Middle East on a Shoestring
Middle East
On a Shoestring
(Lonely Planet)

You probably have to be going something to keep up with the Lonely Planet people. They go everywhere. We're awaiting their guide to Antartica. Yikes! I just looked it up. There it is --- for all the penguins in the crowd.

There are sixteen countries described in Middle East On a Shoestring, described, elaborated, explained, understood, seen --- to total exhaustion. The travel writer's travel book.

The facts are wonderfully direct --- for instance, this for women:

       ...avoid direct eye contact with a man unless you know him; try not to respond to an obnoxious comment from a man --- act as if you didn't hear it; be careful in crowds where you are crammed between people, as it is not unusal for crude things to happen behind you...do not ride in the front seat of taxicabs...
       Unaccompanied women will routinely be stared at and will often have lewd comments directed at them. They will often be misunderstood and, in turn, misunderstand. They may be followed and may find strange and unwanted visitors turning up outside their hotel rooms...You often have to take a room for yourself, and it's not a bad idea to look around for holes in the wall in interesting places. Some women swear they feel better with some tissue stuffed into key holes and the like...

For people who have their hearts set on going to Bahrain, for example, to choose a silly example (temperatures range from a comfortable 104º F. to a slightly less comfortable 120º F. --- with humidity over 70%) you will find out that in the 3rd millennium it was the seat of Dilmun, that it has 600,000 inhabitants, that men should not walk around barechested, that the dinar is around three to the dollar, and that banks are open Saturday through Wednesday.

If you are hungry, the best bet is Asian food (lots of workers from the far east.) The capital is Manama, no relation to Panama, and there are scenic wind-towers to look at, a form of airconditioning from before airconditioning --- towers funnelled the winds down into the houses. Maps of downtown Manama (no relation to Panama) and Muharraq abound.

The most interesting chapters are on Iran and Iraq. With the latter, the facts are all there --- sixteen pages of them --- but they admit that since no visas are issued, there has been no update from earlier editions.

As far as Iran goes, they say, laconically, that "Iran is a strange sort of country," because the authorities make little or no effort to attract visitors, but that many visitors return "with stories of almost overwhelming hospitality from private Iranians, and of a magnificient cultural legacy entirely unspoilt by tourism." They conclude that it is one of the "most exciting, interesting, welcoming, and rewarding countries yet to be discovered by tourists."

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