Arriving in Bahrain, we probably had even less of an idea what to expect than we did arriving in Qatar earlier this week. I’m pretty sure the first time I even became aware of the existence of Bahrain was when they, like Qatar, started bringing elite Africans in to run for them. Not exactly a nuanced understanding of their national psyche.
What I’ve learned in 12 hours
The recent history in Bahrain is somewhat similar to the other Gulf countries; trouble after the collapse of the pearling industry followed by sudden wealth and shiny towers in the desert.
In these components Bahrain seems similar but just a little earlier in the curve, i.e. first to discover oil, first to really face the prospect of running out. However, Bahrain seems to have a more interesting earlier history too, as seen in some 18,000 burial mounds that can be found around the country dating back to 3,000 BC.
To get a better sense in our limited time, we hooked up with BGIS, a tour company, to get a guided look around.
Stop camel time
Our first stop after leaving Manama (the capital of Bahrain) was the Royal camel farm in Janabiyah. Owned by [Sheik….] the farm is home to hundreds of camels. According to our guide the Sheik likes the camels and they serve no purpose other than just being there. No racing, they’re not for meat. There isn’t even a charge to visit them so they’re not a revenue source.
What they are, is pretty friendly.
Also in Janabiyah are some of the 18,000 Dilmun burial mounds. It is believed that Bahrain was the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world. Interestingly, the burial mounds are just at the side of the road with houses all around the them. A broken fence suggesting you not walk on them rather than restricting it.
Country 16 will have to wait
Bahrain is the 15th country Ella has visited so far (if you included Canada). Not bad for a 3 year old if I do say so myself. From the camel farm we came close to country 16 but one doesn’t simply slip into Saudi Arabia for a quick meal so it will have to wait.
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are connected by a 27 km long causeway which opened in 1986. While we couldn’t enter Saudi Arabia, we were able to drive to the border check point in the middle to take pictures and, if you’re like Ella and I, use the toilet.
Quite literally a tree in the middle of nowhere
From there we headed to visit the Tree of Life. Having been let down by the burning bush in Jordan (not a flame in sight) I was pleasantly surprised by the tree of life. It is, as you might expect, a big old green tree growing where it has no business to be growing.
We took time to stop for a quick picnic, courtesy of our friendly guide Birgit.
Shortly before we left the funniest ice cream truck I’ve ever seen pulled up. In a way, it was kind of like the tree. In both cases you can’t help but think, “what the hell are you doing here?”
The steady stream of tourists answered the question where the ice cream truck is concerned. Science is still working on an explanation for the tree.
Where it began
Whatever you think of the current state of affairs in the Middle East, it’s hard to argue that the discovery of oil in the Gulf region hasn’t had an immense impact on regional and global affairs. With that in mind, it was interesting to find ourselves at the place that started it all; the first site where oil was struck in the Gulf region in 1932.
Today, that first well is still there, though long since dried up. Next door is a little museum to the history of oil in Bahrain. Including this great summary of quotes regarding the likelihood of finding oil in Bahrain as exploration was just being considered.
It’s odd driving around this part of the country because there are pipes and derricks in every direction. Even weirder is that in the winter Bahrainis go camping in this same area. I get the part about getting out of the city to reconnect with nature, but doing it where you could trip over an oil pipe in the dark trying to go take a pee at night seems a bit odd to me.
Apparently not everyone is into roughing it so the tents have become pretty elaborate with people sometimes having old couches that they bring with them. Sadly, they also leave them behind when they head back to the city.
A quiet night out with my ladies
Reading the description in the Lonely Planet and walking through the streets, it’s hard not to wonder if this is kind of like the Las Vegas of the Middle East. (A quick google search confirmed that I was far from the first person to think this.) That said, having been to both in the last 12 months, I’ll take Bahrain.
They may stream across the border from Saudi to party with liquor and women, but, while Ella can be pretty crazy at times, we settled for a more relaxed dinner and then home for bedtime.
Tomorrow we’ll head out to explore a little more on our own. Our first stop will be the Al Fateh Grand Mosque, so Ella can’t exactly show up hung over and reeking of booze now can she?