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FRIDAY: Up close and personal with Arabia's famous falcons and race horses.
It's a luxurious brunch on my last day at one of Bahrain's top hotels, the Ritz Carlton, which until last year was known as Le Meridien. A superb location, you are sure to be tempted by the huge inviting pool or the specially constructed sandy beach.
We head off after brunch to Al Areen Wildlife Park, 20 km south of Manama, in an area of semi desert. Most of the animals are fenced into individual large areas, and to see them you have to take the park's special bus, which drives around the whole area. It is not that easy to take good pictures because unfortunately (although understandably) you are not allowed out of the bus en route as this would alarm the animals.
As is usual with wildlife, they will often be quite indifferent to a moving vehicle, but if a human steps out of that vehicle, that's quite a different matter and animals usually sense danger! This is a good tip to remember when photographing animals or even bird life.
Anyway, the wildlife at Al Areen is well worth seeing, especially as they include the Arabian Oryx, which is nearly extinct in the wild. There are also Persian gazelle, springbok, impala as well as ostriches, camels and smaller animals such as porcupine
By special arrangement, Ali and I are able to pay a special visit to the Falcon Centre, which is attached to the park but not generally open to the public. Here they look after sick or injured falcons whose owners bring them in from all around and even from other countries.
I am allowed to take some close-up photographs outdoors, but had to do it quickly because it was a hot day and the birds needed to be kept cool. The falcons are indeed beautiful and elegant birds and having one or two owners available to be holding their birds was an extra bonus for me as I had long wanted to obtain such special shots.
From Al Areen, we drive further into the desert to see Bahrain's Oil Museum. Few countries in the world I'm sure will have such a museum, but it's interesting to remember that Bahrain was in fact the first country in the Gulf where oil was discovered, back in 1932.
The museum allows you to trace the discovery of what has become the region's best known export and you can see exhibits of drilling equipment, a working model of an oil rig and historical photographs. Close by is the appropriately named Oil Well No. 1, still working and almost a museum piece itself! It's quite small but has interesting old pipes and gauges so it's good to take photographs especially as you will be able to show your friends that you have pictures of the very first one.
We head back to town for lunch, after which it's a more relaxing last afternoon spent at the horse races in the town of Sakhir. This was fun for me because it's not a sport I usually follow. Once again, with Ali's help, we obtain permission to go near the racetrack for an opportunity to take close-up photos of the horses in high-speed action as they leave the starting gate and again at the finish. It's a wonderful experience and it's a good opportunity to give the auto-follow focus technology on my Canon EOS 3 a real test. This camera, apart from having auto focus, also compensates for fast moving subjects coming straight towards the camera. I must say it passed with flying colours!
It's my final evening, and we dine at the Le Jardin restaurant at the Ramada Hotel, after which it's the all-important shopping and sightseeing tour of the huge new malls which are springing up all around Manama. If I was forced to choose between shopping in the old souks or the new malls, I guess I'd pick the souks. That's because I'm a photographer and find those little streets and shops so attractive visually, as well as displaying many things that you probably wouldn't see in most European shops.
However, it must be said the huge new mall complexes are also very interesting visually in their modern way and my goodness, there is hardly anything that you cannot buy! Again these malls are further subjects for my camera, but with the larger format camera that I prefer for this work, together with tripod and flash, special permission is needed beforehand. So if you want to try serious photography of some of the awe-inspiring architecture don't forget to ask first.
So there we are, a week in Bahrain and certainly little time to get bored! I can absolutely recommend this friendly country to anyone looking for a destination with a difference. The word friendly almost defines the Bahraini people, who are always ready to chat, show genuine interest in wanting to know more about you, and guide you if you need directions somewhere.
Don't forget your camera, or simply buy one at duty-free when you arrive. Film of course is no problem, being readily available in this part of the world.