Sensational ways to stay cool and be cool this summer.
Up the Creek, With a Paddle
To a first timer, kayaking might sound complicated or intimidating. The idea of stabilising oneself on a relatively narrow piece of fibreglass and paddling into the sunset, or sunrise, could induce apprehension. The truth is that the sport, or in this case the recreational activity of kayaking, is really rather user-friendly and very safe. Flatwater kayaking, which is what we’re covering for this article, takes no more than some basic orientation, adjusting oneself to the core stability requirements (a fairly simple balancing act), and getting your arms moving in a consistent rhythmic arc.
It’s an affordable and accessible activity that anyone with moderate fitness levels can experience, and, best of all, it takes you to a place without comparison in Qatar. With that in mind, it’s time to put aside any concerns and pick up your paddle as FACT takes you out of your home and onto the water.
Talking about forests in Qatar seems like an anomaly. It’s not. Al Thakira Mangrove Forest is a wonderfully surprising and incongruous piece of nature found outside Doha. Due to the harsh environment in the region, there are a relatively low number of plants endemic here. Mangroves, however, are robust enough to handle the climate. Our local mangrove is the Avicennia Marina, a species that can endure the high level of salinity characteristic of the Arabian Gulf. Unusually large and visually arresting, these home-grown wonders can be found near the village of Al Thakira, a quaint flashback to simpler times, and just a short drive north of the industrial city of Al Khor. The village rests on the edge of an estuary and is home to the meanderingly evocative seawater mangrove swamps. It’s also one of the very best places to try kayaking in Qatar. Paddling your way through the forest flanked by verdant greenery and a wide variety of unique fauna, including seasonal flamingos and herons, is wonderfully relaxing and soul-soothing.
To make the most of your entrée into mangrove kayaking it’s best to consider one of the official tour operators. There are several well-established providers who offer guided trips of the area. Tours come with a knowledgeable guide who leads the group on the expedition after basic orientation. A typical orientation session is a friendly and simple scenario where you are familiarised with water safety, basic paddling technique, how to maintain core stability, and the protocols for following your guide. All the equipment needed is provided by the tour company.
The kayaks, not built for speed but for leisure paddling, are nice and stable on the calm flatwater of the estuary, making it as pleasurable an encounter as one could wish for. A kayaking experience takes you through fascinating mangrove terrain, unveiling vistas that are completely different from anywhere else in Qatar and providing a gentle but invigorating workout. It’s also a chance to get acquainted with the unique ecology of the area.
There are a variety of start times available for what is typically a two-hour experience through the natural reserve. You could consider a sunrise start as nature awakes, or a night paddle, which is a hauntingly beautiful way to traverse these still waters. Some operators offer a post-kayak barbeque as a fitting conclusion to a good evening’s effort with the paddle. The healthy exercise almost guarantees a great night’s sleep either way.
During this summer of vaccinations and restrictions, the mangrove kayaking experience is a chance to participate in a safe and socially-distanced outdoor activity that gives one a real sense of achievement. Combine this with the serenity that comes from encountering nature on its own terms and the opportunity to explore a picturesque part of Qatar unlike any other, and you’re onto something special. Why not test the waters this season? Paddle Forrest, paddle.
Before a kayaking excursion, FACT recommends gearing up with culturally appropriate sportswear, cap, sunglasses and sunscreen (for a daytime trip), bottled water, and a change of dry clothes.
GO: For more information and bookings here are some recommended tour operator links: https://bluepearlexperience.com/kayak/ or https://365adventures.me/mangrove-kayaking-al-thakira/