we got better and better views of the gas being burned off.

This was my first time seeing gas flares or flare stacks. It was quite memorizing and I needed to look up what the are for. The googles say flare stacks are used to burn of flammable gas that builds up during the refining process and protects against unplanned over pressuring.

To help you orient your self, we stopped at the red pin.

Where did we stop? Well we arrived at a little village area for a rest stop. The driver need to let air out of the tires prior to us getting going (less air pressure makes for a smoother ride/better maneuverability in the fine sand). At this little village there was a tent to get some Arabic coffee, camels to ride, and falcons to hold. So, naturally, we partook!

Clarissa was a little unsure of the giant camel but Mason throughly enjoyed it.

We opted for a short little walk around, but they also offer walks for 30 minutes or so that go up a  dune....maybe next time. The sitting/standing process with camels is so crazy! Their legs bend like accordions and it's a bit rocky (ie don't hold a full cup of coffee in your hand while the camel is getting down).

While waiting in line for the toilet, I had time to admire the dunes we were about to

Our typically timid Clarissa was now all, sure I'll hold a falcon. We did notice that this falcon did not have the usually mask covering it's eyes, but that didn't stop Clarissa at all.

You can see the coffee tent in the background.

She really enjoyed holding the falcon. Richard saw how much fun Clarissa had, so he took a turn as well.

It was now time to head off (our driver was waiting for another one, they typically drive in pairs/small groups so if one vehicle gets stuck in the sand, there is someone close by to help).

I had packed the GoPro and the drone. It ended up being a bit to windy for the drone, but we did get some video with the dash mounted GoPro. Though the video doesn't show quite how exciting it I sped most of it up a bit.

Midway though you may have noticed the driver parked at the rim of a dune. There was a nice look out point. We all got out. The sand was so soft and fine. We are looking out into the Persian Gulf. Our driver said at high tide, the darker sandy area fills with water and when migrating through flamingos will feed there. Sadly, it was low tide and no flamingos.

Behind us was sand/dunes as far as the eye could see.

I got the neat shot of our driver and our companion car's driver looking out in the Persian Gulf.

At times, it almost felt like we were in a live Land Cruiser

Also, along the way in the video you pass a bedouin camp. During the winter, when the weather is quite pleasant locals will set up tents in the desert and spend time out here (equivalent to Americans spending weekends on the lake). Finally we made it to where we couldn't drive anymore! We live near the red dot, had started our way into the dunes near the Umm Said (aka where the road ends) and had travelled to the blue dot. Directly across from us was the K.S.A. as the freeway signs say (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).

Here's the photo of the map image. The mountains across the water are in Saudi Arabia.

Mason's stomach had stopped enjoying the ride a while back, but Clarissa was feeling okay and got out to play in the sand and make sand angels. I may or may not have posted on facebook using a cell signal from Saudi Arabia (but still won't mark it off on our map).

After hanging out here for a while to enjoy the views, we took a different (quicker) route back. We stopped to put air back in our tires. It was somewhat funny as we still had to drive over sand a little longer to get back to the main road. It was a noticeably bumpier ride. While putting air in the tires, my eye caught the remote control cars racing. My brother and nephew love remote control vehicles (cars, helicopters, you name it), so I took this little clip for them.

As you can tell with the lighting, the sun was starting to go down as we left. When we got about 20 minutes from home, we ordered some dinner to be delivered. It was fun afternoon and not something we would have ever done in the US!

P.S. Eco-minded Tree-Hugger Deb did note that all the cars avoided any shrubbery that was growing. We also did not see any wildlife. Due to typically high day time temps, a lot of desert animals are nocturnal and there are no nighttime dune bashing tours - I would like think to protect the wildlife.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

State 'Celebrity' Sighting

Forgive me....I forgot to mention something exciting that happened in Doha mid-January (in the middle of that whole gov't shutdown fun). Richard's boss of bosses - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in the Middle East visiting countries. Given, Qatar is in the Middle East; Pompeo visited Doha. We had the opportunity to meet him (this was actually our first chance to meet a Secretary of State - John Kerry visited Tbilisi a week or so after we had departed post, Suva wasn't much on the radar for big visits, so here we were third post - first visit). Note: if it doesn't have a watermark, the picture was shared from the Embassy.

Needing to hit the ground running, they were not all scrunched up in economy seats like us little folks fly.

Sec. Pompeo was greeted by a local Qatari representative.

Off he headed for some meetings.

Sec. Pompeo's wife, Susan Pompeo had come along for the trip. She wanted to speak to EFMs (eligible family members) about life here at post. We had about an hour to chat, she asked a lot of questions, everyone had a chance to talk, and we all got a group photo after our talk.

