Saturday, March 20, 2010

Indoor Children Parks

Whenever I think of parks or playlands for kids I think of circuses or county fairs or even Disneyland - outside, dusty paths, lots of crowds, popcorn and junk food. the Middle East, outdoor playgrounds aren't quite so popular - only comfortable for a few months out of the year - they really wouldn't draw as many visitors during the summer. Especially parks that have lots of permanent rides. So... to meet the need for parents to take their children to parks, they moved them...indoors. Granted, each one is not as large as what you would find on acres of land, however, the intricacies and weaving of the different rides would rival anything the Japanese would produce in so little space. Many of the malls here have indoor play lands for the kids to enjoy, and parents to spend money. Most of them, of course, offer birthday party specials!
The one in Villagio Mall is still being developed (this is the mall with the gondolas and classic Italian villas flanking the "river") yet it boasts two roller coasters, a splash ending on one of them, a ferris wheel, numerous turn you over and spin you around till you puke rides and then an assortment of small trains and circus type rides. Of course, there's also the junk-food food court and games of chance. And not to ignore the slightly older kids, there's a race track - fairly large - where the young boys test out their skills at driving the cars at high speeds (practicing for when they get to do it on the streets).
The pictures aren't great (from my iphone) but you get an idea of what it's like. It'll be interesting to check it out when it's completed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Day at the Races...Camel Races that is

We took a day to go out to see the camel racing. Yes, these long-legged ships of the desert can definitely put on some speed. We had had a hint o this when we had the camel race the car back in Mongolia but…this is the real thing.

We’ll start at the beginning…the track is NOTHING like our standard race tracks. First it snakes around for something along the lines of 12 km (9 miles). The grandstand is set up at the finish line – and even at that it is so far from the track as to be useless. We crossed the track (yes, right across the finish line), scooted under the railing, and then proceeded to cross the starting line (yes, where the camels line up). Only in Doha. We got to the other side and stood around, waiting for the start. 

To be perfectly honest...I would NOT want to be the guys holding those camels back, waiting for the screen to go up. And then...where do they go?? There doesn't seem to be any place to hide. 

And they're off

The camels are brought out, en mass, and put in the starting gate. No individual gates for these guys, they’re all in a pack and when the curtain goes up…they’re off. You’ll notice right away that there are no jockeys on their backs…and your kinda right but then again…there really are. The colorful saddle things on them are actually robotic jockeys. These electronic jockeys are set up with a switch attached to it and the owners can actually remotely switch the camel to make it run faster (they can apparently get up to speeds of 65 km per hour (40 miles). Not too shabby. They do start them young – they have a youngsters race later in the day but we didn’t stay for it. Note the old meeting the new – the lead guy on the camel is talking on a cell phone! We accept them everywhere but somehow it seems out of place here…

Running the Race

Now comes the fun part. No one sits in the grandstand and cheers – you can’t see anything anyway. Oh no. When the camels take off everyone jumps in their cars. The handlers take off on one side of the track – driving in their big SUV’s, (gas is not an issue here and neither is the environment…lol) madly hitting the buttons on their remotes to whip the camels to run faster. On the other side of the track, the camera crew starts rolling the cameras, leading the cars and buses that are following along watching the race, up close, taking pictures and wondering at the craziness (course I think horse racing is a bit crazy too – one in every crowd I guess). You can see the cars on the far side - those are the owners, trailing their camels. 
The camera truck was immediately in front of us - we were on the lead bus - and I guess the rule is you can't pass the truck because no one did. I did have to the shot of us all taking pictures of the camels...the gentleman in the very front taking a picture - was our driver! He took quite a few pictures too. Glad the camels don't run any faster.

At the finish line

It probably takes 15 minutes for these runners to make it to the finish line. By that time they are literally foaming at the mouth! They all make it in – and the last guy here got a standing ovation from all the foreigners anyway for his perseverance!! (I think there were a lot of teachers there and we seem to be into cheering for the underdog, or camel as it may be).  I couldn’t resist this final shot…he just looks so smug. I have to wonder what place he came in.