As you read this, I should be touching down in Doha for the 2023 edition of the Commercial Bank CHI Al Shaqab, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary hosting top 5* jumping, dressage and para-dressage competition in Qatar Feb 23-25. This, after a marathon journey that started on Feb. 21st involving 9 hours on the train and 12 hours in the air, while I fired up Duolingo and muttered in Arabic (to the consternation of a few Via Rail passengers). I might need a drink (see more about this below).

I have been to this Middle Eastern country twice before ‒ in 2014 and 2015 ‒ and I assume I behaved myself accordingly, kept my shoulders and knees covered and didn’t show the bottoms of my feet to anyone (all frowned upon in Muslim culture), hence the return invitation. Over the next three days I will do my best to send lots of in-the-spotlight and behind-the-scenes reports and photos of the events. You can follow along on the livestream here (keeping in mind that Doha is 8 hours ahead of Toronto time).

This show is one of only five CHI competitions worldwide, and the first and only equestrian event of its kind in the Middle East and Asia regions, Al Shaqab supports the Qatar National Vision 2030, the goal of which is to promote Qatar as a world-class sports destination (they recently hosted the 2022 FIFA World Cup), while paying tribute to its rich equestrian heritage. The facility is massive and stunning and the main stadium (pictured above) never fails to take my breath away.

One small fly in the ointment: Our hotel, and this sprawling area in the desert called Education City, a collection of Universities and museums, galleries, sports facilities and other cultural attractions, is alcohol-free. Ahem. In fact, there are no bars for many, many miles. (For those who don’t know, alcohol is banned in Muslim countries such as this, but the larger hotels generally accommodate their foreign guests’ swilling (at an exorbitant price, mind you – $25 for a glass of wine eeek). I suspect Operation Desert Pinot will be launched shortly after arrival as myself and other thirsty international journalists pile into Ubers to cherchez le chardonnay at the end of a long day.

Hataa alghad (until tomorrow!)