Our third day in Bahrain was going to be our final one and we wanted to go South, into the desert, to see some interesting and a little bit out of the beaten path places.
We started driving South and still in Manama, we stopped to see the Souq Al-Khamis Mosque, which is supposed to be the first mosque ever built in Bahrain, from 692 AD. Unfortunately, we could not get into the mosque, because it was closed at that time, but we could still have a glimpse on the beautifully old minarets. We could also have a look inside from some cracks in the fence/wall.
The next stop was the burial mounds in A'ali. This is a UNESCO World Heritage and spand a vast area around this city. There are so many burial mounds... it is an intriguing view, considering those are tombs and there are still dead people in there!
Further South, we went to the Riffa Fort, a nice fortress on top of a hill overlooking a large desert area. Next to the brownish fort, there was a white old mosque with very interesting architecture. Really simple and functional.
(The main photo of Riffa Fort got somehow lost... I will post it when I am back home, so please come back for the update! Sorry for the inconvenience... bla bla bla...)
Riffa was full of Bahrain flags and posters supporting the authorities. I wonder if the authorities are using those to gain supporters or if they are trully supported by the people in this town! Riffa is completely out of the tourist areas (if there is something like that in Bahrain!) and local people were really curious about us. We had lunch in an extremely cheap local restaurant and they were very surprised and delighted we had chosen their restaurant.
After lunch, it was time to get lost in the desert, in the far South, and the first stop was the Oil Museum. Yes, there is such a museum in Bahrain! Bahrain does not have large oil reserves. They have actually specialized in refineries. This makes it possible for them to take advantage of having oil rich neighbors! However, they have some oil fields and the museum explains the history behind them with many details. The man in charge of the museum was a very nice guy and even invited us to stay in his place the next time we go to Bahrain!
The museum is next to the first oil well in the island. This is what it looks like. The photo is not the best, but the desert at 2pm is not the best place to take photos...
The landscape around and South of the museum is pretty similar: lots of oil fields! We had never seen any, so it was pretty interesting!
In the middle of the desert and the oil fields, there is a rarity, the Tree of Life: a nice tree which is the the absolute middle of the desert, where there is zero water. And the tree seems to be thriving! The tree itself is not so spectacular, but it is definitely interesting to find it in the middle of the scorching desert.
It is also interesting to see the reaction of people at seeing such a tree: everybody tried to climb the tree! It was weird to see parents climbing the tree while their children looks at them and took their photos. Therefore, people watching was a highlight in here.
The Tree of Life is really in the middle of nowhere and indications are non-existant. Lonely Planet or wikitravel have some indications how to get here. However, as the previous day in Sar, I think it is possible to not find it even after looking for it for a long time. Traveling in Bahrain by yourself can be a little bit frustrating sometimes. Of course, we did not find the tree immediately and we drove around for a while. We even got in the middle of some illegal car fights... two cars faced each other, accelarated and before crashing they started spinning... and chances were they crashed anyway. They used very old cars and just destroyed them this way. There was even a crowd watching "the event". They were actually using the main road. Stupidly, I somehow got caught in the middle of it and had to cross the battle field twice... I got really scared the second time... I think the guy in front of me considered I was challenging him and he started spinning as I approached. Not the best situation when on a rental car and with your wife and your baby son!!!
After that scary situation, we could find the tree and eat ice cream to relax and then, we went to the beach (Al-Jazayer beach) to see the sunset over the sea. Overall, an interesting day.
This post ends the series of posts about Bahrain. We visited Bahrain last December (Dec '11) as a side trip between UAE and Oman, which were our main Xmas destinations. Overall, Bahrain was an interesting place and it was very different from the other two countries. It also feels poorer than EAU, which makes it more authentic. Sites to visit are not amazing, but they are enjoyable and worth going. And we could talk to lots of Saudi people without going to the almost out-of-limits Saudi Arabia. Therefore, it is a recommended destination for 2-4 days if you have some time to spare once you are in UAE.
In summary, these are the places we visited in Bahrain.
View Al Jazair Public Beach in a larger map