After working in Qatar almost exactly eight years, I am "moving on to new challenges", although not in a rush to get back to work any time soon. One of the things that has kept me sane during the last four of these eight years was buying and then extensively modifying a 2010 Land Rover Defender 110 station wagon, since christened "El Guapo." Carrying out these modifications consumed so much of my time during the winter months (when it is cool enough to carry out such work in Qatar), that I had few opportunities to enjoy its many capabilities until recently. I did a few weekend camping trips to the Inland Sea, but only this past March, when I drove around Oman in it with the amazing woman ("MJ") who has since become my fiancé, did I get to take it on a proper trip. Everthing performed beautifully -- both the original Land Rover equipment, and nearly all of the numerous modifications I installed. At some point, I will get around to doing an extended blog entry on this vehicle, but for now just want to keep people updated on my current adventure.
After getting the excellent news from my employer, Ooredoo Group, that services were no longer needed, I started the long and complicated process of exiting Qatar -- closing the bank account, terminating my lease, shipping my belongings, etc. It is a notoriously complex process, but for some reason I felt compelled to make it even more complicated by deciding to leave Qatar by driving El Guapo across the Middle East (yes, that Middle East) to Europe.
With ISIS in control of much of both Syria and Iraq, the "traditional" route -- through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey was not possible. Civil War in Libya took option 2 -- Saudi-Jordan-Egypt-Libya-Tunisiia and then ferry to Italy -- off the table. So the only viable option was via Iran and Turkey. Getting to Iran though still was a bit of a challenge -- either I would have to take a ferry from either the UAE or Kuwait, or drive through 74 kilometers of southern Iraq. This part of Iraq is relatively safe, with "relative" of course being the key word here. Given my previous experiences with ferries in the Middle East, I decided to chance it with the second option.
First step was to book a tour to Iran, which is the only way Americans and Brits are permitted to visit the country as tourists. I emailed a half-dozen or so agencies, almost all of whom responded that it was not permitted for Americans to bring their own vehicles to Iran and would not assist me. One of them, Pars Tourist Agency, agreed to assist with the understanding I would have to sort out the vehicle formalities without their assistance.
Found a lot of info on-line about bringing a vehicle into Iran -- nobody made it sound easy, but it certainly seemed possible. At the borders with Turkey and Turkmenistan there are "fixers" who can help facilitate with the formalities, but none seemed to operate on the southern borders. However, I contacted one of these fixers and he confirmed for me what the Iranian embassy in Doha had told me, which is that it could be done, but that it would be necessary to have a Carnet de Passage. I visited the Qatar Automobile and Touring Club on C-Ring Road in Doha, which is the AIT entity authorised to issue Carnets in Qatar. They told me it was simple as long as I had a Qatari guarantor.
Over the next few weeks, I sorted out my Saudi transit visa, finished booking my Iran tour and getting my Iranian visa, and submitted an application for a visa to the Embassy of Iraq in Doha. They told me to come back in two days, but when I did, I was told no visas could be issued. In order to protect certain individuals who assisted me, I cannot provdie details about how I overcame this, but after six more visits to the embassy over ther subsequent days, I finally was the proud owner of an Iraqi visa.
In the interim, I had finished packing up and moving out of my house, returning my Liquor Licence, getting my electricity and telephone turned off and settling the final bill, getting export plates put on my car, and getting an "Orange Card" insurance certificate for the vehicle.
All that remained was to get my residence permit cancelled, and to "make like a hockey player and get the puck out of there," as they say in Canada.
28 June 2015