Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Bit of a Desert Adventure

During Ramadan there is not a lot going on in Manama so Hubby D and I decided to take a drive to southern area of the island where it is mainly desert. Hubby D had been reading about a development in the Southern Governate that we could go look at. We love looking at construction.  LOL

You might wonder what the desert is like here in Bahrain. According to Wikipedia a desert is a barren area of land where little precipitation occurs and consequently living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to the processes of denudation. About one third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid.

This is a typical bush out on the sandy dry land.

The desert in Bahrain is pretty much that way, barren and dry. However, the people treat it as if the land was covered with a blanket of grass. They picnic, play and lounge – in the sand.

You guessed it!  That is a mountain in Bahrain.  The ONE mountain. 
When I first arrived in Bahrain I thought it was very odd that there were big open sand pits everywhere, but after you have lived here a while you realize those are parks and fields – but made of sand.

The island country of the Kingdom of Bahrain is made up of 30 islands.

Bahrain's capital city is Manama. The islands are about 24 kilometers (15 mi) off the east coast of Saudi Arabia and 28 kilometers (17 mi) from Qatar. The total area of the country is about 780 square kilometers (301 sq mi), about 3.5 times the size of the District of Columbia.

Bahrain Island is the largest landmass (where we live) at 55 km (34 mi) long by 18 km (11 mi) wide. It does not take long to get just about anywhere on the island by car.

For our desert adventure we first set out for the First Oil Well. Really! It is the first one.

In June 1932 oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Bahrain. It was important for two reasons: first, it was the initial discovery of oil on the Arab side of the Gulf and second; it more or less coincided with the collapse of the world pearl market. (The Japanese had been instrumental in this with their manufacture of cultured pearls.) The pearl industry had been the major industry in Bahrain.

The landscape is covered with pipes and old oil wells.  Some still are burning off gases.

Because Bahrain was the first Gulf state to discover oil, it was also the first to enjoy the benefits that came with the revenues -- specifically, a marked improvement in the quality of education and health care.

The oil reserves of Bahrain are quite small and, by Gulf standards, it produces only a token quantity of oil, less than 100 barrels a day right now.

Pipes run through the sand as far as you could see.
This lack of dependence on oil has proved to be an advantage, however. Without the resources for a boom, Bahrain has moved more slowly and thoughtfully into the technological age. The necessity to diversify their economy as well as their long history as a trading country have proved to be a fortuitous set of circumstances.

After we left the oil well, we headed south.  Hubby D saw a sign for the “Tree of Life” so we made a bit of a detour.  The “Tree of Life” is somewhat of a tourist attraction and promoted as an amazing site. Many of the expats in our group have visited it and were underwhelmed. I have never had a burning desire to see it but here we were so we struck out on the sand road towards the tree.

It was underwhelming.

After doing one big circle around the tree in the sand (this was a bit of fun), we headed overland on dirt roads that seemed at times to turn into footpaths rather than roads. Along the way we passed the remains of several campgrounds.

During the winter the Arab people like to set up camps and stay in the desert on the weekend. It seems to be something like when we go to the beach on vacation. They take 4 wheelers to ride around and play games outdoors in the cooler weather.

We came across this one abandoned camp where a single toilet remained out in the middle of a field of brush and sand.

To take this picture of the toilet, I hiked out into the sand about 50 yards from the road. However being very wary of snakes and briars, I was nervous. And, on top of that it was 47C (117 degrees Fahrenheit) and the wind was blowing very hard.

I can’t imagine how people lived out here without modern conveniences.

We headed on down the road and you could see the heat rolling up off the payment.

Traveling on toward Durrat Marina, our eventual destination, we passed a sign “CAUTION, Moving Sand.” And the sand was indeed blowing across the road and leaving large drifts along the edges.

The road finally evolved into a very nice (new) 4-lane highway and we passed very little traffic as we approached Durrat Marina. 

Looking up the road, I thought I saw an oasis in the sands, it turned out to be a roundabout. There are roundabouts on every road in Bahrain. It is as if they don’t like traffic lights. I suppose it goes back to their British roots.

Oasis coming?  No, just a man made roundabout.
Durrat Marina also known as Durrat Al Bahrain (in Arabic: درة  البحرين ) is the third largest artificial island in Bahrain after Northern City (very close to where we live) and Diyar Al Muharraq Islands, where the airport is located. It is 40.5 km (25.2 mi) south of the capital, Manama, on Bahrain Island.

Billboard with pictures of the King, Prime Minister and Crown Prince announcing our arrival at the development.
The US$7 billion project consists of a series of 15 large artificial islands, covering an area of about 5 km2 (54,000,000 sq ft). It has six atolls, five fish-shaped islands, two crescent-shaped islands, and two more small islands related to the Marina area.

This is a photo of the islands taken from outer space.

We were not able to go onto the residential part of the island as it is a gated community, but we did drive around the small marina and hotel that are under construction. From a distance, you can see the buildings rising into the sky from the desert floor.

After reaching our destination, we turned around and headed back to Manama by way of the other side of the island. The west edge of Bahrain is much more commercial and industrial. We passed two desalination plants.

Bahrain is ranked as the second country in the world to use the most water per square cm of land (disproportionally large amount of water consumption).

Before 1925, water supply in Bahrain depended on natural freshwater springs that used to flow freely in the northern part of the country. During the 1980’s, most of the springs ceased flowing and demand for water continued to increase leading to a shortage in Bahrain’s water supply.

Today Bahrain relies greatly on non-conventional sources of water. With 4 desalination plants, the total production of Desalinated and Ground water in Bahrain reaches up to 155 mn gallons while the total consumption of Blended Water reaches up to 150.12 mn gallons per year.

We also passed a housing development that surprised me. The sign reads “40,000 homes” being built for the people of Bahrain.

Villas under construction.
I was aware that there was an effort to build affordable housing for the population but never had seen it up close. During the last two decades with the steady increase in population growth and density, the percentage of requests for housing services increased, creating a burden on the government. The increased population brought a steady stream of applications for housing, and reached its peak during the year 2011 when the number of applications for housing included on the waiting list reached 50,000.

The closer we came to Manama, the more crowded the road became. It looks like roads will be on their “to do” list very soon if they put 40,000 more homes in the south.

The road was crowded with trucks.
Finally we arrived back at our flat in the Al Seef district. It was great to be out of the sand, sun and heat – we were safe and cool in our beautiful flat in the Rasafa Tower.

Our trek in the Bahraini desert was interesting. However, I think the sand dunes in Dubai are more fun.  LOL


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