Saturday, 17 September 2016

Qatar Cycling Adventures - A night under the stars pt 2

Having found a nice little spot to spend the night, on a sandy spit, east of Al Khor, stretching out into the Arabian Gulf, I parked Grey Legs and spread out my towel.  I changed out of my cycling clothes and hung them out to dry on the handle bars.

The spit was raised out of the sea with large rocks and as I relaxed after my day in the saddle, I listened to the water lapping gently and shoals of fish jumping and darting about around the surface of the ocean.

The sun had now gone down and the sky was a dusky pink to violet, turning to dark blue, and looking up I saw the moon, just over half full and bright.  There was a light breeze and the humidity began to pick up a little as darkness fell.

I had noticed a group of Philippino guys parked up and a few of them wandered past me towards the end of the spit, carrying what looked like camping equipment.  I was a little disappointed that Id be sharing the space but they weren't too close and seemed quiet enough.

I then noticed some lights in the water, some out quite far and some close to the rocks - maybe kayakers?  Some of the guys were looking over the side of the spit close to me and seemed to be surveying for something, shining their torches into the water.

More and more lights were appearing in the water and what started as one or two voices in the darkness grew into a gentle background chatter.  Although sad that I hadn't found my place of isolation for the night, I found the combination of lapping waves and chattering fisherman rather reassuring.

I wasn't quite so chuffed with my other camp buddies...... ants!  Of course when you decide to camp wild, its good to remember it means you'll potentially be sharing your camp with all manner of guests and there is not much you can do to stop them from creeping in.  Scorpions are common in the desert so I got off quite lightly with ants.   Despite moving my camp 3 times, they tracked me down.... so eventually, I gave in and decided to relax and share with them.

As the bright moon travelled across the sky, turning from silver to gold and then in the early hours dipping below the horizon, out came billions of stars and I finally got what I came for.  I never see the stars in Doha due to the light pollution so it was really special to be lying there looking up at a sky full of stars, spotting constellations and feeling insignificant in the world.  While I took it all in, an occasional shooting star appeared then faded, its trail following like a tiny silver thread - I saw around half a dozen or so as I drifted in and out of a light doze.

The Philippino fishermen were busy all night - I was dying to know what they were catching but was too tired to investigate until the morning.  When dawn broke, and they appeared to be packing up, I asked them - "whats the catch?"..... and they showed me their haul of crabs.  Hundreds of small blue crabs - sadly far too small for my liking.  But Ive seen them for sale in supermarkets here so I guess its not illegal.

The sun started to rise quickly and spectacularly at around 5am.  A few guys had arrived just to swim and dived straight into the water - it was too hot for swimming they claimed - more like a bath!   I swiftly and delicately changed into my lycra and headed off with Grey Legs back towards the road and home.

I urgently needed to find 1. a discrete place to pee! and 2. somewhere to buy water - I'd been rationing my supply through the night - but I wasn't sure where would be open at 6am on the day of Eid Al Adha, a public holiday.

For no.1 (excuse the pun) - I found a small dune to protect my modesty - or so I thought!  A passing motorist was only too pleased to acknowledge my over exposure by tooting his horn - not sure whether in appreciation, disgust or simply surprise at seeing this strange apparition akin to a scene from Carry on Follow that Camel!!

When I arrived back at the main road, I realised I would have to turn right and away from the direction i needed to go until the dual carriageway hit a roundabout.  But at the roundabout, I decided to continue on to the little seaside town of Al Thakhira.  And boy I was glad that I did.  I headed towards the corniche and right there was a parade of small shops and a grocery store that was open, which satisfied urgent need no.2


I loaded up with water, guzzled down a fruit juice and bought an ice lolly and headed to the waterside. It was beautiful.... an inlet with mudflats and sand banks dotted with different kinds of sea birds and waders.  Grey Legs and I took a short breather before the epic now 80km journey home.  I wanted so much to stay longer in this pretty little place but we had to hit the road before temperatures started to soar into the 40s.  As it was they were well into the mid 30s already at 6am!

Everywhere were 4 x 4s crammed with young men and boys dressed exquisitely in pristine white thobes.  It was the early morning of Eid Al Adha so I guess maybe they were all returning from the mosque?  Or maybe going out for a morning cruise before family duties?  Not a woman in sight.  Maybe it was like Christmas morning when mums stay in cooking Christmas dinner while the guys go out walking the dog or down to the pub!.... clearly not either of those activities in this case!!

Anyway, water bottles full and sufficiently cooled by my ice lolly, we headed off back towards Al Khor and then onto the coastal road and home to Doha, singing "On the road again" out loud.  A ghastly headwind and rising temperatures started to take their toll after about and hour or so and I knew I needed to get out of the sun quickly for a break.  But there are no trees, no buildings, no shade along this road so when I spotted a mobile advertising hoarding, I stopped and hid in its tiny sliver of shade for 10 minutes, lowering my head to stop myself passing out.


I couldn't stop for long and as soon as I recovered enough, I was back on the road, pressing for home as the heat continued to climb into the 40s.  I felt relief as the Doha city scape came into view but I knew I had about another hour of cycling to go and my water supply was severely depleted already.

Once into the city, and another 20 minutes of familiar roads left, I really wanted to get home but a nagging voice was telling me to stop for water - so as I made it to the Corniche, I stopped at the Costa Coffee and stumbled inside, to the shock of staff and customers.   I ran straight to the cooler and drank a pineapple juice and a bottle of water before paying for anything!  I was physically shaking due to the combination of depleted sugar levels and heat exhaustion.   But it didn't take long to rehydrate and cool down and after a 15 minutes, I was feeling great again and ready to face the final stretch along the Corniche, waving at my lovely camels in Souq Waqif as I went by!

The beauty of the trip was not only in the reward of the night spent in the desert under the stars, but was also in the physical challenge of cycling in such conditions and the mental challenge of doing so alone.  As the quote goes... "Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort"..... and I now feel ready for a longer adventure - from micro to mini!


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