So if you’re paying for this blog by the country, you’re about to be pissed off because I only spent a morning in Qatar. But much more importantly, I need to know who you’re paying because they somehow cut me out of the loop, I don’t get anything for this and I do all the typing. That’s messed up.
Qatar was Creative Layover #2 on my way home from Egypt, and if you’re really smart about world geography you may have noticed by this point that I’m headed in entirely the wrong direction. The Royal Jordanian ticket agent at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman was just that smart, he took one look at my itinerary and said “Gaaah, who made this itinerary??” in a disgusted tone that cut across all cultural barriers. I said “American Airlines! I know, right?” even though I totally made this itinerary myself and went way out of my way to do it, but I wanted him to be my friend and also not send my bags to Aleppo.
I had this fantasy that Egypt, Jordan and Qatar would only fill up a page and a half in my passport in total, so I’d have one final blank page left for a visa to get into Russia this summer. Egypt generally cooperated, but the immigration officers in Jordan and Qatar more than made up for this by flamboyantly filling up an entire page each with what seemed like entirely extraneous stamps and stickers, and they would not even be momentarily slowed by my protests because they did not speak English at all. It was like watching a chef just go apeshit with showy dramatic flourishes, I seriously thought flames were going to be involved at some point.
Okay then, it looks like I’ll be renewing my passport early.
Only having five hours in Qatar is a challenge, but it’s a surmountable challenge as long as you don’t start those five hours at 3am on a Sunday—Whoops. Okay, well it’s still a surmountable challenge as long as you didn’t pack your international SIM card in your checked bag that you won’t see again until you get to Chicago—Dammit, two for two.
So I’m at Hamad International Airport and it’s 3am on a Sunday, and I have no data for my phone so I can’t call up an Uber to get into the city. That’s okay, I’ll just get on the airport Wifi. To log on the Wifi, simply provide your e-ticket number. Sure thing, my good man, I’ll just- Ah shit, it won’t take my Royal Jordanian ticket number. It wants my Qatar Airways ticket number, which hasn’t been issued yet. And the ticket desks don’t open until 5am.
Okay fine, new plan. I’ll get some local cash and hop in a taxi. I just need to figure out the right amount for a round trip so I don’t (a) Get stranded in Doha and miss my flight or (b) End up with a ton of Qatari Riyal I can’t spend after I leave. I talked to a few of the taxi drivers loitering in the lobby and pissed them off by responding with “Thanks, just checking!” after they quoted me a price. Off to the exchange counter, holy cow the money has a quail on it, and off into a taxi.
“How do you like living in Qatar?”
“Well my friend,” he paused. “What can you say. A man has to work.”
Now that is a glowing endorsement!
This poor taxi driver proceeded to ply me for opportunities for him to come work in America. I tried very unsuccessfully to make it clear to him that I am the very worst person to ask about this.
“Do your companies recruit people from Qatar? Or perhaps you have an office here?”
“Dude, we don’t even know what Qatar is. I’m so sorry.”
To his massive credit, however, he did not blink at my request to be dropped off on the waterfront at 3:30 in the morning.
“We have a famous mall here and a beautiful museum of Islamic art. But you are here far too early to enjoy any of this. Enjoy the waterfront. Very safe.”
He peeled out.
The man had not lied, the museum glowed beatifically in the stillness of the early morning twilight, cleaning crews dutifully preparing it for the coming day.
From the museum I headed west along The Corniche, Doha’s relatively-famous waterfront promenade spanning the rim of the Persian Gulf. Docked boats sat silently in the water of the gulf as schools of tiny fish swarmed in the shallows.
Early morning joggers began to join me on the promenade and helped me feel less like I was going to be arrested for being up too early in Qatar. A few lonely fishermen cast their lines hopefully into the calm waters as the sky warmed and grew progressively brighter.
Across the bay, the city of Doha sat in expectant stillness.
I sat at the edge of the water and watched as the sun rose over the gulf, melting into the hazy sky.
Further up the promenade, I crossed paths with The Pearl, a huge clam put there to honor the local pearling industry. Depending on the angle, The Pearl appeared to be Pac-Manning either the city of Doha or the sunrise itself.
I walked out onto a dock and took in the stern warnings from the Wooden Ships Department, alerting me to the disastrous peril that would surely befall me should I approach these cursed ships.
Dotted along the promenade were highly beneficent free public charging stations for cell phones, each one of which presented neither iPhone nor Micro-USB cables but rather the kind of live electrical wires you’d use to hot-wire a car or electrocute a detainee. Qatar is clearly a country of do-it-yourselfers.
As I walked along the long arc of the promenade toward the city, I reflected on the debatable wisdom of walking way the hell across Doha the day after I had climbed 800 steps all the way up to the monastery in Petra, which happened to be on the day after I had climbed the Great Pyramid inside a 3-foot-tall tunnel from The Pit deep below the earth on up to the King’s Chamber, and back down, in a perpetual squat the entire time. My legs informed me that (1) I would be sorry for this, (2) I would pay dearly, oh so dearly, and (3) That I would begin paying right now.
