Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bahrain (1). Manama and Muharraq

- To the Al-Fatih Mosque, please.
- OK, let's go.
- Can you please start the taxi meter?
- No, we do not need meter.
I open the taxi door...
- If you do not start the meter, we use a different taxi.
- OK, OK, as you want...
The taxi driver starts the meter and automatically changes lanes to turn away from our destination.
- Hey, I think the mosque is towards the right, and you are going towards the left?
- This, my country, you don't know this country...
- It can be your country, but the mosque is still on the right...
Naochan starts getting angry and is going to say something. I stop her before she puts more fire into an already heated conversation.
- Naochan, do not worry, let's let him do his job and then, we will see.

After a deliberately long drive to a far away location, the taxi driver goes all around the mosque to the back gate, while I uselessly complain about that. Before he stops, I open the door with the car still moving and ask him strongly to stop. He stops. Now, time for the price. The meter reads 2.8 dinar and suddenly, it becomes 3 (670 yen). It is quite cheap compared to Tokyo, but still, I feel pissed off and do not want to get ripped off by the first taxi driver I use in this country. I ask Naoko to go out of the taxi, the negotiation starts... I tell him that I am not going to pay 3 dinar for the ride and that I think 2 dinar is a just price. I am actually considering paying 2.5, just a little bit less than what he is asking, but I know we will have to bargain, so I start with 2. He complains bitterly and says we are terrible tourists. I tell him he is a shame for his country, trying to cheat on tourists. I give him 2 dinars and put the other half back in my pocket. I am pretty pissed off at this point and I make him know. He asks for money and I tell him I have already payed and he should go. He insists and I mention the police. At that moment, he accelerates and goes away...

Wow, the first contact with Bahrain!!! It was quite a shock after some days in the United Arab Emirates. And it was nice! It really felt like we were actually traveling! ;) Bahrain was proving to be a somehow less tame place than the UAE!

Manama, the capital city is a vibrant city, which still retains some feeling of small town. It is not as big as Dubai, for example, and the downtown area with new buildings is much smaller. It still feels somehow authentic. Manama is also quite liberal and it is full of Saudis coming to the neighboring country to get what they will never get in their own country: chicks and booze. The result is the city can get quite rough late at night when these non-used-to-alcohol guys get drunk. But still, it is a pretty safe place for normal standards.



Muharraq, the old town, is in a small island next to Manama and has some of the nicest houses and wind towers we saw in our trip to the Arabian Peninsula last Christmas. The town is also clearly not rich, and even slightly poor, so prices in shops are pretty good and local food is on offer. This was also new compared to Dubai, the place we had visited before.

Muharraq also has a vibrant art scene and there are several places with modern arab art on display. And some nice restored houses showing how modern Arab houses look like. Pretty gorgeous, by the way.

The already mentioned Al-Fatih mosque was a nice surprise: beautiful mosque and helpful local guides which wanted to tell you about Islam from a moderate non-fanatic point of view, just informative. We learned more about Islam in this place than in the whole trip or in previous trips! The guide was really knowledgeable and his conversation and explanation about his religion was very interesting.

Not far from the mosque, there was another nice surprise, the National museum, with lots of explanations about the country's archeological sites (which are plenty!).

The downtown area has lots of shopping opportunities, with a nice souq and new shopping malls.


Our first day in Bahrain out of 3 was around Manama/Muharraq and was pretty pleasant. And we did not meet any other bad character such as that taxi driver. Actually, people in Bahrain were extremely nice, helpful and reasonable. They did not try to cheat on tourists and instead, treated you as an equal, as a local. That was a nice feeling!

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