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Published: February 2nd 2014
There are times spent in any person's life just doing your thing, trying to live a good life and stay true to yourself when an unexpected opportunity presents itself. Well there I was, back in Sydney, basking in the afterglow of a magnificent time in the Arctic just a few months ago and settled back in the office routine. Then my application was accepted to participate as a delegate of the Discover Bahrain program 2014, and I'm happy to be posting this entry after more than a week spent in the capital Manama. The organising team have arranged a very busy program over a period of eight days for the nineteen delegates from around the world. To be honest I didn't know much about Bahrain prior to this trip, but for me the essence of travel is to take the chance to learn and grow as a person from a new life experience. It's an exciting and unexpected door that has opened for me, and this is the story of an unforgettable adventure in my first Gulf country.
I'm not about to break out the violins, dear reader, but the life of a serious traveller is often a solitary existence.
On this trip, however, it quickly dawned on me this experience was going to be completely different. I've had the pleasure of spending basically every waking moment with a group of like minded, highly capable and intelligent delegates from around the world. Many are travel writers of repute, some are journalists, or alternatively people of quality in their chosen field. In combination with the genuinely warm and welcoming Bahrainis I will never forget this experience. I had a day and a half to bond with the delegates as they gradually jetted in from around the world, and also form a lasting bond with the organisers from the Discover Bahrain team. After a relaxing introduction to this lovely island country, we dressed up for the welcoming dinner and then the program commenced. From the outset there has been a media contingent photographing and filming us, and we had to adjust to the presence of the photographers. There have been at least three major articles in the Bahraini press since our arrival, and I believe it's our role to present ourselves in a professional and courteous manner while being interviewed about our experiences in the Kingdom.
So then, the organising team
laid on a great welcome for us, and of course we went through the formalities of official introductions. Then it was time for the first of many fabulous meals, before we ended up dancing in a circle to the music of the local musicians. On our first full day we popped in to the National Museum for an excellent tour, showcasing just how ancient the culture is on this small island. That afternoon we headed to Bahrain Fort to enjoy wonderful views as the sun went down over the impressive historical fort. The atmosphere amongst the group has been building, and easy conversations flowed amongst the delegates as we got to know each other better. The trip really has been so much fun!
On Day 2 the focus was on a religious day. We started the day at the National Charter Monument, an interactive museum highlighting all aspects of Bahraini culture. Then we visited a Christian church and enjoyed lunch in company with invited pastors, before heading to Al Fateh Grand Mosque in the afternoon. The mosque is a magnificent structure and the largest in the Middle East, able to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time.
We then headed to the house of a prominent Bahraini to conclude another interesting day. On Day 3 we started at the American Mission Hospital for an interesting presentation and movie about this Bahraini institution, focussed on providing health care to the local people for close on a hundred years. We were invited to lunch at the house of the Director's mother, and then moved on to the University of Bahrain to learn about how the campus operates. Our day finished with a presentation at a new housing estate, and included a tour of some of the impressive new apartments for sale.
On Day 4 the focus moved on to the Parliament, and as guests we were treated to an excellent presentation and Q&A session with a local Parliamentarian, before heading up to the visitors gallery to watch the Bahraini Parliament in action. This was followed by another high quality presentation at the Supreme Council for Women, highlighting the initiatives the Council is involved in to promote women in Bahrain society. Then we headed to the Press Journalists Association for another excellent presentation and Q&A, before finishing the day enjoying dinner at a mansion belonging to a very
prominent family in Bahrain. On Day 5 we dressed up for the Business and Entrepreneurs day. Our first stop was at an incubator for small business startups, a pseudo mall where successful applicants are quarantined for three years as they learn about the pitfalls in setting up a successful small business. They also have the opportunity to operate out of the of the mall with no overheads. It was very cool and something I have not come across before. Then we had a tour and presentation at Alba, the second biggest aluminium producer in the world, and finally pushed on to GPIC, the state of the art petroleum and gas plant and biggest company in Bahrain. We finished an interesting day with a presentation and dinner at the Business Council.
Our Day 6 was sports day, and we started at a Soccer Academy for an excellent presentation by the young entrepreneurs. We had a short but intense game of football, and that was great fun. Then the team headed to Bahrain International Circuit and got ourselves sorted, before tearing around the world class Go Kart track. It was an exhilarating fifteen minute blat of our karts at full throttle,
and despite my best efforts I got my tail smacked in the race, posting a best lap time in the middle of the pack, but it was still great fun. Then we visited the VIP tower and went to the top floor balcony for incredible panoramic views of the Formula One track. We paid a visit to climb the Tree of Life in the desert, before heading out to a desert camp to play volleyball, dance around the camp fire, and enjoy a barbecue in a traditional desert tent. We were given a free day by the organisers on Day 7, providing a much needed opportunity for the delegates and organisers to recharge our batteries. Delegates slowly drifted off to do their own thing during the free day, and I enjoyed some downtime before the Director of the program drove some of us out to a street restaurant, followed by coffee and sweets by the Gulf. It was great fun, and the spirit of our mini team made for an enjoyable evening.
Day 8 was again a relaxing day, and I headed out to Starbucks for a coffee with some of the crew. It's been great winding down after
several days of more than twelve hour duration, but I wouldn't change anything in the program as we got the opportunity to learn so much about the fascinating little Gulf country. Bahrain promotes tolerance and a progressive attitude to investment, and coupled with the genuine friendly welcome of the locals it makes the country an attractive destination. The causeway to Saudi is the longest in the world, and driving huge amounts of trade and capital between the countries. It will be supplanted in a few years by the causeway under construction to Qatar, which should drive phenomenal growth in Bahrain as a GCC country and attractive destination for it's neighbours to unwind and enjoy the shopping. I'm looking forward to our farewell dinner tonight and, basically all of you should be here now!
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend." Albert Camus
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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