December 18, 2015: Today it was time for Chris to head back to work in Baku. My Christmas present came early this year. I got to tag along with him so we could spend Christmas and celebrate the New Year in the same country.
Little did we know when we booked our flights to Baku that our overnight stop in Doha fell on Qatar National Day. We learned a bit about it on the flight. There was a visually stunning patriotic video playing before every movie. But it didn’t give any of the history. The day commemorates the date in 1878 when Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani rallied the tribes of the peninsula into a unified state.
Sadly we missed the early morning parade, which in all likelihood included camels. (I have a love/hate relationship with camels. I think they are fascinating from a distance, but not so much up close. They growl and spit a lot. Cranky beasts. But they still look cool.)
After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we set off to meet up with our friend Farida at Souq Waqif for the evening.
Souq Waqif was only a few kilometres from the hotel but the traffic wasn’t moving anywhere. Everybody was trying to get downtown to the Corniche for the big fireworks display later that evening. Many of the cars were sporting huge Qatari flags and people were definitely in a festive mood. Lucky for us, our taxi driver knew all the back routes and got us there in good time.
Souq Waqif, the main traditional market in Doha, has been around since the early 1800s. There was a big fire here in 2003 which did a lot of damage and many parts have since been rebuilt, but it’s still an incredible maze of alleyways lined with stalls selling everything from food and clothing to souvenirs and pets. You can even hire a man in an official vest and hat to cart all your purchases out of the market for you in his official wheelbarrow.
Tonight it was especially crammed with people, although Farida says it’s much the same every weekend. Some sections are so congested that you can’t move forward or back and there’s nowhere to escape. Like everyone else, we just had to push our way through.
It took us a while to navigate the crowd and locate the coffee shop where we met Farida. Then the three of us spent the evening wandering through the maze, catching up on old times, people watching, enjoying a variety of cultural displays, taking endless photos (until my camera battery died) and checking out what was for sale.
As always, I love to explore the food section, but more interesting here was the Al-Hamam Market (pet market) and the Falcon Market. Lucky for the bunnies and the guinea pigs, the falcon souq was a few streets over. Falconry is hugely popular here. There’s even a falcon hospital.
We decided to skip the fireworks display and find somewhere to eat instead, thinking this would be the best time to get a table. Any other time the restaurants were full. We settled on Damascus, a popular Syrian restaurant that’s usually packed.
On our way out after dinner, we happened on another cultural display, this time it was Sufi Whirling. I captured a bit of it on video, but the dancer was probably spinning for nearly ten minutes in total, all without losing a beat. I imagine I’d be pretty dizzy after just a few turns, but he seemed completely unfazed at the end.
By this time, we were getting dozy. It was nearing 4am back in Subic and we’d been up at six this morning. All too soon, it was time to say farewell to Farida and head back to the hotel. But try as we might, we could not find a taxi. Even if we had, the traffic was not moving. So we decided to hoof it. Nothing like a brisk walk when all you really want to do is sleep. I might have even relented if a camel came along and offered me a lift.
Four kilometres later, we fell into bed. Sweet dreams.
Additional photos by Farida.