Friday, October 21, 2011

Tried and not tested

The Goat is mobile in Doha either on his motorcycle or in the rented Honda Jazz. As the latter of these is a member of the Rice-Pudding-Skin Preservation Society, and both vehicles are equally useless off asphalt, the Goat has been on the lookout for a four-wheel-drive for desert driving and hauling diving and camping gear.

As has been previously lamented, the Goatmobile languishes unsold in Dubai. It can’t be exported to Qatar because it’s more than five years old, so a different vehicle will have to be procured. Naturally, all available used vehicles are some combination of thrashed to death, never seen an oil change, crash-damaged or over-priced; most are some combination, and one or two hit the jackpot.

So a safer option is to buy a new one. Most decent 4x4s are stupidly expensive, so the likes of the Nissan Patrol at QR210,000 or more must be rejected outright. Even such delights as Toyota’s FJ Cruiser or Prado are prohibitively expensive. One possibility, now that expatriates are allowed to own certain commercial vehicles, is a crew-cab pickup. The Chevy Silverado with a ten-inch lift and a five-litre V8 is simply too large, too expensive and anyway the Goat doesn’t live in West Virginia. The Nissan Navara that is on offer is extremely basic, and the local dealer can’t or won’t supply one with higher spec. The indestructible Hilux is probably too expensive, and for the next few months is Not Coming In Doha.

So the Goat has found himself looking at Daihatsu’s Terios. Basically a 1500cc 4x4 Yaris, the Tear-Arse seems to tick most of the boxes. But will it perform off road? Published reviews range from: “The only one of us never to get stuck on an overland trip from Namibia to Mozambique,” through, “Being so light, it simply skips over the sand while heavy 4x4s sink in,” to “It was unremittingly awful in every respect. Avoid.” Jeremy Clarkson seemed to like it in Top Gear’s “Let’s pretend it’s a fox” but that was on mud and wet grass rather than power-sapping sand dunes.

The Goat concluded that the solution would be to borrow or rent a Tear-Arse for a weekend (and take it for a comprehensive thrashing to the Inland Sea). Having failed to find a car rental company with one that was available, he asked the Daihatsu dealer to provide a solution that involved a borrowed or rented vehicle. There followed a complicated series of phone calls and car shuffling between the dealer, Adonis car rental, and a customer who had been talked into relinquishing her Terios for the weekend. The salesman put in an inordinate effort to get the Goat his test drive. Full marks for that.

And then disaster! It was the two-wheel-drive version. Back to square one.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Water weekend

It was when writing up my dive log that I noticed I last dived the Daymaniyat Islands off Muscat four years previously to the day. Four years? I was astonished.

On this recent trip, all the dive sites were different, so everything was new. To be fair, all the sites are broadly similar tropical wall dives with prolific hard and soft corals and uncountable reef fish. Others in the party from Doha were lucky enough to see, and in some cases photograph, rays and turtles; Muggins wasn’t that fortunate.

The weekend away was organised by one of the guys in Doha Sub-Aqua Club to provide a change from the dubious delights of the silt and jellyfish of Old Club Reef. We flew to Muscat on Thursday night, dived intensively on Friday and Saturday morning, and then chilled out at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort before taking the Fun Bus back to Seeb airport in Muscat at obscenely early hours of Sunday morning. Thus, a very early flight got me back in Doha and at my desk by around 6:30am instead of the customary 8am.

Beloved Wife simply drove over to Muscat from Dubai, picked me up from the airport on Thursday night, and we drove to the dive centre on Friday morning.

I finally escaped from the airport so late on Thursday that it was almost Friday. Over 90 minutes I stood in a queue to have my passport stamped. It was Visa On Arrival, and paying was the easy bit. Why is Muscat’s immigration so unbelievably slow? How long does it take to find an empty page in someone’s passport and hit it with a rubber stamp? I pity the poor hapless fools who had purchased their visas in advance. They had to stand in a different queue to get their visas before joining the back of the passport-stamping queue. Even having a visa in advance was no help. The queue for visa holders was even longer.

How is it that when one of those alumininium tubes with wings pulls up outside the terminal building - exactly as forecast in the flight schedules - and disgorges several hundred people, that the authorities seem completely unprepared for the sudden influx? Once again, it’s Karma Sutra Passport Control: Loads of positions, but most of them don’t work. Beloved Wife rang me to find out if she’d missed me at Meet and Greet. No, I was still queuing.

Having at last got my visa stamp (on yet another empty page), I spent the next half an hour looking for my luggage. All bags had been removed from the baggage carousels and piled in unwieldy heaps. Was there any clue as to which carousel the Doha flight had used? Is the Pope a Buddhist?

I was certainly a relief to get to our friend TGL’s flat and become horizontal for a few hours. Beloved Wife handed me a small pie at the airport to cheer me up. Good show!

Friday’s breakfast consisted of an Egg McMuffin in lieu of food, and we headed off in Beloved Wife’s car to the resort. I drove and BW fiddled with her new GPS.

The diving was, on the whole, excellent. There are some additional photos in this gallery.

Having washed the kit after finishing on Saturday, we killed time allowing it to dry, and awaiting 6pm and Happy Hour. It would not do to pack our dive kit wet; paying excess baggage for water is extremely undesirable.

