Remote desert camps house World Cup fans on a budget

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — For dozens of foreign football fans, the road to the World Cup in Doha begins each morning at a barren campground in the middle of the desert.

Visitors who have found hotels in central Doha fully booked or way over their budget have settled for the remote, dusty tent village in Al Khor, where there are no locks on tents or beer on tap.

Others just wanted an adventure. On Wednesday, a DJ played electronic dance music around a fire pit while a few fans lounged on beanbags, drank soda and watched big screens about an hour’s drive from Doha.

“I’m here because I couldn’t find anywhere else,” said Haidar Haji, a 27-year-old construction engineer from Kuwait. He said it was inconvenient to move in from the tented village of Doha every morning, but he had no other choice. “The hotels were just too expensive. It was crazy.”

Still, the fan village of Al Khor is not cheap. Haji said he pays $450 a night for his sparse makeshift shelter, which authorities say is a “perfect destination for a truly enjoyable and lavish stay.” The tents are equipped with sanitary facilities and basic furniture. The campsite has a swimming pool and a luxurious Arabic restaurant.

From the moment Qatar was declared host of the World Cup, fears grew over how the small country would find rooms for the massive influx of 1.2 million fans – equivalent to almost a third of the population.

Qatar’s frenzied building program has yielded tens of thousands of rooms through new hotels, rented apartments and even three giant cruise ships. But rising prices have forced many thrifty fans to remote desert campsites and giant fan villages in Doha’s suburbs, including one near the airport consisting of corrugated box rooms.

In Al Khor Village, many fans complained about the isolation and lack of alcohol.

“Frankly, you can find more alcohol in Tehran,” said Parisa, a 42-year-old Iranian oil worker who refused to give her last name, citing the political situation in Iran. Staring into the common area of ​​the campground, she said she had no idea how to fill her time. Doha’s posh hotel bars were miles away. “We thought they would be more open to the foreigners to have fun.”

Paola Bernal from Tabasco, southern Mexico, wasn’t sure what to expect from the first football World Cup in the Middle East. But she said she was surprised by how long it takes to traverse the world’s smallest host country. The campground’s buses are a “mess,” she said, stopping at 10 p.m., forcing fans to pay large sums for Uber rides.

“There are such long distances, I don’t know how,” she said. While some stadiums are connected to Doha’s shiny new metro network, they often require a 2.5-kilometer (1.5-mile) walk from the stations. accessible by bus, with some drop-off points a jaunt from stadium gates – and desirable bars and restaurants even further afield.

Al Khor’s arid terrain is no paradise for selfie-takers. But Nathan Thomas, a site designer, said he was very pleased with the “authentically Arabic” result. The only major concern, he said, is safety. Not every tent is within sight of a sentry. Tents do not have locks. Their flaps are easy to detach.

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

From the Free Zone Fan Village, in the desert south of Doha, fans lugged suitcases over large areas of artificial turf under the glare of stadium lights. The manufactured cabins are some of the cheapest accommodations available, starting at around $200 per night. Every few minutes, low-flying planes hurtle over the village to the old airfield, which has reopened to handle daily shuttle flights to the tournament. Banners plastered on the trailers urge fans to “cheer up”.

A few days before the tournament, social media filled with images of toilets yet to be installed and wires still coiled on the dirt to connect water and electricity.

Many complained about excessively long wait times to check-in. A crowd of guests waiting in line Wednesday night said they couldn’t get their room because the front desk wasn’t sure who had already checked out. “We wanted good vibes, good energy, to be with other people,” says Morocco’s Mouman Alani. “This is very disorganized.”

A camper on Twitter denounced the site as “Fyre Festival 2.0,” referring to an infamous music festival billed as a luxury getaway where fans sought makeshift shelters on a dark beach.

“When we went to our room, it was all a mess,” Aman Mohammed, a 23-year-old from Kolkata, India, said in the common room on Wednesday. He said he had waited two hours in the blazing sun the day before for a cleaning lady to come. “It smelled so bad, like a bad bathroom. It was pathetic.”

But, he stressed, there was no false advertising. The website shows dozens of colorful metal boxes side by side on a huge dusty lot. And despite his disappointment, he said, the World Cup was ultimately about football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo is playing his last World Cup, I’m just here to watch him,” Mohammed said, referring to the superstar who will compete for Portugal in the tournament. “Attending this has been a dream for me since I was a kid.”

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Associated Press reporter Jon Gambrell in Doha contributed to this report.

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