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Load up the camels, it's time for a road trip!

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We leave tomorrow night to drive to visit my inlaws in Jiddah. Altogether, it should take about 18 hours to get there; flying would take about 2 hours, but the cost is ridiculously high -- as in you could fly to London for the same amount -- so we have always gone by car.


And really, I have always enjoyed it. We have gone once or twice a year since we moved here five years ago. When we lived in the States we would always fly into Jiddah, and traveling on an 'Umrah/pilgrimmage visa this meant we could officially only visit the cities Jiddah, Makkah and Madinah. But driving means you can see a lot more of the country, and I've really been amazed at the diversity of the landscape. If they ever got to a point where they wanted to capitalize on it, they could have an amazing tourist trade.


I guess I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Saudi, but there is much about the travelling that I like. Almost immediately once you cross the border between Saudi and the UAE you enter the Empty Quarter. There are two main roads now from the border to Riyadh. The first time we drove there people warned us about taking the Kharj road, which shaves about 2 hours off your drive time. We never understood why, we were thinking of road bandits and the like, lol, but when we ignored their warnings and tried it, we found that the problem was it was a new road. Well paved, but nothing had been done to stop the encroaching dunes. Even up to last time we drove, they still had workers out there in construction equipment, continually shoveling sand off the roads. Dh and I were hard pressed to think of a more back-breaking job than that -- out in the desert heat moving sand off a scorching hot road. (Talk about a Sisyphean task!)


So danger number one was that, especially at night since there were no lights on the road, you could slam into a dune that had drifted onto the road. Danger number two was that if you had neglected to fill your gas tank right at the border, you could easily run out and be stranded literally in the middle of nowhere, because back then there was not one truck stop. Since then the popularity of the road has increased and there are several gas stations/rest stops.


Ah, the rest stops, lol. Incredibly, umm, austere. We quickly learned our lesson that you do not want to stop where there is a tourist bus (groups of people traveling from Iran or elsewhere to make pilgrimmage), as the facilities will be in an incredibly bad state -- one of the few times I was sincerely relieved that we had kept ourselves up to date on vaccinations.


But if you can avoid that, the rest stop experience is bearable, and the little restaurants they have are actually not too bad. In the mornings we get hot, sweet tea and oniony omelets wrapped in flatbread. In the afternoons we like to get chicken; they butterfly a whole chicken, rub it with spices and grill it over hot coals. If we still haven't reached Riyadh, we buy a few of those, some sodas from the little store, and have a picnic in the dunes.


Once we get to the outskirts of Riyadh the landscape has completely changed. No more dunes, this is a very rocky desertscape. Lots of outcroppings, and particularly on the western side of Riyadh dramatic rock cliffs. It's more of a packed, scrubby sand. Sometimes we stop in Riyadh and rent a furnished apartment for the night. Since we only have one driver (dh) :glare: when he gets tired we have to stop. Riyadh is huge, and modern. We actually haven't traveled around much inside the city, we have some extended relatives who live there whom we've visited, but often during the summer they've gone on trips so we just use it as a quick stopping point.


This is about ten hours into the trip, we've gone halfway across the Arabian peninsula. From there to Jiddah it will be another 9-10 hours. The landscape once you get out of the cliffs around Riyadh becomes flat, flat and scrubby. I don't know how anything can actually live and thrive in that kind of climate, but in fact there are a large number of low-lying shrubs, and prickly-looking trees. Not much to look at after the first three hours, lol, we usually try to have a bank of tapes/cds to listen to to relieve the monotany, or take a break at a road stop.


Once we hit Ta'if the landscape changes again. Tai'f is a mountain city, so the temperature drops dramatically as you get there. There are two roads through Ta'if, one is a highway that circles around it and towards Makkah, and the other goes right through it, but then has this long, windy bit that goes down the sides of the mountains. Incredibly dramatic scenery, but slow. You often see baboons, and I have to remind the kids to keep the windows up because although some of them look mighty cute, the adult males look mighty dangerous.


The segment from Ta'if to Makkah is short, and we have to be alert to the road signs to make sure we get the right road. Sometimes we stop in Makkah to perform the lesser pilgrimmage (Umrah) before heading on to Jiddah, and sometimes we go straight through. The roads inside Makkah are difficult to navigate, there's a lack of helpful signs and generally fast-moving traffic so you don't have time to sit and think about whether you're turning onto the right road or not. We have gotten lost more than once, and we've been there quite a few times.


If we decide to skip Makkah entirely, we can take the "non-Muslim" route which circles around the city, but it adds extra drive time. Once on the opposite side, it is a short half hour to Jeddah, and the road is a boring 12-lane highway.


It would probably take weeks instead of days, but I'd honestly like to take a camel to Jiddah sometime, lol. Or maybe just to Riyadh. My only other extended camel experience, lol, was riding in the Sinai, and it was amazing. Although I imagine that's an activity that wears pretty thin fairly quickly.


Wow, sorry for the novel, I guess I'm psyching myself up for hours of road travel...

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  • 3 weeks later...

Kate, what a well written description. Care to write a book about your life over there? :D


Since we only have one driver (dh) :glare: when he gets tired we have to stop.


Are you not allowed to drive? I thought I had heard recently in the news about women not being allowed to drive, but I may be confusing the issue.

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Unless you have a penis, you cannot possibly safely operate a car in Saudi Arabia. So says the wise men of Saudi Arabia. I dunno if there are any restrictions to operating camels. :auto:


Would it have to be my own, or could I bring a frozen one from a bull? They sell them at the local Asian market.


I am totally going to delete this comment after you read it because I don't want to hear about it later!!!

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