14. Saudi in 10 days
Back to our first night in Saudi (or read our previous blog first). If we are not quite sure where we can camp, we normally check the app “iOverlander”, where fellow overlanders drop wildcamp- spots. But not in Saudi. Since the boarder is only open for tourists for 3 months now, there are not many spots yet noted. Nor are there any clear descriptions in travel guides. So when it get’s dark, we know we have to hurry because finding a spot in the dark is not so convenient- you just never know where you actually are.
We search for parks in a small town, but it’s too crowded. We search for open area’s near the town, but it doesn’t feel safe enough. Around 20:30- it’s already very dark- we see some dunes near the road and decide to camp there, hidden from the road. We quickly make dinner and – tired from a long driving day- go to bed early. Right when we fall asleep, we hear men voices and knocking on our ‘door’. We’re awake immediately. Men knocking on the car, the first night in a new country; it doesn’t feel too comfortable. Especially because it’s difficult to estimate their tone of voice; it sounds angry but it could also be curiosity; it’s difficult to tell. Max get’s out of the car and with hands and feet we understand that they are farmers and that we camp on their property- oops. They first seem to think we’re locals who want to sleep secretly together without being married. When they hear the word ‘tourist’ they cool down and immediately welcome us. Pfieuw. We can continue our sleep..
In total we only stay in Saudi for 10 days- way to short to explore this immens country. We first drive to the Edge of the World- a stunning canyon landscape. We arrive on a Tuesday and learn that sights are only open in the weekend; on Friday and Saturday (hello new country). So we are sent away. We decide to camp nearby and try again on Wednesday morning. They let us in, yes! We enjoy 1 night wild camping at this beautiful landscape (though very cold! Where is the hot Saudi desert?! 🙂
Saudi feels interesting. Obviously, the Islamic rituals are a main part of the experience. We’re already used to the prayers 5 times a day, but where in other countries you just heard the prayer, in Saudi normal life stops for a moment. Shops close, when eating in a restaurant the curtains go down and on television the broadcast is paused with images of Mekka. The islamic religion is way more tangible than in the previous Islamic countries we’ve visited. But being non-muslim we have some exceptions; i.e. Merle does not have to wear a headscarf and we can stay in hotel rooms together- even not being married (hardly even a question). What we cannot do, is driving to Mekka. On our way from Riyadh to Jeddah we cross Mekka and we are curious at what point we – as non muslim- are headed to a different direction. Then, around 30KM before Mekka, the road spits with a sign “Left Muslims, Right Non- Muslims”. This is how close we will every be to this holy city.
Like in Oman and the Emirartes, we see many Indian and Pakistani people working in the restaurants, gas stations, laundry shops, etcetera. We notice again that these are such friendly and hard working people, no matter where we stop, we always have fun with them. The Saudi’s are definitely kind and welcoming as well, but with a little more distance. Furthermore Saudi also feels like little America. American brands are everywhere, the same as huge malls and drive-through- services (you can even get cash from the ATM without leaving your car).
An important part of our Saudi stay is trying to get a Sudan visa. It’s a complicated and time consuming process. We were rejected in Oman, then went to Dubai, to Riyadh and finally to Jeddah, the city where the ferry to Sudan leaves. At the moment where we almost give up hope, we receive an sms that our visa is ready! The next day we drive to the Sudan Consulate and after many paper work, waiting and more paper work, we receive our Sudan visa. We can’t be more happy!
We decide that we do not want to wait to go to Sudan, so we reserve a spot on the Wednesday ferry, 2 days later. On Tuesday- our last Saudi day- there is a second nice surprise: we can join a Swedish film maker on his day trip finding the best coral spots for his new movie. Wow! With only him, a few crew members and ourselves we enjoy a full day of snorkeling and diving far far away from the coast. We have both never seen such beautiful coral; colors all over and beautiful fish swimming by. As a last treat, some dolphins swim with our boat as we head back to the coast.
At the moment of writing we are on the ferry from Jeddah to Port Sudan, a 12 hour trip, where we are the only non- Sudani. But they immediately give us a welcoming feeling. Our Africa adventure is about to start!