Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bahrain and Dubai

As I suspected, Bahrain and Dubai were similar to Kuwait though I'd have to say that Kuwait was the most over-the-top materialistic and expensive of the three. I spent 2 days in Bahrain. It is a small island country with little oil anymore and a long bridge connecting it to Saudi Arabia. It is about the same size as Singapore (and getting bigger with all the land reclaimation) but has a population of less than 1 million so only the north part of the island is developed. It was even more like home because it was more "normal" than Kuwait. A little smaller, a little poorer (poorest of the gulf countries but about the same as home), a little quieter, more tolerant and relaxed socially and religiously. I could easily've worn my salwar here and there were lots of Indian women dressed up too. Mostly I just wandered around the city but there is very little to do. I slept the first night in the airport but was hosted by a young Indian couple on the 2nd. Again, skilled labour is living it up. Gulf air is a fairly popular airline so there were a bunch of westerners wandering around, probably just on stop overs like me as there really isn't any reason to come here. The weather keeps getting better and better and I am at mid 20s or so now and well on my way to a sunburn. I did go to an Indian festival at the Hindu temple with my hosts. In most of these countries they are tolerant enough to allow foreign religions and temples but in the case of the Hindus they are not allowed to actually have idols as that is really bad in Islam. Thus they can't parade an idol around on holy days and they have to make do with pictures. In all these countries the bus system works pretty well but everyone wants a car to show off in. The front seats and area of the bus is reserved for women and while you will never see a girl standing on the bus, there are plenty of men sitting in there when it's free. Definately nothing like Pakistan. In all it is quite relaxed and modern and I can easily see why Michael Jackson came and hid out in Bahrain after leaving the states.
Dubai is a bit of a madhouse. By far the most famous and popular city in the region, it is growing at an insane rate and I've heard that up to 80% of the population is foreigners of some sort. ALthough not even the capital of the UAE, it has built itself up as the trade capital of the region and bills itself as the Singapore of the middle east. It has a great global location between europe and asia and everyone passes through at some point. It's expanding and planning with so much thought to the future that it is a beautiful and impressive place. They've taken everything into account and it is also the most liberal place in the area. The only problem is the traffic which is horrendous despite their best efforts to build nice roads. As a result of all this, there is a large number of tourists, everything is modern and unless you want to shop in one of it's numerous malls or markets (gold and jewelry are huge deals here) there is actually little to do. They have nice beaches and sand dunes but everything here is expensive and trying to get to many of them a big hassle. For me anyway. It doesn't cater to people like me and would prefer we didn't even show up I think.
Based on my kind of travel and interests I should hate the place but actually really enjoyed my 2 days there. It's like the Disneyland of construction projects and to fully appreciate all they are doing you would need a helicopter. They are currently building the world's tallest building, 1st underwater hotel, largest shopping mall and largest theme park. They already have the tallest and most luxurious hotel (7 stars, don't ask me how that figures and they won't let people near it) and are building several offshore projects. 3 offshore islands (largest manmade ever) shaped like palm trees visible from space, and another one that looks like the world. Pretty cool but no way you can see it. I stayed on the floor in an indian doctor's villa. Very nice set up. If anyone offers you a job out here just say yes.
I have just arrived in Oman. Beautiful country but little touristed and still expensive. Unfortunately that means things are hard to get to as a lot of it is natural beauty requiring a car. I have time to kill and no money but fortunately for me, the weather is good and this is one of the easiest countries in the world to hitchhike so I will try to make my way around the country this way for the next little while before going to Yemen. After the success I've had today (already 5 rides) I don't think it will be too much problem.


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