Qatar – Km 71,720
Finally I entered to Qatar, and I was happy because my stay in Saudi Arabia was so long, where most of my time I had been waiting. I had waited almost one month to get the Saudi visa in Bahrain and I had also waited till my fatigue for the Qatar visa in Riyadh. But I was fed up with the bureaucracy and of the diplomacy of the Qatar Embassy so I put aside my Argentinean passport and I entered to Qatar with my Spanish passport.
In the gulf countries, except Saudi Arabia, with European passport one can enter without any problem, getting the visa in the border if one goes by land or at the airport; but with an Argentinean passport everything is so difficult that it provokes the desires of sending them to hell and to go to visit another country; because one can not enter without any sponsor or somebody who becomes responsible. And Saudi Arabia heads that list, it doesn’t matter which passport one has. The Saudi Arabia police also made me trouble when I was leaving the country, because I was cycling. That’s why, if someday I should return to Saudi I would think it twice, but I am sure that by bicycle nevermore.
When I crossed the border it was after 4.00 pm and there was a strong head wind that only let me to cycle about 20 km before night, but it was enough to arrive to a petrol station where accidentally Ahmed, its owner, was. The Qatari was very nice with me, he asked to his employees to find a place where I could camp and he also ordered them to serve me a plate of food; and I was lucky because in that place there was not even a mineral water to buy; because the petrol station was under construction, as the whole country. Then I talked with Ahmed for a long while, he invited me with tea, coffee and we ate some dates together. I was surprised the devotion with which his son served him every time that he finished his cup of tea or coffee, something very normal in the Arab culture. Although I really didn’t like how Ahmed talked with his employees, as if they were his slaves, something characteristic and sad for these latitudes too.
In the morning I had to cycle only 60 km to reach to Doha, the capital city, but it took me more than four hours to do it. The wind blew very strong and everything was a sand cloud which complicated my cycle. The route was plenty of trucks, there were hundreds and hundreds in every direction.
Qatar is a country located in a small peninsula which emerges from Saudi Arabia. A low and sterile plain covered with sand, but with some very important reservations of gas and petroleum that transformed the economy of the emirate completely, which formerly was based in the fishing and in the gathering of pearls. Most of the Qataris were Bedouin and nomadic, but today they live in Doha and they have a high-level of life, they have many social services and all the comforts of any modern nation. Qatar is one of the countries that has the highest PIB per capita in the world.
When I arrived to Doha I stay for some days in the hotel that the National Olympic Committee had reserved for me. And then, during the three weeks of my stay, I started to contact different companies to get a sponsor. As usual I knocked many doors, but none with a good contact inside. I also took the proposal to the Qatari Olympic Committee, where I met who was in charge of the International Public Relations and with the Press Director. But they were only interested to take me to the media and to have repercussion together. They don’t care about I was looking for sponsors. “Ask to the Argentinean community in Doha”, one answered me when I asked him for other place to stay after my first week. But I didn’t care, because I had already known George and Demetrius, a Cypriot and Greek guys who worked as engineers in the country. They were studying Spanish and they received me as true friends.
I also contacted the marketing people from the Qatar Foundation who treated me as few times in the journey, they were English and that kind of people who feel themselves important and more than everybody for living and working in the gulf. There are a lot of them around. And to its school, the Qatar Academy that since the beginning were interested in a slide show about the journey for the children, but when we spoke for second time and I asked them for a contribution they disappeared; as scared mice. The same thing happened to me with the American school in Saudi Arabia which charge 10.000 u$s per year for student; this type of institutions are the first ones which are interested in a presentation about the trip, but when I mention them the topic “donation” they disappear. Lastly I was contacted by the marketing director of Aspire, a sport Academy for excellence which is devoted to discover new talents (almost all imported from the foreigner) to train them and to take them to compete with the national flag. That guy sent other people to call me several times, but he only wanted that I attend to the academy, to present me some clothes and to call to the media, as everybody.
This difficult turns out to look for sponsors abroad and to discuss with that people that only is interested in taking advantage.
During my stay in Doha I also contacted to Al Jazeera TV, the most important TV channel in the Arab world, I thought that they could interview me, so I offer them part of the material which I am producing. At the first call, I spoke with the responsible of marketing, and she liked, but after consulting said to me: “we don’t find the angle”. I suggested her to do an interview for the news or for the sports section, but there was not way of awaking their interest. I found hard to believe it; it seems that for them it is more important to inform about attacks, deaths and repeated conflicts. That day came to mind the comments of the people I met in the former Yugoslavia, when before starting the war, the media intensified hostility between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. It’s a shame, but this is already happening around the world: most of the media are influenced by the interests of those who fill their coffers.
Few days later, after a press conference that the Marriott Hotel organized during my stay in the hotel, I was on the news of the 6 national newspapers and of 4 weekly and monthly magazines. Its responsible for PR Department had made a great work. An Arabic newspaper titled the note: The Marriott will sponsor Pablo during his whole trip”. Clearly that it was an exaggeration to get impact on the media. Anyway the people of the Marriott treated me very well and for me all this circus was good to name my sponsors; but my “real sponsors” those who gave me money to keep traveling: this time Mitsubishi and the Qatari Cyclist Federation.
After the great repercussion on the media, I returned to the Qatar Olympic Committee who had sent to its press team to the Marriott press conference and who published in a couple of media that the committee was my sponsor, displacing Mitsubishi. So, this time I contacted Khalil Al Jaber, the director of sports, and truly that the guy was brighter than the previous, but not very different. I said to him that because of their journalists had positioned to the Committee like one of my sponsors in the country I was visiting him to analyze a possible contribution in cash to continue with the project. But Khalil sent me to speak with the same guys that I had already spoken, so I answered him: I already saw them but they only worried about the press” and laughing he answered me: “well, because the press is the most important thing”.
But in Qatar not everybody was rough when I looked for sponsors. When I was cycling through Saudi Arabia on my way to Doha, a four by four car came near to me and a well dressed man asked me to stop and after asking me a couple of things he gave me his card to call him to my arrival in the capital city. Luckily he was the Sheikh Khalid bin Al Thani, of the Royal family and president of the Cyclist Federation. And how different person he was, exactly him who was so important. But the Sheikh was interested more than none, as few, and for this we talked in his office during one hour and half; about my trip, about my experiences, about Argentina, about Qatar, about the Arabs. And I liked it.
Clearly, contrary to other people that I contacted, the Sheikh Khalid together with Majid Al Naimi were true gentlemen, because they took step to get the sponsor from Mitsubishi and because they also contributed to the project. As the Arab use to say: “Alḥamdulillāh!!!!” That it means, “Thanks to God”.