We then went to another meeting room where our other halfs/other employees were gathering. After a few minutes, Sec. Pompeo and Susan entered the room and were introduced by the ChargĂ© D’Affaires, William Grant (until an Ambassador is assigned to the Embassy, Grant is filling in).

Sec. Pompeo made a few remarks, but then asked the group questions.

What did he say/ask? Here's a little video from his twitter page of him talking to us!

We then all posed for the obligatory group photo....can you find Richard and me? Mason & Clarissa did not come as it was a last minute change to invite kids and I would of had to run to school to grabbed them out of class early and Richard needed the car to do some work stuff with the airplane logistically it didn't work out.

Afterwards, there was the chance for pictures/selfies. That part was a little crazy....but I did get these photos!

Sec. Pompeo was a really jolly/friendly guy.

A friend and I opted to ask Susan for a photo (as we had just had a relatively intimate chat with her).

So we survived our first, VIP visit. If you go the Embassy's webpage, you can even see where Sec. Pompeo met Qatar's Emir!

Friday, February 8, 2019

AWA Kayaking Trip

So as I did with Georgia and Fiji postings, I've joined one of the local expat woman's associations (Here is it American Woman's Association (AWA) Qatar). They do the usual monthly meetings, LOT of awesome excursions and activities, and some charity work. A week ago, I was helping make fleece blankets for military personal being med-evaced to stay warm with on cold cargo planes. The day before that, I went on the kayaking trip!! We met up and the tour group coordinated our transportation via bus up to the Al Khor area. It was about an hour drive (we live in Doha and we kayaked at the blue dot).

When we were driving the last bit (our bus drive meet the kayaking crew and followed them). A lot of us where starting to wonder where the water was. We finally turned at an orange construction cone on the side of the road and were off roading through a sandy/hill landscape with some car tracks going through it (this is the view back once we made it to the water - the power lines are the road we turned off of).

We then turned at a second orange cone which took us directly to the water! At last we had arrived!

We all got fitted with our life jackets and paddles. The kayaking crew did a demo on how to hold the paddle and how to get the best results for moving/turning/stopping. We then headed down to the row of kayaks waiting for us.

We got directions on where to paddle across the channel to a mangrove island in the estuary. The tour guide folks got this shot of our mass dash across the water. I'm the goober wearing a buff (I hate dealing with the knots in my hair) and the Go-Pro on my head.

We had a little time once we reached the island to walk around. We did the group picture of course.

Our guide confirmed what my kayak buddy and I thought were flamingos. Sadly, this would be as close as we were getting to them (good the flamingos, sad for us). I had brought my 300mm lens and have since cropped in further with editing software. Here are my best two (focus is off as it was far away the camera didn't know what I was taking); one shows some with the pink coloration (they were very pale/almost white) and the other shows one with the distinct neck/profile.

Real live flamingos in the wild!!! Of course, the mangroves were the real destination.

Reminds of Florida mangroves.....but yet I'm here in the desert!

There was a Great Egret (Andre alba) that was much closer to photograph. After resting in the mangroves a bit,

it took flight and I captured the graceful bird. I can't decide which I like better - with the mangrove background or plain sky background.

We also happened upon a mangrove with perfectly spaced/symmetrical radial aerial roots (pneumatophores). The guide spoke about the use of these roots (aeration during high tide when a portion of the plant is submerged).

We got back in the kayaks and paddled around through the mangroves (with one spot so shallow we had run aground and had to get out and pull the kayak).

When we were nearly back in open water there was some mangroves with a flock of Western Reef Herons (Egretta gularis) as well as more Great Egrets.

I had finally figured out the GoPro settings (I was trying to take a photo every 30 seconds, would set it up, but then when the camera went off it returned to the default single photo). Not a whole lot to look at while heading back across the channel - though I did get a nice series of paddling photos.

Sadly, we were not at the head of the pack Quite the opposite. We had paddled great all morning but suddenly there was a current that kept turning us to the right (these were probably one of our 360 turns as we'd just get tired of battling the current). We finally reached a shallow enough area and just pulled the kayak back the rest of the way. One of the kayak crew guys met us and took it the last little bit (my camera was still shooting away!).

We then walk back to the makeshift camp they had set up. You see our huge bus we came from Doha in and of course the port-a-potty (literally portable)!

There was a tent set up with Arabic coffee and cakes to snack one. A lot of us had brought our lunches so we ate them then (by now it was after 13:00).

After eating my PB&J, I got artsy with the beautiful Arabic coffee pot!

It was a super fun day (but in my doing reconnaissance on the trip...I think the current might make it bit too tricky to take Clarissa out there. She doesn't paddle much and that would be a lot of work for Though I would like to come again, possibly earlier in the flamingo migration season when hopefully more birds would be present, with would be a fun date day!