So after a good night’s kip I had a the best part of a day to shake off my hangover. The bus for Riyadh, the Saudi capital, left at 5pm. I spent the day shuffling about, wondering why the sun had to be so bright and skimming all the superfluous items out of my bag. At 3pm I left my coat behind in the The Greens as I departed for the Saudi Arabia Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) bus ‘station’ in Deira, but returning ten minutes later as I had also left my mobile phone. Which I needed. Damien rolled his eyes.
When I finally got to the SAPTCO office they told me to come back in half an hour. I used this time to go out in the baking heat and check my pores were still working properly. As my soaking wet t-shirt could no doubt attest, they were. Eventually, they issued me a ticket and I was on the bus heading back into Saudi, my mind whirring through all the things that could go horribly wrong.
The plan is this: From Riyadh, head to Jeddah on the Red Sea and see if I can catch a lift on a cargo ship going to Eritrea. Failing that, I’ll head south to Jizan and try to find a more enterprising way of getting there. I’d rather not have to do that. The downside was that taking the bus today meant missing the England vs. Algeria match in the World Cup. But as Damien pointed out, it should be an easy win, and if it isn’t, he’d rather not watch it!
I managed to cadge the back seats on the bus, which was great for the first couple of hours as the bus wasn’t very full. Unfortunately for me, as we approached the Saudi border I was joined by a giant Saudi who muscled in on my patch and promptly took up 4 of the 5 back seats as if I wasn’t there. So much for a good night’s kip.
As it transpired, a good night’s kip was the last thing I was going to get. As England completely stuffed up their ‘easy’ game against Algeria (thanks for the text updates, mum), we crossed the border at some ungodly hour of the night and while the Saudi sniffer dog sniffed our bus for drugs, all us passengers had to stand outside, our bags opened for inspection, which was thankfully curt. We then stopped for a bite to eat and then there was a faff (I still don’t know quite why) about something to do with somebody’s papers, the border guys made a guest appearance and after a remarkably long discussion for three o’ clock in the morning, we were allowed back on the bus. Which arrived in Riyadh five hours later.
I had just missed the 8am bus, so I bought a ticket for the 10am one to Jeddah. It arrived at 12. While we hurtled through the desert, my CouchSurfing host for Jeddah, a Saudi guy named Turki, rang me up to arrange stuff for when I arrived. Turki grew up in the States (which explains his perfect North American diction) but has now lived in Saudi for many years. We ended up chatting for over an hour during which discussion he told me he was good friends with an English guy called Bob who works in the shipping industry in Jeddah. It’s fair to say I liked Turki from the start.
As the desert swept past and the sun went to bed, we stopped for prayer time. I sat and quaffed a nice hot cup of tea while the guys off the bus genuflected to their god. The Middle East, moreso than other places on the planet, is a place dominated by two themes – materialism and spirituality. It’s odd that these things go together so well, but then again, look at the gold statues in the Vatican or the burgeoning middle classes of India. I look on all these goings on, the praying, the bead-thumbing, the sports cars and the palaces and feel completely distanced from this facet of the world. Truth be told I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body, and as for materialism, everything I need is in my backpack and I haven’t desperately wanted the latest thingymajig since I was a kid.
For this reason, even though I know the Middle East exceptionally well, I always feel like an alien here, not just from another country, but from another planet. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy myself when I’m here, it’s just that it’s not my scene baby, and it will never be.
The bus rolled into Jeddah around midnight, but Turki stayed up to pick me up which was great. We will learn more of Turki’s wisdom tomorrow.