My Journey

From mind to paper and back again.

Where being white isn’t quite right, first impressions of Saudi Arabia

on November 21, 2010

After an early breakfast (5.30am UK time) we set off from the Crowne Plaza hotel in Amman and headed to the supermarket to stock up on cat food and Weetabix – apparently both a rarity in Tabuk! 50 sachets of Sheeba and three shopping markets later and we were in the car and headed for Ma’an, south of Amman.  The journey down saw signs for Iraq and Syria, not something I was expecting even though I knew they all boarder each other.  Other signs I saw included Camel crossings and welcome signs to a place we were just leaving.

Ma’an was only an hour away from the Jordanian boarder and it wasn’t long before we were pulling up at the first set of gates for a rest stop.  There are public toilets – my advice, if you can wait, then wait.  Especially if you’re a woman.  If you can’t make sure you have your own toilet paper, there isn’t any provided (my tip is the new Andrex travel pack!) the toilet fitting itself is a ceramic hole in the floor and ladies – you have to squat!  There are sinks to wash up but no soap, wet wipes are a blessing here.

Once I had dealt with the ordeal that was the toilets we were back into the car to leave, my husband had already had my passport exit stamp put in and they didn’t even want to check if I really was leaving the country.  We drove through a number of check points and then we were in no mans land – so to speak.  The area was fenced off and the sand in the middle was left for dust as there was presumably joint control of the land but no-one living on it.  Once at the entry side of the boarder for Saudi Arabia.  We had just missed prayer time luckily and we were quickly ushered to a stop point where all the bags came out of the car to be checked.  Books were checked for pictures – even my notebook which was blank inside, I haven’t started writing in it yet.  The man pulled out and checked the calming cat collars that we had brought for Kim and tampons and lip balm was queried.  The most confusing thing was the bear that I bought off the plane, the man patted him down, checked for stitching defects and then proceeded to ask me his name!  He was rather shocked when I answered Charlie promptly and looked at me as though I was stupid to be naming teddy bears at my age.  He smiled though and carried on.

Abaaya firmly in place and all the bags back in the car and we were back on the road for the last hour of our trip, that was after we had stopped for petrol – £9 for 20 litres makes you see how much of ours is VAT!  In the car opposite sat a woman of Arabic descent who looked like she had never seen white people before in her life.  For the entire duration she stared at us like we were aliens.

Driving through the remoter parts of Jordan had readied me for the scenery that was to come, sand, sand and more sand with the odd Bedouin tent (satellite dishes fixed in place) scattered about are all you can see into the distance, the road we were on cutting through the desert next to the train line from Damascus to Mecca that is no longer in use for passengers but is still used for mining phosphate.  When we neared the end of the road and saw the first signs of real habitations it was a sprawling city that seems to be lazily moving through the dessert at a sloughs pace.  Buildings were trying to spring up on the outskirts that Andrew pointed out weren’t there the last time he was here but they all seemed half built, the tops still waiting to go on. 

bedouin tents

The Bedouin tents we saw near the boarder, on the other side, they had satellite dishes!

Tabuk itself then descended, the first main building we saw was the new university – blue domed roof included.  The streets admittedly were strange as is driving law in the country, ladies you can put your feet up as you aren’t legally allowed to drive here.  To be honest I’m glad that’s the case as watching four lanes of traffic merge into one at 140km an hour (around 80mph) isn’t the calmest of sights – especially when you’re in it.  The law of the road here seems to be kill or be killed.  It’s every man for himself, literally.  The side of the streets were covered with concrete shack shops and restaurants until we turned off the main road into the compound and once through the armed gates and inside it was a different scene altogether.

100_1021     100_1025

First views of Tabuk were these two roundabouts with their monuments on them.

The roads are lined with grass and flowers and all the villas are kept neat and tidy, round the first bend and on the left and we were pulling into a driveway where Kim and Pete had left there bikes, untouched.   Safer than the UK by leaps and bounds, theft is punishable in Kingdom by loss of a hand.  Knowing that you can see why things are like they are.  Inside the villa is huge!  Three bedrooms are all double in size with fitted wardrobes on the first floor, downstairs on the ground there is a living and dining area and a huge kitchen with a large pantry under the stairs.  Space is one thing that isn’t on a shortage out here.

A quick coffee and we were back on the road, this time to a Turkish restaurant where the locals buy their chicken.  No wonder, 2 whole chickens 500g of cooked rice, a tray of hummus, and salad as well as two chicken meals – diced and cooked in a sauce with veggies that would be on a kebab, salad and a piece of flat bread all for £7!  Enough food to feed four on at least three occasions, if you can find that in the UK and the food is good quality please let me know because I am obviously living in the wrong area.  Our food even came with free Strawberry and Banana smoothies which were lovely too!  With tea finished and my body clock in bits after two time zone changes I am now in bed ready for what tomorrow may bring.


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