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Instead of flying to Abu Dhabi Angela and I decided to drive. The logistics were fairly straightforward: we would set off from our apartment in Qatar and arrive in the capital of the United Arab Emirates about eight hours later. But there was one small snag in the plan - Saudi Arabia. Any overland journey between Qatar and the UAE meant crossing through the Kingdom. However, with newly minted Saudi transit visas freshly pasted into our passports, we set off on an adventure that would see us traversing four separate border controls across three countries.
Breezing through the Qatari border control, we began to drive through the short stretch of No Man’s Land that existed between both sets of border controls. Abruptly, the sleek black highway we’d been driving along ended and was replaced by a grey pockmarked road that led us to the Saudi side of things. We stopped at the booth and handed over our passports, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it wouldn’t be long before I’d be throwing a vase to the floor in a shady little border hut.
The uniformed man in the security booth shook his head and uttered something
in Arabic. He held our passports in his hand but seemed confused. After checking through them again he tried addressing us once more, this time in broken English, but Angela and I were still totally confused. In desperation the guard pointed to his fingers and managed to say scan. We nodded and held up our hands in acknowledgment. The guard smiled and handed us back our passports. Ten minutes later we eventually found the fingerprint booth and waited in the small queue. I was first and while I laid out my fingers and then thumbs on the scanner, Angela was called over to the adjacent booth. A few moments later I joined Angela.
She was taking ages. The man in charge told held her to place her fingers down on the machine but then reached over and pressed his own palm onto the back of her hand to secure a better purchase for the scanner. But clearly this didn’t work and so the man sprayed Angela’s fingers with something and rubbed it in before pressing them down once more. “No good!” the man whose job it was to scan exclaimed, reaching out a hairy hand to cajole Angela’s fingers
into position again. He either had a faulty scanning or else possessed an unnatural fetish for fingers. Finally though, formalities were complete and we drove to the car inspection area.
We were required to exit the car to allow the two men, one an Arab gentleman dressed in a uniform, the other an Asian man who was clearly the underling, access to the nether regions of our vehicle. He opened the boot where Angela’s suitcase was soon opened and the search began. They were looking for contraband, which included drugs, alcohol and, oddly enough, potted plants, and as we milled about in the heat, I was expecting the search to be thorough and prolonged and so lit a cigar. “Finished,” said the man in charge one minute later. “You can go.”
What? But my suitcase hadn’t even been opened - the one filled to the brim with shrubs and terracotta urns filled with hashish and distilling equipment. I stubbed my cigar out and we both climbed back in the car. Was that it? Would we be now allowed entry into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
“Where is car insurance?” barked the border guard at the final security
window. “You cannot enter Saudi Arabia until you get it.” He looked down at his mobile phone and so I asked him where we should go to obtain the insurance and balefully he looked up, pointing towards a hut about 100m back. I put the car into reverse but was blocked by a Land Cruiser behind me, the Arab gentleman looking angry that he was being held up. After a fifteen-point-turn, I eventually moved off and headed for the hut. “You wait here,” I said to Angela. “Wish me luck.”
I entered the hut and found two men smoking cigarettes in a side room. They looked up at me quizzically as I approached and so I smiled and told them I needed car insurance. One of the men stood up and nodded. “Where is car?” I pointed outside to where I’d parked it and both men turned to look. “You need to go over there,” said the man. “We are not for car insurance.”
I thanked them, wondering what the hell the men were doing there in their little hut that stood between the car inspection area and the security booth. I turned to leave but not before
I accidentally sideswiped an incense burner that had been sitting on a table. It landed with a crash and all three of us stared at it. Wanting to swear at the top of my voice, I bent down to pick it up but the bearded man told me to leave it and just leave. I did. Finally, and in possession of a piece of paper written in Arabic that was our car insurance, we negotiated the final checkpoint and entered Saudi Arabia. We had done it!
Judging by the amount of tyre carnage that littered the side of the road, blown tyres must be a daily occurrence on this section of highway, but ignoring it all, we drove onwards with the gorgeous blue sea on our right-hand side and a cloudless sky overhead.
A few minutes after leaving the border area we stopped at a small town which had some shops, a mosque, a few administrative buildings and a petrol station. It was in the latter that I was delighted to discover that petrol was even cheaper in Saudi Arabia than in Qatar (where it was already sinfully cheap) and thirty five Saudi Riyals later (about £6.50)
we were off with a full tank, heading into the desert.
The scenery was largely of scrub and brown sand with the occasional truck stop to break up the monotony. In the distance were a few low-lying hills and pylons, which lined much of the highway There were enough trucks on the road to keep us on our toes and on the back of one was a sign which read: WARNING: DIESEL DAMAGE, which I thought would make a pretty good name for a hard rock band. Diesel Damage in concert tonight!
A short while later we pulled off the highway to have a quick bite to eat and a lorry drove past carrying a cargo of camels. I stepped out of the car to have my photo taken for posterity and was hit by the oven-like heat of the desert. It was over 40 degrees Celsius and so I didn’t linger long, soon taking refuge back in the car. We set off again, and after ten minutes or so, the drab brown sand gave way to more traditional red, with even a few sand dunes thrown in to give the feeling that we were in the heart
of Arabia. I took out my camera to take a sweeping shot of the landscape and Angela shook her head. “This video you’re taking,” she quipped, “is going to be so boring. There’s nothing to see. I don’t know why you’re bothering.”
An hour and a half later we arrived at the border with the UAE. The Saudi side of things was made up of another small town which looked largely deserted except for masses of trucks, all waiting in line to be inspected. Many of the drivers milled about by their cabs chatting to one another to pass the time. We stopped at a toilet only to discover it was of the ‘hole in the ground’ variety and so we drove onwards to the border.
It took a further three hours to reach Abu Dhabi and when we neared the city we passed a magnificent mosque, its white domes and minarets making it the most beautiful mosque we had ever laid eyes upon. Thirty minutes later we arrived at the hotel, the Beach Rotana, marvelling at the fact that we had driven all the way by ourselves.
The next day we simply relaxed by the sea
or wandered the huge mall which actually adjoined the hotel. It was quite refreshing no to have to do any of the usual sightseeing we usually did on our trips; we had decided to simply hang about. We had earned it after our long drive.
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