While I will admit to having a penchant for punk music while growing up, I was fortunate enough to be largely influenced by my parent’s taste in music. I no longer listen to Good Charlotte, but the likes of bands such as America, Abba and Simon and Garfunkle still regularly find places within various Spotify playlists.
Most will be familiar with the band America’s 1971 hit song “A Horse With No Name”, regardless of whether you were actually alive at the time. I never quite understood the song until I went out into the desert myself. The Qatari desert to be specific, which features quite a different landscape from that which the writer of the song was initially describing.
This particular desert seems a very different world to the one you and I are used to. It’s empty. It’s desolate. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only person in the world out there. It’s easy to get lost.
Which is why it’s best to hire a guide to take you out there and spend more than a few hours taking in the sights, sounds and feel of the desert. In fact, I’d go a step further and recommend camping overnight.
You know when you have those nights that you just don’t want to end? You squeeze everything you can out of every minute, living in the moment with complete and utter totality.
That’s what my night of glamping in the Qatari desert was like.
Getting to the Desert
Qatar is a tiny country, coming in at 160/196 in a list of the geographical region of all the current countries in the world. It doesn’t take long to drive from its capital Doha, out into the surrounding desert.
As you leave the city lights behind you, the stars begin to come back into view. Silence descends. For urban dwellers, it’s easy to forget what the absence of noise sounds like. It’s unnerving at first, then it becomes comforting.
You have two choices when making your way to the desert. You can either drive yourself, or hire someone to do it for you.
As we were effectively glamping, we organised ours with a tour group. Everything was pre-determined, so all we had to do was sit back and enjoy the night as it unfolded.
What you can expect
We were picked us from the city centre of Doha in the early afternoon. From there, our guide took us dune bashing for an hour. I did this three times while living in Doha and I never, ever got sick of it.
From there, we drove onto our camp. Our base for the night was a row of tents by the inland sea.
It was cooler out here than in the city, yet the temperature was still in the high 30s. We stripped off our clothes and headed straight for the ocean. While Doha is far more relaxed when it comes to dress codes than many other Arab countries, you’re still expected to cover up in a certain way. Finally getting the chance to run around in nothing more than a bikini felt wondrous. And more importantly, normal.
We stayed in the ocean until the sun went down. We would have stayed longer, but a bunch of jellyfish appeared and enthusiastically started stinging us.
Nothing soothes a stung foot more than a plate full of food, we soon found. For dinner we feasted on a plate of BBQ’d meat and veggies. We sat around the dinner table, our bellies full, our minds content. The dulcet sounds of Boards of Canada broke the through the silence of the desert. Tendrils of smoke from the shisha we were smoking wafted into the air.
We sat like this for some time.
Then we went out into the desert to look at the stars.
A starry, starry night
I used to live in what was known as West Bay in Doha, situated in the centre of the city. The lights from the various skyscrapers there are overpowering. You can’t see the stars at night.
The desert was a different story, where the city was a faint glow on the horizon. We climbed the nearest dune and lay out across the sand. The temperature had dropped further, to a comfortable 25 degrees.
We stayed there for hours – talking, excitedly pointing out shooting stars, or resting easy in comfortable silence. I could have lay there all night.
Yet, by 2am we were starting to get weary, so we decided to retire to our tents. After a quick half hour nap, we got up and raced down to the ocean, to get in the water for sunrise.
The sun makes its appearance
I’ve been lucky enough to see the sunrise over the ocean on a handful of occasions over the last couple of years. Light hues of pink streak out from over the top of the ocean. Suddenly, a little red orb pops up over the horizon. Colour and light radiate across the earth. It’s all over in a matter of minutes.
One of my fondest memories of my time in Qatar took place on another day, with a different group of people, yet with the same setting – within the Inland Sea. We each were suspended in the water, the shores of Qatar on one side, bordering Saudi Arabia in the distance. A colleague had been lying on his back, taking in our surroundings. An expression of serenity washed over his face and he said:
“Can you believe this life? We’re the luckiest people alive.”
Those moments are so important. Where any other annoyance in life – work, financial issues, relationship woes – pale in comparison to whatever it is you’re currently doing.
I felt this too at 4am that summer morning, swimming in the Inland sea and dodging jellyfish. Soon we’d be back in the car, back to the city, back to work, back to our strange lives as expats in the Middle East. That moment would soon become a memory, but one I knew I’d keep close and treasure until the end of my days on this earth.
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