On my way to Thailand I decided to stopover in Bahrain. Nothing there attracted me specifically, but I figured it could be interesting for a day. Upon arrival all things went well be it that i was a little tired after only 6h or so flight. Fast immigration and rental car pick-up and a local SIM card (so i could do my Russian skype lesson). The way onwards proved a little harder …
Tree of life: My first stop was the tree of life, some 45min drive to the south (which takes you more than half way through the whole country). Not very impressive … basically a dessert all the way populated with loads of oil pumps and hardly any vegetation. That is why the tree has become an attraction – its a tree in the middle of nowhere. Nothing special really and i was glad i filled the time with a Russian skype lesson.
Back in the capital Manama things got a little better though the feeling was still weird. The sun was hot although it is winter and at 25 degress (in the shade) rather cold for this region. There was no life of the streets. Basically all live in the car and, as i found out later, in the shopping malls. Hard to find a parking spot there.
Al Fateh Grand Mosque: I visited the grand mosque, which is a rather young building completed only in 1988. The free tour provided some interesting insights into Islam although not many turned up for the midday prayer that day (5-10 people in a mosque with a capacity of 7,000). On the way out i even got a free copy of the koran in German.
Bahrain National Museum: A good place to go to learn about the old Bahrain as you learn about pre-petroleum trade & craftsmanship, family and other traditions. Nowadays not much of this is left … amazing how a country can change so quickly.
The pearl fishers of Bahrain
Pearling used to be one of the main industries for the country. For example, in 1905 there were some 17,500 pearl divers out of c99,000 population while in 1928/29 with 20,000 divers some 92% of tax revenues derived from pearling & related customs duties (levied on imports financed by the pearl trade). However, things changed with the global economic downturn 1930, as demand for this luxury good dropped. Add in the comprtition from Japanese cultured pearls and employment opportunities in the oil industry and come 1954 only 538 divers were left (1960 saw the end of pearling completely).
Qala’at al-Bahrain: This old Portuguese fort is one of the few historic buildings you find in Bahrain. Worth a stroll with some decent skyline views of the new Bahrain.
Once it got dark I made my way back to the airport. Refuelling was a pleasure at EUR0,35 or so a liter. The flight to Bangkok would depart at 10pm and so 7pm at the airport was plenty of time.
I met a Scottish guy in the airport pub (EUR10 a pint) who has been working in Saudi Arabia as aircraft mechanic. Every 3 month he gets 3w holiday, which he spends in Thailand. It appeared he tried to make up for 3mth dry period (alcohol wise) by downing quite a few Guinness … we ended up spending a lot longer in the bar than planned at fog led to a shutdown of the airport and a 10pm departure turned into a 10am departure. Crazy! Not comfortable! But some good times with mr Scotland and some Kuwaiti fellows.
In the end I made it to Thailand literally just in time for the NYE party … but clearly not as relaxed as I’d hoped. Not sure Bahrain will see me back again (well, return flight aside … fingers crossed its not foggy again).