Pretty Darn Good Weekend

FRIDAY

It started raining here on Wednesday during the late morning hours.  Not just sprinkling – really, really raining. It rained all afternoon and night Wednesday, all day and night Thursday, and a good chunk of the day on Friday. Now, average annual rainfall here in the Eastern Province is just about 8 cm (a bit over 3 inches). Reports from this storm came in at 11 cm in about three days. Was it the main topic of conversation over the past few days? You bet it was. The folks who have been here for a couple or few decades recall maybe only one other stretch when this kind of rain fell.

Inasmuch as these major rainfall events aren’t typically engineered for (at all…), what we typically think of “storm drainage” didn’t exactly happen here. Many roads, highway sections, intersections, and businesses were closed down.

However, my weekend started Friday morning, I had finally gotten all the pieces of paperwork taken care of to drive my rental to Bahrain, and darn it, I was simply going to go. Rain be damned. So, I set off Friday morning and got on the highway through Al Khobar that leads onto the King Fahd Causeway that connects Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Large stretches of the highway through Al Khobar were partially flooded. Because of this (and because it was the holy day), traffic was really subdued. Although some sections of the highway were pretty sketch, I managed to make it on through.

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Five lanes of highway reduced to one and a half lanes of deep standing water.

Once I got to the causeway (which of course is raised), the water was no longer a problem, even though the rain kept coming. Getting through immigration and customs consisted of four checkpoints (two on each side of the border). It being a flooded Friday morning, through traffic was light and I got through the checkpoints (they collect about $7 each way) about as rapidly as one can. The causeway is about 20 km long and there’s another 20 km or so to get to the capital city of Manama.

Having done some homework about places to eat breakfast or brunch in Manama, I settled on Ric’s Kountry Kitchen, which bills itself as a home away from home for American expats. I pretty much knew what I wanted and ordered the American Breakfast, shown below.

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Scrambled eggs, home fries, biscuit and sausage gravy, and bacon. Glorious bacon. NB that pork is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Nicely satisfied with my late breakfast, I headed to another spot that I had previously picked out – JJ’s Irish Bar and Restaurant. Well, after that breakfast, I certainly was not there to eat. After not having even a whiff of alcohol for a month (alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia), I ordered a Guinness stout. I savored its smoky taste and thick consistency, and then had another. And he saw that it was good…

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Not gonna lie. That. Was. Good.

I nursed and enjoyed those beers for a while, and then headed to the City Centre Mall of Manama to walk it off. This is a truly glitzy mall with 340 retail stores and 60 eateries spread out over four (five?) levels. There’s also a cinema with 20 theaters (there are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia; they’re illegal – sensing a theme here?).

I’ll have more to say about Bahrain after another future visit. The weather was still crap and I didn’t take any outdoor photos. Manama is a big, shiny city with tall buildings of glass and steel, many with intriguing and futuristic architecture. The roads in Bahrain are noticeably better than KSA, and the drivers are undeniably better in Bahrain.

SATURDAY

The AAPG Student Chapter had arranged a “picnic” for the day on Saturday. We met in the old geology department parking lot at 8 AM and piled into two KFUPM buses about, oh, 45 minutes after that. The picnic was for the Chapter students and faculty and administrators from the new College. Cool air had pushed the storms away over night and the morning was chilly (low 50’s F) and breezy/windy. We were headed to a “farm” out in the countryside, just off the Dammam-Riyadh highway, about 80 km from school. The owner and host of the farm had been a 30-year Aramco employee, but was clearly from a large and well-to-do family from the Eastern Province. The farm was a walled (topped with razor wire) casbah out in the desert. We were welcomed by our hosts and ushered to our camp.

The camp consisted of a series of large connected tents, open to the downwind side, and floored with beautiful berber and Arabian rugs. There were fires burning in two portable pits, a line of chairs, and cushions for on-floor seating. Servers brought us coffee and tea and there were fruits, sweet pastries, and boxes of dates scattered all over.

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Inside the camp tents.

Once the snacks were winding down, traditional Arabic music began pumping over a loudspeaker and the dancing commenced (all men, mind you). Much of the dancing included waving around candy striped camel sticks (for lack of a better name – you know, sticks to prod a camel into doing your bidding). Care was taken to not knock over the pair of hunting falcons outside the tents (they never flew the birds because apparently it was too windy for the demo). Yes, I danced. There is no photographic or video evidence (yeah, right). Then the camels were brought to the party.

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The falcons sell for $20-60K USD. Raising falcon chicks may become my new hobby…

A bunch of us rode the camels. These weren’t the mean mangy camels I’ve ridden in Morocco over the years – definitely, these were well taken care-of camels.

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Yeah, this was pretty awesome. Main house in the background where we had lunch.

After dancing, camel riding, and a spirited game of soccer, it was time for lunch. Sitting on the floor, we dined on lamb with flavored basmati rice, vegetable and tabouleh salad, and some sort of savory pudding. There were four of us to a platter and we ate with our hands (well, only the right hand).

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Lunch and the aftermath.

After lunch, a bunch of us played volleyball. Then, it was finally time to thank our hosts and head back to the University. Quite a memorable day!

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Top: Date palms and alfalfa (camel feed) of the farm. Note the dunes in the far background. Middle: Afternoon volleyball. Bottom: Gifts for our host in the middle, given by our Dean, my Department Chair, and Chair of Petroleum Engineering, from left to right.

One thought on “Pretty Darn Good Weekend

  1. Really enjoying reading your blog. Long, treacherous ride for beer and bacon, but I would say it was worth it. Fascinating on many levels. I wonder if you are having vivid dreams there? So different from life here. I remember coming back from Africa and having such vivid dreams about being out in the bush. Don’t be surprised if a camel appears in your dreams!

    Liked by 1 person

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