Remote desert camps house fans on a budget

AL KOR, Qatar (AP) — For many foreign soccer fans, the road to the World Cup in Doha begins every morning at an empty camp in the middle of the desert.

Visitors who booked over-budget hotels in central Doha or found far-flung hotels settled in the remote, dusty tent village of Alhor, where there were no locks on tents or beer on draft.

Others simply want adventure. On Wednesday, a DJ blasted electronic dance music around a fire pit while they sat on bean bags, sipped sodas and watched big screens an hour from Doha.

“I came here because I couldn’t find anywhere else,” said Haider Haji, a 27-year-old Kuwaiti architect. He said it was very difficult to enter Doha from the tent village every morning but he had no other choice. “The hotels were very expensive. It was crazy.”

Even so, Al Kor’s fan village isn’t cheap. Haji said he was paying $450 a night for his small makeshift shelter, which officials described as “the perfect destination for a truly fun and exciting stay.” The tents are equipped with plumbing and basic furniture. The site has a swimming pool and an upscale Arabic restaurant.

Ever since Qatar was named as the host of the World Cup, there has been concern over how the tiny country will find a venue for its 1.2 million fans – almost a third of the population.

Qatar’s frenzied construction program has delivered tens of thousands of rooms in new hotels, rental apartments and three huge cruise ships. But soaring prices have forced many frugal fans into remote desert camps and huge fan villages on Doha’s outskirts, including packed box rooms near the airport.

In the village of Alhor, many supporters complained of isolation and lack of alcohol.

“You can honestly get more alcohol in Tehran,” said Parisia, a 42-year-old Iranian oil worker who declined to give her last name because of Iran’s political climate. She was staring into space in the camp’s common area, and said she had little idea how to fill her time. Doha’s glamorous hotel bars were miles away. “We thought they would make it more open for foreigners to enjoy.”

Paola Bernal, who lives in Tabasco, southern Mexico, wasn’t sure what to expect at the first World Cup in the Middle East. But she said she was surprised by how long it took to cross the world’s smallest host country. Buses from the camp are “messy,” and stop running at 10 p.m., forcing fans to shell out big bucks for Uber rides.

“There are such long distances, I don’t know how,” she said. Although some stadiums are connected to Doha’s impressive new metro network, they often require a 2.5 km (1.5 mi) walk from the stations. Other grounds can only be reached by bus, with some drop-off points within walking distance of the stadium gates – and desirable bars and restaurants further afield.

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Alkor’s dry plains are not a selfie photographer’s paradise. But the designer of the site, Nathan Thomas, said that he was very pleased with the result of the “real Arab”. He said the only concern is safety. Not every tent is in the eye of a guard pole. Tents do not have locks. Their covers come off easily.

“We keep telling people it’s a safe country, don’t worry,” he said.

Fans from the Free Zone fan village, located in the desert south of Doha, were loading their bags on the vast lawns lit by stadium lights. Manufactured cabins are the cheapest accommodations available, starting at around $200 per night. Every minute, low-flying planes buzz over the village to the old airport, which has reopened to accommodate daily shuttle flights to the tournament. Banners across the film urge fans to “take courage.”

A few days before the tournament, social media was filled with pictures of toilets that had yet to be installed and wires strung across the dirt to connect water and electricity.

Many have complained about waiting too long to check out. Many guests waiting in line Wednesday night said they couldn’t get their rooms because the front desk wasn’t sure who checked in. “We want a good mood, good energy, to be with other people,” said Mooman Alani from Morocco. “This is very fragmented.”

On Twitter, one camper described the site as “Fire Festival 2.0,” referring to the famous music festival known as the luxury escape, which saw fans scramble to find temporary shelter on a dark beach.

“When we went to our room, everything fell apart,” said Aman Mohammad, 23, of Kolkata, India, in his shared area on Wednesday. He said that the day before, he had waited two hours in the hot sun for a cleaner to come. “It smelled really bad, like a bad bathroom. It was sad.”

But he insists there is no false advertising. The website shows a number of colorful metal boxes side by side, dusted in a wide area. And despite the disappointment, the World Cup was finally in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo is playing his last World Cup, I’m here to see him,” said Mohamed of the Portugal star at the tournament. “It’s been a dream for me since I was a child to find this.”

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