Picking up the Saudi track

After being in The Netherlands for three weeks, we returned to Riyadh. It was very nice to see our daughter again in Amsterdam. We spent as much time together as possible. Marja’s mother recovered unexpectedly – as in a miracle – very well. So we had a good family and friends time in The Netherlands. We even had time for a medical visit, because we both had problems with our shoulder and upper arm. Funny fact was that I had the problem on the left side and Marja the same on the right side. It turned out that we are using muscles that we hadn’t used either for a while or never before. It’s the frequent in and climbing out of the truck cabin, which was causing the issue! Things you don’t for see when you start driving a truck around the world. The three weeks of rest and some medicine, did the trick! We did consider swapping the cabin seats, so we both would have to use the other arm, but the medication seemed the safer option! The day before we left, we did the traditional New Years Dive in the North Sea in The Netherlands. A great way to celebrate the start of a fresh new year. At that time it was hard to imagine that within a couple of weeks we would be in the warm waters of the Red Sea.

The day before we left for Saudi, we did the New Years Dive in the cold North Sea.

We arrived late at night at the airport of Riyadh. The first night we would spend at a hotel near the airport.

The next morning early, a taxi dropped us off at the Mercedes Benz dealer, where our truck was parked. The dealership had very well done the job to look after it. One tire was a bit soft, but not a big problem and the dealer had fixed the lock of the battery compartment (despite the heavy penalties on theft in Saudi, truck batteries do get stolen, we were told). The unit batteries were well charged (by the solar panels) and the fridge and freezer were cold. So all in all we were happy to see that we could pick up where we left our track. After filling up the water tank at the dealer, we drove to a supermarket to stock up in food supplies. We also had to get a new SIM card for our internet device, however, that didn’t go well. We needed to have a stamp with a number from the immigration in our pasport, from when we arrived the night before. It was actually nonsense, since we also have a visum document with us. Anyway the ladies from this particular cell phone company, where not that helpful.

Since it was getting late, we had to find a camp spot in Riyadh itself. On the way to the camp spot, we stopped at another small shopping mall, hopefully to find another cell phone company. While Marja went inside to look for a company store, somebody stopped her to ask if she needed any help. She explained what she needed and the guy, his name is Ali, was so kind to tell her, there was not such company in the mall, but there was one not too far away. The driving with the big truck to that area, was a bit of a problem, so he offered her to bring her there. So Marja got a first hand experience, driving with a Saudi in Riyadh. Cars driving in the wrong direction, driving too fast, overtaking, creating an additional line, driving through the red light, all in the Saudi way, survival of the fittest, that is how traffic is in Riyadh. Ali told her there is no choice, because “if you follow all the rules, you won’t get anywhere”, he said. She even had the “luck” to do it twice, since she forgot her phone, when she arrived at the other phone store. The guy even went with her inside the store and if it was not for his presence and arguing with the representative of this phone company, we would still be without a SIM card. Thank you, Ali!

When she returned, it was already dark and we still had to drive to the camp spot. The camp spot was the only one recommended by other overlanders. It was the parking of the National Museum. The coordinates did either not really match the reality or something had changed in the meantime. However, a little further away, there was plenty of space to park the truck. It was also very safe, since close around us were four police cars with police men (guarding the museum). We now had time to store all our purchases of the supermarket and store the luggage we took back from Holland and…….eat pizza in our own “home” again.

During the night we woke up from thunder, lightning and rain. Like when we left Riyad three weeks earlier, it was raining (again). Since it was raining, we decided (unplanned), to visit the National Museum (we were on their parking anyway). Now it turned out it was closed for three months due to renovations (great to do that in the high season). So no museum today! The rain in the meantime had stopped and it was now time to leave Riyadh. Then we decided to visit another museum, The Line Experience (on the outskirts of Riyadh). This was on our agenda, since it is about one to most amazing construction projects taking place right now. The Line Experience is an exhibition, showing different features and models of the city of the future. A city built in a straight line (175km) from the Red Sea into the desert. 500 meters high and 200 meters wide. A long block, which from the outside looks like a gigantic mirror. This city which will house 9 million people, with all necessary services, shops, restaurants, schools etc. The aim is to be self sufficient and zero emissions. The project will cost about 500 billion US dollars and is supposed to be finished around 2060. Besides The Line – which is one of the four projects within NEON (a 26.000km2 area at the Red Sea coast, bordering Jordan), three other mega projects are planned in this area.