A beery and sleepless evening followed, and at 2:30am we boarded the fun bus back to Muscat and the airport. Here, I discovered a colossal cock-up with my ticketing. For reasons unknown, I was booked to fly a week later, and the only way to get aboard today was to buy a new ticket. A single Muscat to Doha cost an appalling OMR150, or some $400. My original ticket had been obtained through Qatar Airways’ Frequent flyer Air Miles, and should be changeable for a $25 fee. But of course, nobody’s available at 3am, and I couldn’t wait until office hours owing to the need for me to present myself in my office. Oh, and the website to obtain a refund on the unused return ticket simply crashes, perhaps because it’s allergic to giving anything back. It's not a total loss, however. Qatar Airways have now cancelled my erroneous booking for 23rd October, and I can apparently pay $25 to reroute it Dubai to Doha any time before September next year.

Not true, I have learned (November 2011). It's $25 to change the date, plus $25 to change from MCT-DOH to DXB-DOH, plus the difference in airport taxes. In other words, "$25" is nearer $100.

It took a while, but I eventually found myself airside. I went looking for breakfast. The only place that was open and offering solid food was a Dairy Queen. I stood at the entrance and checked my Omani cash, the menu, and the employee poised expectantly at the counter. Decision made, I asked for that thing on the menu, only to be advised that Dairy Queen was closed until 6am. So why the bloody hell didn’t he say so while I was planning my breakfast? Why wasn’t he simply asleep in his bed? What is the point of creating an illusion of being open for business when the shop is in fact closed?

On the whole, the diving and chilling part of the weekend was excellent, albeit unnecessarily expensive owing to the ticketing screw-up. Such a pity that I find myself exhausted and irritated by the trials of air travel, and immediately in need of a holiday to recover.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Oh noes! The Goat is suffering from Blogger's Block. Or, more accurately, currently lacks the time necessary to put in the effort to produce a post. So apologies to those readers who return and learn that the Goat is Too Busy To Blog.

The change in weather has allowed the Goat to commute by motorbike, at least a couple of days a week. His Kawasaki doesn't really enjoy heavy traffic, lane-splitting and getting caught at every red traffic light, and it expresses its displeasure through ghastly fuel consumption. However, being able to get across Doha during the rush hour in about 15 minutes rather than a more customary hour or more is certainly a benefit. And being able to find a parking space in the shade next to the office without being shooed away by Security, and not on the far side of a six-lane highway is another benefit.

It's amost as if someone throws a awitch on or about 15th October and the sticky, humid heat almost instantly disappears. That same person will throw the switch again on or about 15th April, or is it May?

Outside work, a subject definitely beyond the scope of this blog, weekends and evenings are also busy. Regular return trips to Dubai destroy any weekend social life in Doha. Beloved Wife clearly takes precedence. Unfortunately, potential purchasers of the Goatmobile (now reduced to Dh65,000, by the way), fail to turn up at the weekend as they promised, which is vexatious at best.

At least there's no immediate need to sell the Goatmobile, so silly offers in the style of "I'll do you a favour and take it off your hands for Dh30,000" can be and are spurned as one might spurn a rabid dog.

Beloved Wife and Goat have decided what to do for Eid al Adha, but where to go for Christmas and BW's Very Important Birthday in January remain undecided. Flights to America or Antipodea cost around the same - lots - unless somebody is silly pecunious enough to fly Cathay Pacific and pay double the lowest fare.

And that appears to be that. Normal service will be restored once the Goat has time and something to rant about.


Saturday, October 01, 2011

A goat track-riding

That's a typo, of course. It should be 'a go at', and anyway it's not going to happen immediately. If it happens at all, it's contingent on the Goat finding some proper motorcycle leathers to cover his rather unorthodox shape.

There's been something of a development in track days in recent years. Instead of risking life and limb among the rest of the traffic, the potholes, the manhole covers and pedestrians, drivers and riders can now turn up at a proper race circuit and ride or drive as fast as they can/like/dare in the company of other consenting adults, all of whom are doing the same thing in the same direction. Added to this are the wide run-off areas in case of an, erm, excursion, and marshals and medical facilities are on standby in case of a major incident.

Rules are basically simple. Proper gear, a decent machine and the willingness to stick to some simple regulations.

The Goat found out about where bikers meet in Doha on Friday mornings purely by accident on Thursday night. And then, having turned up for breakfast at Starbucks, he learned that there was a track day at Lusail International Circuit that very evening. Bikes from 6pm to 9pm, then cars from 9pm to midnight.

He arrived at Lusail by car just before sunset, and eventually got the details of when, how and how much.

One of the riders pointed out that QR400 (around £70) for three hours on an international-quality racetrack was astonishingly good value, compared with the UK where, apparently, £300 buys three 20-minute sessions. Daytime sessions don't require floodlights and are a mere QR200 for three hours.

Most of the bikes are, of course, race replicas, crotch-rockets, or whatever you call them, so if the Goat ever happens to venture on to the track aboard his sports-tourer he'll be horribly outclassed by everybody. Must remember to remove the hero blobs and panniers, and tape up the mirrors. "The first rule of Italian driving: What's-a behind is not important." 

In the absence of leathers and indeed a motorcycle, the Goat simply satisfied himself last evening with taking photographs under the floodlighting. Any reader who is interested may care to check out the album of 139 pictures of high-speed antics.

The Goat has, incidentally, migrated to Picasa. This is after learning that Flickr ceases to be free once more than 200 images have been uploaded.


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.