Although I knew we were flying through Doha I did not really pay attention to the amount of time we would be here on our layover until our plane landed at 6:55am. At that point I checked to see how long we had to find our departure terminal, 8:35pm, plenty of time, a little too much time. However, the airport had a decent coffee shop and free wifi. I was thinking of relaxing a bit, drinking coffee and catching up on the pile of emails in my inbox. The thought crossed my mind to attempt to go see the city and such notions would have been easily set aside had it not been for my newly added traveling companion. Vanessa was quite excited to go see the city. When we went to enquire about the possibility of leaving the airport until close to 5pm, they told us that because it was such a long layover we would receive a free hotel room, including a free visa for the day, free shuttle to and from the hotel, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Excellent, no waiting around in the airport, instead free food and a new city to explore.
Doha is a city born from the sand. It’s buildings the same shades of dusty white to sad brown. It’s streets unmolested and unadorned by the life which normally forces it presence in every crack and crevice it can find. Today at least its skies reflected the grey dust of the streets, and even the waters of the Persian Gulf which lapped slowly against the cold stone barriers seemed unable to add color. This is not to say the city was dirty. It was the color of the dusty sand, but dust and sand had no place in those streets.
A desert is often full of life, but what it lacks is the activity which makes that life evident. Here the life burrows, hides, lurks, sleeps, and loafs. As we walked down Grand Hamad Street toward the harbor we both commented on the lack of foot traffic usually so plentiful in a big city. Even the auto traffic though it was certainly there was silent, without the honking and jostling and racket one would expect. The Souq Waqif which is to say the city market even though it was full of people and shops was somehow silent as well. The shopkeepers did not accost us or loudly plead the worth of their wares.
We walked down the dust color streets, from our hotel to the city harbor. Here there were layers of wooden ships, some with huge masts for sailing, some with long decks for lazy days of sea fishing. All were wood and built in the ancient styles which have been used on this desert shore for thousands of years. We found out too late that it is possible to rent a boat and crew for a day of fishing in the Gulf.
Instead we turn around and walked along the harbor shore to the city market, the Souq Waqif. The city market not a sprawling mass of tents and booths, but rather a few giant cement bricks buildings, built to look a classic Arabian style, within is the maze of shops carefully segregated by what they sell. There was one part selling pets, fish, bunnies, birds, dogs, rabbits, parrots, etc. This was the section Vanessa wanted to spend all day in.
The Souq Waqif had every manner of shop selling every conceivable type of thing, except one. Separated from the Souq Waqif, in its own building across the road was the Falcon Souq. Rows of shops with hooded falcons on perches over sand beds awaited the critical eye of the Arabian princes. The shop owners were clearly completely uninterested in American Tourists knowing full well we had no intention of buying falcons. It would have however taken a lot more than an unwelcoming stare from a shop owner to keep me away.
After one more trip to see the “puppies” it was time to hurry back to the hotel and catch our ride to the airport. A short but intriguing glimpse at a fascinating culture next time I have a long layover in Doha I will be quicker at getting out the door.
It should be noted that we only saw a small part of the city, within a mile and a half of our hotel, and that only during the day. We left to return to the hotel at just before sundown ( 5:30pm ) since our bus was leaving at 6pm. It would not surprise me at least to find that like a desert the activity lurking so close below the surface burst forth with the setting sun.