Trip Start May 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 03, 2007

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Flag of Bahrain  ,
Saturday, June 9, 2007

Manama, and much of Bahrain, can be considered a work in progress. It can best be described as a Dubai 10 years ago. Its in development, but far from its goal. Undoubtedly within the next 7-10 years Bahrain will appear on the world stage as a major destination. The country is an odd mix of wealth, beauty, and culture, with a good amount of poverty at its core. Whole neighborhoods with people who's houses don't even have front doors. Now this poverty is all relative. In terms of the US or Dubai, Bahrain looks like a 3rd world nation, but when comparing to its closest neighbors in Africa, Iran, or even Eastern Europe, Bahrain is far more developed then all of them. Its a difficult place to describe, I want to tell you about the incredible poverty, but I always don't want to convey this image of an utterly destitute nation. Oddly enough, if you were to speak to a Bahraini, they'd swear to you they are the "cat's meow" of the Middle East. Or better put, as one Bahraini told me "Manama is the Las Vegas of the Middle East" and he further claimed that citizens of Dubai are always coming to Bahrain for its great shopping... I refused to argue with this man, when your in such delirium there is no point in trying to convince them otherwise.
My second day in Manama I decided to go scope out the country side and the many touristy attractions it had to offer. I had my hotel call me a taxi, as I planned for the taxi to take me to the bus station and I would then hop the buses around the country. Instead of calling a legitimate taxi company, she called a friend of hers. In Bahrain many of the taxis are illegal and unmarked, so this was not something of alarm. I explained to him what I was trying to do today and he told me how difficult such a plan would be since many of the attractions are in the middle of nowhere and poorly marked. He offered to take me to anywhere in the country for a fairly good price. Since he was illegal and as I later found out, unemployed, he was just doing any odd job he could to make money at the time. We road though a myriad of small towns and suburbs of Manama. Only when you get out into the country do you realize how small the country really is. Don't let the maps fool you, towns that are halfway across the island are only a 20-30min drive. From many of these far off towns the towers the lined Manama were still visible. First we road past the ancient and mysterious burial mounds of the Diluman people who inhabited the island thousand of years ago. Then to a hand made pottery shop, where you could see people making all kinds of pottery based products. We ventured to the Tree of Life, a giant tree in the middle of the desert who's source of water is a mystery. I got to see some oil pumps, the F1 Racetrack that Bahrain is famous for, and we walked through the Al Areen Wildlife Park. There I got to see my first Orynx which is the coolest animal ever, native to Bahrain and Qatar. We also saw flamingos, pelicans, goats, and ostriches. We drove through a myriad of towns and finally ended our trip at the Bahrain Fort (Qal'at Al Bahrain). Probably the coolest fort I had ever seen. It was this massive, intricately designed structure, full of small rooms, cathedral like rooms, and random passage ways. I could have easily spent the day just walking through the fort itself. Unfortunately, this is when my camera's battery decided to die, so the photos I have of the fort are limited. It sat on an oceanside hill that overlooked all of Manama and was truly a great experience. Only a handful of people were there, so I was able to McGuiver my way around the fort, climbing all over the areas your not supposed to go in and so forth. I headed home and spent my evening relaxing from a long day of travel.
Another interesting footnote in my drive around the island was when we were somewhere in the middle of nowhere and suddenly found ourselves driving behind a pair of Military Humvees filled with Bahraini military personnel. So me in my infinite wisdom, decided to snap a picture of them. Well the soldiers did not agree with this and one raised his gun at me, while the others were frantically waving at me not to do so. My driver freaked out and pushed my camera down, but not before I could get off the greatest picture i think i may have ever taken.
I spent much of Friday bumming around, I went over to Manama's claim to fame, the Seef Mall. Every Bahraini will tell you that people from Dubai LOVE coming to Bahrain for all its shopping and splendor. They will also tell you the US soldiers prefer docking in Manama over Dubai, because as they put it, Bahrain is the Las Vegas of the Middle East. Now don't get me wrong, by no means is Bahrain a bad place. Just its like comparing, on vacation terms, Cincinnati to Miami. Seef Mall was nice, nicer then most malls, but still pales in comparison to some of the stuff I've seen in Dubai. I guess you become a little jaded after seeing a mall with an indoor ski slope in it.
Saturday morning, I got up and roamed the local streets for a bit until it was time to check out and go to the airport. One final note on my trip to Bahrain, as I walked the streets, I noticed an alarming high number of Thai "Massage" parlors. Now I have never had a Thai "massage", but I can't really believe that they are so amazing and in such high demand that there would be like six of them within a one block radius. I don't want to put all the blame on the Thai's either, there was an all male Turkish bath that I definitely raised an eyebrow at as well. So I asked a taxi driver if my suspicions of more deviant activities were correct, and he confirmed it.
All in all, I was glad I took my trip to Bahrain, I got to see something only a bit more authentic and furthermore, Bahrain is majority Shia, so it was interesting to see that dynamic. For a trip of a few days, I would definitely recommend it, for a trip of a lifetime, go to Dubai.
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