muddy promontory between ponds
Qatar is more than desert vistas and high rise skylines. More than traffic, sand, rock, humidity, racing camels, robot jockeys, ladies in black, men in white.
It's a place where emerald waters circle promontories strewn with reeds and wild, buoyant, floral flotsam. With furry tailed mammals, swollen hedges, congealed beaches. Teeming flocks of flying, floating, feeding birds that soar amid acres of composting earth. Where muddy fields constricted by power lines are squeezed by fences of throwaway brown-clumped tires.
birds over poo
That's right: I'm talking about the sewage ponds. Putrescent depressions, cavities of refuse, swollen receptacles of pungent effluvium bespattered with sometimes firm, sometimes sludgy, slimy, clotted emissions.
Each winter migrating birds from all over the world surge toward the Arabian peninsula's spattered reefs. These flocks of feathered folk fling themselves upon odious shores in search of nutrient rich streams and ripe rivulets. Travelling birds loll under splattering showers, bathe in the texturous atolls before continuing long journeys hither and yon.
flamingos! pretty flamingos! pretty pink flamingos!
If you want to see the birds, you gotta visit the "poo-poo ponds."*
slurpy muck, bare legs
Stick to the rear of the streaming trucks. Plop off the highway at the third exit from a roundabout that has no third exit. Slide between the fence posts and slip under the four footed electrical transmission towers. Push between the shimmering legs of one groaning structure and circle another. Head up a steep incline until you find the pebble strewn path where braided tires spot the earth in steamy heaps.
trucks and tires
If you trail into the country's bowels after two rare days of spitting rain, like we did, the earth may be aromatic, thick, slushy, loose as wind charges over the hollows. White caps will discharge swells of odorous repugnance.
Torrents of pungent, red tinted stuff may glop to your tires, streak windows, splatter explosive particles as you maneuver across just-wide-enough roadway mounds. Unremitting stripes of multi colored trucks will rumble over the headlands, raise back ends, pause. From some, liquid gushes out of circular orifices. Others use long hoses to dump waste from full bellies directly into the wetlands.
circular orifice, belly gush
In natural wastewater treatment systems, excretions are flushed through earthen barriers via a series of elevated waterways. Sediment is constrained by rock and earth so fluid becomes more potable as it trickles downwards. In modern facilities, water is treated using pipes. (Yeah, that's all I know.)
Until recently the most popular place to see Qatar's migrating birds was a modern sewage treatment facility called Abu Nakhla. Inexplicably/one day/in the way things happen here, Abu Nakhla was drained. Rumor is it was done to prevent flooding in "sensitive" (military) "locations" nearby in the event of (the "t" word) "incident."
Abu Nakhla today
When you visit the ponds, be sure to bring a knowledgeable guide to share fun bird facts while zooming close up images with her monster camera through gob spattered windows.
beautiful (ma sha allah!), knowledgeable guide Samantha Vidal
Through your guide's eyes you'll see tiny stick leg birds and cute little swimmers who immerse themselves in the nutrient rich waters. You'll learn about the cormorant's funky wing drying dance and how the red breasted grebe's feet are set behind his body which makes him a clumsy face planter on land.
stick leg bird
You'll tell bad poo jokes and laugh until maybe you pee a little.
pretty pink flamingo flies!
Migrating birds don't care about oil, gas or sports. They're not interested in sponsorship, construction dates, contracts, how much money you make, what color you are or where you're from. Their only concern is nutrients in the water and getting a little R&R. To the birds, a pause at Qatar's sewage ponds is a sort of - potty break - in the middle of a long trip across the world.
Wear disposable shoes. Keep windows up. Breathe lightly and don't forget your camera. But (given the opportunity) definitely, absolutely, visit the ponds.
beautiful (ma sha allah!) guide takes pics
The birds are waiting.
*credit to Samantha Vidal for use of the technical term "poo-poo ponds"