Winter Trip #2: BahrainWe are trying to find a sport that we can do regularly while traveling by boat and a sport that doesn’t hurt Carol’s battered knees. We had an opportunity to fly at a deep discount to Bahrain and stay with a friend of Carol’s who would teach us to kiteboard. More on the learning process later. Here Carol is with our full bottle of wine given to us by a flight attendant while we relaxed in Economy Plus. There was almost a bit of trouble when another flight attendant thought we had brought the wine with us in our baggage. We were sitting next to some Quebec dudes who were on contract for Cirque de Soleil and we shared the wine across our aisle.
I had never been to the Middle East and it was my first exposure to an Arab culture. Bahrain is jokingly referred to in guidebooks as training wheels for visiting an Arab culture because it is not strict and because almost half the population of the country is non-Bahraini so they are accustomed to a variety of outsiders in their midst. It is increasingly tolerant of those differences and my experience of the country, admittedly limited, was that the guidebooks overemphasize the suggested conservativeness of dress. It seemed to me that travelers who do not look Arab ran around in sleeveless tops and shorts without garnering stares. Visitors who look Arab might have a rougher time. I wore at least short sleeves and skirts that hit the knee and capris which is mostly what I wear while traveling anyways but I could have packed some sleeveless tops if we were there when it was hotter. Bikinis were fine at the beach. Also, Arab men had no problem talking to me as far as I could tell.
A few things that my naive eyes noticed:
- It was strange for me to be in so many public places with so few women. On the street, at the go kart track, at the souk, at a restaurant, I would see 90% or more males. At the mall and grocery the shoppers were easily 75% male. In fact, I can safely say that nowhere I visited had even 50% women.
- Of the few women I saw, I don’t think I saw an Arab woman without her head covered. However, almost all women I saw who didn’t look Arab had their heads bared. I saw relatively few burka women. So few that they always caught our eye. Most of the burka women I saw were either walking with a man or 3-4 of them were driving around in a car.
- Men holding hands while walking who were not (presumably) a couple.
- I rarely heard the call to prayer which is reportedly pervasive in other countries. I heard it at the mall and the airport.
- Bahrain is all concrete on sand. It felt very unnatural to my eyes. It has been shaped by man into a large flat sandy plot suitable for building skyscrapers and concrete mansions. Island-style extensions have been added to the natural island. All greenery is planted and tended and the sand itself is fill dirt dug from other places and has chunks of building materials in it.
Our lodging was fantastic. We were basically adopted by a Quebec-Thai extended family and shuttled around as a party of 7 people all around the island. We stayed on Amwaj Islands (a island-style man made extension) in a very cool section called The Floating Island which is concrete villas built on man-made waterways that look like Venetian canals. We had the 3rd floor penthouse with our own bathroom and our square footage was probably 4 times the interior of our boat. This is the view from the back deck. Notice that each villa has its own mooring balls.
The height of the canal is regulated at no more than 50cm variance and serviced by a small lock system. Our host had a paddle boat, a stand up paddle board, a boat for wakeboarding and an inflatable hot tub in the back. His villa was a 5 minute drive to the kiteboarding beach. The air temperature was in the high 70s (F) and the water temp in the low 70s (F). Cold for the locals, warm for us.
As our host’s father handed us icy cold beers while we were floating around in the hot tub, I thought to myself “yes, I could get used to this”. Of course, we *could* but the cost is full-time work…too high :)