Allow me now to offer the observation that Doha has some things that don’t make sense. To the foreign visitor or possibly even the locals. Exhibit A: This thing.
Exhibit B: At the edge of the city stood a true oddity. I don’t use that term lightly.
Hmmm. It turns out this is Orry the Oryx, Qatar's mascot from the 2006 Asian Games. I say that like it adequately explains a giant gnu wearing shorts in Qatar.
Exhibit C: Furthermore, this.
A man made of walnuts. Okay Qatar.
As I entered the city proper, I became increasingly aware that it was really past time for me to get going back to the airport to catch my flight back to the US. I began to keep an eye peeled for taxis.
Instead, I just found more oddities.
Okay, who is the dude on all the buildings? I thought for a few minutes that he was some kind of Qatari movie star until I realized there are no Qatari movies, and thus no Qatari movie stars. Turns out it’s the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, known to literally only himself as “Tamim the Glorious.”
Tamim the Glorious clearly has very good PR though. I like these better than the Obama/Change posters.
I also really like the way these birds look like they’re forming up into people and then carrying on with their day in the city.
Doha also has plenty of the bizarre twisty skyscrapers no modern city you’ve never heard of would be complete without.
Okay, Qatar: Seriously, stop. Stop distracting me with weird shit. I am desperately late for my flight.
“What about a giant peanut wearing boxer shorts?”
No. No peanuts. I’m serious Qatar! I need to go home.
Qatar kicked the ground sadly.
I had been watching the road for the last hour of my walk and hadn’t seen a single taxi go by. Not one. Maybe the taxis look different here? The one that had taken me from the airport had just looked like a normal car. Oh man, if that’s the case how do you know which cars to flag down in the street? There was some secret I wasn’t privy to here and I desperately needed to know the answer.
I walked through a parking lot and saw a dude I thought I could take in a fight. I approached him cautiously and asked where I could catch a taxi. He explained that I should stand on the street. Thanks dude, I know I must seem like a total idiot, but I understood that part already. But what do the taxis look like?
“They have different colored roofs,” he explained, as if to a child, and pointed to the street, and in that exact moment a blatantly taxi-looking and completely obvious classic taxi drove by.
Thanks Qatar. It had been at least two hours since I looked completely moronic in front of a stranger and I had begun to miss that feeling.
The example taxi was long gone by the time I reached the street, so I stood and waited. Occasionally a taxi would drive by, but they were all full. Twenty minutes went by. Shit. Shit shit shit. Maybe I need to stand on the other side of the street?
The only legal crossing of the street was a half-mile up the road. I walked all the way there and discovered that the signal had not been turned on yet. The next spot was another mile up the street. Dammit.
I saw a well-dressed Qatari woman jaywalking across the street. Okay, this seems to be at least a somewhat decent sign that I won’t be caned for jaywalking in Qatar. Unless only women are allowed to do it. I had to take that chance.
On the other side of the street, the taxis were no less full. Oh man. I am boned. I walked up the street further and just started waving at every car that went by.
Suddenly a completely normal car swerved across all the lanes of traffic and drifted sideways up to the curb, coming to an awkward stop diagonally in front of me. I opened the door and got in.
Oh man, this isn’t a taxi. It isn’t even an Uber. It’s just a guy who pulled over.
He looked at me expectantly.
“Airport?” I asked.
He said something in Arabic that sounded positive.
“40?” I offered.
He nodded and peeled out.
40 riyal is like $10, this is a great deal. Oh man, I hope he’s going to the airport.
I mean, I really hope I’m not going to end up buried alive in a coffin for sport, or married to this guy. But I also hope he’s driving to the airport.
Oh shit, I only have a 100 riyal bill. I hope this random guy has change. And is also not going to kill me and is also driving to the airport.
The 20-minute drive was full of anticipation about whether the rest of my life was going to be very, very different than I had previously expected. But in the end, we ended up at the airport. He didn’t have change for a 100 so he gave me 50 riyal back. I was so relieved to be at the airport and also not married and also alive and also was confused so I gave him 10 riyal back, thinking this somehow made us even. He thought it was a tip, I think.
Inside, the gate agent was extremely pissed at me and wanted to know why I was so late. I told her the flight time on my itinerary was wrong. This was completely true but it was also true that I inadvisably went way too far into Doha and had to Turkmen-Uber my way back to the airport at the last minute. But none of that information was going to make her any less mad at me. Doesn’t matter, it’s not like I’m ever going to see her again.
Huh, my flight is boarding right now and last call was ten minutes ago. After making it through the extremely slow exit immigration and bopping my way to the gate, I handed my boarding pass to the woman at the gate. It was the same pissed-off woman from the check-in counter. Gah! Way to throw in one last weird mystery, Qatar. I said goodbye to the giant ominous Oryx, the giant ominous clam, the giant ominous Tamir the Glorious and whoever the guy was who didn’t kidnap me on the way to the airport. Thanks Qatar. I’ll always remember you like the fever dream you were.