One of the architect’s model for the interior of the Line project. Lots of greenery will be part of it.

We left with a mixed feeling and a lot of questions. Do 9 million people really want to live in a long straight high box? Where are future generations going to live? How about certain products, materials and food, will that all be produced within the box, or are there certain “colonies” planned outside the box were the less fortunate will work and live to sustain the live(style) of those living in the box? What about the “common areas” in the box, will that be enough to accommodate 9 million people? (We were reminded strongly about the movie The Hunger Games). Soon we will be in the NEON area and hopefully we will be able to see the project’s actual reality which will enable us to have a better understanding. The idea is for sure, very impressive!

The weather was still not so good, periodic rain showers continued and we set course to the next attraction, the City of Earth. The old ruin town of Diriya which is at the centre of a gigantic mega tourism project. The City of Earth is presently under construction and reaching the old town was almost impossible, let alone parking a big truck nearby. As part of Vision 2030, the Government is building an entire new city in old style and with mud, which will attract 24 million tourists per year. 19 hotels, 100 restaurants and hundreds of top brand shops will be housed in this new “ancient” city. We passed an enormous construction site, with hundreds of trucks, excavators and tower cranes. It was hard to believe that within a couple of years, this will be a major tourist hotspot in Saudi Arabia, attracting those millions of tourists. But for sure, here nothing seems impossible!

Since we couldn’t get there, we went for another try to visit the Edge of the World, which we tried just before leaving for Holland as well. We were not so hopeful since there was and still is a lot of rain. Indeed the entrance was still closed so we parked in the same wadi nearby as we did the night before we left mid December. The wadi was a bit muddy, but no water and there were this time only two sets of cars of Saudi families, parked in the wadi as well. Then in the evening it started to rain, first slowly then fast and a lot! There was also a lot of lightning and thunder, it never seemed to stop. With no high trees or poles nearby, I was afraid that we would get hit by lightning and that could cause a lot of damage to the electrical installation. However, there was no place nearby were I could go to, to avoid being hit, so we kept our fingers crossed for a long time at night. We fell asleep while the rain continued.

Next morning we woke up from the sound of flowing water. I looked outside and was shocked to see that we were in the middle of a river. We were still on higher ground, but the water was rising. Without loosing time getting dressed, we jumped out of bed into the truck cabin and drove out of the wadi as fast as possible. Due to the amount of rain, the ground was even more soft and muddy than the day before, so I kept up the speed, banging the truck up and down in all directions, just to avoid of getting stuck or drift away. We made it to the higher paved road and drove off to a large parking area to get dressed and have breakfast. It was not a good idea to park a truck in the middle of a wadi while rain is expected. Especially not when it is already dark on arrival. Lesson learned!

The day before, this was dry land, we where standing there during the night.
We got to higher grounds, still muddy but safe to drive.

In the meantime we also found out that the toughest off-road rally of the world was getting close to us. Having some contacts here and there, we tried to find out the location. So the rally caravan would stop and have a bivouac in or near the town of Dawadmi. So off we went west towards that town. On our way, we made a stop at the little old town of Al Muhammediyah. There we met a local guy who lives and works in Riyadh. When he saw us going to this old town, he decided to follow us to help us with translations, very friendly! So, together with the official guide, he took us through the town and enjoyed explaining things to us. An old mansion in the town was completely renovated, this used to be owned by a judge, who was at the time very popular and was loved in this area even more than the King, who was actually his friend. It’s funny to see interesting historic places which are still not found on the internet or even marked on a sign on the road.

The renovated old house of the judge. (The buckets are catching the rainwater, dripping through the mud roof)
The entrance gate into Al Muhammediyah

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