Previous month:
February 2011
Next month:
April 2011

March 2011

Bahrain: Where 'camping' is not camping

The Two Crabs are avid campers. Over the years we've camped across the USA (Shenandoah National Park, the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chely, Ceder Point, Lake Erie, etc) and in just about every country in Western Europe, from Amsterdam to Zermatt. (We single-handedly keep REI in business!) The more we travel, the more we have learned that the definition of "camping" is subjective.

Here's a photo of what most Americans think of when they hear the word camping. This is our new REI Quarter Dome tent, which recently replaced our trusty 8-year-old REI Half Dome tent. This photo was taken from my A-100 camping trip to Shenandoah National Park last May:



Here's what camping is to the average Dutchman (The Dutch are by far the most avid campers in Europe):

Dutchcaravan .

Bahrain takes camping to a whole new level.


Every winter from November to March, Bahrainis pack their tents and head to the desert, setting up tents in clustered groups of tent cities. There are no formal campgrounds in Bahrain, so folks set up tents anywhere they are legally permitted, usually directly next to an oil well or oil pipeline.  It may sound draconian, but a "tent" in Bahrain is not what most Westerners would call a tent. In Bahrain, a tent is basically an outdoor house with electricity, real flushing toilets, satellite TV, and in the case of the tent we visited, a fish tank and computer! 

During the camping season, Bahrainis will live in the desert, returning to their Bedouin roots. During the week, Bahrainis will still go to work or school in the cities and go home at night. But on weekends, the desert comes alive into a surreal scene straight out of Mad Max: young guys on all-terrain vehicles, dune buggies and motorcycles speed through the desert and circling the Tree of Life, popping wheelies and showing off to friends and family. Women chat by the campfire and prepare meals and tea for the hungry masses.  

On a recent outing to the desert with a visiting friend from New York, we drove around the desert, people-watching and marveling at the various campsites. On the road to the Tree of Life, we came across one tent with a hand-written sign scrawled on a bedsheed: "Star Coffee." Why not? We popped in to the campsite, where a Shi'ite fisherman named Raed was manning a portable coffe stand and campground. He sold us small cups of instant Nescafe (the most popular brand of coffee in these parts) for about 50 cents a cup, and invited us into his tent to show off his winter home. Out back, he rented empty tents for $160 a night (!!), or we could pop up our own tent for free.  It was an interesting experience, but not exactly what we'd consider "roughing it!"  

Some more photos of Camping in Bahrain:





Foreign Service news

Belated article from The Washington Post:


Hearing highlights need for Foreign Service training, lack of congressional interest

At a time when some North African and Middle East states are in chaos and America is posting large numbers of civilians in war zones, the United States is sending Foreign Service officers abroad poorly equipped to deal with the critical situations they face.

That's the takeaway of a report by the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Stimson Center, which was discussed at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

"There is little question that under-investment in diplomacy over the last decade or so has left our Foreign Service overstretched and under prepared," the report says.

Click here for the full article.