As somebody born in England in 1989, when I hear ‘The Middle East’ I think of extreme heat, dust, war and greedy oil deals. Basically, I don’t think of anything which appeals to me in the slightest; as a result, I thought I should actually come and see this place for myself. So as I write this, I’m sat in a huge, albeit slightly dusty villa on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar.
A city with a skyline which could make even the most glamours European cities look weak and feeble, Doha is a very modern and clean city; confident in its architecture and well laid out, even a suburb-bumpkin can appreciate its delights. Not far away, the city of Lusail is popping up almost overnight and in the mere two months I have been in Qatar, I have watched that city grow and change more than any other in my lifetime. Apparently, it will be the city of the future and designed all in line with Qatar’s ‘Vision 2030’ plan, an ambitious project which will see all construction work finished in the city and which will create the perfect country for the future of Qatar.
It is the most ambitious plan I have ever seen and on a scale you would simply not believe. You have never seen civil engineering of this size; roads being built overnight, an entire rail network bring built all at once and a whole World Cup’s worth of stadia being built from scratch.
For one, I’m a car lover. I’m a massive huge enormous car geek and spend more time on the road checking out what’s around me than whether it’s going to hit me or not. I look, analyse and evaluate every car I see, everyday, everywhere in the world. I literally get excited by cars and know the car industry better than Wikipedia. Qatar is a dream place for someone like me; there are interesting cars to be seen everyday; from huge American trucks to European super cars; from the finest in British luxury to the worst in new-money excess. There’s more Ferraris here than Ford Fiestas – really.
I saw a Porsche 918, one of , well, nine hundred and eighteen on the road. It was in traffic and going the same speed as the Nissan Sunnys and Land Cruisers surrounding him. Did the guy inside look happy? Honestly, yes. He did. Hypercars do make people happy; who’d have thought it? I saw scores of Lamborghinis too, and Maseratis. And lots of Toyota FJ Cruisers being driven by women.
But the most common car by miles was the Toyota Land Cruiser. Every third car was a white Land Cruiser. Most of the cars that weren’t Land Cruisers were either Nissan Patrols or Lexus LX570s, both almost identical to the Land Cruiser. These were the Qatari’s cars; driven because they’re tough. Qatar is mostly desert once you leave the city and there’s nothing wrong with a little dune bashing on the weekends. Plus, who cares about fuel economy? Cars with poor fuel economy is what has made this country and its people so insanely wealthy in the first place.
My car in Qatar was an SUV too, although a Korean one. A Ssangyong Korando in a baby blue; big enough to fit in everything you need for a big day out an activity instructor with enough ground clearance to deal with our housing complex’s lack of roads. On the second day of me having the car, an friend of my colleague’s and I took it to Al Thakira to catch up with the kayaking group which were out on tour; it was mostly a rescue mission to take Doug, our extremely hungover friend, some food, water and most of his work things. Me, thinking my SUV was a tough amazing off-roader, decided that instead of following the road, we’d just drive along the sandy track of the desert; a more direct route to the beach. So, obviously, this happened…
Somehow, this cheap, rented Korean crossover car wasn’t an amazing desert basher. And remarkably, neither was the English Tour Guide behind the wheel. I’d managed to get it stuck so much that the front wheels were effectively being held of the ground my sand and the back was so much in the air that my car became zero-wheel drive. Nightmare! It was also extremely hot and we were nowhere near anything.
After about an hour of digging and trying to get free, a Canadian in a Ford F150 was in the area. I waved him over and he tried to pull me out – see pic. After a few attempts, his tow-rope broke and we still didn’t have the car back he kindly offered to drive us to the beach where we tried and failed to break into the company Hummer and instead went for a swim.
Eventually, Hector, our resident Mexican pulled me out with the Hummer and I cruised back to Doha via one of Qatars many shopping malls.
This was only one small adventure I had in Qatar. Most days were filled with kayaking around the Pearl (Google it), visiting other shopping malls and trying to find good skating in Qatar.
It’s fair to say my opinion changed of the Middle East. Sure, I was working for an American owned outdoor company living with an Indian and two Brits, but I think I got a good feel of this part of the world. I’ll go back, no doubt. But not yet…