Panama? no, Manama!

Club Itaka
Arad Fort - Qal'at al-Bahrain

En route to Asia, I had a few day layover.  As I’d already been to Dubai a dozen times, I decided to route through Bahrain because I had never visited that country before.  As I booked my ticket I saw that the capital was Manama; I’d never heard of it before – I guess I just wasn’t paying attention!

My first impression of Bahrain was good as the people were friendly.  Much more friendly than the Kuwaitis (we’ll talk about them at another time) and about on par with the Emirates.  I did notice that the visa they put in my passport said “Business friendly Bahrain.”  Hmm… what a novel thought in the Gulf.

I flagged a taxi to my hotel and en route I noticed a familiar smell: beer.  The taxi cab driver, a Gulf Arab in a full white Dish-Dash (white robe with Arabic head-dress) was drinking a beer.  I couldn’t believe it.  Did I somehow by mistake land on the wrong continent?  I looked around, everyone was in traditional dress, the signs were in Arabic.  Wow, this certainly isn’t Kuwait.  True to my form, I took his photo.

The taxi driver spoke pretty decent English and we struck up a conversation.  He asked if it was ok for him to stop by the liquor store on the way to the hotel.  I guess I was his last fare and he wanted to take a 12 pack home for the evening.  After he returned from the liquor store, he extolled the virtues of beer and I wondered if I was on another planet?

I have met Muslims all over North Africa, Europe, Asia Minor, The Middle East, Central Asia, and East Asia and I am never surprised at the diversity of the religion; everything from near secular Muslim custom that barely is noticeable religion to the fanatical views of the Takfiri who will kill another man should he take ice in his drink.  After all, the Prophet didn’t take ice in his drink.

The city was much like Kuwait with its square apartment buildings made of concrete.  It was perhaps nicer looking than Kuwait and it certainly didn’t have the open air sewer smells that any visitor to Kuwait City will recognize.  In looking at my photos for this page I realized how few I had actually taken in Bahrain.  The photo below is just an average street and it captures what much of the city looks like outside of the downtown high-rise area.

Bahrain clearly has seen the success of Dubai and is mirroring itself after the little city-state.  The advertisements in the airline magazine feature Manama apartments for sale to westerners, banking options, trade opportunities, and many other enticements for foreign capital.  Bahrain is just a tiny little island nation and based on the number of US and other western military members, it seems to be a thriving military base and point of transit.  Looking at the map it seemed that Manama covered the entire island.

The Bahrainis are working to make their island country cutting edge when it comes to architecture and technology.  The photo below is of a unique building that harnesses wind energy to help offset its electricity bill.  The photo above (top photo) shows some of the modern sky-scraper buildings that are being built in Manama.  The skyline isn’t too large (yet).  In a later post, I’ll show a photo of the skyline from outside the city.

I did notice that there were Saudis everywhere.  Looking at the map again I see that there is a huge bridge connecting the two countries.  I plagiarized an aerial photo from a fellow blogger that shows the midway point of the 17 mile long bridge as it crosses over Nasan Island: http://mangeshkakade.wordpress.com/

So, back to the Saudis.  This place is crawling with them!  You can’t throw a rock without hitting a Saudi.  And every time I get change, the clerks are always trying to pay me back in Saudi Rials.  Do I look Saudi?  Hmm…  The Saudis that I do talk to tell me that it’s a 4 hour drive to Bahrain.  Since alcohol and bars are allowed, this place is the Saudi version of Las Vegas.  I don’t know how to say, “What happens in Manama, stays in Manama,” in Arabic, but I’m sure its been said a thousand times.

The Saudis that I see at the bars and restaurants are not often without a drink in their hand nor the presence of some “hired help” in the romance department.  I confronted one Saudi man asking him if women and drink were not haram (forbidden)?  His reply shocked me.  He said that Allah only sees what happens in The Kingdom (Saudi Arabia).  Apparently, there is some sort of force field over Bahrain that prevents God from seeing all of the debauchery that the Saudi billions of dollars can buy here.  Mind you, this is oil money.  Yeah, I drive a Prius.

I ran into a group of Saudi men and had dinner with them.  They seemed like really nice guys; not at all the terrorists that the western media would have you believe them to be.  They all seemed pretty pro-American despite America’s difficulties with world opinion these days.  Their English was great and we laughed and joked a bit.

After dinner, they insisted that I try on the Saudi headgear and pose for a photo with them.  I made sure to get my camera out and capture one for myself.  I did run into a few Kuwaitis, but the majority of the tourists here, if not western soldiers and sailors, were Saudis.


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Club Itaka
Arad Fort - Qal'at al-Bahrain

3 thoughts on “Panama? no, Manama!

  1. Reading this post made me smile because I know exactly what you mean :). I used to work in Dubai for nearly 3 years and 6 months in Abu Dhabi. Whilst in Dubai, I visited Bahrain for 3 weeks and although I haven’t been able to visit a lot of places because it was spent more on night outs than day trip. It was ages ago though and if I remember it right, the BATELCO (Bahrain Telephone Company) building was still under construction.

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